Friday, December 31, 2010

Homily for 4th Sunday of Advent

Homily for the
4th Sunday of Advent
Dec. 19, 2010
Matt 1: 18-24
Rom 1: 1-7
Boy Scouts, parents at Camp Seton, Greenwich, Conn.

“Joseph, Son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary our wife into your home” (Matt 1: 20).

When Joseph is shocked to discover that the woman he’s legally married to—altho, according to the practice of the time, they’re still not living not living together as man and wife—God intervenes by sending him an angel with a reassuring message: “It is thru the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her” (1:20).

Jesus is conceived by the power of God and not by any human power except Mary’s consent, which St. Luke speaks of in his gospel (1:26-38). By the power of God, this child will indeed be “Jesus,” which means “Yahweh saves.” (Yahweh is God’s own name, which he revealed to Moses when he appeared in the burning bush [Ex 3:1-3,13-14].) By the power of God, his disciples will discover that he has truly been “Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us” (Matt 1:23).

God could do that in order to save human beings from their sins. But he needed some human cooperation. Obviously, he needed Mary’s help for Jesus to be conceived in her womb and for her to bring him to birth.

He also needed Joseph’s cooperation. According to the prophecies of the Old Testament, the Messiah had to come from the house of David, had to belong to the dynasty of King David. Have you ever noticed how often in the gospels Jesus is referred to as “the Son of David”? Joseph, who was descended from David, therefore had to acknowledge Jesus as his son. Apparently, Mary’s family origin had no legal bearing in the matter, and she may not have been from David’s family at all. But if Joseph takes Mary into his home and accepts her son as his own son, legally then Jesus becomes Joseph’s son, and David’s son. That’s the plan that God has for Joseph, which is part of God’s plan for our salvation.

In the reading from St. Paul today, he addresses the Christians of Rome as “the beloved of God, called to be holy” (1:7). He’s speaking to ordinary Christians, and he’s saying that God loves them and God calls them to be saints! You know there are only 2 alternatives in life: either you’re a saint and go to heaven with Jesus, or you’re not a saint and you go to the other place.

God calls us to be saints, all of us. Paul mentioned the Holy Spirit who “established [Jesus] as Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness” (1:4), and then he said that we also are “called to belong to Jesus Christ” (1:6), which means that Jesus shares that same Holy Spirit with us. That outpouring the Spirit makes us the brothers and sisters of Jesus; it makes us, too, children of God according to the plan that God has for our redemption.

God needed St. Joseph to help execute the plan of redemption. Joseph had to obey what the angel told him and take Mary, who by any human appearance had been an unfaithful wife. Joseph had to believe otherwise, and obey. How do we know what God’s plan is for us, what God expects of us, that we might become saints?

1st, we find it in the Bible. The Bible is God’s word and reveals to us what Jesus teaches, reveals how we are to live.

2d, in particular, we have the 10 Commandments, which are guides for Christians just like the Scout Law is a guide for being a good Scout.

3d, we listen to what the Church teaches us about what’s right and wrong.
4th, we carry out our own responsibilities as sons, as brothers, as students, as Scouts, and so on: by obeying, by being kind to our siblings, by studying, by being helpful in the troop, etc.

By doing all that, we’ll be imitating St. Joseph, listening to God, taking Jesus into our hearts, acting like God’s beloved children, becoming holy.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Fr. Hector Poulin, SDB

Fr. Hector Poulin, SDB (1932-2010)

Fr. Hector Gilbert Poulin, SDB, died of a heart attack on the afternoon of Dec. 27 in Brandon, Fla. He was 78 years old.

Fr. Hector was born in Nashua, N.H., on April 22, 1932. After U.S. Army service during the Korean War, he entered Don Bosco Seminary at Newton, N.J., in September 1956 and was admitted to the novitiate in September 1957. He made his first profession of vows as a Salesian of Don Bosco at Newton on Sept. 8, 1958.

After practical training at Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey, N.J., and Don Bosco Tech in Boston between 1960 and 1963, then-Bro. Poulin went to Italy for theological studies at St. Anselm Salesian Institute in Bollengo, near Ivrea in Piedmont, from 1964 to 1968. He was ordained in the Basilica of Mary Help of Christians in Turin on April 6, 1968.

Fr. Hector’s first assignment as a priest was to teach at St. Dominic Savio High School in East Boston (1968-1969). From this year Fr. John Nazzaro, now the director of the Salesian community in East Boston, remembers: “I had Fr. Hector in high school at Savio. He loved to talk about the military, and believe me none of the kids would ever mess with him. He was strict, fair, and always around the kids. He was a person whom you could confide in with your problems, but a priest who was not afraid to give you a kick in the pants. Many alumni always have spoken highly of his time in East Boston, and he will be missed by many. He was a good Salesian priest and a good friend.”

At Don Bosco Tech in Paterson, N.J. (1969-1971), Salesian High School in New Rochelle, N.Y. (1995-97), and the Salesian Boys Club in Columbus, Ohio (1971-1974), Fr. Hector served as a competent and caring treasurer. Fr. John Serio, director of Salesian High School while Fr. Hector was there, writes: “Fr. Hector knew how to make people feel at home and make visitors comfortable. I never had to worry about the treasurer’s responsibilities being taken care of—Fr. Hector was very meticulous with the books and records, and he was a ‘Martha’ in the dining room, especially when we had students for dinner (which was very often). He did all the shopping, and wanted to be sure that the confreres wanted for nothing. He was quick to volunteer as confessor for the students. Fr. Hector was very down to earth, a good priest, a fine confrere.”

Fr. Hector was a much appreciated and beloved assistant or pastor of five parishes in the Bahamas for 15 years: Mary Star of the Sea in Freeport, Grand Bahama Island (1974-1978), St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in Nassau (1978-1979), St. Agnes in Eight Mile Rock, G.B.I. (1979-1983, 1988-1991), St. Michael in West End, G.B.I. (1985-1988), and St. Vincent de Paul in Hunter, G.B.I. (1988-1991).

Fr. John Puntino served with Fr. Hector in the Bahamas for several years. He recalls: “Fr. Hector was very sensitive to the plight of the poor and disadvantaged. He did not hesitate to offer funeral services even for non-Catholics if other churches refused to perform the rites because the family lacked funds. In one instance he bought a pair of shoes for a lady so she could attend her husband’s funeral. When a group of Haitian refugees drowned, he arranged for their burial and did the graveside ceremonies. On the other hand, whenever he sensed an unjust situation, he would confront it, calling at times on his soldier’s vocabulary for emphasis. Even in those cases, though, it was easy to see his sensitive and caring nature coming through a seemingly rough appearance.”

The Bahamas were a lonely outpost of the province when the Salesians served there, sometimes on different islands. So when they could get together, Fr. Hector made sure they enjoyed themselves, says Fr. Puntino: “He valued the times that the confreres in the Bahamas got together, and he made sure we had a good meal.”

Between and following his Bahamas assignments, Fr. Hector was administrator of the Sacred Heart Center in Ipswich, Mass. (1983-1984, 1994-1995, 1997-2001), and chaplain of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in Ipswich (1997-2005).

Sister Mary Farren, the sisters’ provincial, writes that Fr. Hector “was much loved by the sisters at Ipswich.” The love is revealed by their recollections of him, which go beyond his chaplaincy among them to include his service to local parishes and at the retreat center. They discerned in him numerous virtues and human qualities: “extraordinarily zealous, holy, dedicated, gentle, thoughtful, loved his vocation as a priest, a compassionate confessor, always ready to accommodate himself to the needs of others, flexible in giving service, meticulous about the use of vestments/vessels to celebrate the liturgy, rejoiced in his privilege to ‘celebrate’ (not ‘say’) Mass, loving, caring, faithful and faith-filled, valiant in his struggle with Alzheimer’s.”

Some specific comments from the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur: “Fr. Hector accommodated his schedule to the needs of the surrounding parishes whenever needed, regardless of inconvenience to himself. His homilies were short, with a clear message, related to the gospel of the day. He was very zealous in visiting the sick and/or counseling troubled teenagers or consoling families who were experiencing some sorrow. Fr. Hector was very community-minded. If the kitchen staff was short-handed, Father would help arrange the meat on the platters and put them at the serving stations. In retrospect, Fr. Hector was happy fulfilling his priestly ministry, and his example was an inspiration to all who were touched by his life.”

Fr. Hector’s parochial assignments also included Holy Rosary Church in Port Chester, N.Y. (1984-1985, 1991-1994), and St. Anthony Church in Elizabeth, N.J. (2005-2010), as an assistant pastor.

Suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, on Jan. 14, 2010, Fr. Hector retired to the Salesians’ St. Philip the Apostle Residence in Tampa. In recent weeks his condition worsened, requiring hospitalization and then placement in Superior Residences of Brandon.

Fr. Hector is survived by two sisters and two brothers in Nashua, N.H.

Funerals for Fr. Hector Poulin were to be celebrated in both Tampa and Elizabeth. He’ll be buried in Salesian Cemetery in Goshen, N.Y.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Not Blogging

Not Blogging

I haven't posted lately for a couple of reasons.  One has been frustration about the photos (see below).  I've spent a lot of time cruising thru various queries and answers in the "Help" section, to no avail.  Another reason is that I've been ailing with bronchitis, roughly since the week after Thanksgiving.  I've spent more time than usual in a horizontal position.

Change at the Provincial House

Change at the Provincial House

Change doesn't come easily here.  Most of us tend to honor tradition.  Most of us are senior citizens.

