Monday, August 30, 2010

Backpacking in Harriman

Backpacking in Harriman

Joined by two of our employees at Salesian Missions, Adam Rudin and Matt Welsh, I took off mid-afternoon last Friday (Aug. 27) for Harriman State Park for a weekend of backpacking and camping.

We parked at the visitor center at Reeves Meadow, not far from the western end of Seven Lakes Drive (at Rte. 17 in Sloatsburg), around 4:45 p.m. We got another hiker to take our "before" photo.
Then we took off on the Pine Meadow Trail, which climbs steadily at a mostly easy grade up to Pine Meadow Lake, some 2.4 miles east of the parking lot. The lake is a lovely spot that attracts a lot of day hikers, and we passed a lot of them making their return walk, plus a couple still on the little peninsula near the west end of the lake.
There are a couple of good camping spots on that peninsula, in addition to numerous other spots where folks have set up fire rings. We set up our tents in a little glen that I'd noted on previous hikes.
It was dark by the time we'd finished eating supper (a chicken sandwich, half a pack of Ramen noodles, some frozen green beans, some sugar-free fudge, and a small Gatorade for me) and putting up our bear bag. Yes, there are bears in Harriman, altho in truth the raccoons are a greater concern re: your food. And at dusk we heard coyotes howling pretty nearby.

Despite all the fire rings around, we didn't even think of starting a fire. We certainly didn't need one for warmth. It was a calm, cool, starry nite, well lit after 8:45 p.m. by a nearly full moon (I didn't have a good camera to shoot that).

After conversation, moon-watching, and stargazing, we retired to our tents shortly after 9:00 p.m. There were some distant coyotes now and then, and a loud, strange bird nearby once in the middle of the nite and often just before dawn. Otherwise, we were undisturbed and slept as well as one can do on a thin pad (or 2) on the ground.

I rose at 6:00 and freshened up, prayed Readings and Morning Prayer, and broke down my tent. By then Adam and Matt were getting up. We celebrated Mass, then made our breakfast (oatmeal, an orange, and instant coffee for me); by the time day we'd eaten, hikers were already arriving--at least 5 before we pulled out a little after 9:00 a.m.

I'd been on the Pine Meadow Trail 3 times previously. But the rest of this trip would be new ground for me.
We went south on the woods road that skirts the west end of the lake, until we came to the very short connector trail called the Poached Egg (blazed with a yellow circle on a white circle). It ran zig-zag uphill over a very rocky path for maybe a quarter mile--it's too short to be covered in Harriman Trails, but it does get 2 brief mentions.
Poached Egg brought us to the Raccoon Brook Hills Trail, which had the blessing of being well shaded on a warm, tho dry, day.
Much of the RBH also was rocky, but it had some easy, almost level spots too. More noteworthy, however, were some straight-down drops (I wasn't disappointed that we were descending, rather than ascending!). One at least had a ladder--dedicated to a former trail maintainer named Tom Dunn, which gets our SDB attention of course. A couple of hilltops gave us some nice vistas--from one of which we espied the Manhattan skyline afar off.Too bad I didn't have my good camera. So you may have to take my word that the skyline is really in the center of this shot. But I was carrying quite enuf gear already, plus nearly a gallon of water after leaving the lake. Our planned route didn't promise any fresh water.

What does one tote on a 2-day backpacking trip in Harriman, besides water? A tent if you don't want to sleep under the stars, and maybe amid the mosquitoes. Sleeping bag and pad (or 2, in my feeble case). A small folding stool if your back doesn't take kindly to sitting on the ground and you can't count on a handy log or rock. First aid kit. Cooking set and eating utensils. Stove and fuel ("Pocket Rocket" by MSR and propane-butane canister). Food. Water filter or purification drops/tablets. Poncho. Change of underwear and socks. Hatchet. (I did without a folding saw on this trip.) Paperback book. Compass. Map. Flashlight. Spare batteries. Pocket knife. Comfy footwear for camp. Small towel. Soap. Insect repellent. Medicine. Plastic spade (for digging a cat hole when nature calls). TP. Duck (duct) tape. Clothes line and twine (on a day hike about 3 years ago, a boot started to come apart, and I had to tie the sole to the upper for the last 3 or 4 miles; when I got home and took off the twine, the sole just dropped off). In my case, a really basic Mass kit and photocopied Divine Office.

Off and on we were meeting day hikers coming the other way. Usually we just exchanged greetings, sometimes a query or 2. When we asked a couple of husky 30-ish guys how they were doing, one answered, "Still alive!"

Moments later we came to the 2d tremendous drop-off--this one without a ladder. Those 2, and others we'd already passed (one of whom had told us the RBH was his favorite trail!), had come up this 100' cliff that was for us a great trouble to descend, especially with full packs. In a couple of spots one had to turn and face the cliff, stepping down gingerly. In a couple of spots, one had to sit (not easy with a backpack on) and ease himself down to a foothold. My walking stick came in very handy (not only here, but in general, for maintaining balance or thrusting or steadying with arm power in addition to leg power).

If you look closely at this shot, which is the cliff in question, in the middle you'll see a couple of hikers picking their way down, which will give you a faint idea of its height and perpendicular-ity.

According to the trail guide (which we didn't have with us), at the bottom of this scarp, if you look up you see an outcrop called "the Pulpit" (which is marked on the trail map). Matt and Adam had sort of insisted that we had to come this way (we could have cut south on the Hillburn-Torne-Sebago Trail), but we didn't know what we were looking for, and so missed it.

At the cliff's bottom was a runlet where Matt refilled his water bottle. We hadn't counted on that, and he was very glad. Across the runlet was a grassy hillside with some rocks on it where we decided to lunch; it was just after noon. Numerous hikers passed us in both directions as we sat there eating our Ramen noodles or whatever.

It turned out that the Reeves Brook Trail was right there, 30 feet above us, as well. So after some photo-taking,
Adam headed homeward on the Reeves--he had to be at Maryknoll in the evening for the 35th anniversary celebration of their lay missioner program, at which Abp. Tim Dolan presided.
Matt and I continued on the RBH Trail till it ended at the Seven Hills Trail. The post-lunch leg of it wasn't nearly as bad. But all told, I'd say the RBH was the nastiest trail I've done in Harriman--not that I've done them all; and several have their individual nasty spots.

We continued to meet day hikers, tho less frequently by this point. We went south on the Seven Hills and were aghast when it brought us to Torne View, staring at us with a long, steep climb. We made a long pause to sip some water and work up our courage. The climb took us quite a while but brought some fine views.
When I shot this eastward view from Torne View, I thought it might be "the Pulpit," or one of the other heights we'd come across in the morning. There was a similar height also to the south, which we'd certainly come over. Later (as I was 1st composing this post) I thought it might be the Russian Bear, which wasn't our destination but would be where we wound up for the nite. After further review (as the refs say), I suspect it's the Pulpit.

We were heading for Ramapo Torne. But when we started down from Torne View and hit the Hillburn-Torne-Sebago Trail, we went east when we should have gone west (didn't consult the map properly). We came soon to a grassy area that looked like it had camping possibilities, and that became attractive when a swamp with running water (under a bridge, no less) appeared. We paused quite a while, while Matt re-watered and then scouted around for a camp site. He found a couple that might have done if we were desperate; tho weary, we weren't desperate. We climbed a bit, rounded a bend, and (without a proper trail blaze directing us to turn) found a set of carefully laid steps ascending the height of what turned out to be the Russian Bear. We were huffing a little when we got up there, but we liked the view. A quick look to the west disillusioned us that we were at Ramapo Torne, because that was over to the west, between us and the Thruway.

