Friday, May 31, 2013


     I love reading the account of the visit of Mary to her cousin, Elizabeth.  Mary's entrance into the house caused great excitement, both within Elizabeth but also within the heart of her unborn child.  She says to Mary "The moment your greeting sounded in my ears, the baby leaped for joy within my womb" at the presence of the Christ.   Who could doubt the uniqueness of life within the womb, from the first moment of conception.  John, long before he was born into this world recognized Jesus - not a potential life, nor a developing embryo, nor a hoped for reality - but the person of Jesus himself.  And he rejoiced, stirred to excitement at the presence of his Lord.

     Today is the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Elizabeth.  The prayer after communion says:

May your Church proclaim your greatness, O God,
for you have done great things for your faithful,
and, as Saint John the Baptist leapt with joy
when he first sensed the hidden presence of Christ,
so may your Church rejoice
to receive in this Sacrament
the same ever-living Lord.
     Is there a spring in our step as we approach the altar?  Can excitement be found in our demeanor?  Is our procession to the Table of the Lord an ordinary journey, or is it filled with rejoicing?  For we receive the same ever-living Lord that John leapt for joy in his mother's womb that day.  Let us rejoice!

Nurturing 2

     Since I was on the theme of nurturing, I wanted to share that last Sunday I journeyed to Erie, Pennsylvania, to share with a seminary classmate his 40th Anniversary celebration.  His name is Father Alexander David Amico, and he is the pastor of Saint Paul Parish in the city of Erie.  Alex was ordained to the priesthood on May 18, 1973, by Bishop Alfred Watson of Erie.

     I mention Alex within the context of nurturing because, throughout his many assignments he has touched people's lives and influenced many.  But one wonderful gift that he has given to the Church is the inspiration and encouragement to three young men from his little parish of Saint Basil in Coalport, PA, who went on to be ordained as priests.  Alex was stationed as pastor in Coalport for twenty two years, and during that time these three entered the seminary, completed their studies, were ordained and presently serve the Diocese of Erie.  The first of the three, Father Justin Pino, preached the anniversary mass.  He is pastor in Oil City, PA.  The other two are Fathers Jonathan Schmolt, pastor of Saint Brigid in Meadville and Jason Feigh, Parochial Vicar at Our Lady of Peace in Erie.  They also attended the celebration.

     Father Alex Amico inspired these men, encouraged them in their desire, and nurtured their vocations.  Along with their families and the parish family of Saint Basil the Great, the Church is richer and blessed.  There are not many priests that can boast of inspiring three vocations, but Alex is one of them. 

Thursday, May 30, 2013


     It was sixty six years ago today (May 30th) that Frances Louise Lenard Stoviak gave birth to a healthy baby boy, the first child of Bill and Frances.  They struggled to find a name for him.  He was the first grandchild in her family, and with four sisters voicing their suggestions, my folks settled on Leonard Stoviak - named after both families (with an "o" added to the first name).  Thus began the journey of my life in this world.

     Mom never really spoke of her delivery.  I hope that I did not give her much pain during birth as I tried to not give her much pain afterwards (sometimes succeeding but at other times not so successful).

     I want to honor her and dad today for the gift life and for the wonderful nurturing that they provided to my sister Janie and myself.  Their love and support, their care and concern, and their unqualified acceptance of us as gifts from God allowed me to grow in faith and to be blessed with priesthood.  I try to share what they gave me with those entrusted to my care.  Love you, mom and dad.  Thanks for life.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Trinity Sunday

    Called the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity, this weekend's Trinity Sunday invites us to reflect upon the mystery of God.   I shared this evening that everything about us as men and women of Faith is summed up in our understanding that through the waters of baptism we are called into the mystery of the Divine.  We are invited to be one with God, to know, love and serve the One who is life giver and Father of us all.  We do that through immersion into the One that He gave us as Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  The God-man is acknowledged by God as His Son, and we are told that they are One.  This happens through the grace and power of the Holy Spirit, their love made manifest in our lives.  And yet these Three, unique persons with distinct roles, are One.  God is life giver, restorer of life, and sustainer of life.  God is creator, redeemer and sanctifier.  And yet God is One, and we are one with him.

     At Mass tonight we celebrated the 50th wedding anniversary of two of our parishioners - Ray and Barb Jackson.  They were married fifty years ago today at Saint Mary Polish Church in McKeesport in the Pittsburgh Diocese.  Saint Mary is now closed and many of the McKeesport parishes have been merged.  Yet it was there in 1963 that these two became one.  Our scriptures tell us of this mystery: that where once there were two, now they are one flesh in the Lord.  That oneness grew with family and friends to support and increase their numbers, but they are one family, united in love and united in God.  They are a reflection of this mystery of one reality with many parts, many aspects of the same reality united in love and bringing forth life.

