Sunday, November 25, 2012

Blessed Maria Troncatti

Blessed Maria Troncatti, FMA (1883-1969)

On Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012, Sr. Maria Troncatti, FMA, was beatified at Macas, Ecuador, a city in the province of Morona, deep in the Amazon rain forest. Salesian Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for Saints' Causes, carried out the solemn ritual. Here is a sketch of Blessed Maria's life, based on material at and an article of the Rector Major.


Young heart open to consecrated life

Maria Troncatti was born in Cortegno Golgi (Brescia), Italy, on Feb. 16, 1883. She grew up happy and hardworking amid her numerous family, dividing her time between the farm and caring for her little brothers and sisters, in the warm and loving atmosphere created by her exemplary parents. She regularly attended catechism in her parish, where she developed a deep Christian spirit and opened her heart to the values of a religious vocation.

First profession at Nizza Monferrato

In obedience to her pastor, however, she waited till she reached adulthood before asking to be admitted to the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians (Salesian Sisters). She made her first profession in 1908 at Nizza Monferrato. Her plan to life included "charity, at the price of being crushed to pieces."

During the First World War (1915-1918) Sr. Maria took a course in health care in Varazze and worked as a Red Cross nurse in a military hospital. This experience was to prove very valuable in the course of her long missionary life in the Amazon forests of Ecuador.

Missionary in Ecuador

She left for Ecuador in 1922, never to return to her homeland. She was sent to work among the Shuar Indians in the country's far eastern Amazon region. There, together with two other sisters, she began the difficult work of evangelisation. They faced dangers of every kind, including those caused by the beasts of the forest and by fast flowing rivers that had to be waded through or crossed on fragile "bridges" made from creepers or on the shoulders of the Indians.

In the equatorial jungle she proclaimed the Father's love and bore witness to that love to everyone. She was the "little mother," always ready to go not only to the sick but to all those who needed help and hope.

Nurse, surgeon, dentist...

Macas, Sevillia Don Bosco, and Sucua are some of the "miracles" of Sr. Maria Troncatti's work that still flourish. She was nurse, surgeon, orthopedist, dentist, anesthetist, and more. But, above all, she was catechist and evangelizer, rich in the wonderful resources of her faith, patience and fraternal love.
Sr. Maria at work in her clinic

Promotion of Shuar women

Her work for the promotion of the Shuar woman bore fruit in hundreds of new Christian families formed, for the first time, on a free personal choice on the part of the young couple.

Her staunch faith sustained her religious life and her missionary vocation:  "a look at the crucifix gives me life and the courage to work." She also felt the maternal presence of the Virgin Mary, Help of Christians.

A Salesian missionary who knew her testified that Sr. Maria was "the very incarnation of simplicity and evangelical cunning. With what delicate, motherly ways she conquers hearts! To every problem she finds a solution which, in the light of experience, always proves to be the best. She never forgets that she is dealing with weak human beings and sinners. I have seen her dealing with human nature in all its forms, including the most miserable; yet she does so with that refinement and kindness which in her are spontaneous and natural. What surprises me is that in everything and always, she remains delightfully a woman. I would say, the more the virgin, the more the mother."

Her life for her mission

 In the late 1960s, powerful tensions developed at Sucua between white settlers intent on developing the land and its resources, and the Shuar, concerned about losing their land thru fraud, and losing their traditional ways as well. The Salesian missionaries defended the rights of the native population, incurring the anger of some of the whites, who burned the SDB residence to the ground in July 1969. The Shuar massed for a vengeful attack that might well have massacred all the whites.

Bro. Cossu and Sr. Maria
While the priests tried to calm the angry Shuar, testifies Bro. Cosimo Cossu, who was there, "Unbeknownst to us, since she was unable to walk, Sr. Troncatti had someone take her to Macas by car – about 18 miles from Sucua – where she had worked for years, and there she went to the Marian shrine of the Virgin Most Pure to beg her for peace and to pacify her children at Sucua. She offered her life for the people entrusted to her.”
In the light of what would happen on Aug. 25, this episode took on a particular significance, because the strong tensions between the two factions crumbled before Sr. Troncatti’s body.
Sr. Maria died on Aug. 25 in a plane crash at Sucúa as she and 2 other sisters were departing for their retreat at Macas, 1969. All the others aboard survived the accident. Her remains lie at Macas.

Homily for the Solemnity of Christ the King

Homily for
the Solemnity of
Christ the King
Nov. 25, 2012

Dan 7: 13-14

John 18: 33-37

St. Vincent’s Hospital, Harrison

“I saw one like a Son of man coming, on the clouds of heaven; … [he] received dominion, glory, and kingship; all people, nations, and languages serve him.  His dominion is an everlasting dominion…” (Dan 7: 13-14).

In last Sunday’s gospel, Jesus told his disciples that at the end of time, the end of the universe in its present state, people “will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory,” and “he will send out the angels and gather his elect…from the end of the earth to the end of the sky” (Mark 13:26-27).

Jesus’ prophecy alluded to the passage from the Book of Daniel that we read a few minutes ago:  the coming of an extraordinary human being who is also clothed with divinity, which is what the “clouds of heaven” symbolize.  And this “Son of Man” who also possesses divinity will rule all the nations of the earth forever; or, in St. Mark’s account of Jesus’ words, he’ll save his chosen ones, his own people (“his elect”), which implies separating them from the wicked—passing final judgment on all human beings, in other words.

