Sunday, June 30, 2013

A reflection

    The following is a little of what I shared this Sunday at Mass.

     Human history traces its beginnings to Faith and the understanding that God created all things.  The crowning of his creative action was making humanity in His image and likeness.  It doing so He gave us not only life but the right to be a child of God.  He gave us responsibilities as stewards of His creation that were wrapped in freedom, and he invited us to walk with Him in perfect happiness in the cool of the evening.  We know that this reality collided with a temptation to be life itself, to be free of all responsibility and to make our own happiness.  That blip in our course knocked us off track, and from that moment on we have been on a parallel track, a similar course that at times has touched the divine direction and at times taken a divergent direction.  At a moment in time, the course correction necessary was given us by Jesus.  A momentous event that changed history and our story. And yet, we have not always "bought it".  Thus we struggle, stumble and fall, and despite our best of intentions and desires, go our own way.

     237 years ago this Thursday our Founding Fathers took a bold step and declared independence from the tyranny of the old country.  They stated in clear words that "all men are created equal" and that all are endowed by their Creator with certain undeniable rights like life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  The freedom that they sought was the same freedom desired by their ancestors who came to this land which they saw as a promised land flowing with milk and honey and given them by God.

     150 years ago this week, a great battle was fought in Gettysburg in our great civil war.  Questions of the value of human existence among all peoples were fought over, freedom to be independent of even central government were issues, and those things that make me happy were paramount in defining who I am.

     Another example of those two tracks, those two ways of approaching things, surfaced again this week.  The Supreme Court decisions regarding marriage left me sad.  It seems to be another of those intrusions into the realm of what God has revealed and set in motion for the good of humanity that is being "changed" and "stripped away".  But maybe what becomes clear are the two tracks: I have no problem with equal rights under the law for those whose lives are lived in committed relationships, even if those relationships do not reflect the ideal that is set before us by God.  Very few of us are saints, yet.  But to redefine marriage, or when life begins, or who deserves dignity or respect, is not something within the purview of any court or government body or leader or dictator.  Some have tried, most have already failed.

     What sets apart the direction given to us by God is another key element that Saint Paul spoke of in his letter to the Galatians today - true freedom, eternal life, unbelievable happiness is rooted in love ... God's unselfish love, not selfish or self centered love.  For God is love, and we who abide in love abide in God, and God in us.

     So if we find ourselves lost or unsure of what direction to take, be assured that we can look to the Lord - and not to SCOTUS or POTUS or even US (ourselves).  We all fall short on Truth.  He does not.

     Again, celebrate your Independence Day by acknowledging your dependence upon the Lord and each other, and pray for this nation, even as it finds itself veering off track, for she is truly blessed by God and worthy of our prayer.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013


     A short post today.  Just received word that a good friend of mine married the woman that he loves yesterday in Knoxville, Tennessee, where they will be making their home.  Rob Lynch, who served as our Director of Music for a few years before pursuing his Masters in Sacred Music at Emory University, which he attained this past Spring, married Lauren Rootham yesterday.  They have known each other for years and sealed their engagement with the promise of love to one another.  I have wished them well, and look forward to the local celebration of their marriage sometime in the near future.  It was an early Christmas gift to each other, falling six months before the actual day.

     Their entrance into the gift of the marriage between a man and a woman, open to the gift of life, held sacred from the beginning of recorded time and sanctified in the Scriptures as a gift of God, has been the norm of society and the law of this great nation - until today.  The Supreme Court made another of their decisions that disregard the historical, sociological, familial and divine history and foundation of society and ruled that DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act) which placed this within the law of the land, was unconstitutional.  Rob and Lauren's action yesterday now became one of many options that the law of this nation allows in regard to unions.  In fact, it becomes an option that is in many circles considered obsolete and antiquated.  We have just taken a huge step off the pier, and I'm afraid that many of us cannot swim.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Farewell, All Saints

     I just called Masontown this morning and the secretary, Linda, answered "Good morning, All Saints."  I was her first call of the morning.  I reminded her that it should be "Good morning, Saint Francis of Assisi".  She said that she was glad that I was the first ... she was going to make a sign for the phone.  Today is the first day of the existence of the new parish in that area, and transitions are difficult.

      Speaking of Linda Rohol, the secretary in Masontown.  She is an exceptional woman of faith who has served as secretary/bookkeeper/master of all things at All Saints for a multitude of years.  She has served loyally under seven pastors of varying styles and temperments and personalities over the years.  I was her second.  She is indeed a trouper, and a supurb individual.  One of the first things that I did upon arrival was to give her Saturdays off (she would work the mornings) and soon after we expanded the cubby hole that she had as an office into a decent work space.  She was grateful, and that same work space is where she answered the phone from this morning.  It has held up nicely - good quality materials pay off.  She, and the other office staffs of the six parishes, are in my prayers, along with the new pastor, Father Bill Berkey.

     One wonderful thing that we diod at All Saints was to place a beautiful statue of Mary and child in the side yard of the church.  This was during the special Marian Year in the late 1980's.  We took donations, purchased a carrara marble statue, had the men build a base and surrounding flower bed, landscaped, and dedicated the shrine on Mother's Day of that year with Bishop Bosco doing the honors.  It was a project that was well accepted by the parish and the community.  In fact, we received much acclaim from the Presbyterians across the street for beautifying the corner and providing inspiration.  The statue that we chose was of a seated Mary with her child seated on her lap, facing her and gazing lovingly into her eyes.