     There is no adequate way to give voice to who God is, except by example.  Patrick used a shamrock to describe the mystery.  And yet, the reality is that God has united himself to us and invited us to feed at his table.  For that we definitely give thanks.


     Tomorrow (Sunday) I am off on a trek to Saint Paul Church in Erie, Pennsylvania, to celebrate with my classmate, Father Alex Amico, his 40th anniversary of ordination.  Alex was deacon at my Mass of Thanksgiving following ordination and I was in attendance at his ordination in Erie and his Mass of Thanksgiving in Sharon, PA forty years ago.

Friday, May 24, 2013

An unusual week

     I have been slack with my postings.  I must admit that I have been "off" (not duty but regular routine) this week, following the celebration on Sunday that I spoke of in my last post.  My sister Janie has been with me most of the week.  I rested a bit, did things at the office, and of course celebrated Eucharist.  On Monday evening we had the Eighth Grade Graduation Mass and Reception for our Regional School of Queen of Angels.  This took place at Immaculate Conception Church and the pastor and the chair of the Board of Trust Administrators, Father John Moineau, presided.  We had our smallest graduating class in our twenty years of existence ... but what they lacked in numbers they made up for in quality.  I salute our graduates - Victoria "Torrie" and Aslan James.

     My high school classmates are attempting to update info on each other in preparation for the upcoming All Prep Reunion at Saint Vincent on May 31 - June 2.  Marty Mullen from Virginia is spearheading this info gathering through phone and internet, and he is persistent.  Many have responded, and a good number are planning on attending the events.  Our 50th will be in 2015 - truly hard to believe.  There has been much correspondence this week as well.

     Janie and I went to see "Iron Man 3" on Thursday and we both enjoyed the movie.  Good escapist fare.  Today I had blood work done for an upcoming doctors visit, and uncharacteristically had a dizzy spell, even losing my balance.  But the staff at the facility took good care of me and I am more myself - it was all that fasting ... I need food (sounds like a good excuse).

    Sorry for the personal ramblings, but I will get back on track very soon.  PS  I just noticed that we passed the 31,000 page view mark.  Thanks, gang!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A Day With Friends

     Sunday was Pentecost Sunday.  Sunday I also celebrated my 40th Anniversary of Ordination with a special Mass in our parish church followed by a great dinner.  It was "billed" as a celebration of Faith of the family of God, and so it was.  There were friends from just about each parish in which I served joining with our own parishioners to sing the praise of God and celebrate the life of the Spirit.  It was a great birthday celebration for the Church.

     Our liturgy began at 2:30 pm but was preceded by a half hour of faith filled music by our music program comprised of the Young Voices and Adult Choirs, our Bell Ringers and all of our musicians (organ, keyboard, guitar, trumpet, flute, percussion, cello, among others).  Our choirs take off for the summer months, and this was sort of their celebration of a great year of liturgical music.  They pulled out all the stops, and the music was inspiring enough to have everyone belting out in praise.  I was joined by a couple of my brother priests, one of whom shares the same ordination date and ceremony, Father Peter Peretti.  Another two classmates joined us for the dinner - Msgr. Paul Fitzmaurice and Father David Schorr of the Pittsburgh Diocese.

     Following the Mass 170 of us retired to the parish hall for a  delicious buffet dinner and fellowship.  All said that they had a great time, as did I.  I am grateful to my staff and especially my sister, Janie, for all of their hard work and committed love.  I am grateful to friends who travelled from my parish assignments and elsewhere to be with us.  I am grateful to my relatives, some of whom travelled great distances to be with us.  I am very grateful for the love and support of my parish family of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton.  For me, it was a wonderful way of celebrating Church with friends and fellow travellers on this journey of Faith.  God is good!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Remembering - Scottdale

     Saint John the Baptist Parish in Scottdale holds a very special place in my life, since in the past forty one years I have served there in three different capacities: as a deacon in the Summer of 1972 ... as an associate pastor from 1978 to 1984 ... and as pastor from 2000 to 2008.  I have journeyed with some of those families for my entire priesthood.   But this reflection will be on my second term there, the six years that I served as an associate.

