Sunday, May 28, 2023

Frs. Branden Gordon and Joshua Sciullo Ordained

Frs.  Branden Gordon and Joshua Sciullo Ordained

Frs. Branden Gordon, SDB, and Joshua Sciullo, SDB, were ordained priests on May 27 by Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, SDB, archbishop emeritus of Tegucigalpa, Honduras.  The rite of ordination was celebrated at Our Lady of the Valley Church in Orange, N.J.  The cardinal’s joy in being among his Salesian Family was evident throughout the day.

Both new priests completed their theological studies at Immaculate Conception Seminary in South Orange, N.J., this year and resided in the Salesian formation community at Orange.  Fr.  Josh studied his first three years of theology at the Ratisbonne in Jerusalem, whereas Fr.  Branden did all his studies at Immaculate Conception. Fr. Josh earned an M.A. in systematic theology, and Fr. Branden an M.Div.

Fr. Josh, 30, is from Jacksonville, Fla. His parents are Deacon Mark and Jody Sciullo, and he has two brothers and a sister. He became a Salesian candidate in 2011 and professed vows in 2015. After earning a B.A. at Seton Hall University and before going to Jerusalem for theology, he taught religion at Abp. Shaw H.S. in Marrero, La.

Fr. Branden, 36, is from Toronto. His parents are Ronald Gordon and Rita Pipito and has one brother. He studied philosophy and education at York University in Toronto, worked part-time in recreation, and after graduation became a schoolteacher.  He entered Salesian formation in 2013 and made first profession in 2015. He did practical training at Salesian H.S. in New Rochelle, teaching theology.

More than 60 Salesians took part in the liturgy, besides numerous Salesian Sisters and other members of the Salesian Family, members of the new priests’ families, and students from several Salesian schools—from as far away as Sherbrooke, and Tampa.  The cardinal’s homily stressed that the newly ordained should become identified with Christ, to whom they belong entirely and who sends them to be influencers among the young.

Cardinal Oscar told the congregation that God, through the Holy Spirit, will enter the depths of Fr.  Branden and Fr.  Josh and transform them into images of Christ.  On the eve of Pentecost, he urged the ordinands to entrust their priesthood to the Holy Spirit.  Through these men Christ intends to transform the Church, our Congregation, and the world.

The cardinal pointed out that Christ made a gratuitous and irrevocable choice of these two men, that they should hand themselves over to him entirely and become identified with him.  They are invited to an intimate relationship with the Father and with humanity in order to give life to humanity.  The image of Christ engraved in their souls is more powerful than their human weakness, so that whoever sees them ought to be able to see Christ in them. 

The priest is an alter Christus, “another Christ,” Cardinal Oscar reminded the ordinands.  He doesn’t belong to himself or to the world but is the exclusive possession of the Lord, a minister of Christ.  Don Bosco understood this completely.  The cardinal quoted our Founder’s words to Prime Minister Ricasoli: “Don Bosco is a priest at the altar, in the confessional, and among his dear boys; and as he is a priest in Turin, so also he is a priest in Florence, in the homes of the poor, in the King’s palace.”

The preacher continued with the implications for a Salesian priest.  A Salesian dedicates himself to the education of youth.  Don Bosco wants these two new priests to be influencers through their ministry to the young.  They are to confront the challenges facing the marginalized, those who separate faith from their lives, those overcome by the world.

The cardinal acknowledged that the families of Fr.  Josh and Fr.  Branden have given the best they have to the Church, namely, their sons.

Finally, our Salesian confrere invoked Mary, Mother of the Church and Help of Christians.  He prayed that Mary would obtain for them the gifts of love, purity, self-denial, a sense of service and dedication, and perseverance, so that they will become permanent offerings to God and their brothers and sisters, even when the priesthood is demanding of them.