But just as I was finishing the previous post, change of a sort was thrust upon us.  One of the two large oil paintings that has adorned the central hall of the house for some 40 years crashed to the floor.  Fortunately, the only damage was to the picture frame, which is made of plaster (!).  When he took a look, Bro. Andy discovered that the steel screws holding it to the wall had rusted thru.  The painting hung over a radiator, and he hopes that was the source of whatever moisture led to the rust--because there's a matching painting on the wall on the other side of the door leading to our reading room and chapel.

I put up a picture of the picture, but I'm unable to post photos.

(Many months later, after restoration of photo capacity...)

Painting as it landed on the hallway floor
Bro. Andy restoring the damaged frame. Dec. 30, 2010
Painting and frame on back of pick-up for transport from Brother's ground-floor office at back of the house to main floor, front door (where the central hallway is, of course). Jan. 19, 2011

A large crew of confreres at work to rehang the painting

Only Half a Blogspot

Only Half a Blogspot

It's about 3 weeks now since I've been able to post photos to the blog, and since all the photos disappeared from my earlier posts.  I put a query up in the "Help" section, but that's produced nothing.

Yes, I know that all the old photos are cached at Picasa.  Hasn't helped.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Homily for 3d Sunday of Advent

Homily for the
3rd Sunday of Advent
Dec. 12, 2010
James 5: 7-10
Christian Brothers, Iona College, N.R.

“Be patient, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord” (James 5: 7).

In the 2d half of the 1st century, when most of what we call the New Testament was written, many, if not most, of the disciples of Jesus expected his return, his 2d Coming, soon. More than a little bit of the epistles and of the gospels is taken up with addressing the nature of his return, its timing, and its apparent delay. That seems to be what St. James is talking about today, at least in part.

If Christ is supposed to come back soon and complete our redemption, what’s taking him so long? “Be patient, brothers and sisters.” Like a farmer waiting for his crop to mature, “you too must be patient” (5:7-8). Patience doesn’t come easy to us; but God requires our patience while his plans unfold. Whatever he does, he does in his way, in his manner, in his time (if we can speak of time in his regard), and not on our schedule. If we judge by today’s gospel reading (Matt 11:2-11), even John the Baptist had to learn this lesson, for the Christ didn’t come in the way that John had preached about, e.g. last week, with ax in hand to hew down the barren trees or with a firebrand to incinerate the chaff of wickedness (Matt 3:7-12).

Yet, in spite of what seems like delay, James also assures his readers that “the coming of the Lord is at hand” (5:8). He adds, “The Judge is standing before the gates” (5:9). Those are relative statements, certainly from our perspective if not from the writer’s. St. Paul also wrote to the Romans, “Our salvation now is nearer than when we first believed” (13:11). The Lord’s coming again is closer at hand than in the days of the patriarchs and prophets, than in the period immediately after Pentecost, than when the various churches 1st believed in Jesus. We are in the last days, the final stage of God’s plan for our redemption. The Judge—he who “will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead”—is already “before the gates,” possibly a reference to where the town elders gathered and decided any disputes that arose among the citizens, i.e., the place of judgment. Christ is at your town gates already, passing judgment on your life.

While we await the Judge’s appearance, we have to carry on with our lives. James today offers 2 specific bits of advice, 2 ways of living the virtue of patience while we wait: “Make your hearts firm” (5:8) and “Don’t complain about one another” (5:9).

“Make your hearts firm,” following the example of the patience of the prophets in bearing hardship and persecution (5:10). James is aware that the followers of Jesus were a despised minority in most of the towns and cities where they lived. Firm hearts and patience were necessary not only in the day-to-day strife of family life and earning their livelihood, but also in being faithful to Jesus when that was unpopular if not dangerous and potentially fatal. We can imagine James offering the same advice today to Christians in Pakistan, China, parts of India, among other places, maybe even to young Christians on a lot of college campuses and in the boardrooms of our country.

“Don’t complain about one another.” Since he adds “that you may not be judged” (5:9) James evidently means more than mere complaining. He means don’t pass judgment on one another’s words and actions. Don’t condemn your brothers and sisters. He echoes Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount: “Judge not, that you not be judged” (Matt 7:1). A huge part of the patience that we’re called to practice has to do with bearing with one another’s faults, one another’s weaknesses, one another’s sins, one another’s differences of style, one another’s different gifts, one another’s different charisms. Yesterday we heard Jesus lamenting the different, always critical reactions that he and John the Baptist received from many of the people of their time: John was criticized because he was austere, Jesus because he wasn’t austere. We’re so quick to judge and condemn those who are different, who disagree with us. I’m not talking about Democrats and Republicans in Congress or Albany. I mean in our own households, in our own families, in our own community. James is warning us to prepare for the Lord’s coming by being more patient, gentler, more tolerant, more understanding of one another.

Besides God, besides others, we also have to be patient with ourselves. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is the edifice of our sanctification. Well and good for St. Paul to call us “God’s building…God’s temple” (1 Cor 3:9; cf. 3:10-17). But it takes time—a lifetime—for that building, that temple, to be erected and brought to the perfection of holiness. Our failings, our sins, are apt to discourage us if we’re in any wise serious about Jesus Christ. So we need patience—the patience that doesn’t give up, the patience that keeps working at the virtues we need to practice…and practice…and practice, as much as any athlete or musician.

Jesus defined his messianic mission for John the Baptist and his disciples as one of healing and good news (Matt 11:4-5), echoing the words of Isaiah prophesying Israel’s redemption from the Babylonian exile, e.g. in our 1st reading today (35:1-6,10). That mission of healing and good news is addressed also to us. The Divine Physician is working to heal us, and we’re all old enuf to know that healing takes time. While the ailments of our bodies may turn out to be incurable, it’s not so with our souls, with our characters, with our very selves. So we who are the patients of that Physician must indeed be patient, take his prescriptions, and let his healing power work in us—however long that takes, even our whole lives. “See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it….” (Jas 5:7).

For a different take on today's readings, see Deacon Greg Kandra’s homily at

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Homily for 2d Sunday of Advent

Homily for the
2d Sunday of Advent
Dec. 5, 2010
Matt 3: 1-12
Willow Towers, New Rochelle

“Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance” (Matt 3: 8).

During Advent we look to 3 comings of our Lord Jesus Christ: his glorious coming at the end of history, to reward the just, punish the wicked, and complete his work of redemption; his humble coming in history as a babe born in a stable and as a wandering Galilean preacher, to start his work of redemption; and his coming in the here and now to us by grace, carrying on his work of redemption.

The Scriptures of the last 2 Sundays—feast of Christ the King and the 1st of Advent—focused entirely on his glorious coming. This Sunday the focus starts to shift: our 1st reading (Is 11:1-10) and the responsorial psalm (72) continue to look toward the 2d Coming, when God will make all things right, put all things into the original order of creation; our 2d (Rom 15:4-9) and 3rd readings turn to the here and now, to our response to the message that Jesus of Nazareth announced in the days of his 1st coming among us.

For the 1st time in this Advent season, today we meet John the Baptist, 1 of the 3 dominant figures of every Advent. (The others are the prophet Isaiah, source of most of our 1st readings at both Sunday and weekday Masses, and the Virgin Mary.) John appears suddenly out of the desert, out of nowhere, preaching repentance (3:1). He comes dressed like the great Old Testament prophet Elijah, who also lived in the desert and called upon Israel to repent of their sins.

There’s no doubt that John is calling for Israel to turn away from sin: People from everywhere “were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins” (3:5-6). He addresses the Pharisees and Sadducees, the leaders of Israel, as a “brood of vipers … fleeing from the coming wrath” (3:7), and he warns them that an ax is about to hack them down as barren trees (3:10). It’s not nice, polite language, and the prophet doesn’t regard them as nice people, as friends of the Lord God Almighty whose kingdom is about to burst among them: “the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (3:2).

In the last week we’ve heard a lot about a presidential commission charged with addressing the nation’s financial woes. The commission came up with a lot of recommendations. And no one was surprised that those who’ve been paying attention aren’t happy with some of the recommendations. Everyone thinks that the humongous deficits of our federal government should be eliminated by someone else’s pain: don’t raise my taxes, and don’t cut back the spending from which I benefit. The source of the problem lies elsewhere, not with me.

It’s like that when prophets show up and call for repentance. All those others, all those sinners—they’re the ones he’s talking to. Remember the parable of the 2 men who went up to the Temple to pray, which was our gospel on the 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time, 6 weeks ago (Luke 18:9-14)? The Pharisee, one of the “good people,” the “nice people” of Jesus’ time, prayed to God by thanking him that he, the Pharisee, wasn’t like the rest of men but did so many good deeds that—he almost says—he really deserved God’s gratitude. So many of us tend to think like that.

But it’s exactly those “good people,” those “nice people,” those “respectable people” whom John the Baptist is addressing today. The call to repent is addressed to everyone. “Don’t presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’” (Matt 3:9). Don’t think that just because you’re a Catholic, just because you go to church, just because over the years you’ve put a few bucks into the collection, that God’s pleased with you. John tells the Pharisees and Sadducees, and everyone else who comes to hear his preaching and to be baptized in the river, to “produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance,” as evidence that you’re God’s children. If you’re turning away from sin, it’s got to show in how you act!