     Saint John the Baptist parish was comprised of about 950 registered families, with a grade school that went back to the 1880's as well as two cemeteries (old 1879 and new 1960).  Father Bill Gavron was the pastor at the time, having served there previously as an assistant.  I arrived in June of 1978, in time for the August celebration of the 100th Anniversary of the parish (1878).

     There were two assignments in my priesthood that were very difficult ... and yet so rewarding.  This was the first of them.  The people at the parish were wonderful, the faith deep, the place nice, and my family had its roots with the parish (before Saint Joseph Polish Church in Everson was established).  The difficulty rested in my relationship with my pastor.  This working and living relationship of a pastor and an associate is sort of like an "arranged marriage".  Someone makes the determination that you can be together and you are expected to make it happen.  Sometimes it works ... sometimes it doesn't.  For me this was a most difficult six years, made bearable by the love and support of these good people of faith.   Many of my stories revolve around this sometimes rocky relationship, but some I will not share.

     Arriving just prior to the 100th Anniversary was interesting in that the former associate, a truly energetic man, had everything arranged and in place.  There was little for me to do but to wait for and then celebrate the occasion.  And it was a great celebration, with Bishop William Connare (whose family was originally from Scottdale and whose grandparents are buried in the cemetery) leading us.

     When I arrived the parish was worshipping in the first floor of the new school building, using it as a "temporary" church since the early 1960's.  It was soon after the 100th that plans were made for a new church structure which was dedicated on the Feast of Christ the King in November of 1980.  This process of building a new church was interesting to watch and wonderful in its outcome.  I was not included in any planning or discussion except for one meeting to which our auxiliary bishop, Norbert Gaughan, insisted that I be present for.  After that nothing but being a passive observer and supporter of the project.

     There was one terrible day during construction that stands out in my mind.  It was the day that the main beams for the roof arrived - two very large, long beams and two shorter cross beams.  Everyone was out as the trucks maneuvered the streets.  Father Gavron suddenly got in his car and sped off, with everyone wondering why, until we heard that a long time parish family was in a tragic accident on the turnpike.  They had just left for vacation in their motor home and were hit by a tractor trailer.  The grandfather was driving, and he and his wife were badly injured, along with their daughter.  However the daughter's two young children were both killed in the accident.  As word spread prayers were lifted and hearts broken.  It was a very sad funeral that followed.  Father Gavron at the dedication named the two larger beams after the first two pastors of the parish - Father Lambing (52 years) and Father Graney (28 years) ... and the two smaller beams he named after the two Barkley children.

     More later.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


     Today marks eleven years since I buried my dad.  For Janie and me this is a very special day in our memories.  I remembered dad in a special way at Mass this morning.

     The readings at Mass continued with the theme of imminent departure and the reassurances given that all will be okay.  Paul tells his followers at Ephesus that he has done all that he can for them.  He has done his best for them, and that brings him confidence that they are ready to step out on their own.  He tells them to not be afraid, to let go of him in a physical way and count on him with a spiritual presence.

     Jesus continues to reassure his followers that his return to the Father is not an abandonment, but rather is necessary in order that they can spread their wings and fly.  He has prepared them for what lies ahead and now he empowers them to step out.

     Sometimes we need to be reassured by those that we love if we are to move forward and to let go.  With dad's funeral anniversary fresh on my heart, I remembered the day when Janie and I came to the realization that we needed to reassure dad that we were ready, that it was all right to let go and be embraced by God, that he had done a great job, that we loved him deeply, that we would take care of mom, and that it was okay to let go of the suffering and struggle of the pneumonia that was devastating his life.  It was probably one of the most difficult things we have ever done, but I believe that it brought dad the reassurance that he needed to be welcomed by God.  He died surrounded by our love, embraced by our presence (Janie never left his side for those last days), and with the hint of a smile on his face.  Janie had told him that his sister Genevieve, who was a great cook, was waiting for him in heaven, probably with a freshly baked pie.  He got that glint in his eye, that little smile on his face, and then closed his eyes peacefully in death.  He was ready to let go and let us take up the mantle.  I will always remember.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Remembering - Belle Vernon

     After two short years in Irwin, I was assigned to Saint Sebastian Parish in Belle Vernon with Father Ed Gearing as my pastor.  Father Ed was another quiet guy who rarely bothered you.  Life with him was good and uneventful.  The parish at the time was a little over 1,200 families on the books, with a parish grade school.