The new priests were presented in the May 18 issue of Salesian News.  Fr. Branden has been assigned to Le Salesien in Sherbrooke as coordinator of youth ministry for the school.  Fr. Josh will have the same responsibility at Our Lady of the Valley Parish in Orange.

Homily for Solemnity of Pentecost

Homily for the Solemnity of Pentecost

May 28, 2023
John 20: 19-23
Villa Maria, Bronx
St. Francis Xavier, Bronx

Out of fear of the Jewish leaders who had executed Jesus, his disciples had locked themselves up in the upper room (cf. John 20: 19).

by Erwin Kuesthardt

Fear had moved them to flee and hide when Jesus was arrested and had moved Peter to deny knowing him.  Fear easily overrides our judgment, and our desires too.

What are we afraid of?  We fear danger.  We fear what people might think of us.  We fear the unknown.  We fear pain, suffering, and loss.  We fear death.

How many times does Jesus counsel the disciples or a divine messenger (an angel) counsel someone in the Scriptures, “Don’t be afraid”!  Those were the Archangel Gabriel’s 1st words to Mary.  In today’s gospel, Jesus doesn’t say, “Don’t be afraid.”  Rather, he wishes “shalom,” peace, to his friends, and he bestows it, emphatically, by repetition (20:19,21) and then by the gift of the Holy Spirit.

In St. Luke’s version of the bestowal of the Spirit, which was our 1st reading (Acts 2:1-11), the disciples cast away all their fear and rush out to proclaim the resurrection.

When we possess the peace of Jesus, our fears abate.  Out of our human weakness, some remnant of fear may remain.  We’re not all like Don Bosco, who wasn’t afraid for his life and went out at nite on sick calls on the pitch-black streets and lanes of Turin’s outskirts long before there was street lighting—even when enemies of the Church were lying in wait to bushwhack him.  Sometimes he was rescued by the presence of his sturdy older youths; more than once he was saved by the mysterious dog Grigio.

The saints are braver than we are, more certain that they’re in God’s hands, even when in danger from the wicked, from storms, or from illness.

But Jesus has given us another reason to have courage and be at peace.  In the gospel we heard him give the Holy Spirit to the disciples.  The disciples, in turn, share the Holy Spirit with us—in the sacraments especially; also in the sacred Scriptures, which the Church composed (thru sacred writers) and which the Church recognizes as inspired by the Holy Spirit (not every writing from 1st-century Christianity has made the cut and been recognized as divinely inspired).  Thru the sacred Scriptures the Spirit continues to speak to us, inspire us, and encourage us.

In particular, the Holy Spirit empowers the Church to forgive sins, which she does thru Baptism and Reconciliation.  Don’t we fear our sins?  Don’t they weigh on us?  Indeed, many people are afraid that God won’t forgive them, or that their sins make them unlovable even to God.  Many are afraid of death because they fear God’s judgment.

Yes, our sins themselves merit divine judgment.  But Jesus has given the Holy Spirit to the Church precisely so that the Church may continue what Jesus began:  dispelling our fears and bestowing the peace of God’s mercy.

Therefore, brothers and sisters of Jesus, welcome his mercy in the sacraments.  Don’t be afraid of what people will think if they know you’re a Christian, or what they think of the Church when it teaches the truth about human dignity, human life, and human love.  And don’t be afraid of God’s wrath.  Jesus has come from God for the forgiveness of sins:  yours and mine.

Monday, May 22, 2023

Homily for Memorial of St. Rita

Homily for the Memorial of
St. Rita of Cascia

May 22, 2023
Provincial House, New Rochelle

In the collect of St. Rita, we prayed that we might more deeply participate in the paschal mystery by suffering with Christ in every tribulation.  That of course doesn’t mean that we desire tribulations; but desire them or not, we’ll have them.  We desire to be united with Christ in them.