Because the one who’s coming to introduce God’s kingdom is coming in judgment. “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (3:11). The Holy Spirit will reveal hearts, showing men and women in all their reality. The fire will purify the just and burn to cinders the wicked. Those who’ve produced good fruits, godly fruits, will be reaped into the barn of God’s harvest, and the wicked, the barren, will be incinerated in an eternal fire (3:12).

So what fruits does God expect? What are the fruits of repentance? St. Paul today mentions “harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus” (Rom 15:5). The responsorial psalm spoke of “pity for the lowly and the poor” (72:13). Elsewhere Paul speaks of the fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (cf. Gal 5:22-23). How we treat one another, how we forgive one another, how we live with one another is the fruit of our inner selves, of our virtue or lack of it. It’s to growth in such virtues that John the Baptist is calling us today, to prepare the way in our hearts for the Lord’s coming.
Photo: Painting of St. John the Baptist, Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Turin

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Homily for 1st Sunday of Advent

Homily for the
1st Sunday of AdventNov. 28, 2010
Matt 24: 37-44
Ursulines, Willow Dr., New Rochelle

“It is the hour now for your to awake from sleep,” St. Paul alerts the Romans (13:11). He probably wasn’t talking about getting up in time for meditation, or not drowsing off after you get to chapel. As he makes clear in what follows, he’s talking about living out the conversion of life that we undertook at Baptism. He’s talking about “staying awake” as if in vigil for the Lord’s return, as Jesus says. As you know, this 1st Sunday of Advent looks to his 2d coming, not his 1st.

The words of Jesus today have given rise in some Protestant sects to a whole theology of the Rapture: “one will be taken, and one will be left” (Matt 24:40-41). In advance of the 2d Coming of Christ, God will “catch up” and “whisk away to heaven” those who are to be saved, and leave behind those who don’t belong to Christ, to face horrific calamities. That theology spawned a best-selling series of novels called Left Behind. They tried making movies of the books, and let’s say they weren’t Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter. I saw one, and that was quite enuf.

But there’s a serious message here, a message of expecting the Master’s return, of being prepared. When he comes, Jesus says, it’ll be sudden, “as in the days of Noah” (24:37). If you haven’t already built your ark, it’ll be too late when the clouds gather and burst open. When the Son of Man comes, it’ll be decisive: “one will be taken, and one will be left”—not left behind in an evil word, as Rapture theology would have it, but left out of the kingdom, counted among the goats at the Judge’s left hand (cf. Matt 25:31-46). Our opening prayer this morning asked that “Christ…call us to his side in the kingdom,” counting us among his sheep.

I think I may safely assume that I needn’t repeat Paul’s entire warning to the Ursulines. I doubt the convent is secretly a college frat house.

So what is Jesus telling us today when he tells us, whether out tilling the fields or at the threshold grinding meal, to stay awake and be ready for the Lord?

Two things, both of which we learned—or they tried to teach us—in the novitiate: age quod agis, go about your regular duties attentively and wholeheartedly; and live in the presence of God.

When Jesus tells his disciples to stay awake, he doesn’t place them at prayer in the synagog or in the family room, gathered and waiting (as some sects have done when some misguided prophet has convinced them that the Last Day is at hand). Jesus, rather, places his disciples at their daily tasks: a man in the fields, a woman at her home millstone. My favorite story of St. Aloysius Gonzaga (which I’ve probably shared with you before) concerns how he and his young Jesuit companions were at recreation one day—doing whatever novices and scholastics did in the late 16th century for recreation—and one fellow asked Aloysius what he’d do if he knew that he was to die in the next half hour. Apparently this comrade expected Aloysius to say he’d go to church to pray, or seek out his confessor, or some such thing. Instead, Aloysius answered that he’d keep right on playing, because that was what God expected him to be doing at that time.

And God expects us to stay awake in expectation of his coming by going about our daily duties, attentively and wholeheartedly: praying, cleaning, letter writing, cooking, engaging in conversation, reading, driving someone to the doctor, assisting the sick, the aged, the needy, whatever the day, the moment, the person before us calls for. If our mind or our heart is elsewhere—whether taken up in heavenly thoughts and prayer, or more earthbound by what we’d rather be doing or with whom we’d rather be talking just then—then we won’t do well what we’re supposed to be doing just then or won’t be serving well the person who’s right in front of us just then. Age quod agis, in the Lord.

2d, as we go about our daily work, relaxation, conversation, and prayer, we try to be conscious of God’s presence—conscious according to the circumstances, of course. While we’re driving, we’d better be more attentive to the road than to the Lord! While speaking with someone, we’d better be attending to what she’s saying and not thinking about Mary visiting Elizabeth or Jesus dying on the cross. But we have many moments when we can whisper at least mentally that we’re speaking, moving, thinking, even breathing in the Lord’s name, offering our all to the Father thru our Savior. “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God,” Paul urges the Corinthians (I, 10:31). “Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus,” he commands the Thessalonians (I, 5:17-18). As we undertake our daily chores, our daily routine, our meetings, our physical exercise, whatever we do, we consciously or unconsciously—but better consciously —offer them to the Father in Christ. We do them for him, and from time to time we try to make that explicit. We invite Jesus to accompany us in our conversation, our walking, our working, our reading, even our resting, and to present all this to the Father as our humble prayers of praise and gratitude.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving in New Rochelle

Thanksgiving in New Rochelle

"So, what are you doing for the holiday?"

I get asked that a lot, whether the holiday is Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, or one of the lesser American "festivals" like Labor Day or July 4. The usual answer is that we're celebrating it together. "We" is the local SDB community--often enuf, both local SDB communities (provincial house and high school). These are family occasions for most Americans, and we SDBs are family to one another.

So it was today. Of our provincial house community of 18, 16 were home for the occasion, and 4 of the high school's 6 confreres joined us for dinner. (Bro. Don Caldwell's mom died in Pittsburgh earlier this week; he's been with her thru most of her illness, and Fr. Pat went out there the other day. The 4 men still home will leave tomorrow a.m. for the wake and funeral.)

Several of the confreres "conspired" to prepare dinner, and others did the decorating. So we had an outstanding feast of thanks and fellowship--as usual.

Need I mention that Mass was part of the celebration earlier in the day? No Salesian feast is complete without giving thanks to the Lord.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Fr. Jack Trisolini, SDB

Fr. Jack Trisolini, SDB (1937-2010)
Missionary to Korea

Bro. Hilario Seo, SDB, a Korean who is the Congregation’s Webmaster, composed a notice in Rome of Fr. Jack’s death in Seoul today, to which your blogger has added material from his own communications with Fr. Jack in the last three years.
The Salesian Constitutions include this statement: “When it happens that a Salesian dies working for souls, the Congregation has won a great triumph” (art. 54). We have, then, a story of triumph, coming today from the Korean Province. On November 22 at about 5:00 p.m., Fr. John F. Trisolini was called by the Lord to Don Bosco’s garden in Paradise, while at work in his office at the Workers Center of the Seoul Archdiocese, where he had spent more than 20 years.

Fr. Jack Trisolini, seated, at the provincial house in New Rochelle in July 2007, with Fr. Ed Cappelletti, who was by then retired after serving as director of Salesian Missions in New Rochelle for almost 50 years. Fr. Jack was already suffering from cancer.
Fr. John F. (Jack) Trisolini was born in Hoboken, N.J., March 2, 1937, and raised in Jersey City (St. Anne’s Parish). Professed as a Salesian on Sept. 8, 1958, he graduated from Don Bosco College in Newton, N.J., in June 1959 and was sent to Korea in December 1959 to continue his training as a teacher at Salesian High School in Kwangju. Fr. Trisolini studied theology in Rome and Turin (1962-1964) and Lyons (1964-1967); he was ordained in Lyons on April 15, 1967. He took an additional course in pastoral theology in Lyons in 1967-1968 with an emphasis on Catholic Action and youth groups (especially the Young Christian Workers).

Prior to his 50th anniversary of profession, he wrote of his time in France: “Fr. Francis Desramaut is quite a character. Whenever I visited Lyons, he would open the door for me and give me a big welcome—three clunks forehead-to-forehead, French style. I loved my three-plus years at Fontainières. After two years at the Pontificio Ateneo Salesiano, Fontainières was open, cosmopolitan, bright, erudite, and willing to accept that the New World wasn’t just an intellectual desert.

“The staff was top notch: Fr. Andre Barucq, a translator of the Jerusalem Bible and part of the team that wrote L’Introduction a la Bible; Fr. Joseph Aubry, who later did great work under the Rector Major—his courses were given with a Bishop Sheen-like enthusiasm and plenty of subject matter; Fr. André Guebey in canon law—he had joke for every canon so that you wouldn’t forget them. We took some courses at the Institut Catholique de Lyon and had people like de Lubac, Abbé Pierre, the Economie et Humanisme team of Père Lebret, OP (ghost writer of Mater et Magistra and Pacem in Terris) come in for special lectures. The Economie et Humanisme team and another team from the Sorbonne each stayed for month-long seminars.”

Returning to Korea in 1968, he did parish work in Seoul for two years and became very active in youth ministry among young workers in the Archdiocese of Seoul. In 1970 he became treasurer at Don Bosco Youth Center in Seoul. He was especially involved in assisting the Young Catholic Workers-Korea during the period of military dictatorship, in which he had to suffer so much to protect young workers’ rights from the brutal military government.

In 1976 he was transferred to the provincial house in Seoul as community treasurer; he had become province treasurer the year before, a position he filled for six years. Also in 1976 he was named head of the province’s formation program and national delegate of the Salesian Cooperators. From 1984 to 1990 he served as director of the Dae Rim Dong (Seoul) community.