In the Jewish reading of Daniel’s prophecy, this Son of Man may have been seen as a man with divine powers who would deliver the Jews from their evil persecutors in the 2d century B.C., when Daniel was written, and who would upend the existing worldly powers by establishing his own dominion over the earth, passing judgment, and ruling in God’s name.

Jesus identifies himself with this “end times” personage, particularly at his trial before the high priest and the Sanhedrin (Mark 14:61-64).  In St. Matthew’s (26:63-66) and St. Luke’s (22:69-71) accounts of Jesus’ trial, in fact, the “Son of Man” is identified as “the Messiah” and “the Son of God.”  Jesus’ claim to be that Son of Man is what leads to his condemnation by the priests and the Sanhedrin.

There’s more than a little irony in this:  the Jews looked for a Messiah who would save them from foreign imperialism— in the 2d century B.C., from the Greek-Syrian kingdom; from Rome in Jesus’ time.  We see some of this expectation when Jesus has fed the huge crowd of people with 5 barley loaves and 2 fish, and they respond by wanting to make him their king—implying a rebellion against Rome (John 6:1-15); and on Palm Sunday, with all the “hosannahs,” palm branches, and acclamations of the Son of King David.  Yet the Jewish leaders weren’t interested in such expectations, or feared those expectations, and reacted against anyone who might stir up such expectations—not only in Jesus’ case but in various others, as we know from Jewish history in the 1st century, up to the great revolt of 66 A.D. that led to the country’s complete destruction, including the burning and the leveling of Jerusalem by the Roman army of Titus in 70.

It’s also ironic that Jesus made no such claim to worldly power; showed no intention of leading a rebellion against Rome.  Yet the Jewish leaders turned him over to the Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate, accusing him of claiming to be the king of the Jews—in other words, of wanting to instigate a rebellion against Roman authority.

So in today’s gospel, Pilate questions Jesus:  “Are you the king of the Jews?” (John 18:33).  Jesus doesn’t expect Pilate to be familiar with Jewish Scriptures or with Jewish theological controversies.  But he completely baffles Pilate with his response:  “My kingdom doesn’t belong to this world,” which, he says, is evident because my followers aren’t waging a war against any of the public authorities (18:36).  Jesus’ kingdom isn’t political or imperial or any such thing.  He is reluctant even to say that he’s a king of any kind because Pilate is incapable of understanding any sort of authority that is not based on political power, on claims over territory and peoples, on the laying of taxes, the enforcement of laws, the punishment of criminals.  It’s the same attitude that would induce Joseph Stalin to scoff at the power of Pope Pius XII in the 1940s:  “The Pope?  How many army divisions does he have?”  It took more than 40 years, but Stalin’s successors as lords of the Russian Communist empire finally learned the answer to his question when Pius’s successor, John Paul the Great, played no small part in destroying that empire.

Ecce Homo by Antonio Ciseri (1880)
But Jesus does admit to being a king of a different kind:  “For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice” (18:37).  I.e., my authority is the authority of truth, and all who love the truth, all who seek the truth, all who try to live the truth are my subjects, belong to my kingdom.

Jesus would hardly be the last one to say something like that.  Our Founding Fathers based their rebellion against the British Empire on that empire’s alleged crimes against “self-evident truths,” specifically “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” and “that to secure these rights,” to uphold and defend these truths, governments are established in human societies.  Fictitious Superman is the defender of “truth, justice, and the American way,” a foe in the 1940s of Nazis, and later of all sorts of criminals and conspirators.

The Founding Fathers and Superman are still in Pontius Pilate’s realm, altho the Founding Fathers also transcend politics, founding their rebellion on God-given rights, on eternal truths.  So did Pope John Paul the Great in his relentless opposition to every form of tyranny, to everything that degrades human beings.

The truth for which Jesus speaks and the truth to which we pledge our Christian allegiance is that the Father of Jesus is the Creator of the universe, and that he created that universe thru the Son and for the Son—and for all those whom he created in the divine image, all those redeemed by the Son:  “all peoples, nations, and languages.”  In the words of our 2d reading, “he has freed us from our sins” and “made us into a kingdom, priests for his God and Father” (Rev 1:5-6), that we should join him in worshiping his Father in the heavenly court, forever and ever.

This sort of truth, the truth of who we are as human beings—where we’ve come from, what our destiny is, how we should live in the light of our destiny—all that is beyond the understanding of people like Pontius Pilate, including many of those who guide society today in politics, academia, and the mass media.  But if we are listening to the voice of Christ, then we seek truth, and not the latest popular morality, not what’s politically correct, not what’s to our own selfish advantage.  If we’re honestly seeking truth in any form—scientific, philosophical, theological; if we’re trying to live lives of integrity—we really are seeking Christ, even those who don’t know it, because “everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

Monday, November 19, 2012

Homily for the 33d Sunday in Ordinary Time

Homily for the
33d Sunday
in Ordinary Time

Nov. 18, 2012                                                 
Mark 13: 24-32
Ursulines, Willow Dr., New Rochelle

“They will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory” (Mark 13: 26).

