Friday, October 21, 2016

Impressive statistics from the Knights of Columbus

    In the October issue of "Columbia" magazine from the Knights of Columbus, there is a report on the Catholic Fraternal Organization from the Grand Knight given to the 134th Supreme Convention held in early August in Toronto.  This "state of the Fraternity" report is always impressive, and as a fellow Knight, I am very proud of the accomplishments and influence of this group in the United States and on the world stage.  There are 1,918,122 brother Knights across the world, from an organization that began in New Haven, Connecticut, founded by Father Michael McGivney.

     The Knights of Columbus is noted for many things, but high on the list is its dedication to the Catholic Church and its commitment to be of service to those in need and to the Church herself.

     In the year 2015, the Knights of Columbus donated more than $175 million to charitable causes, more than $1.5 million more than the year before.  In addition, the volunteer hours of service added up to a record 73.5 million service hours - on average, an entire workweek from each brother Knight.  Independent Sector, a network for nonprofit foundations, listed the value of a 2015 volunteer hour as $23.56.  Using that figure, last year's time donated to charity was worth more than $1.7 billion.  In the last ten years, service hours totalled 700,765,880 or a value of more than $15 billion.

     Some of the service projects include: Coats for Kids, Food for Families, Habitat for Humanity, the Global Wheelchair Mission, medical equipment and supplies for needy areas of the world, Special Olympics World Games, sponsoring blood drives, pro life projects and countless other worthy and necessary projects. 

     As the Supreme Knight, Carl Anderson stated in his report, "Our charitable works are a light to the nations.  They are a powerful witness to love of God and neighbor that reaches to every corner of the world."  And this is only one part of the mission of this great Catholic Fraternal Organization.  Check out the Knights ... they are worth your inquiry.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

New Priests' Stats

     The November issue of "The Priest" magazine lists this year's results of a survey of newly ordained in the United States.  This survey, commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is conducted by CARA (The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate).  Of the 548 men ordained as priests this year in the U.S., 440 responded.  Here are some interesting findings:

* The average age of those ordained in 2016 is 35 (it was 27 in my time)
*  82% list both parents as being Catholic
*  92% have been Catholic since birth
*  59% completed college before seminary
*  41% attended a Catholic college (compared to just 7% of all U.S. Catholic adults)
*  70% indicated that they were altar servers
*  51% said that they were discouraged from entering the priesthood by family or friends
*  73% said that they participated in regular Eucharistic adoration and prayed the rosary daily.

     What does this tell us about this year's group of priests?

     They are older, more mature, well educated, and strongly influenced in their Faith by the practice of their Faith, by family and the institutions that guided their growth ...  this despite the discouraging words of some.  They are men of prayer and devotion.  Altar servering is a great entrance into the ministry of service at the Altar.   They enter into a ministry and respond to their vocational call at a time of challege, both in the Church and in society ... but they come well prepared to be servant leaders.

     In our own diocese this year, Bishop Malesic ordained Father Ryan Ravis, a fine young man who is enjoying his introduction to priestly ministry.  Pray for him and for the 547 other men ordained in the U.S. in 2016, and pray for all of your priests whose ministry spans many years.  May they have "many fruitful years".

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Cathching up with random thoughts

     Yesterday, as the Church celebrated the memorial of Pope Saint Callistus the First, an early Pope and martyr for the Faith (he died in 222), I shared with our Mass attendees my visit to the Catacombs in Rome that bears the name of this early Pope.  It was in 1975 as I attended the first International Catholic Charismatic Conference held during that Holy Year.  Of course, the conference took place on the beautiful grounds above the catacombs, but we did have the opportunity to visit the catacombs themselves, a powerful experience.  Callistus was a deacon of the Church of Rome who was enrusted with the care of this burial ground outside of the city, and was later chosen as the pastor of that local Church.  If I remember correctly, there were about 10,000 who attended the conference.


     Recently I had a number of great experiences with our Regional School family at Queen of Angels.  Over the summer, a group of parents transformed a classroom into a beautiful chapel for the students and faculty.  The Chapel of Saint Michael the Archangel will be blessed by Bishop Malesic on November 1st, the Feast of All Saints.  He will celebrate liturgy for the entire school in the auditorium (the new chapel only seats about forty five) and then bless this new sacred space.  We look forward to his visit.

     I had the honor of celebrating the first school liturgy in the chapel on the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi with the fourth and fifth grades.  It is a wonderful setting for prayer and litugy, and I commended those who dedicated themselves to make this transformation possible.  The singing was great, and I encouraged the youngsters to always be ready and willing to lift their voices and become troubatours of the great King.  Here are a few pictures of the Mass.

     Also at the school, the Drama Club sponsored a production of "Late Night Catechism" last Friday, and despite a pouring rain, over 300 attended this fundraiser and enjoyed themselves tremendously.  "Late Night Catechism" is a production that has a Religious Sister (an actress) sharing a catechism session with her class (those in the audience) with humor and faith that brings back memories to any of us who attended Catholic School or CCD classes in the "olden days".  Lots of laughs and many memories (hopefully most of them good).  It was a huge success, and those involved are to be commended.