Right at the top, tho, we found a likely camping spot. I was certainly for calling it a day--it was about 3:30 p.m., and I was tuckered out. Matt looked around a bit and found a spot well off the trail that he liked. So I pitched here, and he pitched there. We celebrated the Sunday vigil Mass a bit after 4:00, then made supper preparations: the rest of the green beans for both of us, Ramen noodles with tuna for Matt, freeze-dried lasagna for me, with Crystal Lite to drink.
As we were finishing supper, at 6:30 a lone day hiker ambled by, heading back toward Reeves Meadow. We thought he was out rather late, but he did have 90 minutes of daylight left and, unemcumbered by a heavy pack, should have arrived with time to spare.
I was having a stomach problem that necessitated 3 trips to a cat hole between 3:45 and 9:15. I found an antacid in the first aid kit, but that didn't do much good. I wondered if the filtered lake water was the problem, but more probably it was related to dehydration; I was pretty thirsty, despite all the water I'd toted and been consuming; I had saved just enuf for breakfast. I was wishing I had another bottle of Gatorade. (Actually both Matt and I had wished out loud for a cold beer.) But by bedtime I was feeling a little better.

In the meantime, we hung our bear bag, then gathered firewood, of which there was an abundance, and plenty dry. We made a little fire, purely for the atmosphere. As the sun set (screened by trees on the ridge to the west), the lights of Manhattan and even Brooklyn became visible over a ridge in the distance--beautiful. I think I also discerned the Verrazzano Narrows Bridge.

A light breeze drove off any insects that might have bothered us. The crickets chirped away all nite, and that was the only sound (except the inevitable hum of traffic on the Thruway and Rte. 17). It made for a very pleasant evening. I didn't even put the rainfly on my tent, but enjoyed the fresh, open air thru the tent screening. Not that I slept well. I'd pitched on a slight slope, and I kept sliding just a little bit to one side of the tent. Not serious enuf to make me get up and move, tho.

On Sunday morn, I awoke at 6:30. Yes, I did sleep a little. By the time I'd broken down my tent, prayed the Office, and brought down the bear bag, Matt showed up. We had our breakfasts (oatmeal, an orange, and coffee again for me; bagel and granola bar for him). Once I'd packed up, we hit the trail at 8:35 a.m.

It turned out that we'd made a good decision on camping where we did; there wasn't another spot the whole way back north on the HTS. When we crossed the RBH, where the 3 of us had passed around 11:30 on Saturday, we realized that we 2 had messed up on our route at Torne View and weren't at all where we'd thought we were. So much for my mapreading skills! At least we had a mostly easy, almost entirely downhill run back to Reeves Meadow, tho a long one of well over a mile on the HTS to the Pine Meadow, and then 1.2 miles on that.

We heard voices at the RBH crossing, so evidently there were some early hikers out. We didn't meet our first day hikers until about 9:00. They wanted to know whether they were near the top (Russian Bear?). We said simply, "No," and went on. Along the Pine Meadow Trail we met more than a dozen hikers heading outward in various bunches. We got back to the car around 9:30.
The visitor center was open, so--after unburdening myself of the backpack of course--I went in and inquired about the new edition of Harriman Trails. The ranger acknowledged that they were waiting for it eagerly because it's a best-seller (naturally), but the publication date keeps being pushed back. I guess I can understand how that happens! (Ask me about The Educational Philosophy of St. John Bosco.)

Despite sore shoulders and tired legs and back, it was a delightful weekend. The weather was ideal, the companionship fine, and God's nature thoroughly enjoyable and inspiring.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Habemus Presbyterum!

Habemus Presbyterum!

Fr. Manuel "Manny" Gallo, SDB, was ordained a priest (presbyter) on Saturday, Aug. 21, by Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez, SDB, archbishop of Tegucigalpa.
Two factors in the province's having invited Cardinal Oscar to do the ordination:
1. He's done at least 2 ordinations for us previously (1992 and 2001, that I can recall), so there's an established relationship.
2. Fr. Manny was born in Tegucigalpa!

The ordination was celebrated at our parish of St. Philip Benizi in Belle Glade, Fla., where Fr. Manny has spent several summers working in the summer camp program. That was disadvantageous in terms of a heavy SDB presence, because of the distance, but it facilitated the presence of his family, who live in Miami (which is where Manny grew up and went to LaSalle HS in the days when the SDBs administered it)--and of course the presence of St. Philip's parishioners, whom Manny has served so diligently each summer for these several years, including as a deacon this summer.

Even so, there was a pretty good SDB presence there, and some FMAs too. I wasn't able to go, but I sent my camera along with Bro. Tom Dion, who came back with more than 100 shots, some of which are posted here.

As you may have read in the preceding post, the province lost a priest on Sunday morning, aged 98. But we'd just gained one who's 30.

At right: After the ordaining bishop has imposed hands on the man being ordained, each priest present (Fr. Tom Dunne here) does likewise, as a sacramental sign of the one priesthood (of Jesus Christ) to which all of them belong.

The bad news is that Fr. Manny is our 1st new priest in 4 years, since Fr. Abe Feliciano was ordained in 2006.
The good news is that we have 2 deacons presently, starting their 4th year of theological studies, and 2 other men studying theology. Behind them in the formation "pipeline" are 2 young SDBs in their years of practical training, including a coadjutor brother. At his blog today, Fr. Steve Leake, director of the house of formation in Orange, writes:

We are beginning a new school year here at Don Bosco Residence. We have 24 men in formation here this year! We have a full house! Please pray that the Holy Spirit will lead us to have a blessed school year. I am excited to see God work in our young men!

Those include 2 students of theology, 6 other professed SDBs (1 of whom is from the Western Province), 5 pre-novices, and 11 candidates in the earliest stage of their discernment of SDB life.
Anointing the hands of the just-ordained presbyter with sacred chrism.

And, as noted further down the list of old blogs, we have 5 novices (including 1 from the Western Province) in Port Chester.Fr. Manny will start his priesthood as coordinator of youth ministry (aka campus minister) at Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey, N.J.

Fr. Manny does know how to have fun. Here he is on Memorial Day 2006 at the provincial house.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Fr. Ivan Dobrsek, SDB (1911-2010)

Fr. Ivan Dobrsek, SDB (1911-2010)
Fr. Ivan Dobrsek, SDB, retired pastor of St. Gregory the Great Parish in Hamilton, Ont., died on Sunday morning, August 22, 2010. He was 98 years old and had been residing at Clarion Nursing Home in Stoney Creek, Ont., since April 2008.

Fr. Dobrsek was born to Ivan and Terezija Perhne Dobrsek at Zagreb, Croatia, on September 7, 1911. At the time Croatia was part of the kingdom of Hungary within the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The kingdom of Yugoslavia was created in 1918 out of remnants of that empire and the existing Balkan states of Serbia and Montenegro.

At the Salesian school in Ljubljana, Slovenia (a province of Yugoslavia), Ivan learned the trade of tailor (1927-1930). Among his teachers was the Servant of God Fr. Andrej Majcen, who later became a missionary in China and Vietnam and whose cause of canonization has been initiated.
After practicing the trade of tailor for several years, Ivan became a Son of Mary (a “late vocation” to the Salesians) in August 1935 at the Salesian house in Verzej, Slovenia. One of his companions at that time, Fr. Aloysius Hribsek (now a retired priest of the Bridgeport Diocese), recalls: “He was musically talented, played organ, was an excellent stage actor, just call him a born artist. [In] some musical stage skits…he was like a professional.”