Tribulations filled the life of Rita of Cascia (1381-1457), starting from her being compelled to marry in spite of her desire to become a nun.  Her 18-year marriage was miserable, her husband being violent and unfaithful, and their sons were like him.  The marriage ended with her husband’s murder in a vendetta; before her sons could avenge him, both died of natural causes.  Widowed, Rita still was denied entrance to a convent for several years, but finally was admitted and became a model of humility, obedience, and care for the sick in the convent.  Not for nothing is her patronage invoked in desperate cases.

Rita knew more tribulation than most people; certainly more than you and I, whose tribulations come up at dinner in the form of medical travails or job-related problems.  Rita’s tribulations, not to mention ours, pale when we think of the tens of thousands afflicted by war, narco-violence, sexual trafficking, or unrelenting discrimination.  Just read the multi-page spread in yesterday’s NYT about Afghan refugees.

St. Rita was closely united with the passion of Christ, even to experiencing the wounds of the crown of thorns (but not other stigmata).  We can unite our tribulations to that same passion—“suffering in every tribulation with Christ,” sharing in one phase of the paschal mystery while looking toward that mystery’s fulfillment in us.  We attend to Jesus’ words:  “Take courage, I have conquered the world” (John 16:33).  And we pray that suffering, desperate people today—migrants, victims of persecution, violence, and discrimination, people in unhappy relationships—also might take courage and find the assistance and comfort they need in Christ and Christ’s people.

Photo by Rita Mendl: from a church in Budapest

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Homily for 7th Sunday of Easter

Homily for the
7th Sunday of Easter

May 21, 2023
John 17: 1-11
Christian Brothers, Iona University, N.R.
St. Francis Xavier, Bronx
Our Lady of the Assumption, Bronx

“Father, the hour has come” (John 17: 1).

The Last Sermon of Our Lord (James Tissot)

When Jesus’ mother pointed out to him that the wine had run out at the wedding banquet in Cana, he responded that his hour hadn’t come yet (John 2:3-4).  But the sign that he worked anyway began to reveal his glory, according to St. John, and “his disciples began to believe in him” (2:11).  The sign at Cana initiated Jesus’ hour.

Jesus, of course, doesn’t use hour to mark time.  The hour is an event, and more than an event, a sign, a promise of great things to come.  When Jefferson Davis was inaugurated as president of the Confederate States in 1861, one rabid secessionist politician declared, “The man and the hour have met.”  As we view it now, that was an infamous hour, an hour that promised to maintain an infamous, immoral practice.

Jesus refers to another infamous hour at the time of his arrest.  He tells “the chief priests and temple guards and elders who had come for him” in the Garden of Gethsemane, “This is your hour, the time for the power of darkness” (Luke 22:52-53).  The Prince of Darkness, whose ambition is to thwart God and God’s plan for humanity, had his hour and his momentary triumph.

Jesus’ hour is the hour of God’s working in the world to accomplish his plan to undo the power of darkness and to bring us all into divine light.  So Jesus prays amid his apostles near the end of the Last Supper, “Father, the hour has come.”  It’s the brief hour of Satan’s triumph, the everlasting hour of God’s victory, thru which the Son will “give eternal life to all [the Father] gave him” (17:2).  Jesus’ hour is the hour of the paschal mystery:  his passion, death, resurrection, and ascension.  Thru his hour he receives glory from his Father and he glorifies the Father “by accomplishing on earth the work that [God] gave him to do” (17:4).  Therefore God will glorify him, the man Jesus of Nazareth, “with the glory that [he, the eternal Son] had with [the Father] before the world began” (17:5).        

Two weeks ago we saw a magnificent spectacle of glory.  More than anyone else, the Brits know how to do glory, whether it’s a royal wedding, a royal funeral, or as we witnessed on May 6, a royal coronation.

From the late 15th century until 1963, our Church also had a splendid coronation ritual.  (Paul VI was the last Pope to be crowned rather than inaugurated.)  Part of the ritual involved the papal master of ceremonies preceding the new Pope on his way from St. Peter’s sacristy into the church, carrying a smoldering wick of flax.  3 times the procession would halt, and the MC would announce, “Holy Father, sic transit gloria mundi” – “thus passes away worldly glory.”

