Saturday, May 31, 2014

Homily for Wake Vigil Service of Fr. Robert Savage

Homily for the
Vigil Service at the Wake
of Fr. Robert Savage
May 27, 2014
Rev 14: 13
John 12 : 23-26

“Let them find rest from their labors,” the Spirit says to John the Visionary in Revelation.

Fr. Bob Savage certainly did labor as a teacher, a preacher, a caretaker of the sick, an archivist.

He also certainly enjoyed life—his walks with Fr. Phil Pascucci; his afternoon refreshments with Fr. Vince Duffy; his Irish coffee on birthdays; Notre Dame and Don Bosco football (when they won); a good joke.

After he went to the nursing home, he’d often fall asleep in the chapel while making the Stations of the Cross or in his room with his rosary.  And he’d always be apologetic about it, as if he were letting God or someone else down—no matter how often we’d reassure him, “Fr. Bob, after 95 years, you’re entitled to sleep a little.”

All those labors were for the Lord.  Those are the works that accompany him (Rev 14:13); or more properly, the souls he touched thru those works accompany him.  So, despite whatever faults and foibles Fr. Bob had (like the rest of us), we say confidently of him with that voice from heaven, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord” (14:13).

In the gospel that we read, Jesus spoke of the grain of wheat that dies and so produces much fruit (John 12:24); of someone losing his life to save it (12:25); of the servant who follows Jesus faithfully (12:26).  Very fitting description of Fr. Bob Savage.  He was fierce in his preaching, in his teaching religion (probably also algebra), sometimes even in friendly conversation.  But that was always to put Jesus Christ forward:  Christ yesterday, today, and forever (cf. Heb 13:8).  It was never, ever, about Bob Savage but always about Jesus.  He truly was the servant who lost himself:  in the Scriptures, in the teaching of the Church, in Jesus our Savior.

Now we trust that, as Jesus said, the Father will honor Fr. Bob (12:26).  May he enjoy eternal rest with Don Bosco and all the saints!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Homily for Memorial Day, Monday, 6th Week of Easter

Homily for Memorial Day
Monday of 6th Week of Easter
May 26, 2006
John 15: 26—16: 4a
St. Gabriel’s Church, New Rochelle

For a small group of immigrant working people, all with English as 2d language (at best) at an evening Mass.

I suppose that most of you know that in the U.S. today we’ve been celebrating something called Memorial Day.  You may not be entirely sure what that means.  Don’t worry—a lot of Americans don’t know either!

This day was instituted almost as an American holy day after the American Civil War in the 1860s.  It was meant to honor, to commemorate, to remember, to memorialize those who had sacrificed their lives to preserve the American Union in the war that prevented the slave-owners of our Southern states from breaking away and making their own country.

In his famous Gettysburg Address, President Abraham Lincoln pretty much defined what the Civil War was about.  He called the United States, as founded in 1776, “a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”  He called the Civil War a great contest about those ideas—liberty and equality for all people.

Eventually, Memorial Day has become a day to honor and remember all the men and women who have given their lives on behalf of the United States, from the Revolutionary War in the 18th century up to the war we are still fighting against the enemies of freedom and of equality for all people—against people who destroy skyscrapers and kidnap schoolgirls.

As Catholics, we pray today for 2 things.  The 1st is for the eternal rest, for a heavenly reward from our Lord Jesus, for all who have died in our wars—for all, whichever side they were on, because Jesus came as the Savior of everyone!  The 2d is for an end to war; for peace; for equality, justice, and freedom for everyone without regard to nationality, religion, race, gender, or any other quality.

In our gospel reading this evening, from Jesus’ words at the Last Supper, Jesus tells his disciples that he’ll give them an Advocate, the Spirit of truth, to testify to himself, i.e., to Jesus (John 15:26).  The Holy Spirit, whom Jesus and the Father will send to the disciples—to the Church—will teach them the truth about Jesus:  in the 1st century and in every century, right up to our own time.  In a few days we’ll be celebrating Pentecost, the coming of the Spirit upon the Church.  We believe that the Spirit always remains with the Church, as Jesus said in yesterday’s gospel:  “he remains with you and will be in you” (John 14:17).  This Spirit helps the Church to understand the teaching of Jesus and to continue to teach what Jesus taught, or to teach the truth in our own age even on matters that people in the 1st century never imagined.

Jesus continues:  “You also testify, because you have been with me from the beginning” (15:27).  Have we been with Jesus from the beginning?  Not in a literal, historical sense; of course not!  We’re not 2,000 years old!  But we belong to Jesus’ Church, and she has been with him from the beginning!  When the apostles wanted to choose a new apostle, one to replace Judas, they looked for a disciple who had been with Jesus “the whole time the Lord Jesus came and went among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day on which he was taken up from us” and who would “become with us a witness to his resurrection” (Acts 1:21-22).  That is the Church, continuing to “testify to” Jesus, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

And you, my brothers and sisters, are part of this Church.  You, also, testify to Jesus:  to his teaching and to his resurrection.  How?  By how you live!  By your religious faithfulness; by your faithfulness in marriage; by your love for your children and your parents; by your honesty; by your kindness; by your care for those who are less fortunate than you are; and in other ways, day by day.  That is how you, too, filled with the Holy Spirit of Jesus that you received in Baptism and Confirmation, testify that Jesus is alive, that his teachings are true and life-giving, that Jesus leads us to lives of true freedom and real equality.

God bless you!
Arlington National Cemetery, looking toward the U.S. Capitol

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Bro. Michael Eguino Ordained Deacon

Bro. Michael Eguino
Ordained Deacon

Bro. Michael Eguino, SDB, 29, was ordained a deacon at the Marian Shrine in Haverstraw-Stony Point, N.Y., on May 24.

Bishop Emilio Allué, SDB, auxiliary bishop emeritus of Boston, was the ordaining prelate and preached.