We come in this week’s liturgy to the end times, as we do every year in the final 2 Sundays of the church year and the 1st Sunday of the new year.  We read and reflect upon the closure of human history from the biblical perspective; upon the Last Judgment and the completion of God’s plan for our salvation.

Even last week there was an allusion to all that in the reading from Hebrews, altho it wasn’t the main focus of the reading.  We were told that Christ “has appeared at the end of the ages” and judgment is coming, and he “will appear a 2d time … to bring salvation to those who eagerly await him” (9:26-28).

Today we read from Mark 13, the so-called “Marcan apocalypse,” in which Jesus speaks of those same matters, in part quoting from a prophetic hodge-podge (snippets from Isaiah, Joel, and Amos) about the impending shaking up of the universe (Mark 13:24-25).  If, from the Christian perspective, Christ is the center of history—we mark our chronology “before Christ” and “in the year of our Lord”—then his coming into history has begun the final age of that history, the age of mankind’s reconciliation with our Creator and of the universe’s renewal or restoration or redemption according to what God intended for it from the beginning.

The 1st part of ch. 13, which we didn’t read today, refers to “the great tribulation” that will come upon humanity—wars, earthquakes, famines, and the persecution of Jesus’ followers are mentioned (13:8-13).  All of this is associated with the destruction of Jerusalem, an unspeakable catastrophe for Jesus’ people (13:14-22).

Our passage today starts the 2d part of the chapter.  Jesus—who is answering questions posed to him by Peter, Andrew, James, and John (13:3)—moves from the disaster of the Holy City’s destruction to the disaster of “those days,” a prophetic phrase referring to the last days of human history, to the days when God will manifest his justice, destroy evildoers, and vindicate his people.

Jesus quotes the symbolic language of the prophets about the sun, the moon, the stars, and “the powers of heaven.”  Earth and sky as we know them will be overturned.  Insofar as the heavenly bodies represent the false gods of the pagans, they will be darkened, their meaninglessness made evident.

Then, with a quotation from Daniel (7:13), he invokes the coming of the Son of Man, who is a divine figure, as indicated by his “coming in the clouds with great power and glory” (13:26); and this of course refers to Jesus himself.  In all his godly glory, Jesus will return when the course of our universe is complete.  His angels will “gather his elect, his chosen ones, “from the four winds, from the end of the earth” (13:27).  The prophets had spoken of God’s gathering his scattered people and returning them to Jerusalem.  Jesus broadens the ingathering to reflect his commission to his apostles to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth (Mark 16:15,20), but he doesn’t say where they shall be gathered.  The implication is that they are being saved, even as “heaven and earth pass away” (13:31)—heaven here meaning, evidently, the material heavens:  the sky, the sun, the moon, the planets, the stars, all of which have, metaphorically, been darkened and fallen from the sky.

All material things shall pass.  History shall come to a dead stop.  But Jesus’ words shall stand:  his word that God is faithful, that God has elected or chosen his people for salvation and not for destruction, but that all persons shall be accountable for their words and actions, and that his people must stand fast thru persecution and thru any other tribulation.  And the Son of Man will surely complete the redemption he has begun.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Homily for the 32d Sunday in Ordinary Time

Homily for the
32d Sunday 
in Ordinary Time

Nov. 11, 2012
Heb 9: 24-28
Christian Brothers, Iona College, N.R.

“Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by hands, a copy of the true one, but heaven itself, that he might now appear before God on our behalf” (Heb 9: 24).

The Letter to the Hebrews, from which our NT readings are taken for 7 Sunday running—this is the 6th—is an extended reflection on the priesthood of Jesus.

Today’s passage takes up the Jewish observance of the Day of Atonement—Yom Kippur.  It was the one day in the year when the high priest—and only he –could go into the Holy of Holies, the innermost sanctuary of the Temple, to offer a solemn sacrifice to atone for all the people’s sins during the preceding year—the people’s sins and his own as well.

The 1st verse of the reading alludes to the Temple as “a copy of the true one,” the only real sanctuary, viz., heaven, before the living presence of God.  According to the Torah, the tent that Moses was directed to erect for the Ark of the Covenant was modeled on the sanctuary at the throne of the God.  Altho a temple isn’t a tent, obviously, Solomon’s Temple also was considered to have been some kind of a copy of the heavenly court.

The anonymous author of Hebrews tells us that Christ, the high priest of God’s new covenant, goes into a sanctuary to offer sacrifice; but no earthly sanctuary, as the Jewish high priest does.  No, Jesus enters heaven itself.

And he enters God’s presence—the Father’s presence—“on our behalf.”  That’s a point made repeatedly by the letter, and such intercession goes to the heart of what it means to be a priest.

Our text this evening then makes 2 more contrasts between the Jewish high priest’s ritual on Yom Kippur and what Jesus does.  1st, the high priest carries out his ritual “repeatedly…each year,” and 2d, he offers “blood that is not his own” (9:25).

As we all know, and as Hebrews says elsewhere—in last week’s passage, for instance (7: 23-28 at 27)—Jesus has offered his own blood, not the blood of some sheep or goat 1st slain and then burnt as a holocaust for our sins.