Papal splendor passes away; Pope Francis has done a lot to remove any earthly appearance of it.  Royal splendor in Britain and anywhere else will pass away.  Only the glory of Jesus Christ our Redeemer, risen and ascended to heaven, will remain.  It’s not a worldly glory but glory emanating from God, glory originating in eternity.

That glory isn’t the glory of Jesus alone.  He’s promised us a share of his divine glory.  He prays to his Father, “Everything of mine is yours and everything of yours is mine, and I have been glorified in them” (17:10), in those whom the Father has given to Jesus to lead from this world’s transient pleasures and sufferings to eternal glory, eternal light, eternal life.  St. Peter reminds us that when Christ’s glory is fully revealed on the Last Day, we’ll rejoice exultantly (1 Pet 4:13); his glory will be ours too because we belong to him.

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

The Resilience of Fr. Attilio Stra

The Resilience of Fr. Attilio Stra

(ANS – Port-au-Prince, Haiti – May 17, 2023)
 – Fr. Attilio Stra, a Piedmontese Salesian missionary in Haiti, is among those who have been resisting every deterioration of the country for more than 4 decades. Earthquakes and typhoons have been devastating; the responses to the resulting health crises have been consistently inadequate for the affected population.

The cause and effect of each of these extreme moments lie in the absence of a government authority capable of organizing relief, as well as ensuring normal administration. Dependence on distant powers over the country’s history and extreme local corruption makes it seem that no further descent is possible.

“It would take a miracle to come out of this web of poverty, violence, crime, and external conditioning,” confides Fr. Stra. And he knows about miracles: during the magnitude 7 earthquake of January 12, 2010 – which severely affected Salesian structures, causing more than 300 victims among children, youths, and teachers – he survived the collapse of the National School of Arts and Crafts (ENAM - Ecole Nationale des Arts et Metiers), the first Salesian house in Haiti (1935). Even at that time in an email sent to ANS, he wrote: “I am alive by a miracle.”

Despite that terrible experience and all the difficulties that still plague the country today, Fr. Stra never considered leaving what has become his 2d homeland. Instead, together with his confreres and their collaborators, he strives to replicate in the 13 Salesian works in Haiti small daily “miracles.”

The efforts made by the Salesians in the 2010 emergency were renewed 2 years ago following a new seismic disaster; sandwiched in between was Hurricane Mathew in 2016, bringing further death and destruction.

It is a true miracle that 70 Salesians are still in Haiti. The houses with the Don Bosco insignia are a refuge for thousands of teenagers who, on the streets or in bars, come into contact with drug recruiters and extortionists. Despite this, or perhaps because of this, the Salesians themselves are not exempt from the attention of thugs: criminal gangs infest the streets, no government is able to counter them, and political power, under constant threat from crime lords, fails to evolve in a positive direction and ensure either order, security, or peaceful coexistence.

All analyses lead to the view that there is no way out except for a “miracle,” precisely. Yet, among small daily “miracles,” the resilience of Fr. Stra and other missionaries is the only certain fact.

For more information, visit: 

Homily for Tuesday, 6th Week of Easter

Homily for Tuesday
6th Week of Easter

May 6, 2023
Acts 16: 22-34
John 16: 5-11
Christian Brothers, St. Joseph’s Residence, New Rochelle

“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you and your household will be saved” (Acts 16: 31).

In yesterday’s passage from Acts, Paul and Silas began freely teaching the Gospel at Philippi and won converts.  The lectionary skips over the next episode, in which Paul exorcises a slave girl and then her owners instigate public opposition, which in turn leads to the attack and imprisonment we just read of.  So the 2 apostles have an opportunity to preach the Gospel in circumstances less free.  But their preaching is still effective.