Years later those talents availed his parishioners greatly, according to Fr. Romeo Trottier, SDB, a former provincial delegate for Canada; he “offered his services for the music (he played the organ well), theater, sports for the youth programs, the Slovenian school, and so many other services a parish can offer.” At St. Gregory the Great he relaunched the Slovenian Saturday school, enrolling as many as 150 youngsters, to teach them the language, music, and culture of their ancestral land. They learned it well and, as adults, are immensely proud of their heritage. Fr. Ivan founded the Slovenian Theatre of Hamilton, using the parish’s community center, and there he and his troupes put on shows “worthy of Hollywood,” says Fr. Luc Lantagne, Canadian provincial from 2000 to 2006.

On August 1, 1936, Ivan started his novitiate in Radna, Slovenia, and made his first profession there on January 13, 1938. He completed his philosophy studies, also at Radna, between 1937 and 1939.

Bro. Ivan undertook his practical training at St. John Bosco Oratory in Celje, Slovenia, in 1939. In April 1941 the German Army invaded Yugoslavia, opening a new front in the world war and touching off a long, partisan conflict within the country. In that context, Bro. Ivan made his perpetual profession on July 7, 1941, at Ljubljana, Slovenia, and then left for theological studies at Monteortone, Italy.

Conditions changed in Slovenia in 1943 after Italy’s surrender to the Allies and the German occupation of northern Italy and the part of Slovenia where the Italians had been in control. Bro. Ivan and other Slovenian students left Monteortone to resume their studies at Ljubljana. It seems that he was ordained deacon during this time.

The war years had been difficult in both Italy and Yugoslavia. When the Communists under Tito took over Yugoslavia in the spring of 1945, following Germany’s defeat, the suffering continued. The Communists shot seminarians and clergy by the score. Learning of the execution of several of their confreres, Deacon Ivan and other Salesians saved their lives by fleeing to Italy.
A good number of those refugee Salesians would eventually find their way to the United States, including Bro. Oscar Andrejasic, Fr. Francis Blatnik, Fr. Charles Ceglar, his brother Fr. Stanley Ceglar, Fr. Andrew Farkas, Fr. Mirko Flac, Fr. Aloysius Hribsek, Fr. Francis Knific, and Fr. Joseph Simcic.

Fr. Ivan was ordained a priest on March 16, 1946, in Padua, the city nearest Monteortone. He was assigned to the Salesian Generalate, still located at the Oratory in Turin, as a secretary in the missions department. He labored there for three years, and in 1949 was sent to the community of Castellamare di Stabia, near Naples, to serve as a chaplain in the refugee camp at Capua. In 1952 he was appointed an assistant pastor at Sacred Heart Parish in Naples (Vomero), serving until 1965.

In 1965 Fr. Ivan returned to the Yugoslav border. At Opcine, on the Italian side of the border near Trieste, where there is a large population of ethnic Slovenes, is a Slovenian cultural center known the Marianum. He joined its staff and the following year became director, remaining till 1970.

On December 8, 1970, Fr. Ivan made his migration to Canada; during the spring of 1971 he and Fr. Stanley Ceglar became assistant pastors at St. Gregory the Great, a Slovenian national parish in Hamilton, the third-largest diocese in English-speaking Canada. And there they both remained until their deaths, Fr. Stanley’s in 1994 and Fr. Ivan’s now.

The parish was less than ten years old at the time. The confreres, who became three when Fr. Charles Ceglar joined them in 1975, at first lived in rather primitive conditions behind the Slovenian community center on the church grounds. But Fr. Charles was a visionary and a builder, and eventually a great parish complex was erected—and the Salesians got a proper rectory.

Fr. Ivan’s fluency in his native languages, Slovenian and Croatian, and in Italian were of great pastoral advantage to him during more than 64 years as a priest. (He was also fluent in Latin.) He functioned as pastor from 1971 until January 1, 1978, when Fr. Charles Ceglar succeeded him.

Fr. Lantagne called him “the spiritual grandfather of the parish, very beloved” by everyone.
He suffered a serious heart attack in 2005, but was able to return to the parish. The parishioners paid to have two chairlifts installed in the rectory so that he’d be able to manage the stairs and remain in residence as long as possible. After Sunday Masses the people would visit him in his room, bringing along their children for him to bless.

In March 2008 he entered an assisted living facility, St. Joseph’s, but that proved inadequate for him, and he moved to Clarion Nursing Home on April 7.

Fr. Trottier writes of him: “He had suffered much from being exiled from Yugoslavia, but he was very discreet about the past. Until his co-nationals obtained their freedom [when Slovenia became independent in the break-up of Yugoslavia], he suffered silently with them.”

Fr. Trottier concludes, “I always admired his humility, his sense of service and prayer, his attention to people, his devotion to duty.”

Fr. Hribsek, who often visited the Hamilton parish to help with the Slovenian services, adds: “As a person, he was well organized, responsible, and reliable in whatever he undertook. In his older age this habit became proverbial in the house for his punctuality at scheduled events, like church services [and] morning meditation.”

Fr. Hribsek noted two forms of Fr. Dobrsek’s charity: “[He] never saw anything improper in anybody’s actions, and thus never said a word of criticism against anyone—even when the improper conduct was visible to everyone else.” And: “His out-of-the-ordinary dedication to visiting the sick of the parish till the last ounce of his physical energy should not be forgotten. (After he was no longer able to drive himself, a good layman in the parish became his constant volunteer driver so that Fr. Dobrsek could continue visiting his beloved suffering homebound parishioners.)”

Fr. Ivan at his 96th birthday party in 2007.

Fr. Ivan was professed as a Salesian more than 72 years. He was the oldest Salesian of the New Rochelle Province—a designation that now reverts to Fr. Joseph Bajorek, 94, who held the “title” prior to the Canadian Province’s reunion with New Rochelle on July 1, 2009. The oldest confrere in the States is Bro. Abel Zanella, 95, of the San Francisco Province.

Following a Mass of Christian Burial at St. Gregory the Great on August 25, at which Bishop Anthony Tonnos of Hamilton will be present, Fr. Ivan will be buried at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Burlington, Ont., next to Fr. Stanley Ceglar in the “Slovenian corner” where Fr. Charles Ceglar reserved some places.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Homily for 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for
the 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time
August 22, 2010
Luke 13: 22-30
Ursulines, Willow Dr., New Rochelle

“Father, help us to seek the values that will bring us lasting joy in this changing world. In our desire for what you promise, make us one in mind and heart” (Collect).

Jesus uses a mini-parable today about “entering thru the narrow gate” (Luke 13:24), and he also speaks of the Lord’s rejecting people whom he doesn’t know, evildoers (13:25,27). When “the master of the house” says, “I don’t know where you’re from,” i.e., “who you are,” this really means heart-to-heart knowledge, not intellectual knowledge; thorough knowledge of the person—a relationship. Anyone with whom the Lord has no relationships is, by his definition, an evildoer.

So we’ve prayed this morning that we might seek those values that will help us to get thru that narrow gate, help us know and be known by the Lord, help us reach “lasting joy.”

The lasting joy we seek is contrasted with “this changing world.” Evidently, what changes isn’t lasting. We seek something that does last, something permanent, ultimately something eternal—or, more properly speaking, Someone eternal with whom we can be in a lasting relationship.