Bro. Mike has been studying theology at Immaculate Conception Seminary at Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J., for three years. As immediate preparation for ordination he made a week’s retreat at Stella Maris Retreat Center in Long Branch, N.J.

He made his first profession of vows as a Salesian in 2006 in New York City and his perpetual profession in 2012 ( He is a member of the Salesian formation community in Orange, N.J.

Bro. Mike is from the Throgs Neck section of the Bronx, where his family belongs to St. Benedict’s Parish. His parents are Rose and Ubaldo Eguino, and he has three younger siblings: Christine, Matthew, and Stephen. Stephen also is a Salesian seminarian; he made his first profession of vows last year (

Mike graduated from Salesian HS in New Rochelle in June 2002 and entered the Salesians’ candidacy program in Orange that September. During the three years that he was a candidate in Orange, he worked in the Don Bosco Youth Center affiliated with the Salesian house and Our Lady of the Valley Church.

Bro. Mike made his novitiate in New York City in 2005-2006 with Fr. Bill Keane as master of novices. Two more years of initial formation followed in Orange, including the completion of a B.A. at Seton Hall University.

From 2008 to 2010 Bro. Mike taught world history and theology to freshmen at his alma mater, Salesian HS. He did a third year of practical training at Don Bosco Retreat Center in Haverstraw, assisting with both youth and adult retreats. He says that the program cared for 20,000 people that year. He also helped initiate a regular program of Eucharistic adoration for young adults at the Marian Shrine (to which the Retreat Center is attached). Bro. Mike’s musical talent—he sings and plays guitar—facilitate his apostolic work.

Thirty-one priests, both Salesian and diocesan, concelebrated with Bp. Allué. Numerous other members of the Salesian Family were also present: sisters, brothers, Cooperators, Don Bosco Volunteers, members of the Association of Mary Help of Christians, students and alumni of Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey, N.J., and Salesian HS, and Salesian parishioners from Washington, D.C.; Orange, N.J.; New York City; and Port Chester, N.Y., as well as parishioners from St. Benedict’s in the Bronx and the Sisters of St. John the Baptist from Providence Rest nursing home in the Bronx, where Mrs. Eguino works.

Within the ordination rite one or two clergy assist the newly ordained to vest in his proper liturgical vestments. Frs. John Nazzaro, SDB, and Lou Molinelli, SDB, assisted Bro. Mike. He chose Fr. Nazzaro “because he was the director at Salesian High when I was a student. As a student I went into his office as a curious kid while I was waiting to be picked up by my mom after wrestling practice. He welcomed me and we built up a friendship. Also when my father was diagnosed with a brain tumor, post-surgery I was at his bedside every day after school with my mom. Fr. John came to the hospital to visit my father, and the concept of Salesian family made sense and clicked to me at that point. He has witnessed to me a life which is totally dedicated to the young and the giving of oneself even to the point of putting one’s needs aside. Fr. John’s witness during the days after 9/11/2001, going to the city to minister at night to the workers and victims at Ground Zero after a full day of classes is one example of how he manifested this witness.”

Fr. Nazzaro, in fact, issued a specific invitation to student Mike to consider becoming a Salesian.

Fr. Molinelli, says Bro. Mike, “has always been a welcoming presence during my time in formation. His family has supported our family through the tricky tray fundraiser, which I attended yearly to help out. During this experience I got to know his parents, sister, brother-in-law, and nephews. He has also been a support and a listening ear for me during challenging times of my vocation. He also has a love for vocations, which is a love close to my heart, as well.”

Bro. Mike also notes that he’s been privileged to live with some holy Salesians, to live among many men striving to become holy, and to work with some young people who want to be holy.

Preaching, Bp. Allué followed the instruction provided in the Rite of Ordination, which emphasizes the deacon’s triple ministry of word, altar, and charity and the value of celibacy as a gift of self that facilitates one’s service to God’s people.

Bro. Mike doesn’t know where he’ll serve as a deacon in the year ahead. As a deacon he can expect to assist the priest celebrant at Mass, proclaim the gospel reading, help with the distribution of Holy Communion, and occasionally preach the homily. He may also perform Baptisms, bring Communion to the sick, preside over funerals and prayer services, give certain blessings, and witness marriages as the Church’s official minister.

To see a complete photo gallery, go to

Homily for 6th Sunday of Easter

Homily for the
6th Sunday of Easter
May 25, 2014
John 14: 15-21
St. Vincent’s Hospital, Harrison, N.Y.

“Jesus said to his disciples:  ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments.  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept because it neither sees nor knows him’” (John 14: 15).

Today’s gospel reading comes from Jesus’ words at the Last Supper, addressed to the 11 faithful apostles after Judas had left the room.  Since we want to be among his faithful disciples, he speaks to us as well.

Two key words in the reading are love and know.  Jesus speaks of loving him, of being loved by the Father, and of his own love for his faithful disciples.  He speaks of knowing or not knowing the Spirit of truth who is our Advocate.

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”  When we love someone, we’re really eager to please that person—a spouse, a parent, a child, or anyone with whom we form a special bond.  For many people God’s commandments are just a set of burdensome rules, like parking regulations or the Internal Revenue code.  No eagerness to observe those rules; they’re something we have to do or we’ll get in trouble. No love there!

But if you love someone, you go way out of your way for him or her.  You remember birthdays and anniversaries, you buy flowers or tickets to a show, you help with chores, you spend time with that someone, you tend him when he’s sick.  And it’s a pleasure, not a burden.  Jesus loves us and wants to do good things for us and spend time with us—spend eternity with us, in fact.  He wants us to love him, as well.  If we love him, we want to listen to him, i.e., follow his teachings, keep his commandments.

But what are his commandments?  How do we know what Jesus wants of us?  Yes, we can memorize the 10 Commandments—and that’s a good thing to do.  We can hear Jesus say several times at the Last Supper, “Love one another.”  But what do those commandments mean today, in the 20th century? 

Some things are pretty obvious in any century.  Cold-blooded murder—not allowed!  Adultery—not allowed!  Lying so as to harm another person—not allowed!