It’s effective because Jesus has sent the Advocate to be with them (cf. John 16:7) and with the whole Church.  The Advocate convicts the world of sin (16:8)—which in our hearts we’re all aware of—but also makes known the remedy:  belief in the redemption offered to us in Christ.

The Advocate remains with us, brothers, regardless of our circumstances, to heal us of our sins, to master the power of the Evil One—“the ruler of this world has been condemned” (16:11)—and to make us preachers of the Gospel to one another, to the staff of our house, to anyone with whom we converse or to whom we write.

The Lord has “built up strength within” us, and he “will complete what he has done for” us (Ps 138:3,8), and for all whom Christ calls to salvation.

Monday, May 15, 2023

The Letter from Rome of May 10, 1884

The Letter from Rome of May 10, 1884

The most significant elements

(ANS – Rome – May 10, 2023)
 – May 10 marks 139 years since the famous letter from Rome that Don Bosco wrote to his Salesians to warn them of the risk of losing the truly “Salesian” nature of being among young people, of educating and evangelizing them. A way of being present among young people that implies loving, requires the visibility of this love, knows how to raise questions, provide models, gives birth to dreams, projects, and prospects, and finally generates mature men and women capable of building the Kingdom of God in service to their brothers and sisters. In recent times, Rector Major emeritus Fr. Pascual Chavez Villanueva proposed an updated reading of this letter, which is and remains a charismatic cornerstone for the whole Congregation and for the Salesian Family.

Don Bosco’s dream-letter written from Rome in May 1884 makes clear the dialectic between “presence of the charism” and “work of educational or social services.” For there may very well be a presence of the charism without a work – as it was in Turin with Don Bosco, before the reality of Valdocco was structured, or as it is in those realities where, for various reasons, works are impossible; just as there may be a work without the presence of the charism any longer: a work that proceeds by inertia, that has lost its propositional capacity and meaning, that perhaps has a glorious past to tell, but no longer has anything to say in today’s social and ecclesial scenario.

Faced with this risk, Fr. Chavez proposes a rereading, contextualized to today’s reality and its challenges, of the letter from Rome, which he calls “the Gospel of Don Bosco.” Salesians are therefore called to welcome young people for who they are, “in the state in which they are,” and to articulate proposals and interventions to the measure of boys and girls, and of particular situations. “It is a matter of seeking that rare equilibrium between radical proposals of meaning and respect for the personal and collective dynamic that it takes for each person to achieve them,” he further explains.

Father Chavez’s reading identifies the 6 most significant elements in the Letter from Rome:

Knowing how to use the language of love – that is, the great principle of the “visibility of love.”

Understanding young people – the rational element that makes it possible to cancel the generational distance;

Having happiness at heart – as the goal of each person’s vocation and the privileged way for evangelization;

Being present – physically and in dialog and sincere confrontation;

Overcoming formalisms – accepting the educational effort to give young people models of comparison for growth;

Sharing action – accompanying and fostering youth leadership.

These six elements are available – in Italian, English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese.

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Sunday, May 14, 2023

Homily for 6th Sunday of Easter

Homily for the
6th Sunday of Easter

May 14, 2023
John 14: 15-21
Our Lady of the Assumption, Bronx
St. Francis Xavier, Bronx

“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments’” (John 14: 15).

Jesus is speaking to his apostles at the Last Supper.  His address to them is his final words before his passion and death.  In this excerpt, twice he urges them to keep his commandments, for such fidelity demonstrates that they love him (cf. 14:21).  If they love him, their faith must be translated into deeds.  As the saying goes, they have to walk the walk and not just talk the talk.

What does Jesus command?  What are his commandments?  Also in this farewell address, he commands his followers to love one another (13:34-35).  We can’t love Jesus if at the same time we treat our fellow disciples badly, or anyone in our lives, e.g., by gossiping and tearing them down, ignoring their needs, or lying to them.