In 1971 Cardinal Stephen Kim appointed Fr. Trisolini chairman of the newly formed Labor Pastoral Commission of the archdiocese of Seoul—a post he held until 1999. From 1990 he worked full time with the Seoul Archdiocesan Labor Pastoral Commission—as director of the Labor Pastoral Center since 2001. In 2002 pastoral care of migrant workers in the archdiocese was added to his responsibilities. The influence of Fr. Trisolini’s ministry extended beyond Korea to other parts of East Asia. We should say that really his life is the authentic testimony and history of the youth-worker ministry in the Korean Church. He was mourned as the “godfather of the Korean labor movement.”

Recently Fr. Jack suffered from lung and kidney cancer, which forced him to undergo dialysis twice a week, including this morning (Nov. 22). After he came back to his office, he was looking very tired and was anxious to prepare for the 40th anniversary of his office, the Workers Center of Seoul Archdiocese. At 5:00 p.m. he was found dead, seated on his chair in front of the computer monitor on which appeared a part of the draft of his new book on worker ministry history, which will be published for the 40th anniversary.

The funeral Mass will celebrated on November 25 in the cathedral of Seoul, and his body, according to his own wish, will be donated for medical study, destined for the Catholic Medical University in Seoul, without interment. According to Fr. Henry Bonetti, another American missionary to Korea, this is the general practice of the Salesians there. After about a month they’ll cremate the body and send the ashes to the provincial house, where they’ll be put into a niche prepared for the confreres in a room reserved for that purpose.

Please remember him in your prayers.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

N.R. Province Holds Mini-Congress on Bl. Michael Rua

New Rochelle Province
Holds Mini-Congress
To Celebrate Blessed Michael Rua

The centennial year of Blessed Michael Rua ( closed in the New Rochelle Province with a mini-congress on Saturday afternoon, November 13, at the Don Bosco Retreat Center in Haverstraw. In addition to members of the provincial chapter, which was meeting in the same place all that week, the mini-congress was open to the whole Salesian Family.

After the showing of a DVD on Fr. Rua prepared in Turin for the centennial year, there were presentations by three confreres who had taken part in the international Rua congresses in Italy in 2009-2010. Your humble blogger gave a detailed history of Fr. Rua’s involvement in the development of Salesian work in the Eastern U.S., followed by a question-and-answer period.

Fr. John Puntino used a PowerPoint presentation to ask, and answer, “Who was Fr. Rua?” He showed Fr. Rua as another Don Bosco, but not identical to our Founder; as leader of the Salesian Family; as promoter of the missions—all in the context of his times.

Fr. Romeo Trottier presented Fr. Rua’s spirituality and holiness, based on the research of Fr. Aldo Giraudo into witnesses’ testimony at the diocesan process for Fr. Rua’s beatification. Another question-and-answer period followed the last presentation.

Catholic Press Association Holds Regional Meeting

Catholic Press Association
Holds Regional Meeting in Baltimore
Every spring the Catholic Press Association and the Catholic Academy for Communication Arts Professionals hold a big convention—the Catholic Media Convention.

Last year, at the request of many members, the CPA revived a custom of holding annual regional meetings in the fall. In 2009 the Northeast Region met in Metuchen, and earlier this month (Nov. 4-5) we met in Baltimore.

About 40 journalists—editors, ad men, reporters, photographers, and CPA officers—attended the meeting at the Brookshire Suites downtown, a short walk from the Inner Harbor. Most of the attendees were Baltimore and Washington locals, but others were from New York, Rockville Centre, Philadelphia, Trenton, Metuchen, Pittsburgh, Toronto, and even the non-northeastern venues of Atlanta and Edmonton!

On Thursday morning, the 4th, we heard a keynote from Karen Ristau, president of the NCEA, on the challenges facing Catholic education today, before breaking into separate tracks for the editors-reporters and the advertising folks for most of the rest of the meeting. After an introduction that showed a certain continuity of concerns in Catholic education over the last 40 years (vocations shortage, financing, declining enrollment, effective religious education), Mrs. Ristau noted that 174 schools closed or merged in 2009-10, but 24 new ones opened. This is happening in a context in which our big cities also are closing public schools. She cited articles opining that Catholic schools will survive only if they stress the values that make them different, respond to the diverse backgrounds of the population (students in our schools are 30% minorities and 15% non-Catholic), and share a sense of ownership among parish, faculty, and parents. Archbishop Dolan’s recent essay in America urged the obligation of all Catholics (not just local parishioners) to support our schools. Three challenges that Catholic schools face are (1) to find way to acknowledge the good things going on in our schools, (2) to define problems accurately and find ways to address them, and (3) to preserve or restore a sense of civility. Our “top story” should be how much good Catholic schools are doing for their students.

Dr. Owen Phelps from Rockford, Ill., gave two presentations on management issues (time and people).

Helen Osman, the USCCB secretary for communications (and a past president of the CPA), spoke about social media; in particular, she presented brand-new guidelines from the bishops conference (“Social Media: Best Practices and Guidelines”). Mrs. Osman said that social media are a different way of delivering a message—in our case, the Gospel—to a new generation. That generation is the one whom Benedict XVI has called “the digital continent.” In particular, she said, young Latinos are adapting to new media even faster than other young people. We in the media business should be asking ourselves: (1) Who is our target audience? (2) What media are they using? (3) Who can help us use new media to reach them?

Late in the afternoon a bus transferred us to Baltimore’s original cathedral, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary—which is also the original cathedral church of the entire U.S. It was begun by Bishop John Carroll in 1805, designed by Benjamin Latrobe (the architect of the U.S. Capitol), completed in 1821, and completely renovated a few years ago (a few details of renovation remain to be done). It’s a magnificent piece of neo-classical architecture; Carroll chose that form over a more traditional Gothic design that Latrobe also offered, to demonstrate that American Catholics belonged to this new country and the forms of life and government it was adopting. Set on what was at the time the highest hill in Baltimore, it also rivaled in size and grandeur even the Capitol (as it was in 1805), proudly broadcasting the religious freedom of American Catholics.

We got a good guided tour that pointed out such features as the old galleries for slaves and free blacks and for cloistered sisters, the extension of the sanctuary necessitated by Latrobe’s too-small original (a non-Catholic, he had no concept of Catholic liturgy), the paintings imported from France, the cathedra used by all the archbishops of Baltimore up to 1959 (when a new cathedral was built) and two Popes, and the tombs of Archbishop Carroll, Cardinal Gibbons, and other archbishops. We heard about great moments in Catholic history that occurred there, including the funeral of Charles Carroll of Carrollton (last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence, and the only Catholic), the ordination of Fr. Michael McGivney, who went on to found the Knights of Columbus, visits from Mother Teresa and various civil dignitaries, and the three plenary councils of the American bishops (the third of which, in 1884, decreed that every parish should have an elementary school, set up the Catholic University of America, and commissioned the famous Baltimore Catechism).

After the tour, I concelebrated Mass for our group with the rector of the cathedral in the cozy basement chapel.

A lavish dinner at a very upscale Brazilian restaurant followed, courtesy of Pentecost Tours.

Friday’s agenda for the editorial track opened with a panel consisting of three experts from the USCCB, who discussed the policy implications of the elections earlier in the week. The panel included John Carr, executive director of the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development; Maria Odom, executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network; and Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities (for more about this, see
They were followed by a presentation on new media from Chris Gunty of the Catholic Review of Baltimore: what media are new, and how they can work for Catholic journalists.

After lunch the whole group of us got another new media presentation from communications guru David Bell, chairman emeritus of Interpublic Group and former CEO of True North Communications. He told us that our organizations can’t afford not to develop a high quality Web site as well as to establish a presence at YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, etc. The Internet has been through two waves, the first about access, the second about the platform. The third wave will be about content, including data, aesthetics, the personalization of everything, ad formats, and of course quality. He cited as models the sites of ESPN, the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and And he laid out several principles: (1) Catholic media have to work together; therein lies huge strength. (2) The Internet isn’t like print; it’s an experience. (3) Edited and curated content has its proper place. (4) Relevance is key amid the slews and slews of information and data that are available. (5) The Internet loves personalities. (6) Strong content brands will survive. Finally, Mr. Bell said, publishing requires a new age journalist at the top, and passionate, savvy youngsters on the staff. “Good news,” he said, “comes to those who are willing to kiss change on the lips.”

For the editors and journalists, the conference concluded with “Photography for Reporters—Managing Two Jobs in One,” led by Ann Augherton of the Arlington Catholic Herald with ample sharing from the floor.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Homily for 33d Sunday of Ordinary Time

for the 33d Sunday
of Ordinary TimeNov. 14, 2010
Luke 21: 5-19
Mal 3:19-20
2 Thess 3: 7-12
Ursulines, Willow Dr., New Rochelle

“By your perseverance you will secure your lives” (Luke 21: 19).

Yesterday “perseverance” came up in the parable of the widow and the corrupt judge, and in the life of Mother Cabrini. Today it comes up with a different meaning: not perseverance in prayer or in the pursuit of a vocation or in the building of an apostolic enterprise, but in faithfulness to our Lord Jesus Christ thru the “toil and drudgery” of daily life, thru earthly travails, thru persecution (2 Thess 3:8) until the end of our individual lives or until that “day comes blazing like an oven,” the Last Day (cf. Mal 3:19).