But other things are less obvious.  Jesus didn’t leave us specific guidelines about modern genetics, about end-of-life care in hospitals and nursing homes, about modern war, about care for the environment, about immigration policy, etc.

He did leave us something, however:  “another Advocate … the Spirit of truth to be with you always.”

An advocate is someone who speaks for us before powerful people or in special situations.  Lawyers advocate for us in court, for example.  Jesus is our Advocate with his Father, interceding for us sinners.  But, since he’s about to leave his disciples to go to his Father, he speaks here of “another Advocate,” who will remain with us and be with us always.  This is the Holy Spirit.

You can see that the Church is preparing us for the feast of Pentecost thru our readings in these days.  The 1st reading, from Acts, also spoke of the Holy Spirit.

This Advocate speaks in a different way, not interceding for us, but speaking to us on behalf of the Father and of Jesus.  He is the Spirit of truth, Jesus says.  He helps us understand the message of Jesus, which is the “truth that sets us free” (John 8:32); Jesus calls himself “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), so this Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus who keeps us in touch with Jesus, aligned with Jesus.  He helps us to know what Jesus wants of us, his disciples, which is that we seek the truth and live the truth.

And when we want to know what is Jesus’ commandment today, how we are to love Jesus today, we listen to the Spirit of truth who remains with us, i.e., with the apostles, with the Church that’s built on the foundation of the apostles—as St. Luke so graphically illustrates when he describes Pentecost in Acts 2.

In a world with a never-ending supply of moral questions, questions about how to love one another authentically and not selfishly, the Spirit of truth speaks to us thru the Catholic Church, as the Spirit has done since the 1st Pentecost.  The Church addresses every contemporary moral issue:  life and death, war and peace, sexual morality, the universal dignity of human beings, care for the poor, the sick, those without any advantage in society, care for our environment—sometimes only in terms of general principles, sometimes in specific details, as she does on abortion, contraception, in vitro fertilization, stem cell research, for example.  You may have noticed that not many people seem to pay attention to the Church’s teachings.  Jesus said, “The world cannot accept the Spirit of truth because it neither sees nor knows him” (14:17).

The choice of living with the Spirit of Jesus, of loving Jesus by keeping his commandments, is ours.  We committed ourselves to being his disciples, to walking in his ways, when we were baptized and confirmed.  We have to recommit ourselves to him—to being in love with him and to seeking his truth—every day.

God bless you!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Fr. Robert A. Savage, SDB (1917-2014)

Fr. Robert A. Savage, SDB (1917-2014)

Fr. Robert Alphonse Savage, SDB, completed his 97-year-long earthly pilgrimage on May 23, at the Jeanne Jugan Residence in the Bronx, N.Y. He had resided at Jeanne Jugan since Sept. 12, 2007, under the loving care of the Little Sisters of the Poor and their staff. During our notoriously long and difficult winter he hadn’t had any significant health issues, but in the spring his kidneys began to fail, and by early May it was evident that he wouldn’t recover.

Fr. Savage was born in Paterson, N.J., on Jan. 18, 1917, to Robert and Margaret Foy Savage. He was baptized at the church of St. Mary Help of Christians on Union Avenue—an augury, perhaps, of his future ministry as a priest in the religious congregation founded by St. John Bosco under the patronage of the Help of Christians.

Young Bob grew up as a parishioner of St. Bonaventure’s Church on the other side of the Passaic River, however, and attended the parish school through ninth grade. He had made the acquaintance of Fr. Carmine Manzella, SDB, of St. Anthony’s Church in Paterson and, when Bob’s father died, the kindness of Fr. Manzella deeply impressed the Savage family. That induced Bob to choose Don Bosco’s sons when he felt a call to the priesthood. He enrolled in the high school section of Don Bosco Seminary in Newton, N.J., as a sophomore on Sept. 11, 1932. One of his classmates was the future coadjutor brother John Versaggi (1917-2004). During Bob’s high school years the kindness of another Salesian priest, Fr. John Guglielmetto, the prefect (treasurer) of Don Bosco College, impressed him.

Bob entered novitiate, also at Newton, on Sept. 7, 1935. Fr. James Szaforz was master of novices. Of Fr. Szaforz Fr. Bob particularly recalled his constant cheerfulness, despite ill health. His novitiate classmates included John Versaggi and the future priests Aloysius Bianchi, Lawrence Byrne, August Bosio, Mario Carpanese, Alphonse DiCairano, John Faita, and Felix Martocchi

On Sept. 8, 1936, Bob and his classmates made their first religious profession. Three years of college studies followed, and Bro. Bob graduated from Don Bosco College in June 1939 with a B.A. in philosophy.

Bro. Bob did his practical training at Salesian HS in New Rochelle (1939-1940) and St. Michael’s School in Goshen, N.Y. (1940-1942). At St. Michael’s, a grammar school, he taught just about every subject. At the end of practical training Bro. Bob made his perpetual profession (Sept. 8, 1942, in Newton). World War II had made it impossible for Americans to travel to Europe to study, as had been the Salesian practice throughout the 1930s, so Bro. Bob and his classmates did their theological studies in Newton. Upon completing their theology in 1946, they were ordained in the Don Bosco College chapel on June 29 by Bishop Louis LaRavoire Morrow, SDB, of Krishnagar, India. In 1971 most of the class were able to gather at Fr. Bosio’s parish, St. Anthony’s in Elizabeth, N.J., to celebrate their 25th anniversary with Bishop Morrow.

Apparently Fr. Bob wrote a letter after his ordination to the Rector Major, Fr. Peter Ricaldone. In his personal papers we find Fr. Ricaldone’s response, dated Oct. 9, 1946:

My Dear Fr. Savage,

Your noble, filial sentiments have truly brought me satisfaction. Heartfelt thanks!

On you, your holy proposals [perhaps a plan of life?], and your priestly apostolate, I invoke abundant heavenly blessings.

Do you want to be a holy Salesian priest?