The guy in the punishment / prayer seat is Father John Moineau, one of our local pastors.

     Queen of Angels was also well represented recently at the annual Catholic Schools Mass at Blessed Sacrament Cathedral in Greensburg.  Check out the Queen of Angels facebook page - Queen of Angels School, 1 Main Street, North Huntingdon, PA.

Maybe a future bishop?

     And on October 4th we celebrated the feast of Francis of Assisi, one of my favoprite saints.   I cherish the three times that I visited his home town and prayed at the tomb of Francis and of Claire.  Despite the tourists, it is a most peace filled and prayerfulplace.  I include a few pictures from the past that I took.
The lower entrance to the Basilica of Saint Francis

View from the plaza in front of the Basilica of Saint Claire

View of the "old" Cathedral in Assisi

View from the entrance to the town.

Even the Assisi residents like pizza.


Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Saint Vincent de Paul - the man, the mission, the legacy

     Today the Church celebrates the memorial of Saint Vincent de Paul, whose life was given to the service of the poor and the development of the clergy.

     Vincent was born in Gascony in France in 1581 of peasant parents who were farmers.  He was the third of six children, and showed an ability to read and write at an early age.  His folks sacrificed to sent him off for schooling to a seminary at the age of fifteen and he applied himself with such resolve that he was ordained a priest at the age of nineteen on September 23, 1600.  He continued his studies and through a very convoluted but interesting series of events began his ministry to the poor and needy in Paris.  He established an orphanage for the countless abandoned children that he found in the streets of Paris, he established a group of wealthy women from the parish in which he served into the Ladies of Charity in 1617, with the help of Saint Louise de Marillac founded the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul, and founded the Congregation of the Missions who are known as "the Vincentians".  After a life of service and inspiration, he died in Paris on September 27, 1660.  An interesting note that I read is that his feast of celebrated on this day not only in the Roman Church. but also in the Church of England and the Episcopal Church.

     His mission was to see in every human being a Child of God, and thus deserving of love and respect, dignity and assistance.  His love of the poor and needy echoed the works of mercy that the Church, through the example of Christ, places before us.  And his example has become a tremendous gift to the Church.

     Recently within our diocese, the Diocesan Central Council of Greensburg held its annual dinner.  There were 240 members attending from our 33 parish conferences and ten retail stores established within the diocese, and they represent the countless hours of service given in so many ways by so many people to so many people.  The love and compassion and the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy shared in the name of the Lord and in the spirit of Saint Vincent de Paul touch lives in dramatic ways.  Among our local parishes the Saint Vincent de Paul Society does much, and spearheads our local Food Bank distribution.  To them, and to all who embrace the charism of charity found in Saint Vincent de Paul, we are most grateful.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Old Friends and other musings

     A few weeks ago I was watching a rerun of the Simon and Garfunkel Concert in Central Park from the 1980's on PBS.  It was a great concert, filled with all of their hits and many of my favorites, and it brought back wonderful memories.  They were one of the groups of my generation that provided music with both message and fancy.  And it is amazing how I remembered the words!   One of those songs was "Old Friends".

     Within the past week I encountered a few "old friends" ... not "old" as in advanced in age, but old as in longtime friends.  Yesterday I received a call from a good friend and one of our priests who has left active ministry, Mark Purnell.  He is living now in California, and while having gone through some serious health issues, is on the mend and doing well.  He has found his niche in life, and it was a pleasure sharing with him our past and our present experiences of life.  This same weekend I had a visit from another really good friend and brother, Mike Ripple and his wife, Wendy.  I have mentioned Mike before, and our relationship for the last nearly twenty-five years is a blessing in my life.  We were once a "team" at the Church of Saint Paul in Greensburg.  They were in the area for a wedding.  In addition, a few of our parishioners mentioned that they had met other former parishioners and friends who inquired about me within the past two weeks.  It is good to be remembered and to be thought of.

     But old friends are to be counted even among those that I presently know and my present parishioners and neighbors.  The Sunday before last we held our annual parish covered dish picnic in our social hall, with a banner attendance.  Another moment of great food, excellent fellowship, and loads of fun.  After nearly eight years here, I look with fondness upon the young, the many young families, the stalwart, faithful, hardworking parish members, and those of a greater age who I now consider "old friends" and who bless my life.

     Hold onto your friends and count them as a blessing from the Lord.


     School has got off to a staggered start in this area.  One district begins tomorrow.  Our local public district has two weeks in already, and our local regional Catholic School began last week.  I was out for a drive on the afternoon of the first day of school, and I ended up behind two school buses.  I smiled with warmth as I saw at least four stops where the youngster (really young girls and boys) exited the bus with enthusiasm, dressed up for the first day of school, excited to tell their stories, and were greeted in all four occasions by Mom and Dad who waited for them, hugged them, and then listened with a smile on their face as the story of the day was told.  It was a Norman Rockwell moment for me, and I felt good.


     Yesterday the Church recognized Mother Teresa of Calcutta as a Saint.  This public proclamation of her holiness was already recognized by most in the world, even within her lifetime.  In the canonization process, the Church simply places her as a model for us and acknowledges her as a hero of charity and gentle love in our times.