     Belle Vernon (meaning beautiful green) sits along the Mon River and is one of the Mon Valley Communities.  Because of the lack of mills and heavy industry, it is a lovely little community that borders Westmoreland and Fayette Counties on one side of the river and on the other side Washington County and the Pittsburgh Diocese.  The people were/are lovely, friendly and kind, and the community of North Belle Vernon, where the Church is located, is a great place to walk and talk with people who sit on their porches in their quiet neighborhoods. 

     During my time there the parish celebrated its 50th Anniversary which I helped prepare the Church for by way of banners (those were the days) and the liturgy planning.  Bishop Connare joined us, along with priests who served at the parish in the past.  It was great.

     Soon after arriving I was approached by some folks who were interested in starting a Catholic Charismatic Prayer Group in Belle Vernon.  They had worked with a few Sisters in Charleroi (a neighboring community) for a short time, and wanted to establish a prayer group here.  I had been involved in the Renewal, so I worked with them to establish the Valley of Hope Prayer Community.  We met weekly at the old Saint Sebastian Church which was the K of C Hall.  A leadership group also met weekly to pray and plan for the prayer meetings.  This group now meets at the church hall and celebrates a Charismatic Mass monthly.  I usually join them on the anniversary Mass in June.  They are a small and dedicated group of faithful people from a number of parishes who love the Lord deeply.

     Father Ron Simboli of our diocese, presently the pastor in my home parish, was from town, and his mom and dad, Irene and Guido, were good parishioners.

      I have many fond memories of these great people who were instrumental in the formation of my priesthood, and I am grateful.

"I have conquered the world."

     In the Gospel of John today, in preparation for the difficulties that would soon befall them, Jesus tells his disciples that he and the Father are one, and thus he is never alone.  Then he says "I have told you this so that you might have peace in me.  In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world."

     Two things come to mind: first, that because evil and pain and distress and persecution are so rampant, that maybe Jesus is too far from us and that we may be on our own.  And yet in this past Sunday's Gospel we heard his prayer for and desire for unity between ourselves and God.  He does not speak of distance or separation but of unity and oneness.  The second thought that comes into play is that the world thinks that it has won, maybe the battle cannot be brought to victory, maybe all is lost.  And yet, today he clearly states that he has "conquered the world".  No doubt.

     The skirmishes will continue, the evil one is under the delusion of dominance, we may be discounted, but the truth and the reality is quite different.  Christ has died ... Christ is Risen ... Christ will come again.  His death is our victory over sin and death ... his rising is our promise of new life ... and his promise of coming again is our promise of unity and peace.  Rest assured!  Be strong!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

This day in (my) history

     In my ongoing reflection on these past forty years, I would like to jump ahead nine years, out of sequence, and tell you what happened in my life twenty - eight years ago May 11th.

     At that time I was a new pastor at Saint John the Evangelist in Connellsville.  That night I received a call from Bishop William Connare with some sad news and a request.  He had just heard that Father Bill Gavron with whom I had served for six years as an Associate at Saint John the Baptist in Scottdale (a few miles up the road) had died at the airport on his return from a family funeral.  The bishop was concerned for the parish family in Scottdale and the schedule of Masses for that Saturday.  The Associate, Father Jim Vasil, had left that morning for vacation in Myrtle Beach, I believe, and could not get back immediately.  Would I cover and be there for the parish family?  Of course I said yes.  Thus began my Saturday marathon.

     First let me say that every priest usually says one Mass each day.  He can celebrate a second Mass and if necessary, a third.
After phone calls to the staff in Scottdale and a little more sleep, my day began will a scheduled Saturday morning Mass in Connellsville at 8:00 am.  I then headed for Scottdale, where the word was out and people were beginning their grieving process.  They had a final CCD Mass scheduled that morning somewhere around 10:30 am and asked if I could take it, which I did.  They also had a funeral Mass scheduled for Noon for a young lady from just up the street which I was going to concelebrate with Father Gavron anyway.  Along with Father Bill Donahue, another former Associate, we concelebrated the funeral.  Then I needed to get back to Connellsville for a wedding that I had scheduled in the parish.  This completed, I returned to Scottdale to celebrate the Saturday evening Mass with the people, the first gathering of the parish since the sad news.  Father Vince Gigliotti who was at Saint Rita in Connellsville took my evening Mass there, for which I was very grateful.  Meanwhile, Father Vasil was on his way home for the Sunday Masses and arrived a short while later.

     It was an interesting and an exhausting day - five Masses (don't report me to anyone!) - ordinary mixed with sadness mixed with wedding joy ... all aspects of the emotional spectrum.  It is a day I will remember well.