      1. Live in union with God by means of a solid, humble Eucharistic piety, nourished by angelic candor and generous sacrifice.

      2. Live in union with souls through the Catechetical Crusade and the gentlest charity.

      3. Live in union with Don Bosco by means of the exact observance of the Rules, the Regulations, and our traditions.

Take courage. Be an apostle of our precious devotions to Mary Help of Christians and St. John Bosco.

Pray for me.

I bless you from my heart.

Yours affectionately in Christ Jesus,

Fr. P. Ricaldone

Whether it was because of the Rector Major’s three suggestions or because of his own inclinations and the formation he had already received, those three suggestions were the soul of Fr. Bob’s priestly and Salesian life.

Fr. Bob's portrait in the Don Bosco Tech yearbook for 1957
Fr. Bob’s first assignment as a priest was to Hope Haven, the New Orleans archdiocesan orphanage run by the Salesians in Marrero, La. (1946-1948). The first of two stints at Don Bosco Prep, Ramsey, N.J., followed (1948-1951), then six years at Don Bosco Tech in Boston. Those six years, which included the transfer of DBT from its original site in East Boston to its new site in downtown Boston, Fr. Bob thought were the best years of his Salesian life, largely because of the wonderful Catholic environment that he found in Boston. Four years back at St. Michael’s School, Goshen, followed (1957-1961); for the last two, he was principal. St. Michael’s was closed in 1961 to make way for the transfer of the high school seminary there from Haverstraw, and Fr. Bob returned to Ramsey for a long assignment that he very much loved, teaching algebra, biology, and religion there until 1978. Ever after, he retained an active interest in the doings at the Prep, particularly the accomplishments of the school’s football team.

At age 61 Fr. Bob retired from the classroom and took up parish ministry, serving at Holy Rosary Church in Port Chester, N.Y. (1978-1980), and the Salesian parishes in Birmingham, Ala. (1980-1982 and 1987-1988), with a period also at the Sacred Heart Retreat House in Ipswich, Mass. (1982-1984). But for most of the period 1984-2006 he was part of the Salesian Provincial House community in New Rochelle (1984-1987, 1988-2006). He continued parish ministry in those years almost until he turned 90, going faithfully every Sunday morning to celebrate the early Mass at St. Theresa’s Church in the Bronx. Like the proverbial postman, he was deterred neither by “rain nor snow nor dark of night”—nor blizzards!—although illness occasionally intervened. He also delighted in offering Mass four days a week for the Christian Brothers at St. Joseph’s Nursing Home in New Rochelle. At both St. Theresa’s and St. Joseph’s his faithfulness was very much appreciated.

Fr. Bob (right) with his close friend Fr. Joe Doran in 2006
At the provincial house Fr. Bob was in charge of the province’s photographic archives. When he began that assignment, he was confronted with what was, effectively, chaos: a mountain of uncatalogued, mostly undated, and otherwise unidentified photos. Painstakingly he assaulted that mountain, identifying a very high percentage of persons, places, and occasions, organizing the files, and cataloguing them by computer. That work was never finished, of course, with new photos arriving regularly from all over the province—which was just the way Fr. Bob liked it. He also liked very much to put the fruits of his labors into the hands of provincials, editors, and other Salesians who needed pictures for letters, flyers, press releases, magazines, etc.

Until one goes looking for a document or photo, archival work is mostly unseen. Still more unseen was the service that Fr. Bob performed for many years at the provincial house of taking care of the brothers or priests who were sick—bringing meals to them, seeing what else they might need, taking them to the doctor. Those who experienced that service truly appreciated it, and the confreres who witnessed it were truly edified.

For Fr. Bob, life as a priest and as a teacher revolved around his Catholic faith. He believed that teaching religion was more important than teaching math. “The greatest thing” for him was “to say Mass and deliver the word of God” in its Catholic fullness. So he treasured his daily Masses with the Christian Brothers and Sunday Masses at St. Theresa’s. He was vigorous—some would have said too vigorous—in protesting any dilution of what he perceived to be the Church’s authentic magisterium in faith or morals and zealous in proclaiming the Faith “in season and out of season” in his homilies, Good Night talks, conversations, and writings.

At his jubilee celebration in 2006 at Salesian HS chapel,
Fr. Bob expressed his thanks to many people,
to God and Mary above all.
After poor health compelled his retirement in 2006 to a series of three nursing homes—the Schaffer Extended Care Center in New Rochelle, St. Cabrini Nursing Home in Dobbs Ferry, and finally Jeanne Jugan—the other services that Fr. Bob performed faithfully were prayer and example. In community he was always regular at times of prayer, besides his private prayer; away from the community he continued a regular prayer regimen that included daily Mass, Divine Office, the Rosary, Stations of the Cross, and more, as long as he was physically able, and his life and conversation edified sisters and residents alike at Jeanne Jugan. At the end of any visit at the nursing home, he would ask a priest for a blessing, and then he would give his own blessing to the visitor. Thus, to the end, he continued to be of service to the whole Salesian world, to the young, and to the rest of God’s people.

One of Fr. Bob’s former students in Ramsey, Fr. Louis Molinelli, SDB, writes: “I first met Fr. Bob as a young altar server at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church [in Mahwah]. He would often come for Mass and confessions. I remember a stirring and wonderful homily he gave at the May crowning in the parish in 1975. As the Algebra I teacher at Don Bosco Prep, he instilled in all of us a sense of discipline and fortitude. He insisted on quality work and helped us to give our very best. Always devoted to our Lady, he instilled that devotion in all of us, especially a great love for Mary Help of Christians. He really laid the foundations for my Salesian vocation.”

From Dec. 30, 2012, until his death, Fr. Bob was the senior confrere of the New Rochelle Province. That distinction now passes to Fr. Philip Pascucci, who is 95.

Fr. Robert Savage is survived by his brother Henry of Sparta, N.J., and several nieces and nephews.