Before addressing the apostles at length—this farewell discourse takes up 4½ chapters of John’s Gospel—Jesus set an example for them, and for us, by washing their feet, doing the unpleasant work of a slave.  Then he told them—commanded them—to follow his example by serving one another (13:14-15).  This is one of those commandments that are indicative of our love for Jesus:  that we serve one another, help one another, consider others’ needs and do what we can to meet those needs.

At the Last Supper, Jesus also took bread and consecrated it as his body, given for us; took wine and consecrated it as his blood, shed for us.  Then he commanded, “Do this in memory of me” (Luke 22:19).  He’s commanded us to celebrate the Eucharist as a memorial of himself, of his sacrificing himself for our redemption.

If we love him, we’ll keep his commandment and faithfully celebrate the Holy Eucharist every week, if not more often.  St. Paul writes that as often as we eat this bread which is his body and drink this cup of his blood, we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes again (1 Cor 11:26)—and not his death only, but his resurrection too, and his promise to share his risen life with us when he returns in his glory as Son of God and judge of the world.

St. Peter tells us in today’s 2d reading, “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts” (1 Pet 3:15).  Receiving his body and blood brings him into ourselves physically and spiritually.  It sanctifies us and empowers us to keep his words in our hearts, on our lips, and in our deeds.  He sanctifies us so that we may sanctify him in our hearts and in our lives.

Friday, May 12, 2023

St. Mary Mazzarello, Attentive and Caring Mother

St. Mary Mazzarello, Attentive and Caring Mother

(ANS – Rome – May 12, 2023)
 – On May 13, the Salesian Family celebrates the memory of St. Mary Domenica Mazzarello, cofounder with Don Bosco of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians. Between her and Don Bosco, there was a profound charismatic harmony. Mother Mazzarello had a marked educational capacity, the gift of a serene and reassuring joy, and the art of involving other young women in the commitment to devote themselves to the promotion of women so that they might be good Christians and upright citizens in the family, the Church, and society.

From a young age, she was hardworking and attentive to the needs of her neighbor; accompanied by the spiritual guidance of Fr. Dominic Pestarino, she devoted herself to the sick during the typhus epidemic that struck Mornese in 1860 and later to the education of the girls of her village. She opened a sewing workshop, a youth center, and then a home for children without families. In a mysterious vision, she saw a large building with many little girls running in the courtyard and heard a voice saying, “To you, I entrust them.”

Toward her girls, she manifested a maternal tenderness from the very beginning. And the awareness of being a “mother,” assumed gradually, became sharper and sharper over time, until it became clearly visible in her letters to her fellow sisters of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians once the institute was founded: in her letters Mother Mazzarello presents herself as “the one who loves you so much in the Lord” (L 66:6) and is “willing to do everything for your good” (L 52:5), like a mother who “takes care” (L 10:2; 12:3).

In her, we can also recognize the traits of a woman who, like the Virgin Mary, expressed her feminine identity in her active solicitude toward her sisters and young people; she was, moreover, a down-to-earth woman of profound and attentive listening, who welcomed the cries of the suffering, and for this she was committed to providing.

Also, part of her motherly way of doing things was her concern for harmony and peace in communities, as precisely a mother who takes care that there be no dissension among her children. “With a little humility, everything can be mended. Give me this consolation soon, my dear daughters, love one another with true charity, love your mother [superior], regard her as if she were our Lady, and treat her with all respect (L 49:2).”

St. Mary Domenica Mazzarello handed over to her daughters and to those who share the educational mission with them a precious legacy, permeated with Gospel values: the search for God known in the family and forged through enlightened catechesis, ardent love for Jesus in the Eucharist, filial trust in Mary Help of Christians, responsibility in work, openness, humility, joy, sobriety of life, and total gift of self in the search for the true good of girls, especially the poorest and neediest, both at home and in the various mission countries.

Sources:, Salesian Bulletin of Brazil