After Jesus’ journey up to Jerusalem with his disciples, today we find them in the temple, the center of the Jewish world, gawking like tourists in Times Square. Jesus brings them down by predicting the temple’s destruction, which in turn leads to their questioning him about what will lead up to such a terrible event. Jesus speaks of false messiahs, wars and insurrections, natural disasters, omens, and persecutions—such things as in fact preceded the Roman army’s capture and destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. His “forecast,” tho, seems to be open-ended, which is how Luke would have seen it, writing well after 70. The temple’s ruin wasn’t the end of the world; Christians would have to continue waiting for Jesus’ return, would have to persevere thru the various trials of ordinary life, thru the extraordinary trials of life, thru ongoing betrayals and persecutions.

Those who persevere to the end will secure their lives, i.e., will be saved when the Lord does return. There will finally be a day of reckoning. Both the anonymous prophet Malachi (the name means simply “Messenger”) and Psalm 98 speak of the coming of the Lord with justice: “He will rule the world with justice and the peoples with equity” (98:9). There’s precious little justice in this world; we wait for God to straighten everything out, put everything in proper order.

Malachi implies that the Lord, when he comes on “the day that is coming” (3:19), will separate the just from the unjust, will use fire and heat to punish the latter and reward the former. Fire as punishment for the wicked is a common biblical image, used by the prophets, by John the Baptist, and by Jesus. That day, “blazing like an oven,” will burn evildoers like stubble, like the refuse burned as fuel after the harvest.

We all know how welcome a fire is on a chilly evening—or on a Scout camping trip! We know how the snowbirds fly to Florida and Arizona for the winter, seeking a warm and sunny climate. For the just, “you who fear my name,” fire—“the sun of justice”—will bring healing warmth and light. On a cold spring nite, we light a great fire to signal that Christ, light of the world, is risen for our salvation—and we burst into an Exsultet and then into a Gloria: “with trumpets and the sound of the horn, [we] sing joyfully before the King, the Lord” (98:6).

Between now and “that day,” how are we to wait for the Lord? What are we to do? Paul’s friends in Thessalonica struggled with that question. It may be that some of them, believing the Lord’s return was imminent, sat on their hands waiting. Why engage “in toil and drudgery, night and day” (3:8) if Jesus will return at any moment to complete our redemption? Thruout the Christian ages there have been groups who thought the 2d Coming was imminent, sold their belongings, and gathered to wait…and wait…and wait. Their waiting has always been disappointed. Paul explains that life must go on, including toil and earning one livelihood. Anything else is a disorder, an imposition upon the community. Furthermore, those who don’t work wind up as nuisances, or worse, among the community, “not keeping busy but minding the business of others” (3:11)—at best, distracting and interfering in the work of others, worse yet gossiping. (What would Paul have said in the age of texting, blogging, and tweeting?)

No, Paul tells us, we have to keep on working, day by day, carrying out our duties, “working quietly” (3:12). The Christian lives in the world, contributes to this world, is “faithful in serving” the Father (Collect) until the Lord comes again or until the Lord calls her home.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Out of Brandon

Out of Brandon

On October 30 I received an e-mail informing me: “Nativity is celebrating the Golden Jubilee, 50 years of being a canonical Parish. Are you the same Mike Mendl [a friend] mentioned? I found you on the internet and the numbers match but nowhere do you mention Brandon. I am working on the book to celebrate this occasion and would appreciate any thoughts you might offer regarding Nativity on your ‘Journey of Faith.’” So, over the course of a couple of weeks, I composed what follows.

Brandon, Florida, 1957
My family—John and Cecilia and three small kids—moved to Brandon in June 1957, relocating from Tampa's Palma Ceia section and Christ the King Parish. I was the oldest sibling, not yet 9 and fresh out of third grade at CK; Chris was 7, Rita about to turn 6.

Tampa was really not much of a city in 1957, certainly not nearly what it has become. Brandon was positively country, acres and acres of citrus groves and pasture. Hwy. 60 had only 2 lanes from 301 to Vero Beach, and Parsons Ave. had the only stop light between 301 and Bartow.

“Downtown” Brandon didn’t have much besides the post office, some gas stations, Frenchy’s tavern at the southwest corner of Bryan Rd. and Hwy. 60, and Scogin’s department store. For groceries, serious shopping, banking, or Dad’s building supplies and hardware you went into Tampa. Likewise if you needed a hospital. We had 2 doctors in town, a young Dr. Greenwell and the veteran Dr. Ted Grabel. The post office was tiny place on the north side of Hwy. 60 (I don’t remember exactly where) where most residents kept a box (ours was 194). If the person writing to you couldn’t remember your address, that was all right: your name and “Brandon, Fla.” sufficed to secure delivery. It was a big deal, by the way, when 1st-class postage rose to 4¢. There was also a tiny library of about one room in what had been someone’s house.

It was somewhat exciting when a strip mall came to town, and then the big shopping center, ca. 1960. And then a bank. But as best I can remember, we still had only one traffic light! And we still had too many cows and horses to count, and uncounted acres of orange and grapefruit trees. Around 1960, South Oakwood got paved, and then the old oat field across the street became a subdivision. I earned a few bucks cutting lawns in there when I was about 12.

Dad, a contractor, had built us a house at 309 South Oakwood, a couple of blocks from Hwy. 60, on land that not long before had been part of Mr. Fietz’s goat farm—the Dew Bloom Dairy. Oakwood Ave. was a one-lane dirt road with a house here and there on the east side, on the other side only trees and what had been the goat farm’s oat field. Most of what lay east of Oakwood was just woods and pasture, great spaces for roaming. About where the swim club is now there was a humongous old oak tree that we called Monkey Island on account of its great low-lying limbs that invited hours of scrambling up, over, and through.

As a builder, Dad was doing his small part to turn Brandon into one of Tampa’s bedroom communities. At first he was an independent builder, but eventually he went to work for Jerry Lane, and later for Mr. Ragsdale (whose 1st name I don’t recall). Mr. Ragsdale built all over the area, not just in Brandon.

But in 1957 the goats were still down the road, and in the little, shaded ravines where they wandered was a kid’s paradise for playing cowboys and Indians or Yanks and Rebs. (There weren’t a whole lot of goats, and Mr. Fietz was a friendly old fellow. One event that stands in my mind is his inviting all the neighborhood kids—through our parents—to come one day and watch a nanny give birth.) I also learned the hard way that it was great soil for contracting hookworm, and more than once Mom had to cart me to Dr. Greenwell for a treatment of ethyl chloride to freeze the little vermin into oblivion. No more running barefoot, as we’d loved doing in Tampa.

There weren’t many kids in the neighborhood. In fact, there were only the Mendls and a passel of Labadies—I don’t remember exactly how many, maybe 6 or 7, all boys except 1 girl. They lived in what’s now Nativity’s rectory, the corner of their large backyard touching a corner of ours.

Now and then I’d be taken to Valrico to play baseball with some friends I’d made. When Brandon got a Little League in 1961 (that had to be the year, because I was 12 and only got to play for one year), I was an eager participant, playing the outfield and catching for a team sponsored by Everina Homes. Our team finished in 1st place. The next summer I played a little, with less success, in some kind of a summer league.

The Church of the Nativity, Late 1950s
Nativity had 5 mostly empty acres on the south side of Hwy. 60 (an orange grove was on the north side), stretching from Oakwood to Bryan Rd. The only building on it was the little mission church—less than half the present social hall (which it has become, after various additions). I don’t know what the seating capacity was—maybe 200. I’m not sure when the little wooden outbuilding outside the front door was added; that was the religious articles store, which Mom looked after diligently for quite a few years.

Eventually the parish leaders—Fr. John Lima and I don’t know which men and women—decided the church needed a social hall. Someone arranged for the parish to buy an old barracks from MacDill, and the men converted it into a hall down about where the drainage pond is now.

Nativity was a mission of St. Clement in Plant City, where Fr. Lima lived by himself. With no resident priest, the Blessed Sacrament couldn’t be kept in church after the second, and last, Sunday Mass. So after the sermon (there were few homilies in those days before Vatican II) Fr. Lima or the “Sunday supply” priest had to count who intended to receive Communion and put that many hosts into the ciborium; any that were left over had to be consumed at the end of Mass. Of course, with only 100 or 150 people in attendance, getting a reasonably accurate count must not have been too much of a challenge.

Sunday supply came mainly from the Salesians at Mary Help of Christians School, but occasionally from the Redemptorists at Our Lady of Perpetual Help (OLPH) in Ybor City or even as far away as the Benedictines of St. Leo’s Abbey. Every other Sunday, one of these visitors would be in Brandon while Fr. Lima said the Masses in Plant City. The next Sunday they’d switch. Our family became friendly with most of these visitors, often inviting them to lunch after the 2nd Mass, which was convenient since we were only a couple of hundred yards down the street. We had Fr. Lima over often, as well, and his old friend from his Maryknoll days, Fr. William Fletcher, when the latter would come south on a vacation. The only parishioners who were closer to the church were the Savoies (Frenchy, of the tavern) and the Labadies.

I don’t remember when I decided I wanted to become an altar boy; probably in 5th grade, ca. 1958. I was soon a dependable regular, along with the Walden boys, Kenneth Davis, Steve Brannigan, the Martins, and a little later, the Grabels and my brother. We were happy and proud to serve at the altar, to master the arcane movements of the missal and the bows and the ringing of the bells (in fact, for a long time we didn’t have bells at the altar, but a small chimes set—bong! bong! bong!), and of course all the Latin responses. Fr. Lima treated us well, and so did his eventual successors, Fr. John Linnehan and Fr. David Cronin. When I had a Sunday “off,” I was always on the lookout to see whether one of the assigned boys had failed to show, so that I could fill in for him. (Need I say that there were no altar girls way back then? Totally unthought of.) Whenever our family traveled, I’d do the same thing, and so I wound up serving Masses in a church in Atlanta once and even in the lower church of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in D.C.