     All Saints was a small little church with some beautiful features.  We had an awesome oak high altar piece that had already been restored and which served as the centerpiece of our work.  There was an unusual "crucifixion window" behind the altar that we cleaned, restored, lighted and had the painted wooden framework stripped and stained to match the altar.

     We found an old "side altar statue base" made of the same oak as the altar and had that stripped and made into a fitting ambo.

     The Stations of the Cross were an unusual treasure - oil on canvas paintings - which we had beautifully framed for preservation.

     The high ceiling was of small acostical tile which we replace with a light, tongue in grove oak ceiling.  WE framed the side windows in oak and added shadow boxes to light them.

    There were so many things that were done to not only keep up the place but to beautify it.  I was blessed to have as one of my successos Father Jim Bump who moved the process even further.  But in all of that, it did not begin to compare to the people that I met and worked with, and the memories that I have for a brief five years that have enriched my life.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Remembering ... before a new beginning

     I find myself called to do some remembering regarding my second assignment as a pastor at All Saints Church in Masontown and the mission of Saint Francis de Sales in McClellandtown.  There is a need to do this today because as of tomorrow, All Saints Parish will no longer be in existence (Saint Francis was closed in 2008 and sold to a family that has made it a comfortable home).  Fortunately, the beautiful church building and complex will continue to serve as one of two worship sites for the newly created Saint Francis of Assisi Parish in Western Fayette County (six parishes formed into one with two worship sites).

      I arrived at All Saints in 1986 following the 21 year pastorate of Father Andrew Charnoki.  We actually switched places - he went to Connellsville while I came to Masontown.  I was the sixth pastor in the history of the parish which celebrated her 100th anniversary in 2008.  The parish had been served by eight associate pastors and both Benedictine and Franciscan helped over the years and the parish provided five men ordained as priests (Father Dan Blout for our diocese in 1985 was the last), at least thirteen women entered Religious Life, and countless good, hard working men and women raised their families in the Catholic Faith in this small town and surrounding area.

     The founding pastor, who served for forty-two years in that role, began the parish, and in a bold move, on an acre of ground on the outskirts of town, he built a Catholic presence of church and attached rectory in 1909 and a school and convent in 1911, and in 1929 a High School was built.  All are still standing (except the high school building which had been closed and suffered great structural deterioration and which I tore down during my time).  Father Michael Lambing, who would be my predecessor as pastor in Scottdale, laid the cornerstone for the church building.

     My arrival was met with warmth and welcoming.  I came into the small town and spoke to everyone, and everyone responded.  A very Protestant town with a large Catholic presence now found cooperation and interfaith activities a part of the picture.  We opened the traditional Vacation Bible School Week to all faiths and to all ages, and celebrated in the evenings, gathering young and old alike to All Saints (using the church and school for sessions).  I took part in the annual Easter Sunrise Service usually held on the grounds of the Jacobs Lutheran Church in the country, and after preaching that first year, they twisted my arm each year afterwards (the others found it difficult to preach that early in the am - but they told me that it was because I did such a fine job).  I joined the local clergy association and developed some great relationships with my brothers and sisters of other faith traditions.  Our church was located on Church Avenue, and our neighbors across the street were the Presbyterians and just down the street the Church of the Brethren.

     We began a process of doing necessary repairs and renovations, a few of which were done under diocesan auspices, but a great many more simply with the hard work and support of the good people of the parish.  The school was maintained and supported, many of our high school kids attended Geibel Catholic in Connellsville (quite a hike and sacrifice) which we helped support, and the parish prospered.  I have many excellent memories of my five years at the helm in Masontown.

     When I left to move on as pastor of the Church of Saint Paul in Greensburg, on a very cold winter day, there were many tears in my eyes.  There were also the memories, and the fond farewell that the parish and pastoral council threw in my behalf at a local restaurant that drew nearly 700 people on a Sunday afternoon.  One precious gift was a quilt presented to me by a group of Mennonite women from the area.   The other precious gift was the love of these good people who now must remember the past but begin with their new family to build a new future.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Small Town America

     I really enjoy living in "small town America".  The perks are great at times.  And living within a half hour drive from Pittsburgh allows me the pleasure of city and township/borough living.  A few examples.

     Last Sunday and this coming Sunday during the month of June the community sponsors evenings of music at the local park.  In one corner of the park they have a beautiful little bandstand and during a number of Sunday evenings they invite bands to come and entertain.  People bring their lawn chairs or blankets and enjoy the music and the company.

     Every Saturday morning during the summer months they have a "farmers' market" on Fourth Street.  Not overwhelming large, but a nice opportunity for people to gather and purchase home grown garden items.

     Last evening was the first of three summer "Jazz Nights" sponsored by the local Chamber of Commerce.  Parking along Main Street was restricted so that people could walk the sidewalks, listen to great jazz music (driving through I saw at least five individuals or groups entertaining), and do some shopping.  It was a beautiful evening, and to hear the sound of live music filling the streets was wonderful.

     Monthly during the summer our neighboring parish of Immaculate Conception hosts a Saturday "Burger Bash", a fund raiser that draws people from throughout the area for a great lunch and a worthy cause.  They sale thousands of burgers.