There are “values,” the prayer posits, that will bring us to “lasting joy.” These, too, are contrasted, implicitly, with “this changing world.” We know well what those values are, the values proper to God’s kingdom; I hardly need catalog them for you, or mention the vices that “this changing world” embraces and that would cause us to miss the narrow gate, or so bloat our hearts with evil that we couldn’t possibly squeeze thru it; vices that would keep us “outside knocking” and begging the Lord to let us in (13:25).

“The values that will bring us lasting joy” are linked to “our desire.” They’re more than wishful thinking on our part. They’re more than some vague object of hope: “Gee, wouldn’t it be nice if….” Desire is a stronger word. We really want what these values lead to. We long for what these values stand for. Our hearts are set on all this.

And what is it we desire? “What you promise,” what God promises: lasting joy, a happy eternity, Someone who will make us happy forever: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you” (Augustine, Confessions). Our desire, our longing for a joy that can’t be dissipated, a happiness never to be shadowed by sorrow or regret, impels us—so we pray—to seek values for our lives that are consistent with such joy and such happiness because they’re consistent with what Christ has taught us, because they keep us close to himself, lead us to his Father.

And there’s the final piece of the prayer of the day: “Make us one in mind and heart.” “Make us one” with yourself, Father, thru your Son Jesus, who shows us how to approach you, in the Holy Spirit whom Jesus gives to us as a bond of union with himself and with you. Being “one in mind and heart” reminded of a quotation from Cicero that our director in the high school aspirantate, Fr. Bernard Justen, often used—he had several favorite quotations, including that one from Augustine on our restless hearts—Idem velle atque idem nolle: ea demum firma est amicitia (“To like the same things and dislike the same things—only this is a strong friendship”).* That’s another way of saying “oneness of mind and heart.”
Students of the Salesian College in Saragossa, Spain, form a large heart full of joy and happiness as part of a festal celebration.

“Make us one,” we pray, with all the disciples of Jesus, to live in harmony with them, to love them as sisters and brothers. “Make us one” as part of that great “unity of the Holy Spirit” to which we allude in the prayers of our sacramental rites, including all the Opening Prayers of the Eucharist and the Great Doxology of the Eucharistic Prayers. That unitas Spiritus Sancti is not only the Divine Trinity but the Universal Church, the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, bound heart and soul to the Triune God by the spiritual glue of the Spirit.

“That they may be one just as we are one,” was Jesus’ prayer at the Last Supper (John 17:11); “that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us…” (17:21). That we might be “one in mind and heart” with the Father, with Jesus our Savior, by the grace-ful power of the Holy Spirit linking us to them, and that we might be one with all who belong to Jesus, by that same spiritual power, is our prayer—so that we might be “one in mind and heart” with them in “lasting joy” forever and ever.

* Sallust, Bellum Catalinae, XX, 4. My memory always had Fr. Justen attributing it to Cicero, but the Google citations disagree.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Bro. Juan Pablo Rubio, SDB, Makes First Religious Profession

Bro. Juan Pablo Rubio, SDB,
Makes First Religious Profession

Bro. Juan Pablo Rubio pronounced his first religious vows of obedience, poverty, and chastity as a Salesian of Don Bosco on Monday evening, August 16.

Fr. Thomas Dunne, superior of the Salesians’ Eastern U.S. Province, based in New Rochelle, N.Y., received Bro. Juan Pablo’s profession within a Mass celebrated at the church of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary in Port Chester, N.Y. The SDB novitiate is attached to the parish, which is served by the SDBs.

Fr. Provincial inquires of the novice what he asks of God and his holy Church by seeking admission to the Salesian Society. The novice answers, “God’s merciful love and the grace to dedicate myself wholly to him and his kingdom….”

Besides Bro. Juan Pablo’s parents, sister, and other relatives, many parishioners and Salesian priests, brothers, sisters, and novices took part in the festive Eucharistic celebration.

The Scripture readings that Bro. Juan Pablo chose were Ezek 34:11-16 (The Lord will search for his sheep), Psalm 23 (The Lord is my shepherd), and Matthew 16:24-27 (He who loses his life for my sake, will find it). In his homily Fr. Tom touched on those themes and what they mean for those who follow Christ as Salesians.
Novice Juan Pablo Rubio makes “the vow to live obedient, poor, and chaste according to the way of the Gospel set out in the Salesian Constitutions” for one year, expecting to renew his vows periodically until he is ready to make them in perpetuity. With his vows he becomes Bro. Juan Pablo.

Fr. Tom noted that religious profession is “not a generous gift that we make to God but something that we need from God.” We are sheep who need a shepherd, and this shepherd carried a cross. We share in his cross by denying to ourselves whatever isn’t of Christ; we share in his shepherding mission by looking for his strayed sheep.

As part of the rite of profession, the newly professed brother is presented with a copy of the SDB Constitutions. Fr. Tom assured Bro. Juan Pablo that these Constitutions are a sure guide to holiness. He reminded him of Don Bosco’s words to the first SDB missionaries who left his side in Italy: that through the Constitutions he would accompany them to Argentina.
Fr. Tom presents to Bro. Juan Pablo a copy of the SDB Constitutions as “a source of light,” “a cause of joy even in carrying the cross,” and “a gift of peace” for himself and others as he journeys toward Christ.
The Constitutions and Salesian spirituality* speak of a “single movement of love” found in the three aspects of Salesian life: mission, community, and vows. Through their mission Salesians imitate Jesus by humbly serving the neediest men and women. Their community helps them stay on the right way toward the Father with Jesus. By their vows they imitate Jesus in his virginal chastity, self-offering, and poverty.

Finally, said Fr. Tom, Salesians have Mary, the mother of Jesus, as a companion on the journey by which they carry their cross. She accompanied Jesus to Calvary and stood by him; she does the same for Salesians.
Before the Mass concludes, Bro. Juan Pablo expresses his thanks to God, the Virgin Mary, his family, and the Salesians for leading him thus far on his vocational path. The cross, which figured so much in the day’s liturgical texts and homily, stands over him as he speaks.

Bro. Juan Pablo, 34 years of age, was born in Mexico and came to the U.S. as a child with his parents, Eduardo Rubio and Gracia Olivares de Rubio. Eventually they settled in Sturgis, Mich., where Juan Pablo went to work in an RV plant after high school.

When he was growing up as a member of Holy Angels Parish in Sturgis, the assistant pastor responsible for Hispanic ministry was Fr. Bob Flickinger (now pastor of St. Basil Church in South Haven). Juan Pablo didn’t know that Fr. Flickinger is a former SDB. But he saw in him the model of the kind of priest that he would like to become.
The newly professed SDB with his parents and extended family.

Some years later, Juan Pablo went with his parish youth group to a youth rally at the University of Notre Dame. There he met Sister Colleen Clair, vocation director of the Salesian Sisters. She put him in touch with the SDBs’ vocation director, Fr. Steve Ryan, and by January 2007 Juan Pablo had entered the formation program at Orange, N.J.

While in the candidacy and prenovitiate program at Orange, Juan Pablo practiced Salesian youth ministry by preparing children ages 7-10 for the sacraments at Our Lady of the Valley Church, where the SDBs are in residence, and he taught CCD at St. Theresa Church in Kenilworth (where the FMAs run the parish school) and St. Joseph and St. Michael Parish in Union City (where there’s a strong presence of the Salesian Coopertors).

He also took some academic courses at Seton Hall University, where he’ll resume his studies this fall toward completing his bachelor’s degree in philosophy.
Fr. Thomas Dunne, provincial (left), and Fr. William Keane, master of novices, flank Bro. Juan Pablo.