     Pray for Father Bill Gavron on this anniversary of his death.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Remembering Irwin - part 2

     Before moving on to my other parishes, I thought of three other memorable things from my first assignment.

     We had a very vibrant Catholic School run by the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill.  Our teachers were excellent.  One that stands out in my memory was Ms Toni Mango, who taught either Kindergarten or First Grade.  Toni was inspiring, wonderful with the kids, deeply spiritual and extremely creative.  She taught her kids to pray, not just the formal prayers, but to really take time and talk with Jesus as a friend.  She showed them that Jesus promised to share his Spirit with them always, and so they prayed to the Holy Spirit with confidence and joy. Quiet prayer in class was not uncommon, and the kids reflected that spirituality.  Toni died a number of years ago and I was honored to preach at her funeral.

     During my time there, Msgr Marzhauser often led groups on pilgrimages or tours.  One such tour that he decided not to join in was one that I went on - an eight day "pilgrimage" of New England in the Fall.  We had two buses of people from Irwin and Jeannete, lead by a parishioner, Mary Shirley.  We travelled to New York City, Mystic, Connecticut, Boston, Portland, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and upper New York State before returning home.  it was fun.  While in NY City, we went on Saturday evening to Radio City Music Hall.  Following the show, the Italians from Jeannete invited me to join them at the famous Mama Leone's Restaurant.  We had no reservations.  All dressed up, they were told that they could not get in ... until they had a talk with someone important.  Suddenly we were escorted to a nice room and treated with great kindness.  I never did find out what got us in, but I was not complaining. 

     And lastly I remember celebrating a Mass where I was able to award the Kateri Tekakwitha Girl Scout award (today this is done by the bishop at the scout convocation).  It was a joy and an honor for me ... and of course, Kateri is now a Saint of the Church.  It is strange, the things that you remember.

A powerful place

     There is a small settlement in a remote area on the island of Molokai in Hawaii that has brought to the Church two saints.  Within the last few years the Church has recognized the example of Father Damien de Veuster and Mother Marianne Cope, both having served the lepers in this neglected colony.  Father Damien was a missionary priest that came to the islands from Belgium, and Mother Marianne and her Sisters came from New York State to help Father Damien and then to continue his mission to these outcasts from society.

     Today is the feast of Saint Damien (Saint Marianne's is on January 23rd).  From this poor, humble, distressed portion of the world, in suffering and hardships beyond imagining in this beautiful paradise of Hawaii, came two Saints.  Suffering and service, rooted in Christ's love, are the operative words in this inspiring story.  Saint Damien and Saint Marianne, pray for us, and for all of the outcasts, the marginalized, the suffering, the Christ-like of society.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Be confident to follow

     Today, in our part of the world, we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord.  A great portion of the world celebrates Ascension Thursday next Sunday ... I know, it is confusing.  I saw on FB a beautiful icon of the Ascension with the words:

"I am going now
to my Father ...
unless you live
in certain regions
then I'll be around
until Sunday."
     Whenever it is celebrated, this feast acknowledges two things: first, that it is time to exit the nest, time to take flight, to spread our wings and fly.  We have been given the tools, provided the example, and been encouraged to "let go".  As long as Jesus is here to provide for our every need, we take the secure and easy way out and "let him do it".  But the task of building up the Kingdom, of living our Faith in Jesus Christ, of being witnesses to the Truth has been given to us to accomplish, with his help.
     Secondly, he has gone to the Father so that we can come to the Father.  The Preface for today says:
" ... he ascended, not to distance himself from our lowly state
but that we, his members, might be confident
of following where he, our Head and Founder,
has gone before."
     On this great feast, whether celebrated today or on Sunday, may we embrace his invitation to boldly go with those who have already followed him where no one but he has gone before.   May we open ourselves more fully to the grace of the Advocate and await the Feast of our birth, Pentecost.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Remembering - the beginning

     Let me begin my journey of remembering these last forty years.  I hope that you do not find these musing too boring or personal to keep you from gleaning a lesson from them or at least a helpful hint at this writer's transformation.