    This little borough of Irwin, along with the larger Township of North Huntingdon and the borough of North Irwin, are to be commended in keeping "small town America" and the experience of "Main Street USA" alive.


     Also this past Wednesday I helped with a prayer service and the Sacrament of Reconciliation for a group that was staying at our school building at Queen of Angels.  This group is a part of Catholic Heart Work Camp, a program which brings kids and adults in from various parts of the country to pray together and to reach out in service and ministry to those less fortunate.  Being available for the Sacrament for these youngsters is always a blessing, and this year was no exception.

There is no pl;ace like home

     It has been awhile since we have had a funeral here at Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Church.  We count our blessings.  But this week we celebrated the passing of two individuals who called this parish home.

    Today I buried Marcella Bulischeck, 86, who had died in Cary, NC.  She had made her home with her daughter, Kathleen and was a member of Saint Michael the Archangel Catholic Church in Cary.  The funeral was celebrated here in Pennsylvania, because for Marcella, this was home.  She had been born and raised in nearby McKeesport, and had lived in White Oak, a neighboring community.   During that time she and her family belonged to our parish.  Periodically she would drop us a note indicating her wishes to "come home" for her burial.  As I shared in the homily, this parish and this area and her home in Cary were but a reflection of the true home in heaven that she knew was her right and destiny as a child of God.  May she find rest and great peace and joy with the Lord as well as with those whom she loved - her parents, her husband "Lefty", her son and daughter and her siblings.  I thank Saint Michael's for the ministry afforded her in her "home away from home".

     On Wednesday I had the funeral Mass for Edward Makara, 85, one of the founding members of this relatively young parish (1978).  He and his wife, Evelyn and their family have always considered this parish their spiritual home, and the strength of their family home was fed by their faith in the Lord.  They have always been good to the parish family, and we entrust him to the loving embrace of a kind and gentle God.  The family had a particular love for a little song that they shared at family moments, and while we normally do not include secular songs in the liturgy, following the recessional hymn we did escort Ed out of church with "You Are My Sunshine".  Between the tears and smiles, the choir was joined by almost everyone present.  May Ed Makara rest in peace, and may his family fine comfort and peace in the resurrected Christ.

     And on a happier note, this afternoon I visited friends who are former parishioners at SEAS who had moved because of work almost two years ago to Akron, Ohio.  After another job related change, they have moved back "home" to the local area, where their families and many friends are located.  I caught Julie Henry and her two daughters, Jess and Jen, busy still unpacking after almost a week.  They are glad to be back in the area, for there truly is "no place like home".

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

A sad loss

     I like to read, and during the summer months in particular I have taken an author and read his or her varied series based on a particular character.  I just started a new series this week.  This is made particularly easy since I purchased my Nook, which I love (as you get older, the back lighted pages are easier on the eyes, as is the print size).

     I began the practice about three years ago when I had my knee replacement during the summer months and spent loads of time on the porch recuperating.  A parishioner and friend who is on our Finance Council - Randy Anselmino - got me hooked on the exploits of a character named Mitch Rapp, a CIA counterterrorism operative, a creation of author Vince Flynn.  Since 1997 when he wrote "Term Limits" which is the only one that did not include Mitch as a character, Vince Flynn has written 14 novels and sold over 15 million books, the latest of which was published just last year.  I have read all of the books (before Nook, they came from Randy's paperback lending library), and I have enjoyed the series.

     I saw on the news today that Vince Flynn, the author and creator of Mitch Rapp, died at the age of 47 in St. Paul, Minnesota, after a two year battle with prostate cancer.  He is survived by his wife and three children, family and many close friends, and a legion of devoted readers like myself.  Selfishly, this is a sad day.  But not for Vince.

     I read previously and have seen it stated in the press releases today that Vince was a life long Roman Catholic whose faith was vitally important to him.  In the Obituary that I read from Associated Press it mentioned that a life long friend stated that he was surrounded by the people that he loved as they prayed the rosary and entrusted him to the loving care of the Lord.  What a way to let go, even at such a young age.  Thank God for faith.  And I join with others who thank God for the creativity of this good man.  May he rest in peace.

     Interested in action packed political thrillers, here is the chronological list of his books.  I found them good reading:
"Term Limits" (without Mitch Rapp); "American Assassin"; "Kill Shot"; "Transfer of Power"; "The Third Option"; "Separation of Power"; "Executive Power"; "Memorial Day"; "Consent to Kill"; "Act of Treason"; "Protect and Defend"; "Extreme Measures"; "Pursuit of Honor"; and "The Last Man".  A part of the creative legacy of Vince Flynn.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Reuniting with "old" friends

     This past weekend was a time of feeling good as I reunited with long time friends in a variety of circumstances.  I would like to share some of those moments.

     The main event took place on Sunday afternoon when I joined with the Felician Sister of Pittsburgh to celebrate the Fiftieth Jubilee of four of their Sisters: Sisters Mary Christopher Moore, Mary Naomi Suba, Mary Charlene Ozanick and Mary Thaddeus Markelewicz.  Sister Charlene is on our staff at the parish, and most of us were able to join the Sisters for Mass and a great dinner provided for Community, family and friends.  The Sisters' Motherhouse is in Coraopolis, outside of Pittsburgh.  There were ten priests and two deacons who joined with Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh in celebrating the Jubilee Mass in the beautiful, traditional chapel at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Convent.  Bishop Zubik was taught by the Felician Sisters in his formative years and the personal touches that he brought to the celebration were warm and beautiful.  He spoke of how the impression that the large cross that the Sisters wore on their habits, more than anything else, impressed and inspired him.  He thanked the Sisters for carrying the joys and burdens of ministry for the combined 200 years of ministry.