Bro. Juan Pablo describes his year of novitiate in Port Chester as “great, spiritual, joyful.” He continued to minister to young people by helping at recess at Corpus Christi-Holy Rosary School, Holy Rosary’s youth center, and the summer camp jointly sponsored by Holy Rosary and Corpus Christi parishes, and by teaching CCD. He also helped in the soup kitchen at Holy Rosary’s Don Bosco Community Center. He said that the summer camp was “very Salesian” because it offered financial assistance to most of the children who attended from Holy Rosary Parish, which has a large immigrant population.

He also says that during his novitiate he had confirmed for him Don Bosco’s words, “Put your trust in Mary Help of Christians, and you’ll see what miracles are.”

Asked about SDBs who’ve made the biggest impression on him, Bro. Juan Pablo singled out Fr. Rich Alejunas, SDB, assistant pastor at Holy Rosary and executive director of the Community Center. He pointed to Fr. Richard’s energy, hard work, and zeal.

As a professed SDB, Bro. Juan Pablo looks forward to working closely with young people, continuing to live what he learned in the novitiate, and growing in holiness (“That will take forever!” he adds).

The day before Bro. Juan Pablo’s profession, Fr. Tom received five new novices into the novitiate, one for the SDBs’ Western U.S. Province and four for the Eastern Province. They come from California, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, and Rhode Island. (See post below.)
The Salesians of Don Bosco are the second-largest congregation of religious men in the Catholic Church. They serve the young, the poor, and mission populations through academic and trade schools, universities, youth centers, hospices, orphanages, parishes, mission stations, medical clinics, the media, and other ministries in 136 countries around the world.
* “Salesian” can refer to male or female religious, as well as to non-religious Cooperators, and to those who follow the spirituality of either St. Francis de Sales or St. John Bosco.

Monday, August 16, 2010

U.S. SDBs Welcome 5 New Novices

U.S. SDBs Welcome 5 New Novices

Fr. Tom Dunne, our provincial here in the New Rochelle Province, received five young men into St. Joseph’s Novitiate in Port Chester, N.Y., on August 15. The brief rite of reception took place within a morning parish Mass at Holy Rosary Church, to which the novitiate is attached.

Assisting Fr. Tom were Fr. Tim Ploch, provincial of the San Francisco Province and former pastor of Holy Rosary, and Fr. Bill Keane, master of novices. Nine other Salesians concelebrated, and various Salesian brothers, sisters, and the sisters’ five new novices (who started on August 3) were in the congregation, in addition to parishioners and the families of three of the new novices.

The five new novices are Jared Anderson from California; Eduardo Chincha from Holy Rosary Parish; Adam Dupré from Warwick, R.I.; Andrew Smolin from South Orange, N.J.; and Marc Stockhausen from Cleveland.
After Mass, the FMA novices--already almost 2 weeks into their novitiate--wanted to pose with the brand-new SDB novices: Sr. JooYun Park, Sr. Sara Ball, Sr. Brigette Hanley, Sr. Merissa Loucks, Sr. Keri Cole; Andrew Smolin, Jared Anderson, Adam Dupré, Marc Stockhausen, Eduardo Chincha. The FMAs call their novices "sister" already. The SDBs call ours just Andrew, Jared, Adam, Marc, and Eddie.

Fr. Tim preached. First, he noted that it’s a great blessing for the parish to host the novitiate. Then he spoke of Mary’s Assumption, stressing her closeness to Jesus in life and in heaven, and her role as a recipient and a dispenser of the Word of God. He called her “the first evangelizer.”

From heaven, said Fr. Tim, Mary remains close to the entire Body of Christ as mother and helper. She wants to help all the followers of Jesus gain the complete victory over sin and death that she now enjoys, so that they, too, may remain close to Jesus.

The new novices, he said, will spend the next year reorganizing their lives from top to bottom, spending a year doing what Mary did in her life—fashioning their lives according to the Word of God, i.e., Christ. They’ll do that in Don Bosco’s style on behalf of the young. For them and for all Christians Mary will remain close as their helper.

As part of the rite Fr. Tom presented each of the five men with a copy of The Project of Life, an extensive commentary on the Salesian Constitutions, which they’ll study closely in the year ahead.

Juan Pablo Rubio, novice of 2009-2010, was one of the acolytes at the Mass. He’ll make his first profession of vows on the evening of August 16, also at Holy Rosary.
In photo at left, Andrew Smolin accepts a copy of The Project of Life from Fr. Tom.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Homily for Vigil of the Assumption

for the Vigil of the Assumption
of the Blessed Virgin Mary
August 15, 2010
1 Chr 15: 3-4, 15-16; 16: 1-2
1 Cor 15: 54-57
Luke 11: 27-28
Christian Brothers, Iona College, N.R.

“They brought in the ark of God and set it within the tent which David had pitched for it” (1 Chr 16: 1).

In 1-2 Chronicles a sacred writer whom we call the Chronicler offers to God’s people a version of their history with a particular theological slant to it, as also does the sacred writer we call the Deuteronomist in the 1-2 Samuel and 1-2 Kings, a source that the Chronicler used to compile his work.

In both of these sacred histories—which, as we understand history, might be called theological histories—we read of David’s concern for “the ark of God,” the ark of the covenant.[1] The ark was the sacred chest in which were preserved the 2 stone tablets of the Law which God himself was believed to have inscribed and given to Moses. A later tradition of the rabbis held that the ark also contained some of the manna from the desert and Aaron’s staff.

More important, and the reason for the ritual celebration that King David organized, is that the Israelites believed the ark was the very throne of God, who dwelt, invisibly, over it between the 2 golden cherubim affixed to its top, facing each other. When Solomon built the Temple, the ark was placed in the inner sanctuary, the Holy of Holies, which only the high priest could enter, and only on the Day of Atonement.

Mary of Nazareth, the virgin mother of our Lord Jesus, is called the ark of the covenant (Litany of Loreto) because God did, literally, dwell within her. Just as Israel celebrated and honored God by celebrating and honoring the wooden ark that Moses had crafted, so do we celebrate and honor God by celebrating and honoring the woman who conceived and carried him in her womb. There is in this verse from the Chronicler—“They set [the ark] within the tent which David had pitched for it”—a sort of preview or audio foretelling of St. John’s rhapsody on the Incarnation of the Word of God, which “became flesh and pitched his tent among us,” a literal reading of the Greek text (1:14).[2]

Too bad we don’t have “chanters, musical instruments, harps, lyres, and cymbals, to make a loud sound of rejoicing” (1 Chr 15:16) here this evening.

As David arranged for the ark to be carried in a triumphant procession into the Holy City, and set up within a tent specially prepared for it, so—we believe as Catholic Christians—has God the Father brought the ark of the new covenant, the Virgin Mother, into the New Jerusalem and set her in a place specially prepared for her. Using an old political model, we allude to a throne, a crown, queenship. I suppose today we’d call her heaven’s First Lady.[3] Be that as it may, we believe that God has raised Mary to the life of resurrection, the 1st fully redeemed disciple of our Savior, her Son. We imagine her surrounded by angels and saints—the latter as yet disembodied before the Last Day and the general resurrection—who fill in the Israelites’ role of chanters, instrumentalists, and thurifers around the Father and the Son, with the Son’s mother close at hand.

