Thursday, April 2, 2015

St. Philip Province Celebrates Its "Day"

St. Philip Province Celebrates Its “Day,”
thanks Fr. Tom Dunne for his leadership service

As has been customary in recent decades, the annual spring meeting of the New Rochelle Province’s leadership concluded with the Province Day celebration, held at Our Lady of the Valley Church in Orange, N.J., on Saturday, March 21. It was the first full day of spring—and, unlike the preceding quarter-day of spring (the evening of March 20), although there was a chill in the air, there wasn’t any snow; in fact, for a while there was glorious sunshine.
Bros. Henry Van der Velden and Bruno Busatto chatting before Mass
This annual Province Day celebration fulfills a mandate of art. 42 of the SDB general regulations: “Once a year let both the local and provincial community, gathered around the director and provincial respectively, celebrate the community feast day as a sign of its fraternal communion and an expression of its gratitude.” The tradition goes back to about 1870 when the past pupils of Don Bosco’s Oratory first got the idea of honoring him on his name’s day (altho they got the date wrong, supposing he’d been named for John the Baptist when, in fact, his patron was John the Apostle—fittingly enuf.)
Frs. Shafran, Dunne, and Dumais at their chairs
Taking part in the Eucharistic celebration in Orange were 67 confreres (46 priests and 21 brothers) and 2 candidates. Fr. Tom Dunne presided, flanked by his successor-elect, Fr. Steve Shafran, and his faithful sidekick for the last 5 years, 8 months, and 21 days (but who’s counting?), Vice Provincial Fr. Steve Dumais. In his comments as Mass began, Fr. Tom drew a chuckle by referring to the twin Steves beside him, and a laugh by counting the 3 months and 9 days before Fr. Shafran will assume office.

Getting more serious, Fr. Tom called the new season and the change in the weather a sign of God’s providence, an illustration of the coming of light and life after our harsh winter.

Jesus on trial (in absentia), and searching for an encounter with God

Taking up the Lenten weekday’s gospel reading (John 7:40-53) as the basis for his homily, Fr. Tom pointed out that Jesus has come to Jerusalem, where he encounters increasing opposition from the religious leaders. They’ve noticed his deeds and his dealings with sinners, and they feel that their power and prestige are being threatened.

Fr. Tom pointed to the courtroom atmosphere of the gospel passage, which includes a pack of prosecutors intent on justifying themselves. There’s a crowd, including the disciples, who are a jury of sorts, asked to choose or to reject Jesus. Jesus, however, isn’t present to defend himself.
Salesian coadjutor and seminarian brothers listening to Fr. Tom
Instead, the guards who’d been sent to arrest him come back empty-handed, offering a defense:  “No one talks like he does.” Afraid of the crowds and affected by his words, they couldn’t bring him in for condemnation. Those words of Jesus are filled with truth and love for people, evoking reconciliation and joy.

Then Nicodemus speaks on behalf of the defendant, asking that Jesus be heard. In his earlier night session with Jesus, he’d gone from (potential) prosecutor to God-seeker. Unlike him, the other leaders are satisfied that they already possess the truth. Nicodemus didn’t understand everything, as evidenced by his dialog with Jesus, but he had experienced a life-changing conversation with Jesus, an encounter with God.

Jesus has been making it clear that no one is excluded from encountering God, from forming a relationship with God, from forgiveness, from salvation.

This Lenten season and the work of the Holy Spirit are calling Salesians today to a conversion like Nicodemus’s, calling us away from the intransigence of the religious leaders. “Do we listen to Jesus’ words in our lives?” Fr. Tom asked.
Priests gathered at Province Day
Fr. Tom cited the words of Fr. Angel Fernandez Artime, that what’s missing in the lives of many Salesians is the inner life, a relationship with God such as Nicodemus sought. GC27 urges us to seek the way ahead for ourselves and the Congregation (seek our future) by listening to God.

In his dream at age nine, John Bosco asked how he could do what God asked of him.  “She will show you the way,” the gentleman of his dream told him, pointing to a majestic woman. Over the course of his life and throughout the history of the Congregation, that guidance has been realized.

Finally, Fr. Tom urged the confreres to listen to Jesus, listen to what he has to say, and remain in God’s presence.

Six years of leading and learning from the province

As soon as the liturgical ministers had processed from the sanctuary, Fr. Steve Dumais stepped to the pulpit. He surprised everyone by announcing that the local restaurant at which for many years Province Day festivities have continued after Mass had undergone a change of management, and in the process our reservation had been lost. (So the dismissal at Mass’s end really was a dismissal! Except that Fr. Steve continued speaking for nearly half an hour.)

With Fr. Tom’s six-year term of service about to conclude, and the service of some of the provincial council, Fr. Steve offered some observations about the preceding six years:

-- the young Salesians in formation bring to the province enthusiasm, optimism, joy, and hope;

-- the care that we give to our senior and sick confreres reveals the genuineness of our family spirit;

-- the ministries that we support show the depth of our commitment to the young and the poor;

-- the community is a place where we sustain our relationships;

-- the province leadership have lived up to their serious responsibilities with giftedness and dedication; here he named and paid tribute to the individual councilors who served alongside himself and Fr. Tom during the last six years;

-- meetings and planning are important; here he identified Fr. Tom as a “wonderful planner” and someone who listens readily to all points of view.
Fr. Steve Dumais speaking after Mass
Fr. Steve continued by lauding Fr. Tom as a man who never seems to be worn down in spirit, even if he’s sometimes wearied physically. He’s always been ready to see someone who needs to talk with him, always ready to do what’s needed to be done. He’s lived up to the expectations of what a Salesian provincial should be, a good priest, a faithful Salesian, a good friend.

And 66 confreres and 2 candidates gave Fr. Tom Dunne a standing ovation.
Frs. Mike Leschinsky, Jim Heuser, and Steve Shafran catching up with each other's lives--
or Frs. Mike and Jim probing the incoming provincial's intentions?

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