     I realized when I arrived that one of the Jubilarians, Sister Naomi Suba, was a vocation from my home parish of Saint Joseph in Uniontown, the only Felician Sister to enter from the parish.  Most went to the Sisters of the Holy Spirit, who taught in the school.  Sister Naomi's sister went to school with my sister, Janie, and one of her cousins was in grade school with me (he was there with his wife).  This cousin, Ed Piwowar, and his family were also parishioners of mine in Scottdale.  It was good to see everyone again.

     Some of the music for the Mass also brought back warm memories: after the renewal of vows, we sang the beautiful "Holy is His Name", the Magnificat, by John Michael Talbot (Talbot is a great troubadour, and his music is so uplifting) and as a recessional hymn we sang "Be Exulted" by Brent Chambers, which I remember from my Charismatic days as a hymn that you can truly belt out in joy.  These, too, brought back memories of wonderful days past.

     Also, at Saturday evening Mass we were visited by our former director of music, Rob Lynch, who left us two years ago to work on his Masters Degree in Sacred Music at Emory University.  Rob completed his degree and will be moving to Kentucky, but was home to visit his family and friends.  It was great seeing him again.

     In addition, one of our families in the parish, who had moved to Ohio because of work, had their situation change and have returned home this past weekend.  The wife and mom, Julie Henry, worked for the parish for a number of years ... and after moving to Akron, worked at Saint Hilary Parish in that city.  Her entire family is musically inclined, and we look forward to having them return to the choirs.  Just having them back in the area brought great warm feelings.

     And lastly, on Sunday night on our PBS station I was reunited with other old friends: a Peter, Paul & Mary special aired, and all of the old folk songs and great memories of days gone by were brought home to me.  There was a group of us that would try to attend a Peter, Paul and Mary Concert yearly in the seminary days - I remember a concert in Cincinnati and a number of them at the Syria Mosque in Pittsburgh.  I sat there Sunday evening, sang along, and felt very good. It was a great way to cap off the day.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Role of a dad

     The role or job description of a bishop is to "teach, govern and sanctify".  From the eyes of Faith, the bishop is seen as our spiritual father, and image of the Heavenly Father.  Assisted by his priests, he is to show how to live, to make sure that the family does well in living out the Faith, and to serve as an inspiration.  He is to be a model for all fathers in the enfleshment of their responsibilities to their children.  We are reminded in the reading from the Hebrew Scriptures that David had been chosen king, given everything possible from God, called to be a father to his people, and yet he sinned and fell short of the mark.  Despite this failure, God accepted his contrition and still held him as an example, a model of blessing.  So, even if our spiritual fathers fail to live up to the challenge (or our expectations), it does not diminish what they are to provide for God's family.

     On this Fathers Day weekend, as we look to and reflect upon our dads, we see success stories and failures in our relationships with them.  Can we appreciate the attempts of our earthly dads to model the image of the invisible God?    If we are dads, spiritually or biologically or by adoption, do we strive to teach our children and the children of the world the wisdom and knowledge that the world has to offer, tempered by the wisdom and knowledge revealed by God?  Do we provide a household where growth and maturity are encouraged and where love is the foundation of the community?   Do we provide the stable and secure environment to prosper and thrive?  Do we inspire our children and the children of the world to seek Truth, to live justly, to be Holy, to know God?

     On this Fathers Day, may the Heavenly Father, who is so loving and generous with us, show us the Way (through the Church and our family), provide a community in which to prosper (through the Church and our family), and inspire us to embrace holiness (through our dads and moms).  And may our Dads who have gone to their heavenly reward, rejoice with God in their love for us.  Happy Fathers Day.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Flag Day in the United States

     Today is Flag Day in the United States of America.  It is a day to celebrate a great symbol of our nation, the red, white and blue - the stars and stripes.  Established by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916, this day commemorates the adoption of our flag by the Continental Congress on June 14, 1777.  This symbol, along with the bald eagle and the great seal, remind us of what this great experiment in democracy has brought to the world community in these last two hundred plus years. 

     I almost forgot about the observance until I was driving through town and saw the flags out along the streets.  It is a glorious sight.  I'm sort of patriotic that way.  I remember the flag with forty-eight stars (before Alaska and Hawaii).  I remember displaying the flag with great care and honor for holidays, especially my birthday which fell on Memorial Day.  We had a large flag that we hung straight down from our porch.  I remember visiting Fort McHenry in Baltimore and during the tour having one of the red stripes the size of the original flag of that fort unfurled.  It was gigantic, and the original flag of that size during the battle of Baltimore harbor became the inspiration of Francis Scott Key's poem which became the National Anthem.  I am honored to have in my possession the flag that covered the casket of my Dad at his funeral, representing his service during World War II.

     Many in our day do not understand the importance and power of symbols.  They knowingly and unknowingly desecrate the flag by wearing it as clothing, displaying it incorrectly, and just plain abusing the symbol.  On this day may we look upon it with pride and respect.