At his 2006 jubilee Mass, Fr. Bob extends the sign of peace
to his brother Henry and other family members,
assisted by Fr. Jim Heuser, provincial
His wake is scheduled for Tuesday, May 27, at Salesian HS’s chapel from 3:00 to 5:00 and 7:00 to 9:00 p.m.

The Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at the high school chapel on Wednesday, May 28, at 10:00 a.m.  Fr. Jim Heuser, a former provincial, preached the funeral homily and Fr. Tom Dunne, provincial, was the main celebrant.

Burial in the Salesian cemetery at Goshen followed the funeral Mass.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Fr. Tim Ploch Elected to General Council

Fr. Tim Ploch Elected to General Council
Second American Currently Serving on GC

The Salesians’ 27th General Chapter met from early March until April 12.  In addition to considering a major theme that the entire Congregation had mulled over for more than year, “Salesians as Witnesses to a Radical Way of Living the Gospel,” the chapter also had the responsibility of electing a new Rector Major and general council.

On March 25 Fr. Angel Fernandez Artime, SDB, was elected Rector Major, the 10th successor of St. John Bosco.  See

In the following days, GC27 elected the RM’s vicar, Fr. Francesco Cereda; councilors for the Congregation’s departments (or sectors) of government: youth ministry, missions, formation, communications, and finances; and councilors for the seven geographical regions into which the Salesian world is divided (2 in Europe, 2 in Asia, 2 in the Americas, and 1 for Africa).

For the 1st time in the history of the Congregation (founded in 1859), a native-born American was elected to the council, Fr. Timothy Ploch, who since February 2009 has served as provincial of the U.S. Western Province, based in San Francisco.  Fr. Tim is also a former provincial of the New Rochelle Province (1991-1997).  As of March 28 he has been councilor for the Interamerica Region, which encompasses the 2 U.S. provinces and the provinces of Mexico (2), Central America, the Antilles, Haiti, Colombia (2), Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia.  He succeeded Ecuador’s Fr. Esteban Ortiz, who was term-limited after 12 years.

Fr. Tim Ploch in 2010
On the council Fr. Tim joins U.S.-born Fr. Guillermo Basañes, an Argentinean who enjoys dual citizenship.  He went to Africa as a missionary and was elected regional councilor for Africa in 2008 and at GC27 was elected councilor for the missions.

Two Italian-born American citizens served earlier on the general council (known as the "superior chapter" at that time):  Fr. Alvin Fedrigotti from 1947 to 1971, and Fr. Ernest Giovannini from 1958 to 1971.

Tim was born in 1946 in Paterson, N.J.  He says that he was born with Salesian spirit in his blood because the Salesian Sisters raised his mother, Dolores, who was an orphan.  Tim entered Don Bosco Juniorate in Haverstraw in 1960.  The Juniorate moved the following year to Goshen, N.Y., and became Salesian Junior Seminary, when Tim graduated in 1964.  He entered the novitiate in Newton, N.J., that fall and made his first profession on Aug. 16, 1965.

He did his practical training at the Salesian High School in Cedar Lake, Ind. (1969-1972), followed by theological studies at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, from 1972 to 1976, where he earned a master’s degree in theology.  He was ordained in Westerville, Ohio, in 1976.

Fr. Tim’s Salesian priestly ministry has taken him to Salesian Junior Seminary in Goshen as principal (1976-1981), Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey, N.J., as principal (1981-1985), Salesian Center in Columbus as director of the students of theology and Salesian Boys & Girls Club (1985-1991).  After his term as U.S. East provincial, he had a sabbatical in Guadalajara, Mexico, to improve his Spanish.  On his return to the province in 1998, he served as coordinator of campus ministry at LaSalle HS in Miami (1998-1999) and then was named pastor of Holy Rosary Parish in Port Chester, N.Y., and director of the Salesian community in that village (also including Corpus Christi Parish).   From 2003 to 2006 he was a member of the New Rochelle provincial council with responsibility for the Salesian Family and communications.

Fr. Tim took part in GC22 (1984) as one of the province’s elected delegates and in GC24 (1996) and GC27 (2014) as provincial, and he served on the precapitular commission for GC27.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Homily for 5th Sunday of Easter

Homily for the
5th Sunday of Easter
May 18, 2014
1 Pet 2: 4-9
Iona College, New Rochelle

“Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God thru Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 2: 5).

Psalm 118 (v. 22) speaks of a stone rejected by builders that becomes the cornerstone of a building anyway, by God’s design rather than by the builders’ planning.  Jesus cited this verse with reference to himself (Matt 21:42).  St. Peter quotes it in his preaching in the Acts of the Apostles (4:11) and St. Paul in his letters (Rom 9:33).  It’s quoted yet again in Peter’s 1st Epistle, our 2d reading this evening.

Jesus is the cornerstone of a spiritual house, a temple, that God’s building for his own glory.  Jesus is a living stone—we don’t think of stones as living, but we’re dealing with a metaphor.  Nor do we think of the dead as living.  But God the Father raised Jesus from the dead and made him into this living stone, “chosen and precious in his sight” (2:4).

Jesus isn’t just any stone, but the cornerstone.  A whole spiritual house rests on him.  Upon him, risen, fully alive forever in the heavenly kingdom, God will rest all of redeemed humanity,  the spiritual house of the entire people of God, the house of the new Israel.  In a well-known passage of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells Simon son of Jonah that the community of his Church will be built upon Simon as the petros, the rock or stone foundation (Matt 16:18).  And in Revelation the 12 apostles are the foundation stones of the new Jerusalem (21:14).  In short, the Christian Church is the temple of God, and Jesus is its cornerstone.  In the Church God is worshipped more perfectly than he ever was in the earthly Temple of Jerusalem while it existed, from its 1st building by King Solomon in the 10th century B.C. to its rebuilding by Nehemiah in the 5th century B.C. to its final destruction by the Roman army in 70 A.D.

