Sunday, June 3, 2012
A Day of Priestly Thanksgiving
June 3, 1972 on the calendar was Saturday. On that day in the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus, 12 men were somewhat nervous early that morning. Within a few hours after sunrise, the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s Archbishop would be making his way from his historic residence to the collegiate chapel on the Jesuit Loyola College in Baltimore. A little after 10 AM that morning a lengthy procession of Jesuit priests began a procession from a campus building to the chapel and the standing room only congregation. At the end of the procession Lawrence Cardinal Sheehan followed the group of twelve men dressed in white albs and a variety of white deacon’s stoles. These men were walking not only towards a momentous event in their lives but to the doorstep of a new life that would impact not only themselves but men and women around the world. This was the Maryland Provinces’ newest class of men who had already studied for many years, had taught several years in secondary and collegiate classrooms, worked in soup kitchens, worked with fire fighters in different cities, protested the war in VietNam, struggled with inner city housing problems for the indigent, served in hospitals and nursing homes and had sought to bring the spirit of St. Ignatius Loyola and the Lord Jesus Christ to many different men and women and young people in almost a dozen cities on the East Coast, in the South, in India, in European cities and Rome. Now these seemingly “seasoned” men of Ignatius were walking toward a mission and the fulfillment of a vocation that had at time teased, rewarded or challenged during their years of formation. Ordination to the Priesthood of Jesus Christ was awaiting them as they walked down the aisle to the sound of organs, trumpets and tympani drums. Many passed the smiling yet teary-eyed loved ones just before they entered the sanctuary steps to await the imposition of the Cardinal’s hands upon their heads ordaining them to the priesthood. It was the moment that would begin a journey on which many of them would carry the message of Jesus Christ to then unknown places, unexpected assignments, and to challenges that would try their very being. Yes, I was one of those men, those Jesuit Scholastics about to lie prostrate on the cold marble of the chapel floor, a few moments when the congregations would petition a lengthy litany of saints to intercede with God on behalf of these candidates and their future as Jesuit priests of the Roman Catholic Church.
Now, on this Sunday, I will mark the 40 years my classmates and I have been standing at altars around the world earnestly praying each day for countless people, numerous needs of our Church, our missions that were entrusted to us. The Sunday will mark that day when Jesus Christ entered a unique relationship with each one of us. It was the beginning of a journey that for me was most unusual. After being a teacher and administrator at Jesuit Scranton University, a Pittsburgh pre-seminary Bishop's Latin Schoo, two different Jesuit prep schools (Fordham Prep [Bronx, NY] and St. Joseph’s Prep [Philadelphia, PA]), a year working with the Gregorian Foundation in Rome and then doctoral studies at the University of Florida, my path took a turn that most Jesuit don’t anticipate. After much prayer and many hours of discussion with a marvelous Spiritual Director, I followed his advice: either get off the diving board or jump into the unknown depths of the waters before you. It was at that time that I felt that God was calling me to redirect my priestly work as a member of the diocesan clergy. It was at that time that I did spring from that challenging board and into the unknown. It was the guidance of a Monsignor James McGrath of Philadelphia and the caring acceptance and subsequent teaching of then Archbishop James Hickey and especially the encouraging words of my Jesuit Provincial at that time, Fr. James Devereux, SJ, that I became a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington. It was the beginning of a very different priestly ministry. From high school and collegiate teaching and administration and “supply help” on most weekends in parishes in the Archdiocese of New York, the Dioceses of Brooklyn, Rockville Center (Long Island, NY). and St. Augustine (FL) to administration of some of the works of an Archdiocese of Washington, three Pastor assignments, and to be honored to work with Blessed Pope John Paul II for four and a half years, returning to parish life and at the age of 65, following open-heart surgery, leaving the Pastor’s role to become a Senior Priest at a Capitol Hill parish for a year and then being granted retirement. And that began and entirely different life that has brought me to St. Matthias Parish where I am assisting its Pastor, who was the first and only Associate Pastor who had worked with me on my first assignment as a Pastor. What a blessing this has been for me. And each day continues to be a new mission, a new adventure serving a very diverse parish and all its works.
Clearly the Jesuit motto, AMDG, Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam, For the Greater Glory of God, is truly the motto that is the driving force in the 53 years since I walked into the Jesuit Novitiate in Wernersville, PA. and especially in the 40 years since Cardinal Sheehan placed his ordaining hands on my head beginning a most unusual life for me.
So, this Sunday, this fortieth anniversary, is a time when I realize more than ever the extraordinary graces God has showered on this man from St. James Parish in Mt. Rainier, MD. When I stand at the altar in St. Matthias Church on Sunday morning, it will be an hour filled with memories, some so encouraging and others causes of pain. It is significant for me to be in this church because I see much of the woodworking craftsmanship of my father and two of my brothers. Most of all I will carry with me the thoughts of my Mom and Dad, sister and brothers and their families, other family, many men, women and young people who have been a part of my life --- literally thousands -- and my many missions of helping and building for the Church of Jesus Christ. What a life God has given me thus far. For this I am forever grateful.
The photo above reminds me each day: there is always a road ahead until that final turn brings all of us to those gates of heaven.
I close with one request: continue to pray for the priesthood of our Church, especially for its growth and fidelity to the vision of Jesus Christ, the great High Priest.