Thursday, August 29, 2013

Twice Blessed

     In the multitude of years that I served at Saint John the Baptist Church in Scottdale, I often reminded them of the priviledged position of their patron saint.  I would remind them that each saint of the Church is recognized on a certain date, most usually on or near the day of their death - their entrance into heaven.  In fact, apart from Jesus, there are only two individuals whose biological and heavenly birthdays are celebrated by the Church.  They are Mary - birthday on September 8th and death on August 15th - and John the Baptist - birthday on June 24th and martyrdom on August 29th.  Both were the first to welcome Jesus into the world by rejoicing in the Good News with the joy within their lives here on earth.  Today is the feast of the Passion of Saint John the Baptist (formerly the Martyrdom of John the Baptist).  Again, happy feast day to the Scottdale parish.

    Saint John the Baptist parish, established in 1878, was recently partnered with their neighbors at Saint Joseph Parish which just celebrated their 125th anniversary last year.  Both have wonderful histories and now a good pastor to lead them into working together for the spread of the Gospel.  Another thing they have in common are patrons with two feast days, for Joseph also shares in two dates.  His are not of birth and death, but of example and relationship.  March 19th is the feast of Joseph, the husband of Mary and foster father of Jesus and May 1st is the feast of Joseph the Worker.  May the partnering of these parishes go well and produce much fruit.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Living by example

     Saint Paul today exhorts the followers of Christ in Thessolonika to look to his example and follow him in the fleshing out of the Gospel message.  He points out that he has come with a parent's love, instructing and encouraging the living of good and upright, holy and inspiring lives.  He has not come to create an obligation or an unrealistic expectation, but rather to exhort those who come to know him or of him that the way of Christ is worth their time and energy.  He says that they should follow his example, embrace his charism of selfless service, and live in the love of Christ.  His message to that local Church is a timeless message for the whole Church.

     This morning before Mass Sister Mary Philip, a parishioner and a Sister of Charity of Seton Hill in Greensburg, reminded me that today is the birthday of Elizabeth Ann Bailey Seton, our patron and the Sisters' foundress.  We have three of the Sisters of Charity living within our parish who are members of our parish family.  When I look at them, and see the lives of service and dedication found within the lives of their Religious Sisters, I see the charism of their founder.  They have come to know Mother Seton and have embraced the life of faith and love and service that she shared with her Sisters, and in doing so, have given us an example of living that embraces those wonderful charisms.  I, for one, am very grateful for these good women of faith.

     And happy birthday, Mother Seton!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A mother's love

     This morning I attended the funeral Mass for the mother of Father Alan Grote, a good priest of our diocese for many years now.  The funeral was at her home parish of Saint Mary Church in Uniontown.  Father Alan celebrated the Mass and preached, extolling the goodness of his Mom.  He spoke beautifully and personally of his Mom's love for her family - siblings, husband and children and Church.  He  shared that his Mom liked each of the five kids best and pointed out the special relationships and circumstances that made this possible.  She saw in each of them a reflection of her husband and their Dad, whom she loved deeply.  She also saw and loved in them what she saw and loved in Christ.  It was a fitting tribute to his Mom, but even more importantly an important lesson to those who joined him in celebrating her life of faith.

     Today is also the feast of Saint Monica, a woman of faith who spent her life praying for her son and husband to come to know Jesus.  The only Christian in the family, she lived by example and lovingly shared her faith in Jesus Christ.  Her son, Augustine, at the urging of her husband, was well educated, free to do as he wished, and became something of a "wild thing".  Nothing Monica said or did made much of a difference in his life ... except that eventually through prayer and love, a setting was provided  in Milan and a catalyst in Saint Ambrose's preaching and the realization of hunger and emptiness in Augustine's heart.  Enter the Spirit, enter Christ, enter a spirit of love never before experienced by Augustine.  His conversion brought about awesome results.  His conversion was made possible because of a mother's love.  Augustine became a Christian, a priest, a bishop and a Doctor of the Church.  From a life of self centeredness and sin he embraced the cross and holiness.