Mary surrounded by angels: St. Vincent's Hospital, Harrison, N.Y.
All of which is prelude. I.e., Mary’s victory over the grave, Mary’s share in her Son’s conquest of death, is a sign of what is to come for all Jesus’ disciples, when “that which is mortal clothes itself with immortality,” when “death is swallowed up in victory” thru the grace of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (1 Cor 15:54-57). God’s grace has triumphed sooner (in our human way of speaking), more immediately, in the mother of Jesus. But it will triumph also in all her children, all who are joined by spiritual adoption to the Son of her flesh.
On that we have Jesus’ own word. We know well that rulers in the ancient world, as well as in our own day, had a strong tendency to favor their own. Even the medieval Church had to contend with nepotism; truth be told, the modern Church has had to cope with that too. Thus we hear a woman shout out from the crowd around Jesus, “Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed” (Luke 11:27). That’s not blessed in the sense of “blessed by God,” but μακαρία, “happy,” “lucky,” “fortunate”—because those in power, those with influence, use it to take care of their own, like modern athletes using that first big contract to buy a new house or a BMW for Mom. The woman in the crowd figures that Jesus will take good care of Mom; she probably also reckons on motherly pride in his accomplishments as a blessing.

But that word in its generic masculine plural form, μακάριοι, is the word Jesus uses—or at least St. Matthew and St. Luke do—in the Beatitudes, and it’s the word he uses here as well, to broaden the availability of happiness, luck, good fortune: “Rather, blessed (happy, lucky, fortunate) are those who hear the word of God and observe it” (11:28). No one has to rely on a blood relationship with Jesus, with membership in his clan, to have a claim on the blessings he offers. St. John says something similar in the prolog to his gospel: the power to become children of God is given not to those “born of blood,” i.e., in a family relationship to some favored person (such as Christ or Abraham) but to anyone who believes in the name of Jesus (1:12-13). Anyone who listens to Jesus hears God’s word. Anyone who believes in Jesus accepts God’s word. Anyone who observes that word, keeps that word, is favored by God. That favor is available to anyone, not only to Jesus’ mother or his immediate human family.

Or, as Deacon Greg Kandra puts it in his homily for this evening: “It has nothing to do with biology, or DNA. It is everything to do with trust. With love. With obedience.”[4]
Madonna and Child, overshadowed by the Holy Spirit: Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Rome

The Virgin of Nazareth was the 1st to hear and accept God’s word, as she answered God’s invitation conveyed by Gabriel: “Let it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38), an acceptance that made of her womb the ark of the living God, an acceptance that started her, and all who welcome the Word of God, on the road of salvation, the road toward the life of resurrection.
[1] 2 Sam 6 and 1 Chr 15-16.[2] ’εσκήνωσεν ’εν ‘ημίν.[3] The late Salesian writer Fr. Peter Lappin indeed wrote a Marian book called First Lady of the World (New Rochelle: Salesiana, 1988).[4] The Deacon’s Bench, August 14, 2010:

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Homily for 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the 19th Sunday
of Ordinary Time
August 8, 2010
Heb 11: 1-2, 8-12
Willow Towers, New Rochelle

“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place he was to receive as an inheritance; he went out, not knowing where he was to go” (Heb 11: 1).

A large part of the book of Genesis, the book of beginnings, is concerned with Abraham. Genesis describes—imaginatively, figuratively, thru stories that mean a great deal to us—the beginnings of the world we live in, the beginnings of the human race, the beginnings of human evil doing, the beginnings of a new, restored relationship with God, the beginnings of a special people who would bring God to the world. All those beginnings—that’s why it’s called Genesis!

That special people, of course, is the Jews; and Abraham is their father. In Genesis Abraham’s story starts at the tail end of ch. 11. (When medieval scholars divided the books of the Bible into chapters, they could’ve done a neater job of it. Shouldn’t a major character be introduced in a new chapter?) His story goes thru ch. 25. So that’s 14+ chapters—rather substantial, as the Bible goes—and fitting for the father of the Jewish people, God’s people. We heard a big chunk of 1 of those chapters, 18, on successive Sundays 2 and 3 weeks ago.

Abraham demonstrates several virtues to an outstanding degree: hospitality, as we heard in the reading 3 weeks ago, when he entertained 3 unexpected guests, including God himself; clan loyalty, which was the subtext of the reading 2 weeks ago, when he begged God not to destroy Sodom—where his nephew Lot lived; courage; obedience; above all, faith, the virtue singled out in today’s 2d reading. Note that that reading, both a Jewish and a Christian text, is addressed to a congregation of Jewish Christians. Abraham’s faith is a model, an example for all who believe in God, all who seek God, all who want to carry out God’s designs in this world. In fact, St. Paul, another Jewish Christian, writing to a mixed church of Jewish and Gentile Christians at Rome, calls Abraham the father of all who believe (Rom 4:16-18).

God asked hard things of Abraham. Hebrews today points to his journeying, to his “going out” from his homeland in Mesopotamia to a place unknown to him “that he was to receive as an inheritance”—an inheritance from God, not from his father. And he stayed there in “the Promised Land,” Palestine, moving about as a nomad in tents, as the reading says, (11:9) with his family and slaves, his flocks and herds, waiting for God’s plan to unfold.

Did any of you immigrate to the U.S. from Italy, Ireland, or some other country? If you didn’t, maybe your parents did. It took faith and courage to do that, didn’t it? And you, or they, knew where they were coming, maybe had someone to meet them, had the possibility of returning if things didn’t work out, could write letters to their families back home. America was going to be the Promised Land—the streets were paved with gold, right? Of course a lot of the immigrants at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th found out that wasn’t true; not only that, but they were the ones who were going to pave the streets in the 1st place!

But, seriously, contrast your immigrant experience, or your parents’, with what Abraham did. No letters telling him to come, come; no one waiting for him. No ship to sail on; he walked. No road map. Some hostile tribes to deal with on the way. No place to settle; just keep wandering, looking for water and forage. The only directions come from God, rather vague, we have to say.

God promised Abraham a son and countless descendants—as numerous as the stars in the sky—and you can see a lot more starts in the desert than you can around here, with all the light refracted into the sky from our buildings and highways! Descendants as numerous as the sands on the seashore (Heb 11:12). That’s a lot of grandchildren! But the promise comes to a very old couple, a sterile wife (11:11). You heard the promise repeated by Abraham’s visitors 3 Sundays ago: by this time next year Sarah will have a son (Gen 18:10). You also know how God tested Abraham’s faith with a command to sacrifice that son, stopping him at the last instant from cutting his throat on top of the altar and firewood (Gen 22:1-18), which our passage this evening doesn’t mention. So that’s a lot of faith on Abraham’s part, faith leading to an inheritance, a promised land. He would see the land, but personally he’d never own it—just walk up and down with his flocks and herds, and be buried in it.
Abraham leading Isaac out to be sacrificed according to the Lord's command (carving on the marble altar screen of Notre Dame Cathedral, Tournai, Belgium).

We prayed about an inheritance tonite, a promise we’ve received from God thru Jesus Christ. God tells us we’re his children, adopted by the Holy Spirit that Jesus has given us, a spirit of adoption St. Paul calls it (Rom 8:15). If we’re God’s daughters and sons by adoption of the Holy Spirit sent on us by Jesus, then we expect the same inheritance as Jesus—that’s our prayer tonite: “bring us to our promised inheritance,” which is eternal life, the life of resurrection.

Abraham didn’t get a free ride to the Promised Land and had to fight to protect his family and his flocks while he was there. He had constantly to listen to God, obey God, welcome God’s word.