     In the 1960's singer Aretha Franklin came out with her well known song R-E-S-P-E-C-T.   It became a hit and a signature song for her.  Respect is also a virtue that is sorely lacking in our society today.  A couple of examples.

     On Tuesday I received a "Wanted Poster" in the mail, address typed and no return address on the envelope, and of course, unsigned.  Now "Wanted Posters" can be fun.  Just last week at our Vacation Bible School which had the theme "Avalanche Ranch" my picture was taken and added to the other catechetical leaders on "Wanted Posters".  It was cute.  The idea was that we are wanted by God.  But the "Wanted Poster" that I received in the mail (and a few brother priests did as well) included pictures of Bishop Brandt and three other priests who assist him in leadership in the diocese.  The "poster" stated that they were wanted for destroying the local Church.  This comes in the wake of recent parish structural changes and new clergy assignments.  I do not think that this was meant to be humorous.  And while I may not agree with every change made, to me there was a great lack of respect shown to these men.  There are better ways to voice disagreement.  The "creator" urged on the bottom of the page that this be reproduced and distributed at large.  No civility.

     Pope Francis in his morning homily on Thursday spoke of this same topic.  He said that "anger towards a brother is an insult, it's something almost deadly".  He reminds us "it is not that we are bad, rather 'we are weak and sinners'.  That is why it is 'much easier' to resolve a situation with an insult, with slander, defamation instead of resolving it with good means."  He prays that we receive the grace to at least prune our tongues from insult.

     Just the other day an 11 year old boy from San Antonio, Texas sang the National Anthem beautifully before the Spurs / Heat game.  It got much media attention.  His name was Sebastian de la Cruz.  The unbelievably negative response in the social media was racist and downright mean.  Because he was of Mexican American background and was dressed in a mariachi outfit, vicious people vented their ignorance and hatred and showed no respect to this kid or the country of his birth whose anthem he wondrously sang.

     Also on the news yesterday was the word that the administration was withdrawing its opposition to a court ruling that says that the morning after pill (Plan B - One Step ... an emergency contraceptive) may be purchased over the counter at any drugstore by any woman of any age without restriction.  The former age restriction was fifteen.  Now any girl of any age can purchase this drug without a prescription or without parental approval.  Is it only me, or is something wrong here?  The lack of respect for parental rights and involvement, and the lack of respect even to young girls, is frightening.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Two men that touched my life

     On this day, June 12th, two men who touched my life as a priest died, four years apart.  I took note of that in the Necrology (list of the deceased priests and their date of death) found in the Ordo (the little book that tells priests what feast it is, what mass to say, and other important info).  We rely on the Ordo in a great way.

    On June 12 in 1995 Bishop William G. Connare, the retired second bishop of the Diocese of Greensburg, died peacefully.  Bishop Connare had served as our bishop from May 4, 1960 until his retirement in 1987.  He lead the Diocese in expansion and growth, and brought us through the Second Vatican Council reforms into the present age.  He did many things in his twenty-seven years as our bishop, but most importantly he brought a pastoral and fatherly (then grandfatherly) spirit to the diocese.  During his time we expanded parishes and schools, he established the Diocesan Newspaper, The Catholic ACCENT in 1961, he established our Catholic Charities Office, the Minor Seminary at Saint Joseph Hall (where I attended high school) and renovated the Cathedral for the new liturgy in 1972.  He nationally worked with the Catholic Missions as well as Catholic Scouting.  He attended all four sessions of the Second Vatican Council (1961-1965) and represented the U.S. Bishops at the funeral of the martyred Archbishop Oscar Romero in 1980.  But I am sure that his greatest achievement was when he ordained me a priest in 1973!  He will always have a special place in my heart and memory.

     On June 12, 1991, Monsignor Augustine C. Marzhauser, retired pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Irwin, went home to heaven.  He was my first pastor as a priest.  I have spoken of him in previous posts.  He served as pastor at IC from 1967 to 1974.  May he and Bishop Connare rest in peace and enjoy the rewards of their fruitful priesthood.

Monday, June 10, 2013

A compassionate God

     I mentioned to the people yesterday during the homily that on Saturday evening I watched on TNT the more recent remake of the movie "Clash of the Titans".  It is the story of Perseus and his struggle with the gods of Mount Olympus, particularly his father Zeus.  In Greek mythology the gods on Mount Olympus were so far above mere human mortals that they saw them and used them as toys for entertainment.  Their need of them was for praise and exultation and very little more.  And their dealings with them were anything but loving or just.  They manipulated mortals and toyed with them.  They saw them as playthings for entertainment and nothing more.  If they were in a good mood, they could be benevolent.  If they were in a bad mood, they could be deadly.

      There may be times when we view our God in just this way - as one who plays games with us, one who really does not care.  How far from the truth this concept is!  The God of our Fathers has revealed himself to us as a loving and caring God.  We, the handy work of his creative powers are seen by him as his children, not as mere creatures.  His dealings with us are just, and rooted in love, and life giving.  Absolute proof of this is found in the gift of his Son to us, as one like us in all things but sin.  It is found in the invitation to be his family, to be his body, to be Church.  It is found in our being brought to the heavenly banquet through our sharing in the Eucharistic table.  He brings us healing and restores life, as we heard in both the Hebrew Scriptures and in the Gospel account today.  We are not his play things, but rather we are the love of his heart.