Catholics in Brandon were few and far between, certainly in contrast with parts of Tampa. In 1957 some of the locals may not have been certain that we didn’t have tails and horns. Not only was Nativity a fairly new establishment, and not a parish, but of course there wasn’t a parochial school.

Going to School
In fact, Brandon, which registered only 5,000 people in the 1960 census, had only 2 schools, period: the elementary school, Walter S. Yates, and the high school (now the McLane Middle School). Horace Mann Junior High opened, at the site of what’s now the high school, the same year we came to town. With no Catholic school option, we 3 Mendls went to Yates, where Frances Studstill was my 4th grade teacher, and a very fine one whom I remember very fondly. Rita had Frances Gunn in 1st grade, likewise an excellent teacher who also became a family friend—because her husband Donald ran the gas station that we patronized, and her sister, Evelyn Clites, eventually became my grandmother’s landlady in Limona. (I have no recollection of who Chris’s 2nd grade teacher was.)

Most days I think Mom took us to school by car. What is it from South Oakwood to Yates? Maybe a mile? And most days we had to walk home, down Morgan St. to North Oakwood, which also was just a dirt track, thru the orange grove, and across Hwy. 60. Hard to imagine a 4th grader doing something like that nowadays! Of course, Hwy. 60 also is a LOT harder to cross now than it was in 1957-58.

There was a big old farmhouse at the end of North Oakwood, amid the orange grove. I think the family who lived there was named Mays. I became friendly with one of the boys, and sometimes we played together. It was a sad day, I’m not sure when, when their house burned down.

How rare were Catholics in Brandon? As I remember it, there was only one other in my class, Mike Potter. But there was still a religious feel to public education in the ’50s. Every day began with a Bible reading, and the students, at least in Mrs. Studstill’s class, took turns saying grace before lunch. Despite all that, we got a great education!

Across the street from Yates was Brandon’s one public park, which was a good place to hang during the summer, playing Monopoly or other games in the rec building, or baseball outside. Next to Yates was a well shaded pasture occupied by Dynamite, a donkey who was something of a hero to us kids. He loved to be petted and scratched, and occasionally he’d treat us to a nice bray.

Some of the Catholic parents wanted a Catholic school, however. Fr. Lima was more than willing, but the main obstacle—as hard as it is to imagine today—was finding sisters to staff it. He wrote request after request, and many families had finding sisters in their daily prayer intentions. Ours were addressed to St. Jude!

In the meantime, some of the parents decided to get the kids to Catholic school if a school couldn’t come to Brandon. So the Mouchas and the Mulligans and the Mendls (3M?) arranged a carpool that would haul 8 of us to OLPH every day. I think the Grabels got involved too eventually. I guess we must have used 2 cars; even the proverbial 1950s station wagon would have been a squeeze for 8 children and a parent. But maybe we did squeeze. It seemed like a long ride—yes, even tho we were on our way to school, it seemed long—but it was only about 12 miles, with few stop lights till you got into the city. And that went on for 4 years!

Except that eventually OLPH began to send a bus to Clair-Mel City (a section on the east side of Tampa); that was closer for our carpool than going all the way into Ybor City, so our parents would drop us and pick us up there. That might have been for my 7th and 8th grade years.

At OLPH we had the School Sisters of Notre Dame, who were wonderful. Most of them, anyway. There were a couple who sort of scared us, perhaps unjustifiably. They’d also been the CCD teachers at Nativity back when we were going to Yates, and I suppose they continued to do that ministry after we were no longer involved. (It must have been a challenge to conduct CCD classes all over the church, because that was the only building in 1957-58.) The SSNDs were competent and, mostly, friendly. I had Sr. Mary Timothene for both 7th and 8th grades (not simultaneously!)—it was quite a shock to us when she was “promoted” along with us. For grades 1-6, OLPH has 2 classes at each level. Not so for grades 7-8. So Sr. Timothene got all 70 of us, in one room. And she taught, and we learned!

The Redemptorists at OLPH were an occasional, friendly presence too. One of my classmates, Don Roth, became a Redemptorist and a missionary in South America. Two vocations from the class speaks well for the training we got at school, as well as from our families and our parishes.

By the time I had reached 8th grade, Nativity had found sisters for a parochial school. I’m not sure whether Fr. Lima was still pastor at that point, or had already been succeeded by Fr. Linnehan. In any case, the Trinitarian Sisters had agreed to come and staff a school, and a 6-classroom building was put up behind the church. Before that building was ready, in 1961 the school opened with grades 1-6 in the old barracks, which the men of the parish had divided into classrooms. One grade was added each of the following 2 years. Which meant that Chris and Rita could go to Nativity School, but I couldn’t. So that commute to OLPH via Clair-Mel City continued for some of us.

I completed 8th grade at OLPH in June 1962. What next?

Meeting the Salesians
As I said, our family had become friendly with many of the Sunday supply priests. We became closest to Salesian Fr. John Masiello, who was newly ordained in 1958, young, darkly handsome, and lively. Plus he came from Queens, where Dad had grown up. In fact, much to everyone’s surprise, we discovered that Dad’s older brother had once worked for Fr. John’s dad (before World War II, I guess). On one of our family vacations back to Long Island, the Masiellos had all of us over for a big Italian dinner.

I don’t remember whether Fr. John ever sounded me out, but I was open to the idea of being a priest. (I was also open to being a baseball player and in 7th or 8th grade wrote an essay about that.) But unbeknownst to me, he sent my name in to the Salesians’ vocation office when I was in 7th grade (it could even have been earlier), and soon I was getting promotional literature. It was a big, happy surprise when I even got a hardcover book in the mail, a life of Don Bosco (which had been printed at the school in Tampa, no less!). Such bounty! Such generosity!

So by the middle of the 8th grade, I was giving serious thought to going off to New York for high school seminary, to become a Salesian. My parents let me apply, and I was accepted. I also took the entrance exam for Jesuit High School and was accepted there. But Jesuit was never really in cards; it was too far away, too difficult to get to. I never heard Mom and Dad say anything about the tuition, and I have no idea what it was in 1962. OLPH was an option; they had a parochial high school, one floor above the grammar school’s two floors. But I didn’t want to continue there (Chris and Rita later did go to high school there, until it was closed, and then they finished at Brandon High).

I decided to go to the seminary, Salesian Junior Seminary in Goshen, N.Y. We made grand plans for another northern family vacation in August that would culminate in dropping me there. Of course, as a 13-year-old I wasn’t sure I wanted to be priest. But a good education would do no harm. I said as much to some family friends, and word got back to Dad, who must have had his own doubts all along. About a week before we were to head north, he decided that I was too young to leave home, especially since I wasn’t sure of my vocation. No discussion. Mom cried. I was much disappointed.

So I was promptly enrolled at Horace Mann, with school to start in a few days. Word got to Fr. Masiello, who was at the house in a day or two. He offered to get me into Mary Help of Christians, which had grades 5-9 at the time. They took day students (in fact, there was but 1 in 1962-63, out of about 145 students), but if I wanted to board it would be a “training” year for living away from home, yet not very far. Parents and family could visit any Sunday, there were monthly weekends at home—and I’d be in a Salesian environment and could find out more about who these priests and brothers were, what they did, what their lives were like.

It was really a decisive intervention. I went to Mary Help as a boarder, came home many Sundays for a few hours, and on those monthly weekends. My career as a Nativity altar boy continued in these intervals. At Mary Help I became quite close to several of the Salesians besides Fr. John—to native Tampan, former football star, and war hero Fr. Orlando Molina in particular. So did my family. Eventually—after I had really left for the seminary—they became heavily involved in Mary Help and sometimes had all the Salesians over to our house for a pool party and dinner. (Mary Help had no pool at the time, and the students, but not the staff, swam in East Lake.)

And in the spring of 1963, with Dad’s approval, I reapplied to Salesian Junior Seminary. I looked forward to a summer of playing baseball in a local league and was all set for that, when another Mary Help intervention came, an invitation to be an unpaid staff member at the summer camp, continuing to board at the school. I accepted, with mixed feelings (I really did love baseball, and had just earned my way onto a team).

In late August we finally made that trip up to Goshen. From then on, I’d see Brandon and Nativity only for a week of Christmas vacation and three weeks of summer vacation, and once I entered the novitiate in August 1966, even less than that. Fr. Linnehan and then Fr. Cronin were very encouraging of a young seminarian.

Research has shown that religious and priestly vocations generally grow out of the soil of a devout and encouraging family (and the grace of God, of course). It was true in my case. Mom and Dad were churchgoers, and we prayed as a family. They were, moreover, heavily involved in parish life at Nativity in the various social activities. Earlier I mentioned Mom’s running the religious articles store. She was active in the women’s club, and Dad in the men’s club. Both contributed a lot of work for the early parish carnivals, annual affairs that were the forerunners of today’s Novemberfest (although I don’t remember what month they were held in)—with games, rides, food, and a lot of fun for both kids and grown-ups. These usually lasted about three days, I think. After the liturgical renewal of Vatican II, Mom and Dad took on additional roles in the parish: she as an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist, he as a lector. Dad also served on the parish council. Both were highly respected because of their generosity and practical experience, and my father in particular was more than ready to speak his mind whenever he thought it necessary (sometimes to the chagrin of Fr. Lima or Fr. Lara, as I understand it, but not in a way that violated charity).