     I told our people over the weekend that in the mid eighties I had the good fortune to attend an international retreat for priests in Rome.  After a prayer service in Saint Peters we were addressed by Pope (now Saint) John Paul II and Mother (now Saint) Teresa of Calcutta.  As she began to speak to us, she stated that she was in awe at being in the presence of so many holy people.  As I heard her make that statement, I was humbled and somewhat taken back that those words, spoken with such sincerity and love, came from a truly holy person.  It touched my heart and remains as a cherished memory.  Saint Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us!


     This past Tuesday marked nine months until I reach the early retirement age for this diocese of seventy, and on Friday I spoke with the Vicar General of the Diocese regarding my intention of retiring in the June round of appointments - the first formal step of the process.  I have mixed feelings regarding retirement, but my health issues are limiting me too much to consider staying longer.  I cherish every moment of my priesthood, and look forward to continuing to serve to the best of my abilities for these next nine months plus, with the help of God and the patience and love of his people.  Pray for us all.


Sunday, August 21, 2016

Olympic memories

     Tonight the Rio Olympics come to a close after two weeks of international competition and physical and mental accomplishments.  I watched a great deal of the events over these two weeks, and was distressed by some bad behavior but inspired by even greater sportsmanship and cooperation.  Our swimmers, our young women gymnasts, the medal winners were wonderful to watch, even if there were heart stopping moments.  Enfleshing the Olympic Spirit was the scene of the women runners who collided and fell, with the one helping the other, injured one, to finish the race.

     These two weeks brought back memories, for twenty years ago I had the good fortune to attend the second week of the summer Atlanta Olympics.  Good friends, Mary Ann and Bill Newhouse and their children invited me to join them for the trip to Atlanta.  We stayed with friends of theirs just outside the city, were able to attend a number of events - track and field, women's volleyball and a baseball game - tour Atlanta, and have an enjoyable time.  It was an experience that I will not duplicate in my life, and I cherish the memories with gratitude.

     We were also encouraged in the Scriptures of these last few weeks to see the Olympic spirit as an image of our personal journey of faith.  Paul last Sunday spoke of persevering in running the race, of keeping before our eyes the goal, the prize - not a medal of gold or silver or bronze or a wreath of garland - our relationship to Jesus Christ and a crown of eternal glory.  This week we were encouraged in the opening prayer at liturgy to be single minded in our purpose and to seek after that which the Lord promises us as our destiny.

     The Olympics can remind us not only of the greatness of nations and their athletes, not only of attaining fame and prestige, but most importantly of the need to focus on what is most important in life, and to strive unceasingly to attain that goal of oneness with the Lord that brings with it eternal glory.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

A role of service

     Yesterday was the feast of Saint Lawrence, deacon and martyr of the Church.  He was one of the seven deacons of the church of Rome during the reign and the persecution of the emperor Valerian, and served with the Holy Father, Pope Sixtus II.  He was martyred, tradition says, by being roasted on the gridiron or grill, but some think that like so many others, he was beheaded.  The roasting account makes for good drama, and it is said that he told to his captors that he was done on the one side and that it was time to turn him over.  Whatever is the truth of the manner of his death, the reality is that his courage and bravery strengthened the lifeblood of the Church and brought his life of service to its ultimate completion.

     His service as a deacon allows me to reflect upon the gift that the Church possesses in the diaconate and especially the permanent diaconate of more recent years.  I served as a deacon for a brief time in my journey toward priesthood, for about a year as I continued my studies and had a number of pastoral experiences.  I served a summer at Saint John the Baptist in Scottdale (where I later served as associate and then pastor), part of the summer at Saint Mary in Export, and a semester at the Newman Center at IUP (Indiana University of Pennsylvania).

     The permanent diaconate is relatively new in our Diocese, and the number of deacons are few.   When the diaconate was reestablished following the Council, the late Bishop Connare was cautiously watching the programs in other dioceses, and never established a program here.  He was followed by the late Bishop Anthony Bosco whose major emphasis was on the role and empowerment of the laity.  When Bishop Lawrence Brandt came, he established the diaconate in the Diocese, and set up a formation program that went though many developmental phases and a very thorough and long process.  We saw two classes of deacons - first two and then the second class.  We look forward to the next class.

     The deacons that we have are exceptional men of faith and dedicated service.  They and their wives and families are deeply committed to the Church and her people, and they give of themselves unselfishly.  One in the first class is a high school classmate of mine, Dr. Bill Hisker, and two of the next class are very good friends, Bill Newhouse and Jeff Cieslewicz (Jeff is a parishioner of our parish and a cousin of mine).  During my recent illness, Jeff (with the permission of his pastor) has been a major service to the parish and help to me in providing weekday communion services when I was not available for Mass.  Our parish family enjoys his preaching and are grateful for his ministry, as am I.

     Finally, on this day following the feast of Saint Lawrence, I offer my thoughts and gratitude to our former bishop, Lawrence Brandt, for his service and for establishing the diaconate program.  Happy name's day, Bishop Brandt.