Our reaching our promised inheritance also encounters obstacles, temptations, events that challenge our faith; finally, earthly death, with its fears and its questions. We need Abraham’s faith to persevere, to believe that Jesus’ Spirit is with us, that our sins have been conquered, that God will be true to his word and save us from eternal death; will in fact give us a fantastic new life in a wonderful place even better than Abraham’s Promised Land—what the author of Hebrews calls “the city with foundations, whose architect and maker is God” (11:10), where God himself dwells, where Jesus has ascended before us, where all the saints are waiting for us.

28 New Salesian Volunteers for U.S., World

28 New Salesian Volunteers for U.S., World

The Salesians commissioned 28 young women and men as Salesian Lay Missioners (SLMs) or Salesian Domestic Volunteers (SDVs) on Saturday, August 7, at the close of a week of retreat. Fr. Tom Dunne, our provincial, presided over the commissioning Mass in the Don Bosco Retreat Center-Marian Shrine, located in the town of Haverstraw, N.Y.

Statue of our Lady, designed by Lumen Winter, at the Marian Shrine in Haverstraw.
The 22 SLMs come from all over the country and represent both the San Francisco and the New Rochelle Salesian provinces.

The retreat was the culmination of four intense weeks of orientation under the leadership of their director, Adam Rudin, and other staff including Meg Fraino and Fr. Steve Ryan of the Salesian Youth Ministry Office, Jayne Feeney, an SLM just returned from service in Ethiopia, and Fr. Mark Hyde, director of the Salesian Missions Office in New Rochelle. Your humble blogger was privileged to be part of their first 3 days of orientation, celebrating Mass and preaching for them each day and offering them Reconciliation on the 3d day.
Half of the SLM candidates (and Adam Rudin) waiting for Mass to start at Maryknoll on July 8.
The four weeks included initial Salesian orientation and getting acquainted (those first 3 days), addressing cultural and other issues together with volunteers from several other organizations at Maryknoll’s MISO program, a week’s “practice” with children in the summer camp of the Salesian parishes in Port Chester, N.Y. (Holy Rosary and Corpus Christi), and finally the retreat and final paperwork and other issues to be taken care of before they head in the next few days or weeks for their missions in Bolivia, Brazil, Ethiopia, India, Rwanda, and one other country.

The week’s retreat coincided (deliberately) with the annual retreat of some 20 Salesians. The young people, all in their early 20s, livened up the Salesians’ experience, as Fr. Tom noted in his weekly letter to the province (in our on-line newsletter) and in oral remarks at the retreat. He noted the SLMs’ occasional use of Latin chant at Mass—they handled most of the music—as “the more traditional aspect of Catholic spirituality” typical of many young Catholics, and at the same time their “playfulness” exemplified in their throwing paper airplanes around the dining room at the end of lunch one day.

At Friday evening's end-of-retreat entertainment (a "talent show" to the young folks), Anne Dauer and Marcos Cisneros demo a Latin dance (left); Andrea Garton and Marie Graves show some Irish flair.
Fr. Tom also lauded the SLMs’ “energetic spirit in following Don Bosco’s charism to the farthest corners of the earth [as] life-giving to all of us who have perhaps grown a bit hardened with the passage of many years.”

Fr. Tom enjoyed listening one evening to the “informative and innovative presentations” that the volunteers made “about the peoples and ministries they will be serving.” “To my eyes,” he added, “the very best of what we sometimes call the Millennium Generation was on glorious display.”

Fr. Tom preaching at the volunteers' commissioning Mass/closing Mass of the retreat on August 7.
The volunteers, in turn, deeply appreciated their interaction with the Salesians at the Liturgy of the Hours and of the Eucharist, listening to daily homilies, sharing meals, contributing to a Friday evening entertainment, and going to North Haledon, N.J., on August 5 to witness the first religious profession of Sister Josiane Phanord, FMA.

For most of the SLMs, if not all of them, the retreat week was the highlight of their orientation, closely followed, they said, by the week with the kids in Port Chester, which was for most of them their first real experience working directly with children.

In addition of Jayne Feeney, returned SLM Sister Anna Kupin, SSC, helped orient the new class and shared their enthusiasm for Don Bosco’s mission. Sister Anna served in Bolivia in 2000-01 and there discerned her religious vocation.

Our 28 new volunteers, both domestic and overseas, with their mission crosses after Mass. Fr. Tom Dunne is at left; Meg Fraino is at left end of 1st row standing; Fr. Mark Hyde and Adam Rudin are at right. Jayne Feeney was taking pictures too.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Homily for Memorial of Blessed August Czartoryski

Homily for the Memorial
of Blessed August Czartoryski

Aug. 2, 2010
Salesian Retreat, Haverstraw, N.Y.

In our Opening Prayer on this proper Salesian memorial, we besought God that we might be “encouraged by [the] example” of Blessed Fr. August Czartoryski and that we might be “docile to the action of the Holy Spirit,” open to the promptings of divine grace, to serve God “humbly in needy young people.” The prayer singled out just one virtue of Fr. August: that he followed Jesus Christ, “who, though he was rich, made himself poor.”

In general terms SDBs need no introduction to August Czartoryski, son of a Polish prince living in Parisian exile (like that alliteration?); grandson of a Spanish queen; step-grandson of the duke of Orleans, pretender to the throne of France; close friend of Ven. Andrew Beltrami; Salesian priest; victim of TB. Perhaps years ago we read Two Friends, the dual biography of August and Andrew, one of those famous (or infamous?) pieces of Salesianità produced on the novitiate’s Gestetner machine and home-bound with cardboard, metal fasteners, and library tape. Or we might have read Fr. Phil Pascucci’s booklet condensed from Two Friends in the Salesian Missions series of biographical pamphlets. Or we might have read the 7½-page bio published in the pamphlet “Family of Holiness” when the prince was beatified in 2004.

The prince was born in 1858 and died less than 35 years later. When he was 6 his mother died of TB. The family, who were leaders in the Polish government in exile, hoping for the restoration of the country’s integrity and independence, raised him lovingly and devoutly. In fact, for 3 years in the early 1870s August’s tutor was Joseph Kalinowski, who would leave his service in the Czartoryski household to enter the Carmelites and would eventually be canonized by JPII. It was Kalinowski, apparently, who introduced August to the lives of the Italian prince Aloysius Gonzaga and the Polish noble Stanislaus Kostka, with whom he found an affinity because of their earthly status and their pursuit of a spiritual life notwithstanding that status. He liked Kostka’s motto, Ad maiora natus sum, “I was born for greater things.” It’s probably not a coincidence that both of these heroes in August’s eyes became Jesuits, both died young, and both attained holiness.

Pursuing a deeper spiritual life was in fact a passion for young August. Despite his status as the eldest son of Prince Ladislaus, despite his father’s worldly ambitions for him, despite the social and diplomatic circles that the family inhabited, August wasn’t attracted to any of that. He wrote to his father in 1878, “I have to tell you, I’m tired of all this. They are useless amusements and they distress me. It’s a nuisance having to meet people at so many banquets.” Young August was already progressing from “though rich, to making himself poor.” He also turned down several marriage proposals.

The other pursuit of most of August’s youth was better health. Like his mother, he was frail, sickly, had a persistent cough. He traveled to Italy, Spain, Switzerland, and North Africa seeking a climate that would be beneficial. Nothing helped much.

The decisive moment in his life was his meeting with Don Bosco in Paris in 1883, when our founder, on one of his fundraising tours thru France, was invited by August’s stepmother, Princess Margaret of Orleans, to celebrate Mass in the family’s private chapel. Prince Ladislaus and August served the Mass. After Mass Don Bosco spoke to August those mysterious words, “I’ve wanted to meet you for a long time.” Had he foreseen this in one of those famous dreams?