Good parishes help too. Nativity has been recognized in print (Paulist Press) as an outstanding parish. I don’t know the exact count, but quite a few vocations have come from there, maybe as many as a dozen. I hope that the parish’s golden jubilee history will have further information.

One story that has always stuck in my mind comes out of the preparations for Nativity School. When the convent was being planned, the pastor of the time invited some of the men who were knowledgeable about buildings to review the blueprints (I don’t know whether women, also, were consulted). Someone—not my father—eventually said something along the lines of, “Father, either the sisters are more angelic than any of us realize—or your architect has forgotten bathrooms.” That got around the parish pretty quickly! A great example of why pastors should always consult lay experts, too.

Around 1960 my widowed grandmother, Rita Hirsch, moved to Brandon from New York. She lived briefly with us, till we found her a place of her own in Limona in a neat little cottage on the property of Raymond and Evelyn Clites (sister of Frances Gunn, as I mentioned above—and both of them were Lumsdens, members of a prominent Brandon family). (Limona used to be a separate hamlet with its own post office.) “Nana Rita” played her own part in the parish’s senior circles, especially contributing her amateur musical talent as a pianist. She was noted for her ability to play almost any popular song (of her era, not of the ’60s!) by ear. She was, in addition, a beloved nanny for the three Clites kids, her memory still very much cherished in the family. She remained a Brandon resident and Nativity parishioner until her death in 1980, although that occurred while she was on an extended visit with my Aunt Felicia up north. Her funeral took place in our family’s former home town of Bellmore, N.Y., and she was buried next to her long deceased husband.

As it turned out, after I made my religious profession (Aug. 15, 1967), I had 2 summer assignments to the camp at Mary Help, in 1968 and 1969. So I saw a bit of Brandon and Nativity still, and got some vacation time with the family, as well. There were further short summer vacations in 1970 and 1971 after I graduated from Don Bosco College. And then Mom and Dad moved to North Carolina. I would seldom see Brandon again—a family trip or two, plus my grandmother’s 75th birthday surprise party in April 1975, another summer camp assignment to Mary Help in 1975, my first Mass in June 1978, thanks to Fr. Lara’s graciousness—until I was assigned to Mary Help as a priest in 2002 and, most happily for me, sent on Sunday supply to Nativity with some regularity until Fr. Provincial called me back north in 2004 to my present ministry of communications and publishing for the province.

For more about "old" Brandon, see (a Tampa Tribune article dated 2/29/12)

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Homily for 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
31st Sunday of Ordinary Time
Oct. 31, 2010
2 Thess 1: 11—2:2
Scouters taking Woodbadge Course, Camp Alpine, N.J.

“We pray that our God may make you worthy of his calling” (2 Thess 1: 11).

Paul was the 1st to preach the Good News in Thessalonica. But it wasn’t he who called the Thessalonians to accept God’s mercy and change their way of living. The call came from God: “May our God make you worthy of his calling.” Paul is just God’s instrument.

We too may serve as God’s instruments for his calling others, for reinforcing that call, for helping others to discern the call and answer it. Scout leaders are God’s instruments in helping young men find their way in life. That search for their way includes their search, usually unawares, for life’s meaning—for God’s purposes in their lives, for their proper relationships with him and with the rest of his children. We help young men understand reverence, and practice it.

Conversion of St. Paul: painting in the basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, Rome

Paul is uttering a prayer in this passage of his letter. The prayer is that God will make the Thessalonian Christians worthy of his call. God doesn’t call people because they are worthy. We see that clearly in today’s gospel story (Luke 19:1-10), as well as in many others, notably Jesus’ calling of the apostles and very notably in Paul’s own call (Acts 9:1-19; cf. Gal 1:11-24). You may have seen the evangelical slogan—on a bumper sticker or going round the e-mail circuit: “God doesn’t call the qualified. He qualifies the called.” He makes us worthy of his calling. We Catholics offer a prayer at every Mass just before Communion that God will make us worthy of himself: “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.” The healing action, the spiritual cleansing, the sanctification, is always God’s.

St. Augustine says the same thing in a sermon that we find in the Office of Readings: “We have been saved by his grace, says the Apostle, and not by our works…. It is not as if a good life of some sort came first, and that thereupon God showed his love and esteem for it from on high, saying: ‘Let us come to the aid of these men and assist them quickly because they are living a good life.’ No, our life was displeasing to him; whatever we did by ourselves was displeasing to him; but what he did in us was not displeasing to him. He will, therefore, condemn what we have done, but he will save what he himself has done in us.”*

St. Augustine painting: basilica of Mary Help of Christians, Turin

God didn’t call any of us on account of our goodness, our intelligence, our charm, our good looks, our artistic talents, etc. He called us to be his at Baptism, which means he called most of us when we were infants, totally helpless. About the only thing we could do by ourselves was give our parents a mess to clean up! God didn’t call us to be his children because we were worthy of such love, any more than our parents co-created us with God because we were worthy of love. Both God and our parents called us into existence as an act of love on their part, and freely offered that love to us—thereby making us lovable, making us worthy, and in God’s case, making us holy.

Paul’s prayer continues: “May our God powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose and every effort of faith” (1:11). In some rituals of religious profession, when a sister or a brother makes vows, we find a similar prayer from the presider: “May God, who has begun this good work in you, bring it to perfection” or “to completion.” May God finish the job he’s started in us! Our pursuit of Christ as disciples, as believers, is a lifelong pursuit, a lifelong journey, a lifelong pilgrimage. (You know what Yogi says!) In the 17th century, John Bunyan reminded Puritan readers of that with The Pilgrim’s Progress. But it’s an age-old Christian image, as old as Luke’s gospel in which Jesus sets out on a long journey toward Jerusalem, leading the disciples with him. Like the apostles, who said things like, “Let us also go to die with him” (John 11:16) and “Lord, I am prepared to go to prison and to die with you” (Luke 22:33), but fled like cockroaches when the light goes on, we need divine help to stay with Jesus when temptation comes, when our faith is challenged by adversity: “May our God powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose and every effort of faith.”

Our perseverance in faith, in living out our faith and not just mouthing it, glorifies the name of our Lord Jesus, Paul says. We’re linked to Jesus by our Baptism. We belong to him, and he belongs to us. When God’s grace works in us, producing good, it gives glory to Jesus in whom we live, in whose name we act (at least implicitly)—just as our evil deeds are a scandal, reflecting poorly on the name of Christian. But the good we do is a partaking of the goodness of Jesus, reflects his goodness (we’re mirrors of Jesus, so to say), and so offers praise to the Father.

The 2d paragraph of our reading today takes up the rather different subject of “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling with him” (2:1). That “assembly” will be the ultimate “fulfillment” of our journey with Christ toward the heavenly Jerusalem. The latest “end of the world” fad in our time seems to come from the Mayan calendar, which, so it’s said, ends with 2012. I think there was a movie about that a few months ago, which I didn’t see. But these fads of “the end is near” come repeatedly, and the fads fade, of course. Paul was dealing with one ca. 50 A.D., when, Scripture scholars generally believe, the Christian community expected Jesus’ imminent 2d coming.

Paul’s advice to the Thessalonians is, “Don’t be shaken out of your minds suddenly or be alarmed” (2:2)—“Don’t worry about it.” Not in our reading today is his bottom-line advice later in this chapter: “Therefore, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the tradition that you were taught” (2:15). Then, as Jesus says, we’ll be awake and watchful and won’t be caught off guard whenever he does return (cf. Matt 24:43-44).

The Last Judgment, by Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel
I draw your attention to one word in Paul’s reference to the Lord’s coming: “our assembling with him.” In his Greek, that’s επισυναγωγής (episunagoges), in Latin congregationis: synagog, congregation. When we assemble as a “synagog” or congregation each Sunday, we’re “assembling with our Lord Jesus Christ,” doing a dry run, as it were, for his 2d coming. We who meet with him regularly, faithfully, we who are familiar with him, will have nothing to cause us to fear his glorious return on the Last Day. Indeed, we look for his coming again in power, to “bring to fulfillment powerfully every good purpose and every effort of our faith” that we’ve been striving at on our long pilgrimage with him toward Jerusalem.

* Sermon 23A; Liturgy of the Hours, 4:188.

Lo! I-malay! from Soddo, Ethiopia

Lo! I-malay! from Soddo, EthiopiaBy Stephen Lilly

Mr. Lilly, a 2008 graduate of the University of Illinois from Berwyn, Ill., was commissioned as an SLM last August and shortly after left for his assignment at Don Bosco Catholic School in Soddo, Ethiopia. He sent this e-mail on Oct. 9 to Adam Rudin, the SLM program director.

Lo! I-malay! (Hi, how are you!)

I hope that this letter finds you well. These happen to be greetings in the language of Wallaytigna. While the national language of Ethiopia is Amharic, here in the region of Wolaita the mother tongue of most of the population is the one that has been spoken in the area for many centuries. Certainly people here have an identity of being Ethiopian; however, the Wolaita language, culture, and heritage are still living, even in the midst of the influx of national and global influences. So while I expected that most people would speak Amharic fluently, I am discovering to my surprise that the students at Don Bosco Catholic School here in Soddo are struggling to learn it just as I am.