This new, spiritual temple built upon the cornerstone of Jesus Christ and the foundation stones of the apostles also needs us, “living stones,” for its completion.  To continue the metaphor, we disciples of Jesus are the walls and the roof and the decorative work on this great temple.  Like Christ risen, we are alive.  That refers not to our physical life—not yet, anyway, until our bodies are made new and Christ-like on Judgment Day.  No, we’re already “living stones” when we enjoy God’s grace, when we recognize his love for us in Christ and share that love with all God’s children:  with our families, with the people we work with, with people we meet on the street and in the supermarket, with people on the other side of the world (thru our prayer and, at times, our financial generosity).

St. Peter seems to switch metaphors, calling us also “a holy priesthood,” the priests who worship in this temple built upon Christ.  That also is an Old Testament allusion, quoted at greater length toward the end of today’s reading (Ex 19:6).  All baptized persons share in Christ’s priesthood by virtue of our having been anointed with sacred chrism—an anointing reinforced or confirmed in a 2d sacrament of our Christian initiation, with sacred chrism again.

The holy oil that we call chrism, which can be consecrated only by the bishop in a special Mass, the Chrism Mass, during Holy Week, conforms us to Christ, the Anointed One of God, in his triple office of priest, prophet, and king.  That oil is used only in the 3 sacraments that can’t be repeated, the 3 sacraments that permanently seal or brand a person—tattoo him or her, if you will!—as belonging to Christ, viz., the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders.

So, you who’ve been baptized and confirmed share in Jesus’ priesthood.  While that priesthood isn’t the same as the ministerial priesthood conferred by ordination, it does empower you to worship God “in spirit and truth,” as Jesus says in John’s Gospel during his conversation with the Samaritan woman (4:23).  It empowers you to offer sacrifice—which is what priests do—to offer an “acceptable sacrifice,” as we say during Mass, thru the hands of the ordained priest.

St. Peter tells us that as holy priests we offer “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God thru Jesus Christ.”  “Thru Jesus Christ,” because it’s in his priesthood that we participate, and ultimately it’s his sacrifice that we offer to the Father—his Body and Blood offered for our redemption.

Our sacrifice is spiritual now, as we offer up Christ on this altar thru his sacred mysteries that place us, all at once, in the Upper Room at the Last Supper, at Calvary, at the empty tomb, and at the eternal banquet.  No longer do God’s people offer physical sacrifices of animals and first fruits of their crops as they did in the Temple at Jerusalem.  We are the new temple of God offering a new sacrifice, under the terms of the new covenant that Christ established as he founded a new people of God.

This Eucharistic sacrifice we all offer to God, according to our respective offices, and we all confirm our participation in the sacrifice by consuming the offering—the Body and Blood of Jesus.

Our offering Jesus in sacrifice isn’t the only spiritual sacrifice that we Christian priests offer to God.  We also offer ourselves:  our lives, our virtuous actions, our pains and sufferings, our hopes and fears—in short, everything about ourselves except our sins.  Our priesthood thus encompasses our whole selves, all our lives, every day—whatever we can offer to God in union with Jesus Christ.  This union with Jesus makes everything except our sins “acceptable to God” as a sacrificial offering, and makes us holy—“a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own” (1 Pet 2:9), to the glory of God.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Homily for 4th Sunday of Easter

Homily for the
4th Sunday of Easter
May 11, 2014
Acts 2: 14, 36-41
Iona College, New Rochelle

“Let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2: 36).

During the Easter season our 1st reading at Mass, on both Sundays and weekdays, always comes from the Acts of the Apostles, the narrative of the 1st proclamation of the resurrection and of God’s gift of salvation offered to everyone.

This evening’s reading is from the very 1st such proclamation, from St. Peter’s address to the crowd on Pentecost.  We hear just the final verse of his sermon, then some dialog when the people react to it.

Peter accuses the whole of Israel of crucifying Jesus.  In a literal sense, that’s an exaggeration.  In a moral sense, it doesn’t go far enuf, for everyone who has committed sin has crucified Jesus.  The people whom Peter is addressing accept the accusation, implicitly admit their guilt.  So do we, with our penitential act at the beginning of Mass and, indeed, with our participation in the Eucharist, this memorial of the Lord’s Body given for us, his Blood shed for us.

This Jesus whom we’ve crucified, “God has made both Lord and Christ,” Peter says.  This is the climax of his sermon:  Jesus is Lord!  Jesus is the Messiah!  It’s one of the most fundamental confessions of our faith that the Crucified One is Son of God—Lord—and Savior of the world—Christ.

When Peter says, “God has made him” such, he means that, thru his death and resurrection God has enabled us to recognize Jesus as Lord and Messiah.  “Lord” is a title of divinity; Jesus is God in the flesh.  “Christ” or “Messiah”—Greek and Hebrew words meaning “Anointed One”—is a title of function or mission; Jesus is Savior, Redeemer, Ruler, High Priest.

We acknowledge all that at the beginning of every Mass:  Lord, have mercy!  Christ, have mercy!  Lord, have mercy!  These acclamations are an expression of the apostolic faith 1st preached by Peter on Pentecost.

The crowd reacts to Peter’s preaching.  They’re “cut to the heart” (2:37), stricken with remorse by the realization of what they’ve done.  We’ve just read v. 36 of Peter’s sermon, which begins with v. 14—aren’t you glad we didn’t hear the whole thing?  It includes extensive quotations from the Old Testament showing how Jesus fulfilled the prophecies, plus testimonies to his resurrection.  Thus the people’s reaction.

They ask, “What are we to do?”  Peter’s answer is simple:  “Repent and be baptized” (2:38).  Repentance indicates one’s admission of guilt and desire to reform one’s life.  Baptism seals one’s repentance by joining one to Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

These words are addressed today also to believers, to us.  We’ve already been baptized, but that doesn’t end our need to repent.  Our conversion is incomplete as long as we remain sinners, as long as we resist the grace of the Holy Spirit in our lives—which pretty much means that our need to repent never ends, not until we die and stand before Christ to have the depth of our repentance tried by his judgment.