Jesus needs to do this but once, not “each year.”  He does it “once for all” (9:26), or “once and for all, “as we’re more accustomed to say.  His one sacrifice, pouring out his own blood on the cross, “takes away sin” (9:26) for all of humanity, past, present, and future—an eternal sacrifice, as Hebrews says elsewhere, last week’s passage again being one example.  This single sacrifice effectively “takes away sin” (9:26) and thus doesn’t need to be—and can’t be—repeated.

The sacred writer continues by comparing Christ with all of mankind.  “Human beings die but once” (9:27), and Christ thus could die but once, not “suffer repeatedly from the foundation of the world” (9:26), like the victims offered yearly on Yom Kippur—with some exaggeration, obviously, since the Mosaic Law isn’t nearly as old as “the foundation of the world” except in the mystical sense that the Law of Moses could itself be called the foundation of the world, not geologically but theologically.

So Christ could die for our sins but once, “at the end of the ages” (9:26).  That phrase echoes the 1st 2 verses of Hebrews:  “In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors thru the prophets; and in these last days, he spoke to us thru a son.”  In other words, Christ’s coming is the last, definitive Word of God.  His coming, his voice, his deeds (which, in biblical language, also qualify as “words”) inaugurate the final age of the world, the final age of human history.  Revelation is complete, the reconciliation of humanity with God is complete, and humanity and divinity are joined forever in Christ’s Person, our eternal destiny bound up with his.  All of human history, indeed all of creation, is recapitulated in Christ, as St. Paul writes to the Ephesians:  “a plan for the fullness of times, to sum up all things in Christ, in heaven and on earth” (1:10).  Those of you familiar with the theology of Teilhard de Chardin will recognize that theme.

Thanks to our recent change in the Mass texts, the next line has a certain notoriety:  “Christ offered once to take away the sins of many” (9:28).  “For many” is the language not just here but also in Christ’s words at the Last Supper as he instituted the Eucharist.  More particularly, this verse here echoes Is 53:12:  “He shall take away the sins of many, and win pardon for their offenses.”

“Many” in Semitic usage contrasts with “some” or “a few.”  Thus the benefits of Christ’s sacrifice aren’t restricted to only the Jews, or to “pure” Jews like the scribes and Pharisees with whom Jesus contended.  It’s a far broader term; in Christian terms, a term embracing those whom the scribes and Pharisees branded as sinners, and the Gentiles.

At the same time, “many” isn’t effectively “all,” at least not necessarily so.  (We may hope it is.  We ought to hope and pray that it is.)  “Christ…will appear a second time, not to take away sin but to bring salvation to those who eagerly await him” (9:28).  “Those who eagerly await him” are the “many” for whom his salvation is effective, whose sins are in truth taken away.

At each Eucharist we come to this Jesus, this intercessor before the throne of God, to take part in his one sacrifice, to “recapitulate” our lives and our destiny in his, and to pray that he, the Lamb of God offered for sin, will take away our sins by uttering a forgiving word, will heal our souls and bind us to himself for eternity.

Fr. Stephen Schenck (1952-2012)

Fr. Stephen Schenck, SDB (1952-2012)

Fr. Stephen Charles Schenck, SDB, pastor of Holy Rosary Church in Port Chester, N.Y., died suddenly of a heart attack in the parish rectory on Saturday morning, Nov. 10. Medics tried in vain to revive him, and he was pronounced dead on arrival at Greenwich Hospital.

Fr. Steve, 59, had been Holy Rosary’s pastor since mid-2009. Last year he celebrated his 40th anniversary of religious profession as a Salesian of Don Bosco.

Father Schenck was the son of the late Charles and Eileen Bolster Schenck. He was born in Brooklyn on November 25, 1952, and baptized at Holy Family Church on Flatlands Avenue on December 14. He was raised in Malverne on Long Island, however, where the family worshiped at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish and Steve attended parochial school and was confirmed in 1964. He maintained a warm relationship with the parish for the rest of his life.

Steve entered Salesian Junior Seminary in Goshen, N.Y., in 1966 and graduated in June 1970. He was admitted to the novitiate, located in Ipswich, Mass., on August 31, 1970. His master of novices was Father Theodore Ciampi. He and 19 classmates—13 from the New Rochelle Province and 6 from the San Francisco Province—professed first vows in Newton, N.J., on September 1, 1971.

Bro. Steve spent the next four years as a student of philosophy at Don Bosco College Seminary in Newton and graduated on May 31, 1975, with a B.A. summa cum laude. During these years he developed the musical and dramatic skills that would serve him and young people so well during the years of his pastoral ministry.
Fr. Steve was really happy when at a keyboard. Here he performs a hymn during the Rector Major's visit to the Marian Shrine in 2007.
While he was in college he was diagnosed with diabetes, which had already begun to show itself during his last year of high school and which was to afflict him for the rest of his life and perhaps contributed to his sudden and untimely death. But, his confrere Fr. Steve Shafran said, “He never let his health challenges get in the way of throwing himself into service for others.” 

At various summer camp assignments over the years, he “developed visual aid/skit catechetical programs,” according to one personnel inventory that he filled out.

Bro. Steve was assigned to Salesian Preparatory School in Cedar Lake, Ind., for practical training, where he taught Spanish, Latin, algebra, and a philosophy elective, and directed the band and choir. He also accumulated a store of memories, many of them hilarious, with which he regaled his confreres in future years.