It is difficult to believe, but school has been in session for a nearly a month already. If children were apprehensive or anxious during the first days of the semester, those feelings have long past.

Students are now fully immersed in the year’s curriculum of English, Amharic, Wallaytigna, science, mathematics, ethics, computer skills, music, and physical education. Every school day begins with an assembly in the central courtyard in which all 290 students line up according to grade and height. With each student sporting a new uniform consisting of a yellow shirt, brown vest, and brown pants or capris, for boys and girls respectively, they practice a small marching exercise to wake up and stretch their legs. Then, after singing the national anthem and listening to the day’s announcements the students march into the classroom to participate in another full day of learning and recreation.
Don Bosco Catholic School in Soddo (right), with the youth center at the left. In the foreground is the soccer field. (Photo by Stephen Lilly)

The days are full for me as well. While I only teach two periods of Spoken English each day, all the staff is with the children during thirty minutes of recess in the morning and the hour for lunch as well. For a school managed in the spirit of Don Bosco that means plenty of running and playing with the children. They are very fun, and they always have tons of energy to play soccer, volleyball, jump rope, or other games. In addition to teaching and being present with the children, I have been working continuously on the school’s library, which is now taking shape. All the books have been categorized, assigned call numbers, and organized on the shelves. Now remains the still daunting task of imputing all the books’ information into an electronic card catalog. Days will soon become even more packed when the youth center opens in a few weeks.

We do have time though to step away and relax a bit here and there.

In the evenings Abba Jose, Brother Kidane, and I will often sit out on the front steps and talk while watching the lightning flash in the distance or scanning the sky to look for the plane from Nairobi that passes overhead around 8 pm. On Sundays or holidays we have also been climbing a small ridge across the road from us. After passing a waterfall, crossing the small stream, and hiking a few minutes to the summit, we’ll find comfortable rocks from which to soak in the sun and to view the valley below. Many metal roofs reflect the light, but an equal amount of homes and structures made from mud and sticks adorn the landscape. Crops pattern the terrain and livestock roams. If you strain your eyes you can even see a sliver of Lake Abaya in the hazy distance.

Occasionally we will travel into town. The streets are always alive, but especially around dusk many families and friends will walk to say ‘hello’ to their neighbors or to hear the latest news. People greet each other with a small bow, or if they know each other well they will join right hands and lean together so that their right shoulders meet. Women will also greet each other with numerous kisses on the cheek.

Soddo was especially busy during the days leading up to Meskel, the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross. Meskel is the biggest holiday of the year in the Wolaita region, and at night large fires blazed along all the roads as families celebrated.

I am attaching a photograph of the Don Bosco compound to this e-mail. On the left-hand side is the youth center, and the buildings on the right comprise the school. In the foreground is the large soccer field, and the green mountain in the distance is named Da Mota, which is the title of a king. An Ethiopian Orthodox church sits on top and pilgrims will climb to the summit over a period of a few days to visit it and pray.

There is always much more to write; however, I must leave it at this.

Thank you again for your thoughts and prayers. I appreciate them very much. Also, I am sorry that I have not been very good at returning correspondences. I have limited access to the internet.

Ah muh suh ge na lo! (I give thanks)


P.S. My parents have informed me that there might be some people interested in donating to the school. If you are, send me an e-mail, and I will speak with Abba Jose and provide a list of small things that would be helpful for the school and youth center. Thanks!
Top photo by Fr. Mike Mendl. Bottom Photo by Adam Rudin.

All the Things I Didn't Say...

All the Things I Didn’t Say…
By Margaret Stortz

Miss Stortz was commissioned as an SLM in August 2009 and served as a at an orphanage in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, for one year beginning in September 2009. Shortly after her return to her home in Denver, she wrote this reflection, which is posted at the Salesian Lay Missioners Web site (

Margaret and her mom on the day of her SLM commissioning
“…I stood awed and bemused between two realities and two dreams.” So says Charles Ryder, a character in Evelyn Waugh’s novel, Brideshead Revisited, as he is startled down memory lane by an unexpected visit to a familiar place. So has been the experience of the last few weeks in Bolivia and my first few days in America: I have crossed the divide and what was held the dream has become the reality and the year-long reality has become a far away dream.

I knew I had been there for close to a year as I noticed the season repeating itself: the wind blew ferociously all the time, stirring up the sand that paves the streets so that I would walk around half-blind, rubbing my eyes and blinking wildly all of the time and feeling like a living sand castle. Half of the trees were barren and the sky had a strange orange glow due to the seasonal burning of the fields. The girls had started to steal salt and get their flip-flops stuck in the trees due to their insatiable desire to eat green mangoes that end up making them sick (they throw their flip-flops into the trees to make the mangoes fall). And as my time came to its close, I thought about all the things I had never written about: how the girls would reach out their hands out like baby birds, chirping “a mi, a mi”, when I gave out medications at night, regardless of whether or not they had any ailments. And there was the update partially composed in my head entitled “Chicken Soup for the Bolivian Soul” describing in detail the soup that the girls eat made with entire chicken feet, and what it’s like to watch them suck on the chicken toes, skin and all, and then spit out the little bones, leaving a small pile of pebble sized debris as the only evidence that they just ate the feet of an animal that spends most of it’s life walking through the dirty, feces infested streets of Bolivia. Which then reminded me about the update I was going to write called “On The Streets of Santa Cruz” characterizing the landscape of the city and its outskirts which portray a strange mix of poverty and progress, much like the country itself. Going down the same paved street in front of the hogar [home, i.e., the orphanage] at any given moment are a horse and carriage with the driver selling his wares announced by megaphone, a brand-new 4Runner with the driver on a cell phone, a ”rancher” with his cows grazing on the weeds and the torn-up bags of trash in the road, indigenous women with their baby tied to their back, loose chickens, stray dogs, drunk men and the hogar girls on their way to school. I could have written everyday about the adventures with Talia, who at moments brought tears of joy to my eyes to see how much she had improved and at other moments brought tears of stinging pain to my eyes after receiving one of her strong, unexpected, unprovoked slaps across the face.

Photo at right: Fr. Tom Dunne presents a missionary cross to Margaret at the SLM commissing Mass, Don Bosco Retreat Center, Haverstraw, N.Y., August 2009

The depth of my experience in Bolivia, however, apart from the crazy adventures of everyday life in a developing country and a poorly organized hogar, was the interior struggle to find my mission and to live it out each day. I didn’t come to the hogar expecting to accomplish great things. And I found that I did not go to Bolivia to be the missionary, but I was rather, the mission field. The girls evangelized me, enlightened me to myself and the love of God simply by living their lives while I was privileged to live amongst them. Through their constant rebellion, resistance and disobedience, I discovered those same sentiments buried deep in my heart directed towards life in general and God especially. Through their constant, oftentimes overwhelming affection of wet kisses, powerful hugs, overly inquisitive questions, and simply their daily presence, I discovered what it means to love unconditionally. Good moods or bad, they loved on me beyond my comfortable limits and reminded me that love is the true driving force behind all of our actions and we seek it out in whoever we can in whatever way we find possible. Through their constant joy, laughter and energy to play and have fun, in spite of their histories and their sufferings, they taught me what it means to forgive, to let go of the past and to let our wounds heal simply by living life fully, always moving forward and not looking back.

I had an important revelation several months ago when Sor Magdalena, the Japanese nun we were sometimes sure grew “special plants” in her room, invited me to do origami with her in order to break up the monotony of life at the hogar with disobedient girls. Origami was a childhood hobby so I was delighted to learn a new creation from a true Japanese master. She led me through all the intricate steps of bending and folding and creasing and it looked like we were almost done. “Now, undo everything”, she told me. “Really?” I thought, “I just worked hard on getting the bends and the folds perfect only to un-do the whole thing?” But I followed her obediently and unfolded the whole piece of paper only to fold it in nearly the exact same way just in the opposite direction to reveal the final creation. And it occurred to me that sometimes we are asked to fold in one direction, not because that is the way we are supposed to go, simply because it makes us easily bend-able towards our true path, and sharper creases one way make for easier folds in the opposite direction. As Fulton Sheen so clearly states, “We always make the mistake of thinking that it is what we do that matters, when really what matters is what we let God do to us.”

So I am home again, after a few days of vacationing on the beach in Miami, evaluating the ways I was asked to bend in Bolivia and looking to see what direction to fold myself into next. After the constant noise and rebellion of 120 girls at my side 24 hours a day for a year, there is a tangible emptiness to my days. I feel the loss of not being poked and prodded and hugged and laughed at and kissed and loved by all my girls, girls that became like my own children, like my sisters and my true friends. My first day back in the states, I was out in the ocean fighting with the waves, feeling the powerful rhythm of the force of the water, feeling intensely the loss of leaving all their beautiful faces behind, and wondering, in the end, what it was all for. I could hear echoes of their voices whining and laughing and asking me for something and telling me their scores on their tests as they came home from school and I realized how deeply I had come to love them. And I realized that’s just the point: love is what it’s all about (how many times in our lives we have to re-learn that simple lesson!). I have nothing to show for my year abroad, nothing, that is, apart from a wrist full of mangy friendship bracelets, and a pile of beautiful cards and letters written on crumpled and wrinkled notebook paper, given to me by an hogar of girls that I will always love.

Thank you to all of you for following along on this journey with me this year and most of all for holding me in your thoughts and your prayers, it truly gave me strength to face the most difficult of days. I look forward to seeing you and filling you in on the rest of the stories.

Blessings and Prayers,

PS – I am lice free now!