     What better reason to give thanks to God and sing his praises.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

First pastorate

     My remembering continue.  In August of 1984 I moved a few miles down the road to Saint John the Evangelist Church in the City of Connellsville.  This Saint Johns was a small ethnic (Slovak) parish in a town with three other Catholic parishes.  It was a gem.  Good, hard working people, a long tradition of Faith, a rejuvenated spirit initiated by the previous pastor served these people well.  My stay with them only lasted two and a half years (for reasons that I'll explain at another time), but they were good years.  Your first pastorate always has a special place in your heart.

     I remember four things.  At Christmas they had the tradition while blessing the manger scene of bringing in a live newborn baby and placing it in the manger for the blessing before returning him or her to the mom.  It always worked beautifully. My first Christmas, as I was waiting to begin the procession to the crib, someone reminded me to "pinch" the baby when I got to the manger so that he or she would cry a little.  It was customary ... I was taken back. No way was I going to continue THAT tradition, and things worked out well.  Who says the baby needed to cry.

The Manger Scene at Saint John the Evangelist - excuse the quality of the picture

     Our altar was a make-piece wooden construction painted white that was "ugly".  It had four round columns supporting a rectangular top.  One of the things we did was to borrow an idea from Seton Hill University Chapel and create a beautiful altar of noble oak.  We had old pew ends that we restored and put together in a cruciform way with the backs facing outward and the arm pieces brought together in the center.  Then we created a noble square oak top for the table.  We used the old and brought a new dimension to the sacred altar.  I was very proud of our accomplishment, which Ted Martin of the parish created in his workshop.  Ted did much work for me over the years.

     We were located at a busy intersection, and I remember the evening of a Forty Hours Devotion when we decided to take our Eucharistic Adoration public.  We invited all in attendance to join the priests present in a Eucharistic Procession around the block on which the Church was located.  With the beautiful bells ringing, our procession proceeded around the block, with three priests attending the Eucharist and a canopy covering the Lord, we had the attention of the neighbors and beyond, and gladly professed our Faith on that glorious evening.

     Saint John's had awesome stained glass windows which were in deplorable shape.  Because of a highway on one side and train tracks for years on the other, the windows were sagging and severely damaged.  Experts were called in, and a major restoration project was begun - bringing in new metal frames, repairs to the glass and good storm windows.  The first two windows done (during my tenure) were very large side windows representing the Holy Family with the young child Jesus and a terrific Death of Saint Joseph window.

     One night while the stained glass was out and the new frames with plate glass storm windows were in place, we had a severe wind storm.  There was secured scaffolding on both the inside and outside of the window near the house.  All windows were in except the small round window near the top, but everything was wrapped in plastic.  All night the winds blew and I feared the worst.  That did not happen until about seven in the morning, when the scaffolding fell in both directions - into the yard, damaging the fence and cutting off the power and into the church where it fell across the front pews.  An hour later and there would have been people there for Mass.  What a day!  The workmen arrived about 8:30 and were astonished at the damage.  But, not one window was broken, and no one was hurt.  Thank God for small miracles.

     These reflections are but a few that are from my time in Connellsville.  Saint John's is now partnered with IC and Saint Rita and is served by one priest.  How times do change.

Friday, June 7, 2013

An honor

     Every year the bishop invites the priests of the Diocese to gather to celebrate priesthood, especially those celebrating milestones.  This past Tuesday was our gathering for 2013.  We gathered at the former minor seminary now named the Bishop Connare Center for mass in Saint Joseph Chapel followed by drinks, refreshments, and an excellent dinner.  The program at the dinner is brief, with our MC, Father Paul Lisik lightening the proceedings with humor, antidotes and loving jibes.  This year, my ordination mate, Msgr. Paul Fitzmaurice, gave a brief talk on priesthood.  The three newly ordained were with us and were toasted by our vocation director, Father Jonathan Wisneski.

    The afternoon began with the Jubilee Mass celebrated by Bishop Brandt and the priests present, with the jubilarians vested.  I served as a chaplain to Bishop Brandt, along with Paul.  Joining us for the celebration was retired Archbishop Giuseppe DeAndrea from the Vatican.  The Archbishop, originally from Italy, was one of our priests for many years before joining his brother, John, in the Vatican Diplomatic Corps.  He has since retired from his posts, and now lives in the Vatican and is a Canon (a liturgical office) of Saint Peter's Basilica.  Joe was in the States, and was able to join us as he celebrates his 60th anniversary of ordination later this month.  It was great to see him again.  He gave each of us a picture of himself with Pope Francis, which I have included here.