Fortunately, Christ is most merciful.  Peter tells the people, “Be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (2:38).  After our Baptism, Christ’s grace remains available to the repentant in the sacraments, especially the sacrament of Reconciliation.  The only limit on his mercy is our own sincerity in turning from our sins and striving to stay close to Jesus, whom St. Peter—in our 2d reading—calls “the shepherd and guardian of [our] souls” (1 Pet 2:25).

Sunday, May 4, 2014

St. John XXIII and the Salesian Charism

St. John XXIII
and the Salesian Charism

(ANS – Rome) – On April 27 Pope John XXIII was declared a saint. Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli was born in Sotto il Monte (Bergamo) on Nov. 25, 1881, elected Pope on Oct. 28, 1958, and died on June 3, 1963. He is best remembered as the Pope who called the Second Vatican Council.

John XXIII liked to recall often that as a boy he read the Catholic Readings (something akin to The Catholic Digest, founded by Don Bosco), which he called “the first and most effective complement to my religious and civil education.” He also read Don Bosco’s biographies of the adolescents Dominic Savio, Michael Magone, and Francis Besucco, and when he was still a child he learned about Don Bosco’s death from the Salesian Bulletin, which came into his home.

He cultivated a special devotion to Mary Help of Christians. He took a picture of her from the Salesian Bulletin and hung it on the wall near his bed. He proclaimed her patroness of the Council with the titles of Auxilium Christianorum and Auxilium Episcoporum. On May 28, 1963, when he was already seriously ill, with deep emotion he blessed the two crowns intended for the picture of Mary Help of Christians in the basilica of the Sacred Heart in Rome.

During his life and throughout his pontificate he always showed great love for Don Bosco and the Salesians. He admired their prodigious spread all over the world. He spoke of Don Bosco as “the son of Mama Margaret, in whom God’s grace brought about a simple, good, and innocent nature that inspired great deeds that still amaze mankind” (Jan. 31, 1959). His love for Don Bosco had roots deep in his heart. A wonderful spiritual affinity existed between the two great men of God, both of them optimistic, open to all that is good, always understanding and lovable.

In a talk he gave to the Salesian Cooperators on May 31, 1962, the Pope revealed the charm that St. John Bosco always exercised over him: “Don Bosco was the perfect churchman in his practice of prayer, personal witness, and action. His deeds aroused such enthusiasm in me as a young man that I decided at the age of 14 to enter the priesthood in order to emulate his example.” In 1960 at the solemn conclusion of the Roman Synod in St. Peter’s Basilica, he said: “Today, Sunday, Jan. 31, marks the liturgical commemoration of St. John Bosco. This name is a poem of grace and apostolate. From a small village in Piedmont he brought glory and great deeds of Christ’s love to the farthest ends of the world.”

But the most extraordinary manifestation of Pope John’s love for Don Bosco was given in 1959, when he decided to honor Don Bosco along with St. Pius X. Emotions were already high on Sunday May 3, 1959, when, to the joy of a vast multitude, the Pope went to St. John Bosco Church at Cinecittà (Rome) to pray to the saint who had influenced him so much in his youth. But the emotion and joy reached their peak on May 11, when the Vicar of Jesus Christ decided that Don Bosco be carried in triumphal procession along with St. Pius X through the streets of Rome and St. Peter’s Square. Speaking to the crowd in St. Peter’s Square, the Pope altered the sentence often said of Don Bosco by his sons, “Rome admires you, Turin loves you!”; turning to St. John Bosco, the Holy Father exclaimed, “The whole world admires you, the whole world loves you!”

St. John Paul II and the Salesian Charism

St. John Paul II
and the Salesian Charism 

(ANS - Rome) – On Sunday, April 27, Pope John Paul II was declared a saint. He was born in Wadowice, Poland, on May 18, 1920, was elected Pope on October 16, 1978, and died on April 2, 2005.

Karol Wojtyla attended St. Stanislaus Kostka Church, the Salesian parish in Krakow, when he resided in the Debniki neighborhood as a university tudent and then under the German occupation in 1938-1944. He often prayed in the chapel of Mary Help of Christians. In February 1940 at St. Stanislaus he met the Servant of God Jan Tyranowski, who used to take part in religious meetings of young people organized by the Salesians. In this church, on Nov. 3, 1946, Fr. Wojtyla celebrated one of his first Masses with the faithful.

In his long and fruitful pontificate, Pope John Paul II expressed his paternal closeness to the Salesian Family, and he gave us many enlightened teachings. All the most important Salesian occurrences over the years of his pontificate were marked by his blessing, and often by his presence. This was seen particularly on the occasion of the celebration of the centennial of Don Bosco’s  death in 1988, and the “Year of Grace” enriched by indulgences and special gifts. On Sept. 2-4, 1988, he visited the Salesian “holy places” – the birthplace of Don Bosco and the shrine at Colle Don Bosco, where he beatified Blessed Laura Vicuña, the Cathedral in Chieri, and in Turin the Basilica of Mary Help of Christians, Don Bosco’s rooms, and the church of St. Francis de Sales. On Jan. 24, 1989, he officially proclaimed Don Bosco “Father and Teacher of Youth.”

In his numerous meetings with the Salesians and other groups of the Salesian Family, such as his pastoral visits to Turin, the audiences granted to the members of general chapters and the general council, John Paul II offered an authoritative message on the originality of our Father Don Bosco as saint and founder, and the needs and challenges of today’s incarnation of the Salesian charism in the educational and pastoral commitment to young people, the apostolic zeal of evangelization and mission, and the charismatic and pastoral involvement of the laity.

The interventions of the Holy Father flowed simultaneously from his heartfelt pastoral concern and personal sympathy and gratitude to Don Bosco. He admired Don Bosco as a gift of the Spirit to the Church. He was convinced of Don Bosco’s prophetic greatness, lived in harmony with his predilection for the young. He admired his original methodology of education to the faith, the oratory criterion, his sensitivity to the world of work, his openness to laity and the involvement of women, his bold sense of universality, and affection for the little ones and the poor and the working classes. In particular he liked to emphasize Don Bosco’s strong devotion to Mary as helper of the Church in difficult times.