In 1977 Bro. Steve began his theological studies at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Worthington, Ohio. Once again he excelled academically, graduating with an M.A. in theology summa cum laude. His master’s thesis was titled “The Pneumatic Ecclesiology of Heribert Mühlen.” Mühlen (1927-2006) was a German Catholic theologian whose “work is concentrated mostly on pneumatology [theology of the Holy Spirit], ecclesiology and pastoral theology,” according to Wikipedia.

He had three principal fields of apostolate during his years in Columbus: working with the diocesan Office of Youth Ministry (1978-1979), serving as a pastoral counselor for seventh and eighth graders at St. Cecilia School (1979-1980), and serving as deacon at St. Leo Church and pastoral counselor for seventh and eighth graders in its parochial school.

Fr. Steve and 7 other men of the New Rochelle Province were ordained by Bishop Edward Hermann of Columbus at Christ the King Church in Columbus on May 23, 1981. To the province leadership he identified as his preferred pastoral fields “DRA activities, counselling, positions where I would be able to be musically and dramatically involved.” Over the next 31 years his preferences were very much realized, to the benefit of students, parishioners, retreatants, and confreres.

Fr. Steve’s first priestly assignment was to Don Bosco Technical HS in Paterson, N.J. (1981-1986), where he was director of religious activities (DRA). His musical talent came out strongly in his work with the young men of Don Bosco as he composed a number of hymns in a style that appeals to young people. In this period he composed “Friend of the Young and the Poor” in honor of St. John Bosco, which proved so popular that it has remained a favorite at Salesian celebrations across the U.S., and in other countries too.

A three-year stint followed at the Salesian Center for Youth Ministry in Goshen (1986-1989) leading youth retreats and other programs. In 1988 he began studies in religious education and youth ministry at Fordham University, which resulted in an M.S. degree in 1990.

Fr. Steve’s first assignment to Holy Rosary Parish came in 1989, when he was posted there as assistant pastor for two years with responsibility particularly for youth ministry. In 1991 he moved to the Marian Shrine in Haverstraw-Stony Point, N.Y., and began two 3-year terms on the provincial council with oversight and guidance responsibilities for the province’s youth ministry programs.
Fr. Steve (2d from left) joins other priest jubilarians renewing their priestly commitment in 2006, when he celebrated 25 years as a priest
As the New Rochelle Province celebrated the centennial of its foundation in 1998, Fr. Steve served on the committee planning various festivities. Fr. Shafran served with him and remembers: “We had worked together closely when I was on the vocation team in Stony Point at the same time he was province coordinator for youth ministry, but it was when we were asked to collaborate on the celebrations at the Felt Forum of Madison Square Garden in New York that I came to see his extraordinary talents come alive. [He showed] humble service, hard work, extreme and total dedication to the young and the poor, total dedication to the educational approach of St. John Bosco and consummate belief in the Salesian principles that are foundational to our views on youth ministry—that, together with his gift of music … as a means for prayer and reaching the young.”

A second assignment to Don Bosco Tech in Paterson came at the end of his 6 years on the provincial council in 1997. As director of the school, he labored mightily to provide a sound education for the poorest boys in Paterson and to keep the school afloat financially. He took a personal interest in each confrere, member of the staff, and student, encouraging and correcting as need be, deeply appreciative of each one’s contributions to the life of the school or the community, or to himself in his coping with diabetes. In the face of the school’s aging buildings, as well as the demographics of the area, raising sufficient funds proved to be a losing fight—not in Fr. Steve’s eyes but in those of the province leadership, who decided in December 2001 to close the school at the end of the school year in May 2002. It was a hard blow for Fr. Steve to absorb (as well as for many other people).

He headed south in 2002, to Miami, for a less stressful responsibility as assistant pastor of St. Kieran Church. The parochial experience was prelude to a more serious pastoral responsibility in 2003, when he was named pastor of the Church of the Nativity in Washington, D.C., and superior of the Salesian community staffing the parish and Don Bosco Cristo Rey HS in Takoma Park, Md.

Fr. Steve’s pastoral sensitivities and his musical talents both struck powerful chords in the Washington parish. He relished bringing the parish’s fine Gospel choir to province events, such as the visit of the Rector Major to the Marian Shrine in 2007. Bro. Tom Sweeney of the Washington Salesian community writes: “His love for the arts also spread to Nativity’s parishioners. Before Christmas, he would organize a bus to go to New York to see a play, have a nice dinner, and stay overnight at Stony Point or a hotel. He was the life of the party and enjoyed every moment of it.” Fr. Steve also put together a group of young musicians and singers, from Washington and elsewhere, to cut a CD of his music, called “The God Who Is True to Me,” released late in 2009.

Bro. Tom also remembers: “Steve loved to cook. It was total relaxation for him just to go into the kitchen and prepare a delicious meal for the community on some Sundays and feasts. He always made sure all the ingredients were fresh and were the best. He would play a favorite CD as he prepared the meal. While waiting for something to be cooked, he would be doing crossword puzzles. He would serve the meal and then sit down to enjoy the meal and all the accolades that would be lavished on him by the community. He wanted to make sure that the community had a great meal and would just relax and enjoy each other’s company during the meal. He was a community type of guy.”