Archbishop DeAndrea and Pope Francis
A gift from the Archbishop
Photo taken by the Vatican Press Office
     I had the honor of preaching the homily that day, and while it is daunting to preach to your peers, I enjoyed the opportunity.  The only difficulty was that the readings for the day were not geared for a jubilee - the story of Tobit, falling asleep resting against a wall on which sat birds whose droppings fell in his eyes and caused him to develop cataracts and go blind ... and render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's.  It took some creative thinking to make that happen (but then some of the guys had just received word of the reassignments, and felt much like Tobit).
    The final element to the 40th happened yesterday when the Jubilee edition of the Diocesan Newspaper - The CATHOLIC ACCENT - arrived.  In there were a picture and write-up of each ordinandi.  To conclude, I would like to list our significant Jubilarians for this year.
25 Years: From Saint Vincent Archabbey - Fathers Thomas Hart, Peter Augustine Pierjok, Luke Policicchio and Donald Raila. ... and from the Pauline Fathers - Father Edward Volz.
40 Years: Msgr. Paul Fitzmaurice and Roger Statnick, Fathers Peter Peretti and yours truly.
45 Years: Fathers Jim Petrovsky and Jim Popochock.
50 Years: Father Tom Lukac.
60 Years: Retired Archabbott Paul Maher of Saint Vincent and Archbishop Joseph DeAndrea of Rome.

The Sacred Heart of Jesus

     On the Friday following the second Sunday after Pentecost the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Devotion to the Sacred Heart also takes place on the First Friday of each month.  Today those two occasions overlap.   The setting for this feast is found in Psalm 33 where it says "The designs of his Heart are from age to age, to rescue their souls from death, and keep them alive in famine."

     The Preface for today states:

"For raised up high on the Cross,
he gave himself up for us with a wonderful love
and poured out blood and water from his pierced side,
the wellspring of the Church's Sacraments,
so that, won over to the open heart of the Savior,
all might draw water joyfully from the springs of salvation."
     Did you ever see a pelican used in Christian art?  I remember a pelican carved into the altar frontal piece at Saint Sebastian Church in Belle Vernon.  It was an interesting image.  Since the second century the pelican was seen as a image of Christ.  Tradition says that the mother pelican, in time of famine, will gather her young around her and then pierce her chest, drawing blood that then nourishes the young and brings them life and survival.  It is a powerful image of self sacrifice that mirrors what Jesus did for us.   May the Sacred Heart of Jesus, from which his nourishing blood flows in loving sacrifice, be ever near to us.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Scottdale - continued

     I took a bit of a break from my remembering of previous assignments, but I would like to get back to the task.

     In the six years that I spent as an Associate at Saint John the Baptist, I grew to know and love the people.  I found that their capacity to make you feel one of them was tremendous.

     I spent some of my time getting some sun and some exercise by cutting grass at the cemetery, especially the old section where the larger mowers could not maneuver.  I am a bit strange in that I enjoyed the solitude and the sense of history that reading the headstones brought to me.  One story ... in the old section there was an unmarked mass grave.  This contained seventy-nine bodies from the Mammoth Mine explosion disaster of January 27, 1891.  There were 107 killed in that explosion.  The names of those buried there were listed in our records, and they were buried in a mass grave measuring 30' X 70' in the center section.   Buried in the same section are the graves of seven of nine miners who were shot to death in a strike effort for higher wages on April 2, 1891 in what is known as the Morewood Massacre.  Later the State placed a stone in the cemetery and an historical marker of the event near the cemetery.  Getting into history is definitely interesting and sometime exciting.

     Another bit of history surrounded the Convent for the Sister of Charity of Seton Hill in Scottdale.  The Sisters served the parish in education for just shy of 100 years.  The old convent was raised to make room for the new church built in 1980.  One of those rooms at the convent hosted a famous visitor for an overnight stay as she was travelling through.  Her name was Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini, and she was later declared a Saint of the Church.

     During those days I became somewhat of a mediocre but avid tennis player, took care of the flowers around the rectory, in addition to doing the priestly things.  Pastorates were at that time based on seniority of years, and my time had come.  In August of 1984 Father Tom Kalasky died.  He had been pastor of Saint John the Evangelist Church in Connellsville - my next assignment.

Monday, June 3, 2013

The times, they are a changing

     Saturday afternoon the priests of the Diocese of Greensburg received the listing of the Clergy Assignments for June.  Twenty-three of our sixty-seven men in active ministry are experiencing a transfer or job change or addition.  That is a third of the presbyterate.  Some will welcome the move, many will accept in obedience, but I'm sure some will be upset at being transferred from where they have been ministering.  Three of our men are retiring.  They are not included in the twenty-three.  This kind of a shake-up is a difficult time of transition for priests and for parishioners.  I am extremely grateful that my name and those in our immediate area were not on the list.  Recently I was asked a series of questions by the staff person of the Diocesan Web Page where I periodically do a Scripture Reflection - you know ... getting to know the writer.  The first question was "What do you fear the most?"  My answer took no time at all to come up with.  I said "A call from the bishop's office during assignment time."  This time my fears were relieved.  May they continue to be.

     These assignments piggy back on the restructuring announced by Bishop Brandt in May and commented on in Journey Thoughts on May 6th.  At that time it was announced that on June 25th of this year there will be one new parish in two worship sites in one of our counties (the merger of six smaller parishes), 8 parishes closed, six will be partnered (one priest serving two or more churches).  This will reduce the number of parishes from 85 to 78, with 16 partnerings of parishes (44%).

     This is a major time of change for this small but special diocese.  I would ask your prayers for the people and the priests involved in these changes.  I would ask that the Lord give generous portions of peace and understanding, appreciation for what has been and confident hope for what must happen, to His holy people.