     Sometime in June of 1973, after ordination on May 5, I arrived at my first assignment, Immaculate Conception Church in Irwin.  Priests will tell you that the first assignment is always special in their hearts.  It is for me as well, but it was so brief and whirlwind that my recollections are fewer than in other assignments.  IC was the largest parish in the diocese at the time, somewhere around 3,100 families.  It was served by the pastor, Msgr. Augustine Marzhauser, a kindly gentleman who would not hurt a flea.  There was another Associate, Father (now Msgr) Jim Gaston, who had been ordained about two years before me.  Gus, I found out, had one Mass out of eight on Sunday (the early one), kept the books, and was pastor.  After ordination years before, he served as pastor of a very small parish in Indiana County for nearly twenty-five years, then pastor at IC in Connellsville (mid sized, with school, high school, one Associate, etc) before coming to IC in Irwin (larger by far and with more responsibilities).  It seemed to me that Gus, who was not a hands on person, was in over his head.  But he was a great guy, gentle and kind.  Jim was hands on, and made sure that things were taken care of pastorally.  He taught me much (I usually tell him that he taught me everything that I know).  My second year there, Father Len Sanesi, who was my former Vocation Director and rector at the Minor Seminary I attended, came to serve as pastor in everything but name - a difficult task with Gus remaining as pastor.

     I was young, insecure and uncertain of myself, and overwhelmed by the size and complexity of the parish.  I found that you got to know people in the small pockets of 100/200 families involved in various ministries and activities (school/CCD/organizations).  Jim Gaston helped me get beyond my insecurity as time went on.

     I touched lives, as I found out later.  A number of our good parishioners at Elizabeth Seton were from those days.  I had two servers from those days (John and George) that for many years kept in touch through Christmas cards and notes - one of whom is still actively involved at IC parish.  One man (Pat) has publicly thanked me a number of times for inviting him to become a lector and then to take responsibility for the lectors, which he is still doing some 39 years later.  A few years ago when I had a knee replacement, I was being transported from the hospital to rehab at Saint Anne Home in Greensburg when one of the ambulance guys saw my name and asked if I had ever been in Irwin.  It turns out that I married either his Mom and Dad or his Aunt.  They have (and so do I) a memorable picture of the wedding party on the jungle gym at the local playground (and I was on the top - couldn't do that now). 

I remember the farewell that the altar servers gave me in the backyard of the home of Rudy & Bernie Roitz - and their gift of a yellow, ten speed bike.

     One very memorable event was the local township Bicentennial parade my second year there - a big production on a Saturday.  Our church, like many other groups, did a float entitled "Elizabeth Seton - Pioneer".  Little did I know then that eventually there would be an Elizabeth Seton parish in the area and that I would serve as pastor.  We won second place (Saint Agnes took first with a dove of peace - our was more creative and nicer, but who is holding a grudge?). 


From that float creating experience came a wedding - two people (Dave and Mary Ann) meeting, falling in love, and sharing the Sacrament of Marriage which I witnessed.  They are still great friends.  I have many individuals and families that I count as friends whose friendships go back to those days.

     I am sure that I will say this again, but it is remarkable how God works in our lives, the people he places before us, the experiences that help us to grow.  My journey began in Irwin, in the 109th year of IC's existence, and though short lived, it was formational.  Last year IC celebrated their 150th anniversary.  I shared in two of those years, two years that for me were important to my priesthood.


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Bikers and blessings

     As I mentioned yesterday, Sunday was the 40th anniversary of my ordination and first priestly blessing - first to the bishop, then to all present, then specifically to my parents before I exited the Cathedral.

      Forty years later, after sharing blessings in the morning with those who came to worship, I found myself blessing motorcylces and riders in our second annual Blessing of Bike held Sunday afternoon at 2:30 pm in our parking lot.  We began this gathering last year on the first Sunday of May and had a good first response with about 125 bikes and subsequent positive reaction from those attending.  This year was equally as great, with about 145 bikes and about 200 people present.  We gathered on a beautiful day, sunny, cool, breezy, perfect.  We had a Christian music combo called MIXX playing, great food prepared by our Seton's Men's Group, a door prize from a local motorcycle dealership, decals commemorating the event, and of course the blessing.  After the welcome and group blessing, I also went to each of the bikes and offered a "deluxe" blessing (with holy water) or a simple blessing (without - some do not want their bikes getting wet).  Last year I walked through the crowd, but my legs are getting worse so we put out the word and secured a ride for me (no, not on a bike, or side car, but on a golf cart - a black and orange Harley Davidson golf cart).  I called it my "pope mobile".  It was fun.

     Everyone had a great time ... our people commented on how courteous, polite and grateful everyone was ... and an email from a second year attendee who thanked us and called it "A premier blessing!!!"

     Who would have imagined - blessings for forty years going from bishop to bikers.