Taking a half day or full day off each week, Bro. Tom continues, Fr. Steve would go for a bike ride or a movie and then speak of his day’s adventure at dinner with the community, discussions that both he and the confreres much enjoyed.
With his usual elan, Fr. Steve entertains his family at the reception after the province's jubilees celebration in 2011
Bro. Tom concludes: “I know I will truly miss him—living with him in the seminary, attending Fordham with him as we both were going for our Masters, and having him as my director here in Washington. But most important, he was truly a friend and a true Salesian. It is sad that the young and new confreres will never know him and also realize the impact that he had on the province and on individuals.”

When his term as director ended in 2009, Fr. Steve was sent back to Holy Rosary Parish in Port Chester, this time as pastor. Succeeding the very popular and zealous Fr. Tim Ploch, he had big shoes to fill—which he did. He had already learned a good amount of Spanish, and he honed that skill in his daily interactions with the parish’s largely immigrant population.

As pastor of Holy Rosary, he was involved in the training of the Salesian novices of the United States in 2009-2011, while the novitiate was located at the parish, particularly their apostolic work like teaching CCD and working in the youth center. This year he was similarly involved with the New Rochelle Province’s prenovices, who moved into the parish at the end of August.
Fr. Steve, at right, joined Fr. Tom Dunne and Fr. Bill Keane, at the altar for the 1st profession in August 2011, in Holy Rosary Church
He also offered warm hospitality each August to the Salesian Lay Missioners and Salesian Domestic Volunteers during their orientation period, during which they spent a week working in the summer camp of the two Salesian parishes of Port Chester; this year they resided in the parishes for two weeks instead of one, as previously. Adam Rudin, director of the SLM program, laments Fr. Steve's loss: “Fr. Steve was such a blessing to the Salesian Lay Missioner program in the years that I have been affiliated, both as an SLM and as director. Fr. Steve was one of the biggest advocates of the program and really seemed to ‘get it.’ He was a master at integrating lay missioners into a community of vowed religious and was great at orienting newly commissioned lay missioners on what the realities are like in community life. I think that’s the word that keeps coming up when I reflect on Fr. Steve: community.”

One of the SLMs, Paula Rendon, writes from Ethiopia: “I am deeply saddened to hear that he is no longer with us—even though we only got to know him for a couple of weeks, he was an integral part of our formation and preparation for our year of mission.”

Typical of his personal approach to people is what he showed to Fr. Paul Grauls, who had been his vice director and assistant pastor in Washington: “On the day of my 50th [anniversary] at Stony Point [last September], Steve came up to me in the vesting room, gave me a warm kiss and very special wishes. I had not seen him since he left Nativity.”
Fr. Steve was chosen to speak for all the jubilarians in 2011, and he did so with his customary humor and eloquence
On the occasion of his fortieth anniversary of religious profession in 2011, Fr. Steve said: “I have enjoyed my years of priestly service, especially all those things that involved me with young people. I have found that my interactions with them, especially the poorest among them, have taught me at least as much as my formal studies have, if not more. Above all, it’s been in the active ministry that I have experienced the presence of God in my life, and I count myself blessed to have received and followed this vocation.”

Fr. Shafran sums up his reaction to Fr. Steve’s life and death thus: “I greatly appreciated his wisdom, sensitivity, writing, preaching and spirit of joy—what a great sense of humor! What a gift he has been to the province! What a void this leaves in us. I am greatly saddened and know that many, many others who had the benefit of Steve in their lives feel the same—a great feeling of emptiness in the gut ... but with great faith we must see that the Lord has welcomed this holy man of God and faithful Salesian to himself.”

From Chile, Father Harry Peterson, SDB, one of Fr. Steve’s high school teachers, writes: “He has ALWAYS been an inspiration. Steve’s profound sense of what’s right, of what’s Salesian, his tremendous dedication to put to good use, with great simplicity, his keen intelligence and many gifts, have made him the son of God, in the charism of Don Bosco, that has enhanced and rejoiced our whole province.”

Fr. Pascual Chavez, Rector Major of the Salesians, wrote this to Fr. Tom Dunne today: "I had the opportunity to meet him several times, first as regional councilor for the Interamerica Region when he was the director of Paterson, and then as Rector Major, and I can tell you that he gave me a wonderful impression because of his great Salesian identity, of his love for the poor and those most in need, well expressed in his songs. At the same time, I was witness of his illness, but the news of his death has been for me a great surprise. The last time I met him was in Washington [in 2007], so my mind and my heart are full of beautiful memories of him."

Fr. Steve is survived by his sisters Eileen Gavigan and Patricia Schenck, brothers William and Mark, eight nephews and nieces, and three grandnephews.

Fr. Steve was waked in the parish church on Monday and Tuesday, Nov. 12-13, including Rosary and Mass each evening. Cardinal Edward Egan, archbishop emeritus of New York, presided over the Mass of Christian Burial on Wednesday morning, and our provincial, Fr. Tom Dunne, preached. Burial in the province cemetery followed.