     This morning following Mass I noticed this pesky flea in the peripheral vision of my left eye.  It was not a flea, but a floater in my eye.  I went to the eye doctor and all is well, nothing serious, no pain or damage ... just annoying as .... !  Acknowledging that the alternative is much worse, this getting older thing is not what it is cracked up to be!

The warmth of appreciation

     Father Chester Raimer is a good friend and one of the priests of our diocese.  He has served at Saints Simon and Jude Parish for over twenty one years and done a wonderful job in so many ways.  He will be retiring for reasons of health on June 25th.

     Yesterday afternoon the parish family threw him a party to express their appreciation as well as their sadness at his leaving them.  I was able to attend for a short while, and witnessed the love and affection that his people have for him and his ministry to them. There were many tears, both from Father Chet as well as from the men and women, boys and girls, who will miss him.  The various groups and individuals active in the parish provided refreshments galore and a spirit of welcome.  While I was there a local minister and his wife stopped to see Chet and offer best wishes.  This is the way Church should be, this is what parish family is all about.

    I know from personal experience that, apart from the attachments and friendships that are formed, you really never know how your ministry in a parish touches the lives of people.  This expression of appreciation, given so freely and lovingly to Chet yesterday, is a gift of the Church to a good priest who has served them well.  Thanks, Chet ... and thanks, Blairsville.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Another grand occasion

     Yesterday was a long day, and the second part of the day involved attending the All Prep Reunion at Saint Vincent Archabbey for the Saint Vincent Preparatory School which I attended from 1961 - 1965.  This was our 48th year.  Saint Vincent Prep had been in existence from about 1847 through 1971, and lives on in the memory of the very loyal alumni.

     There were activities on campus Friday evening which I could not attend, and throughout the day on Saturday.  I made it for the Reunion Eucharist in the Basilica Crypt at 4:30 celebrated by the Archabbot.  I concelebrated along with three Benedictines and two deacons, one of whom is also from my class of 1965 - Deacon Bill Hisker of our Diocese.  Bill is a long time member of the College faculty as well.

     Following Mass were refreshments and a social time before a sit down dinner and presentation of awards.  We had quite a few of the class of '65 in attendance (we were the first class of all priesthood students - for the Benedictine Scholasticate and the Diocesan Seminary program).  Prior to that the Prep was a prep school for regular students.  Seated at our table beside myself was Deacon Bill Hisker and his wife, Matt Kristofik and his wife who have attended many of these gatherings, Rick Pedzwater from York, PA, who I saw a few years back and who has become a reader of this blog (thanks Rick), and John Grundy, with his wife Barb, whom I just met.  I have not seen John in 48 years.  They live in Minnesota (I think - somewhere cold and snowy).  We talked, remembered, shared stories and had a great time.  It is great how easily friendships rekindle, and it was especially great to see John and Rick.  The only depressing thing that I brought from this wonderful evening was the fact that, except for Bill who still teaches, everyone else is retired.  It does not seem fair!  We are going to make a concerted effort to get more guys committed to our 50th in two years.

     In case you went to a "normal sized" high school ... we had thirty three in our graduating class.  Talk about intimate class size.  A number of the men have gone home to the Lord.  Even though we were seminary students of high school age, there are two Benedictines (Fathers Rene and Thaddeus) and myself ordained as priests, and Dr. Bill Hisker ordained as a deacon.  The others went on to families and careers which brought them happiness and great accomplishments.

     I acknowledge the great job that the Benedictine monks and our lay faculty did to provide us with an outstanding groundwork for our future endeavors.  And I also thank the Saint Vincent Community for their loyalty and support of the alumni of Prep, College and Seminary.

A grand occasion

     Yesterday, Saturday, June 1st, beginning at 10:00 am the Diocese of Greensburg called three young men to the priesthood and celebrated their ordinations at the hands of Bishop Lawrence E. Brandt, the Diocesan Bishop.  This was a grand occasion for the simple reason that we have not celebrated a priestly ordination in about nine years.  It was also a grand occasion because these three men offer not only new blood but great hope and many blessings for our diocesan Church.  Those ordained yesterday were Father Tyler Bandura, Father Matthew Morelli and Father Daniel Ulishney.  Tyler had studied in Baltimore, and Matt and Dan just finished up at Theological College in Washington after spending four years at the North American College in Rome.  Joining Bishop Brandt at the ceremony was Bishop Lawrence Persico, the Bishop of Erie and one of our former diocesan priests and Archabbot Douglas Nowicki of Saint Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe. Joining them were the priests of the diocese, friends, teachers and classmates of the newly ordained, and family and friends.

     The ordination ceremony was beautiful, the music outstanding, the prayerfulness evident, and the brevity non existent (it was two hours and forty minutes).  But it was worth it.

     After the bishop imposes hands on the head of each ordinandi, which is the actual moment of ordination, the priests present come to each man and in silence share the priesthood through the "laying on of hands".  This is always a very moving moment.  In the past I have simply prayed silently, but yesterday, for some reason, I found myself tearing up a bit.  The power and beauty of priesthood, despite the challenges that confront us, is indeed a grace filled moment.  A short time later the priests present offer a greeting of peace and congratulations.  I told each of them to "be a good priest".

     Later that day these men received their first priestly assignments, which, along with all of the other clergy changes, were forwarded to us by email.  The assignments that they received are good but definitely challenging.  Pray for them, their families in this period of celebration, and the people that they will begin to serve.