Monday, May 6, 2013

A moment of thanks

     Not remembering the exact moment, I paused to reflect that it was sometime near the start of my 11:00 am Mass yesterday that, forty years earlier to the moment, I knelt before the late Bishop William G. Connare as he placed his hands on my head and shared the gift of ministerial priesthood.  That clear, brisk, sunny and windy day in 1973 was a great moment for my ordination mates and myself - Msgr. V. Paul Fitzmaurice, Father Peter Peretti, Msgr. Roger A. Statnick and yours truly.  Ordained for the Church of Greensburg at Blessed Sacrament Cathedral in Greensburg, we continue to serve this local Church in pastoral assignments even today.  For some observers, the fact that all four of us are "still in" is at least a minor miracle, given the turmoil and exodus of so many good men over the years.

     I don't remember many details of that day, probably due to nervousness, but I do remember the  humbling experience of lying prostrate as the entire community called upon the saints of God to intercede on our behalf.  I remember the quiet of the moment of the "laying on of hands".  I remember placing my hands in those of the bishop as I promised him and his successors obedience and respect.  I remember standing at the altar and for the first time praying the words of consecration.  I remember sharing my first priestly blessing with Bishop Connare (who then kissed my hands) and then with those gathered there that day.

     Later that day my extended family and close friends gathered in the gymnasium of Saint Mary of the Nativity Church in Uniontown for a dinner.  Then I tried to unwind before the Mass of Thanksgiving (First Mass) of the next day.

     On that May 5th in 1973, I stole the thunder from my sister, Janie, as I began to share my ordination day with her birthday.  She has always been gracious.  On that note, I wish her a belated Happy Birthday - I won't tell you how old she is, just that she was twenty-three on that special day.  She doesn't look or act her age!

     I plan on celebrating this milestone with a Mass on Pentecost afternoon with the people of God and share a meal with many friends.  In the next few weeks I am going to ask you to bear with me as I do some musings on the journey of these last forty years.  And be assured of my gratitude for every experience that the Lord has placed before me and the people that have been a part of those experiences.  I have been blessed.

Restructuring continues

     Last Friday afternoon the priests of the Diocese were called to a meeting with Bishop Lawrence Brandt in which he shared with us a further restructuring of the diocesan parish family as part of our ongoing Strategic Plan.  In a seven page letter, he detailed the recommendation of a committee that was established in 2012 that looked at the changing demographics of our four county diocese.  This recommendation was discussed and unanimously approved on Thursday by the Presbyteral Council as well as the College of Consultors, and will take effect on June 25, 2013.

     Citing declining numbers of parishioners in certain areas of the diocese as well as declining number of priests, fourteen parishes will be affected by the most recent changes.  Two parishes will be closed entirely: Saint Hedwig in Smock (which last year celebrated its 100th anniversary, a partner parish with Saint John the Baptist in Perryopolis, will be closed ... as well as Saint Boniface on Chestnut Ridge, formerly staffed by the Benedictines and most recently partnered with Saint Raymond in Donegal, will also be closed.

     Six parishes comprising the Western portion of Fayette County will be merged into one new parish named after Saint Francis of Assisi.  Those parishes to be suppressed and merged are: All Saints in Masontown, Saint Mary in Leckrone, Saint Procopius in New Salem, Saint Thomas in Footedale, Holy Rosary in Republic and Madonna in Cardale.  Two worship sites will serve the new parish - in Masontown and in Footedale.  Each of these parishes have long histories of deep faith and great stewardship, and are a portion of Fayette County which has been a hotbed of priestly vocations over the years.  The exciting part of these challenging times is the prospect of that deep faith coming together under the patronage of the Saint of Assisi, to build a new Church family.  In Sunday's reading from Revelation, the vision given to John was of the new, heavenly Jerusalem, the City of God, strong and magnificent.  But within that city was seen no temple or building for God, for God dwells in the hearts of his people.  The buildings that will be grieved over in these changes are not the Church, but rather the presence of Christ in our lives lived in unity and Faith, Hope and Charity is where the Church is to be found.

    Six additional parishes will be partnered (one priest serving two parishes): Saint John the Baptist in Scottdale and Saint Joseph in Everson; Saint Paul and Saint Bruno in Greensburg; and Our Lady of Grace in Greensburg and Saint Benedict in Marguerite.

     In addition, three regional Catholic schools which are threatened either by enrollment or finances will be studied: All Saints in Masontown, Saint John the Baptist in Scottdale and the Cardinal Maida Academy in Vandergrift.