A day or 2 later, Sr. Teresa Gutierrez, FMA, send me a couple of short video clips of Fr. Steve making a presentation to the teachers of the sisters' 2 South Florida schools as part of their orientation for the new school year last August. They're not a complete presentation by any means, but they do give a taste of Fr. Steve's style:


Friday, November 9, 2012

Archbishop Savio Hon Awarded Honorary Degree

Archbishop Savio Hon
Awarded Honorary Doctorate

The School of Theology of Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J., conferred an honorary doctorate in theology upon Abp. Savio Hon Tai-fai, SDB, in an academic ceremony on November 8, 2012. The ceremony took place in the University’s Immaculate Conception Chapel and was attended by a couple of hundred seminarians and seminary faculty, including 11 Salesians.

The archbishop was honored for his dedication to the theological formation of priests, his translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church into Chinese, his service on the International Theological Commission, and his service to the Church as secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.

Abp. John J. Myers of Newark presided over the ceremony, which was coordinated by Msgr. Joseph Reilly, rector of the School of Theology. The Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States was also involved in the planning and sponsored a reception for the archbishop following the ceremony. Abp. Myers joined Dr. Gabriel Esteban, president of the School of Theology, in presenting the degree.

After receiving his honorary doctorate, Abp. Hon gave an address entitled “Love and Wisdom: Cardinal Costantini’s Experience in China.” Abp. Celso Costantini was the first apostolic delegate to China (1922-1933), and in that office he displayed true missionary wisdom. 

Abp. Hon began his talk by referring to the Summer Palace in Beijing, also called the Garden of Perfect Splendor, which was reputed to compare favorably with any natural or man-made beauty in the West. Yet it was burned by the British and French in 1860, its ruins becoming for the Chinese people a symbol of colonial oppression.

Arriving in China, Costantini already understood this, and his devoted himself to separating Christianity and its missionary activity from anything related to Western imperialism. “The proclamation of Christ,” he said, “should go hand in hand with healing the people.”

In one of his writings, the apostolic delegate recounted how he had gone into a pagoda on one occasion and observed many dry, fallen leaves within its precincts. This led him to a reflection on those leaves (foglie in Italian), producing for him the four F’s of missionary wisdom.
               1. Formation of the people. The Chinese should be formed in authentic faith without any contamination of colonialism. They should be formed to appreciate their own country and culture.
               2. Fostering their religious arts. Costantini was himself an artist, and he observed at once that European architecture, e.g. in the churches, didn’t fit the Chinese character; it was insulting to the Chinese, and thus an obstacle to missionary activity. Their own styles could be adapted appropriately for Christian purposes.
               3. Friendship with all. A virtuous man’s character is strengthened by his friends. Friendship could be considered a means that God provides for the improvement of human beings. Friends help one learn self-discipline.
               4. Faith in God. The Christian faith enlarged Costantini’s heart. He found that the proclamation of Jesus Christ was more powerful when combined with Chinese wisdom. So he aimed at an intercultural synthesis between East and West. He called Christ the tao who recapitulates all wisdom; tao is literally “the way,” but it could be given also the sense of the Greek logos. Anticipating the developments of Vatican II, Costantini looked for manifestations of Christ in Chinese culture.

Respecting the culture and character of the Chinese is the only way to lead them to Christ, Costantini believed. The Garden of Perfect Splendor has long disappeared. But Costantini’s dry, fallen leaves have lasted, forming a carpet on which one may walk toward Christ.

Following Abp. Hon’s address, Abp. Myers offered a few words of appreciation, also noting that in his capacity as the ecclesiastical ordinary of the Turks and Caicos Islands he comes under the jurisdiction of Abp. Hon’s Roman dicastery.

After the ceremony Abp. Hon and the other dignitaries mingled for some time with the seminarians and faculty outside the chapel. Abp. Hon particularly enjoyed speaking with his fellow Salesians and happily posed for several photos with them. He regretted that he couldn’t stop by the Salesian house of formation in Orange because his hosts had him on a tight schedule.
From left: Msgr. Joseph Chiang (retired president of Chinese Apostolate in North America), Bro. Eddy Chincha, Fr. Jay Horan, Bro. Peter Le, Bro. Steve DeMaio, Bro. Mike Eguino, Abp. Hon, Fr. John Serio, Fr. Mike Mendl, Ron Chauca, Simon Song, Bro. John Rasor, and Bro. Miguel Suarez

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Hurricane Sandy Comes to New Rochelle

Hurricane Sandy Comes to New Rochelle
We did our pre-storm prep on Saturday and Sunday and hunkered down on Sunday nite, expecting Sandy's arrival overnite.
She didn't show up, and except for the schools and our mission office being closed, it was a pretty normal morning here, and we went out for our usual Masses except the one at Villa Maria, which the sisters canceled.  But the clouds were evidently gathering and the wind picking up.  By 1:15 our 2 employees who'd come to work had headed home.

Rain came in mid-afternoon, but not as much as we'd expected.  The wind was all that was predicted, tho.  We watched what we could see from our windows--there were white caps in the inlet between our ball field and Five Islands Park, not to mention what was going on out in Echo Bay and Long Island Sound.

At 7:10 p.m. the power went out in about half the house:  most of the basement level, half the 1st floor, part of the 2d floor, all of the 3d floor.  I lit up 3 camping lanterns for 2 of the hallways and my room, and I went to bed earlier than usual.