One purpose of the invitation to Don Bosco was to ask for Salesians for Poland. They were thinking of needy young people, of course. Don Bosco replied, as he so often did, that he didn’t have adequate personnel—which usually meant in numbers, but in this case also meant he didn’t have anyone who spoke Polish. Prince Ladislaus made additional pleas, and in July 1886 he and August went to Turin to see Don Bosco again and ask again in person for Salesians for Poland. Fr. Francesia teased August: “Why don’t you become a Salesian, and then Don Bosco right away will send you to open a house in Poland.” They laughed.

But Don Bosco was the answer to August’s dream of a life in pursuit of sanctity. He’d given some thought to becoming a Carmelite like Joseph Kalinowski or a Jesuit like Gonzaga and Kostka. As early as 1884 he was inquiring about admission to the Salesians. Don Bosco, leery of accepting someone accustomed to wealth and comfort, and perhaps mindful also of the family’s opposition, put him off. Early in 1887 August did what Therese Martin would do a short time later: he appealed directly and personally to Leo XIII. Unlike Therese, who was too young to enter the Carmel at Lisieux, August got the answer he wanted: he was to go to Don Bosco and tell him it was the Pope’s wish that he be accepted.

Which he did, after renouncing all his wealth and family rights in favor of his younger brothers. Don Bosco accepted him as an aspirant in June, and within 2 months he started his novitiate, living as spartan a life as any of his younger companions. And 19th-century Salesian life was spartan, as you know from reading the Biographical Memoirs and the biographies of the early SDBs. August’s classmates, like Beltrami, were 16 or 17; he was 29. He was placing himself humbly at the service of needy young people, including to some extent his new peers. Don Bosco vested him with the cassock in November, but it would be Fr. Rua who received his vows in October 1888.

August’s story was published in the Salesian Bulletin, including in Poland. It attracted a number of young Poles to come to Turin and enter the Salesians over the next few years.

In the meantime, August’s health broke down. The superiors sent him to the more favorable climate of the Mediterranean coast, and sent Beltrami with him to look after him, tho he wasn’t in the best of health himself. Both offered themselves, as their biographer says, “on the altar of suffering” instead of in the active Salesian life. It was the humblest way of serving young people—indirectly, vicariously. But they did manage to complete their theological studies, and August was ordained on April 2, 1892. His family refused to attend—an indication of how much August had renounced to follow his vocation; but there was a reconciliation about a month later. By then his TB was well advanced, and just a year later, on April 9, 1893, he entered eternal life.

Fr. August’s funeral was celebrated at Alassio, where he’d died. There were memorial services also at Turin, Paris, and Krakow. When family members went to Turin for the rites there, they were greeted by 120 young Poles studying to be Salesians. Four years later some of these returned to their homeland to begin Don Bosco’s work at Oswiecim. Some of their religious offspring would be pioneers in our own province, especially at Hawthorne and then Ramsey. At nearby Krakow other offspring would become martyrs in the 1940s—after having laid the foundation, in St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish, of the priestly vocation of Karol Wotyla, destined in God’s providence to beatify the princely Polish Salesian.

Bl. August’s life story, his vocation, may leave us SDBs in the U.S. at the beginning of the 21st century with 2 lessons. The whole Congregation, most recently thru General Chapter 26, is calling us to make ourselves poor in order to serve the needy young. The other lesson is more particular to our demographics, how to deal with ill health.

1. We are called to “make ourselves poor,” as Prince August did. Const. art. 73, the GC’s starting point on poverty, notes Don Bosco’s “austerity, hard work and much initiative,” and says that imitate him by living “detached from all earthly goods,” participating “with a spirit of enterprise in the mission of the Church and in her struggle for justice and peace, especially by educating those in need.” We give witness to poverty, sharing our goods in common, and thus help young people “to overcome their selfish possessive instinct and [open themselves] to the Christian sense of sharing.” In sum, our poverty is at the service of our apostolic mission, and our poverty offers young people a model of Christian virtue.

The challenge is to discern what poverty means in America today. While it doesn’t mean that we should live the way the poor do in Bangladesh or Haiti, does it mean living like the upper middle class, which is probably how most of us do in fact live?—with an abundance of food, clothing, secure housing, means of transportation, health care, annual vacations, plenty of consumer goods. How many of us have come on retreat with a laptop, iPod, cell phone, Facebook, Twitter? In this week’s Catholic New York you can read Christina Capecchi’s syndicated column Twenty Something, which is this week is titled “Off the Grid, Out of the Grind.” She reports that soon she’ll be making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and someone had inquired whether she’d be tweeting from there. After thinking about it, she writes:

Personally, I’d rather go off the grid, as they say. I’m not keen on that kind of accessibility. There’s value in traveling lightly—no footsteps or footnotes.
I’m seeking the kind of discovery that comes with disappearing. After all, Jesus needed 40 days (in a desert I’ll soon see!). So I’m packing my suitcase and preparing an out-of-office message. Do you know how good that feels? Do you know how rarely I use that feature?
I’m inspired by my Uncle Mike, who went off the grid for two weeks last fall to serve as the keeper of a historical lighthouse. He watched birds soar across sunsets, playing his flugelhorn into the glassy water. Sans electricity and Internet, he attuned his body to nature’s rhythms.
Uncle Mike is going back again this fall, and he’s planning to pack even lighter. He knows how to keep the light burning.

How do we teach the young to be detached from a consumer society and tuned in to God, to let God light up their lives, unless we’re detached, tuned in, lit up by God ourselves?

It’s certainly a challenge is to make ourselves poor, to “develop a culture of solidarity with the poor in the local context,” as GC26 says in Guideline 13; to make “choices that have an impact on the tenor of our lives,” as well as to educate young people “to bring a critical spirit to their interpretation of the economic and social phenomena of our time” and “to choose areas of greatest poverty when opening new works.” If the Holy Spirit has been speaking to the Congregation thru GC26 and the teachings of the Rector Major (I wrote that last week; I’m delighted to be in synch with what [Fr.] Steve [Schenck] said to us last nite and this morning)—then the challenge is for us to be, like Bl. August Czartoryski, “docile to the action of the Holy Spirit.”

2. The 2d lesson from Bl. August’s life is living with illness, poor health, fragility. [Fr.] Tim Ploch once told me (as I was getting ready for one of my carpal tunnel surgeries) that once you turn 40 everything starts to break down. About 35 members of our province are in their 80s and 90s, and another 35 or so in their 70s—all together, close of half of our province. If all of us over 40 are starting to falter—actually, 40 would feel pretty good, wouldn’t it?—how much more those who’ve reached that biblical sum of 70 years, “or 80 if [they] are strong” (Ps 90:10)? As a Salesian who couldn’t be an active apostle in a school or oratory, August Czartoryski offered himself as a sacrifice on behalf of those who were active and on behalf of young people. He exercised the apostolate of prayer and suffering. A lot of us are already called to such an apostolate, and many of the rest of us will be called to it in the future. We may be “encouraged by [the] example” of Bl. August to be “docile to the action of the Holy Spirit” also where our health and physical stamina are concerned, where a different kind of self-offering is required of us than the wear and tear of the classroom, the playground, or the rounds of a parish priest.

By our practice of poverty and by our self-offering, may we “humbly serve [our Lord Jesus] in needy young people.”