On the occasion of John Paul II’s canonization, we make our own his testimony and his call to holiness. During his pontificate he reminded us of our call to holiness through the beatification and canonization of several members of the Salesian Family. In particular, in 2004, the last year of his life, the Pope gave the Salesian Family a most beautiful gift when he beatified representatives of the different branches of our Salesian Family: Fr. August Czartoryski, SDB; Sr. Eusebia Palomino, FMA; Alexandrina Maria da Costa, a Cooperator and member of ADMA (all three beatified on April 25, 2004, in St. Peter’s Square); and Alberto Marvelli, a past pupil (Sept. 5, 2004, in Loreto).

Homily for 3d Sunday of Easter

Homily for the
3d Sunday of Easter
May 4, 2014
Luke 24: 13-35
Boy Scouts, WPC Camp-o-ree, Croton Point, N.Y.

“That very day, … two of Jesus’ disciples were going to a village called Emmaus 7 miles from Jerusalem” (Luke 24: 13).

“That very day” is Sunday, the day when Mary Magdalene and the other women went to Jesus’ tomb to anoint his body and found the stone rolled away, the tomb empty, the guards gone, and angels announcing Jesus’ resurrection.

No one believed the women, even when they went to the tomb and saw it was empty.  Besides male prejudices against the credibility of women, who ever heard of someone rising from the dead?

So some of Jesus’ disciples left Jerusalem, greatly disheartened and even afraid, and headed home.  Our gospel this evening tells us about 2 of them, one named Cleopas, the other unnamed  —quite possibly his wife; St. John’s gospel tells us that among the women present at the crucifixion was “Mary the wife of Clopas” (19:25).

The Road to Emmaus
Basilica of St. John Bosco, Colle Don Bosco
Luke’s gospel tells us that Jesus came and walked along with Cleopas and his companion and engaged them in a long, lively conversation; but they didn’t recognize him until they sat down for supper at their destination.  Risen from the dead, Jesus was clearly different; yet also the same.

I would propose to you 4 lessons from this gospel story.

1st, the disciples lament to this stranger who joins them on the road, “We were hoping that Jesus the Nazarene would be the one to redeem Israel” (24:21).  Aren’t they right about that?  Their mistake lies in the form of their expectations, in their understanding of Israel’s redemption.  It’s not a political or nationalistic or economic redemption—throwing out the Romans and re-establishing the kingdom of David, followed by prosperity for everyone.  It’s the redemption of our hearts and souls, freedom not from Rome but from Satan, the promise of everlasting life and eternal joy.  Sometimes we’re disappointed by what happens in life because our expectations are misguided, because we’re not looking at our lives from God’s perspective but from our own narrow, self-centered, time-limited perspective.  Such hopes will always fall short.  How many of you have seen the movie It’s a Wonderful Life?  George Bailey despairs of his life when he regards it in terms of material success; he’s saved when he’s given a different perspective, you might say, an other-worldly perspective, on the impact of his life on other people and on his community.  There’s no redemption in human institutions or in our own efforts to make ourselves happy.

2d lesson:  “He interpreted to them what referred to him in all the Scriptures” (24:27).  Jesus explains to Cleopas and his companion the events they’ve just witnessed or taken part in, from God’s viewpoint.  We find God’s viewpoint in his Word, in the sacred Scriptures.  Our individual life histories aren’t written out in the Old Testament and the Gospels, of course, but the human story is there:  the story of all our hopes and desires, of our sins and failings, of how much God loves us and how he’s shown us that love.  We place our lives, with joys and sorrows, their triumphs and disappointments, into the context of God’s Word, and then we begin to find the direction and the meaning of our lives.  God’s Word sheds light on what we experience, helps us see where we’re going.  As one of the Psalms says, God’s Word is a light for our path (119:105).

3d lesson:  “It happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them” (24:15).  Jesus traveled with them and discussed with them for several miles—as Scouts, we know how long that can take, especially when we’re talking.  Yet, St. Luke tells us, they didn’t recognize him—not his appearance nor his voice.  Nevertheless, he was with them, leading their discussion and gradually enlightening their understanding of the events they’d just lived thru.

We may not see him, but Jesus is our constant companion.  We’re walking a long journey—a pilgrimage, in fact—toward our Father’s home, toward eternal life.  And Jesus is always our companion, altho we don’t perceive him in any physical sense.  If we’ll open our hearts and our minds to his truth—not only in the Word of God as we saw already, but in personal conversation, i.e., in prayer, then he’ll help us as we travel, help us make sense of what’s going on in our lives.  Jesus once walked the roads of Galilee and Judea and the streets of Jerusalem with the apostles and many other people, and he continues to walk alongside us.

Breaking Bread at Emmaus
Basilica of St. John Bosco, Colle Don Bosco
4th lesson:  “While he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them.  With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him” (24:30-31).  Do those 2 verses remind you of anything?  It’s the classic formula of the Eucharist.  With these 2 disciples Jesus probably was starting an ordinary meal and giving the standard Jewish meal blessing, but the Eucharistic language tells us that we recognize Jesus, we find Jesus, we come to know Jesus in the sacred liturgy.  It’s not enuf to read or listen to the Word of God, as important as that is; nor to pray privately, as essential as that is.  We also must take part in the Eucharist if we wish to know Jesus and be part of his company, be among his disciples.

In this Eucharist that we’re celebrating this evening, we meet Jesus—in the sacrament of his Body and Blood and in the sacred Scriptures.  We offer to him our lives, especially those parts of our lives that are most challenging, the parts that are mysteries to us, confident that he makes our difficulties and our mysteries meaningful.  And we ask him to be our constant companion as we go thru life, until we reach our final destination, our Father’s home in heaven.