On Tuesday a.m. the worst apparently was over.  We rigged up extension cords to get light in chapel and, later, to keep the refrigerators cold.  Power was out at the mission office but apparently not at the high school.  Around 11:00 p.m. we got our power back--far luckier than most people.  I wonder whether being across the street from the sewage treatment plant had anything to do with that?

Some of us went out to see the damage:  a large old maple down at the school's picnic-pool area (photo above), lying across the driveway; our grand old cherry tree along Lefevre Lane, down; large limbs scattered in many places.  But no major damage, thank God.
The cherry tree tell into the batting cage of the ball field, and an adjacent tree (not sure what variety--probably another cherry)--fell across Lefevre Lane

The tide had come perhaps 50 feet into center field and left a line of debris stretching across to right field.  Beyond the outfield fence there was another, deeper line of leaves, twigs, plastic, a dustpan and broom, and more.  The water came up nearly to the mission office parking lot at the other side of the property, again leaving a trail of debris, including bits of cord wood and a plastic tricycle.
A line of debris stretching across the outfield of Salesian HS's baseball field--no danger to any of our buildings from the surge
The surge had to rise really, really high to carry all this flotsam up to the verge of the mission office parking lot (out of sight to the right)

After lunch Bro. Andy went out with a chain saw and begun cutting up the fallen maple.  Then he fired up an ancient wood chipper, and Fr. John and I fed it steadily until it ran out of gas, while Bro. Andy kept fiddling with the machinery to keep it chugging along.
Meanwhile, numerous visitors came to our property, apparently walking thru to Five Islands Park (whose gate on Lefevre Lane was shut) to see what there was to see from that vantage point.  One family came by while we were setting up the wood chipper and asked whether they could have the main parts of the tree for firewood.  We said sure!  So they came back with a pick-up truck and their own chain saw, and by late afternoon most of the tree was gone, to their benefit as well as ours.  Too bad no one mentioned the cherry tree to them.  (Readers?  Need some good firewood?)
Bro. Andy with chain saw (left) and Fr. John take on the maple
School remained shut thru Wednesday.  Our house employees returned to work, and so did many of the mission office staff.  Transportation all over the area was a mess, with trees and wires down, some traffic lights out, etc.  Few gas stations were open (no power), causing long lines at those that were open, including our local station (a few blocks east on Main St).  Thus the traffic on Main St was non-stop in the eastbound right lane, making entry and exit from our property a challenge.  
Bro. Andy had to keep fiddling with the chpper to keep it running
On Saturday I got in line for gas at 5:40 a.m. with one of our cars that was down to 1/8 tank.  It took me an hour to reach the pumps--most of the time consisting of waiting for the station to open at 6:15.

As of midday today, about 6,000 households and businesses in N.R. were still without electric power, according to a recorded message from Mayor Bransom.  The emergency shelter in the city's north end was still open.

But around here it's nothing like what they're dealing with in Lower Manhattan, south shore of LI, and Jersey Shore.  God was very good to us, and we pray for those who lost so much and are going thru many days in the cold and dark.

We became a refugee camp for some SDBs:  Fr. Jerry Sesto was brought over from Elizabeth, N.J., on Wednesday afternoon because they didn't have heat or light at the rectory, and the prenovices and Bro. Tom Dion came come down from Port Chester to sleep Wednesday nite because of same.  But P.C. got their power back on Thursday, so that was a one-nite stand!  Fr. Jerry stayed with us till Saturday afternoon.
Conditions at the airports affected confreres who were away.  One was kept away with his family for an extra day, and Fr. Provincial was stranded in Rosemead, Calif. (poor guy!) till Friday instead of Tuesday.  We're sure the novices were glad to have his presence a couple of extra days.
One of the 2 gents who cut up the maple and hauled off the firewood

Jackie Kraft, treasurer of Troop 40, belongs to the New Rochelle Rowing Club.  She advised me to go to Hudson Park and see what Sandy did to the Club--wiped out the 1st floor, leaving the 2d floor and attic standing on posts and a couple of cement block walls at the back.  And a sailboat leaning up against one side of what's left of the first floor (and another sailboat perched against the rocks on the other side of the parking lot).
Harbor-facing front of the New Rochelle Rowing Club, with the side walls of its bottom story washed away and its fence destroyed
One sailboat leaning against the rear of the Rowing Club, and another stranded in Hudson Park's parking lot
Looking up Lefevre La. toward Main St. from our gate. The lower part of the street was awash during the storm surge, which seems to have carried a loose tire well up the street, where it still lay well into Tuesday (you should be able to spot it). The Honda dealer's lot at left is usually jammed full of new cars, but as you can see, a large portion of the lot was evacuated before the storm. Good thing!
Can you believe there was that much greenery still on our maple, oak, and other trees on October 30?
[With the original post:] You'd like to see photos, wouldn't you?  Well, that's another issue, unrelated to Sandy.  On Monday the mother board of my computer gave up the ghost.  Since Thursday evening I've been working with a temp CPU.  It won't work with my printer, and I'm afraid it won't work with the camera either.  Eventually I'll find out about that.

[Update:]  As it turned out, the USB from camera to temp computer worked fine.  It just took me till Nov. 21 to add the pix to the blog post.