     These announcements were made this weekend in all parishes, and I am sure that the surprise and shock that touches many lives will cause grief for some and for all of us a reason to pause and reflect.  We are affected in this region be an aging population (the ratio of deaths to baptisms in the new Saint Francis parish stands at four deaths for every one baptism), a declining population because of economic conditions (except in a few growth areas), and aging and declining numbers of clergy (101 in 2000, 67 in 2013, 48 [projected] in 2018 and 27 [projected] by 2025).  We are blessed with the service of five priests presently from the Philippines, and we rejoice to be ordaining three men on June 1st to priesthood.  We have challenges facing us today and in the future.  Please pray for the Church, universally and locally, for our Holy Father, Pope Francis, for Bishop Brandt and our priests, and most especially for all of those affected by this restructuring.  And continue to pray for vocations.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Another travel day

     I headed East again yesterday, like last Friday and Saturday, but this time I was with the Junior High level students from our regional school, Queen of Angels, joined by the same group from the Greensburg regional school, Aquinas Academy.  We journeyed by motor coach bus for a field trip to Gettysburg and Emmittsburg, Maryland.  We were accompanied by Msgr. Paul Fitzmaurice, my neighbor and ordination mate, the Principal of our school, teachers, chaperons and parents - and a great group of kids.  Our bus driver at the end of the trip thanked and complimented the youngsters on their politeness and behavior.  He said that he takes many groups of kids, and finds that those from Catholic schools tend to be a joy to serve.  Good to hear.  We left at six in the morning and returned at nine last evening ... a long day!

     This year will mark the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1, 2, 3, 1863).  It was an important battle in the war between the States and marked the first excursion into the North by General Lee.  It was an unexpected battle in which mistakes and missed opportunities on both sides ruled the day.  After three days fighting in and around the small town of Gettysburg, after nearly 52,000 casualties by death, wounding or capture, with a town devastated, the North won the battle but both sides suffered tremendous losses.

     Our tour began at the new visitor's center with a film presentation of the conflict and a viewing of the restored cyclorama ( a circular painting of the battle with presentation ).  We bag lunched, then took a two hour tour of the battlefield with a Park Guide, before spending time in the museum and gift shop.  Leaving Gettysburg, we traveled the short distance to Emmittsburg, Maryland to visit the National Shrine to Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton.  While there, we took part in a tour of the Stone House (her first dwelling in Emmittsburg), the White House on the grounds, the cemetery and beautiful grounds before visiting the Basilica Church where we prayed at the remains of this great saint.  The kids were edified, all of us were impressed (and exhausted), and they had a taste of early American Catholic history and an important moment in the journey of our nation.

     I am glad that I was able to make the trip, and thank Queen of Angels for their hospitality.


     While on the trip I heard of the sudden death of Bishop Joseph McFadden, the Bishop of Harrisburg (Gettysburg is a part of that diocese).  Bishop McFadden was taken ill early yesterday morning and died shortly afterwards.  His death was unexpected.  He was my age, and would have turned sixty-six on May 22nd.

     I mentioned Bishop McFadden in a post a few days ago when I told of attending a Confirmation in Selinsgrove.  He was the confirming bishop.  I met him then, and he was gracious and welcoming to me, and great with those he was confirming.

     May the soul of Bishop Joseph McFadden rest in peace.  AMEN.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The work of our hands

     Saint Joseph is known as the spouse of Mary, the foster father of her son, Jesus, a good and righteous man, patron of a happy death (surrounded by the people you most deeply love, how could it not be happy), patron of the Universal Church, and celebrated on this day, May 1st, as Joseph, the Worker.

     Psalm 128 says: "Blessed are all who fear the Lord and walk in his ways!  By the labor of your hands you shall eat; blessed are you, and blessed will you be, alleluia."  In the Collect of today's Mass, the prayer says "O God, Creator of all things, who laid down for the human race the law of work ...".

     God blesses work and lifts it to the level of vocation.  God invites us to take the raw materials that he offers and, joining with him in his creative spirit, to create, to make all things new, to build a better world.  Even Adam and Eve were given a work to do as stewards of creation, and even after the Fall, God never withdrew his invitation and challenge to work with him (only now it was with the "sweat of their brow").   Sometimes our work is not appealing (Moses did not take to being a spokesperson before the Prince of Egypt).  Sometimes the work is without thanks.  Sometimes the results are not seen.  But sometimes they are, and if done in the spirit of the Creator God and under the inspiration of this good man called Joseph, they become a blessing.  May we discern the work that God is calling us to.  May we pray to God through Joseph's intercession for the grace to do our best.  And may we give thanks for being blest and being a blessing.   Happy Feast of Saint Joseph!