     Shakespeare's character spoke of the end of a "winter of our discontent".  Many in the Diocese of Greensburg are in the throes of a "summer of discontent", resulting from the recent restructuring of parishes and changes made by our bishop.  I understand their hurt, for these necessary moments of change bring sorrow and pain, they are like a death in the family and require a period of mourning.  But one of the characteristics of the Church is that while it remains essentially the same yet it is constantly adapting and changing.  If it were static, it would not exist.  It is the grace of God that sees us through ... along with the love of our mother, which is the Church herself.   I have wanted to address a growing spirit of unrest that I find scandalous in its lack of understanding of who and what Church is.  Those fostering this unrest, feeding the struggle of so many in this time of transition with half truths, innuendo, disrespect and outright hatred of the bishop and diocesan administration, remind me of the young Augustine.  He wanted what he wanted, focused on himself and his desires alone, and could care less what his mom had to say or wanted to provide for him.  I'm sure he loved her, but she was irrelevant to what he desired.  He wanted her, but didn't need her.   Those fostering this "summer of our discontent" are doing a great disservice to the Church that they say that they love.  They are centered on self, not Christ.  They are caught up in the moment and are not seeing the larger picture.  In some ways, since I was stationed in three of these newly structured situations, I feel a sense of responsibility for not adequately teaching the beautiful mystery that is Church.  I pray for that graced moment that will allow these people and these parishes to look at the opportunities provided (even those that are strangely different) and move forward as a stronger, more vibrant Church.  And I pray that those responsible for sowing the seeds of discontent find their way to God's mercy and forgiveness.   Our mother loves us too much to allow us to self destruct, and we should be grateful for that love.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Old thoughts on a timeless topic

    Twenty-five years ago yesterday (August 24, 1988) I gave the keynote address at the Diocesan wide Catholic Schools Teacher In-Service Day held at Saint Bruno Church in South Greensburg. Bishop Bosco celebrated and preached the Mass followed by my talk entitled "Keeping the Catholic Schools Catholic Through Change and Growth".  I'm not sure how I was chosen to give the presentation, but I was honored.  I was serving as pastor of All Saints Church in Masontown at the time.  I was reminded of this event when I ran across an old article dated September 1, 1988 from the Diocesan Newspaper, "The Catholic Accent".  The article was entitled "Teachers Must Live, Teach God's Truth".  Here are some excerpts of what Vince Capozzi, who wrote the article, indicated that I said that day.

     I come to you today, not as an educator, although through my ministry I am involved in teaching.  I come today not as a visionary, but as a man who sees what is happening, and along with you, has ideas on what needs to be done.  I have attended Catholic schools from primary school through graduate work.  What I can share with you today, what I can share with everyone, I can share because of what I have received through the men and women who taught in those schools and shared their lives with me.

     I know the difficulty that Catholic education is facing today.  Many of our roots are no longer there, both physically and in those people who shared their lives with us.

     When Jesus stood before Pilate and spoke of "truth", Pilate asked "What is truth?"  It doesn't say it in the Scriptures specifically, but I can just imagine Pilate, two sides of him, dealing with this question - one the skeptic who wonders what is truth ... everyone who comes along has their own definition of truth.  What is truth?  Is the truth anything that we can grab hold of?  I can hear Pilate saying that.   I can also hear in Pilate a cry "what is truth?  Tell me.  I would like to know.  I desire to learn the lessons of what truth is."  Our world today presents truth just like it did in Pilate's time ... in a number of ways, some of which satisfy for a time, most of which fall short in the long run.

     But there is a truth that we have been entrusted with.  The only way to understand that truth is to remember.  History is remembering and learning from that remembering.  I'd like to pick a moment from history and take a look at how God revealed truth.
     The people of Israel in Egypt were a hodgepodge group that did not have a sense of identity.  They had nothing really to hold on to.  They soon became stagnant, becoming part of the lower class, almost like slaves.  They desired to improve, but were not really sure how.  They had no sense of unity, of community.  There was some faint remembrance of some sort of story about God that had happened in their history.  The people of Israel in Egypt called on God for help.  And he answered.  He delivered them from the bondage of Egypt in the great event that we call the Exodus.  He gave them a leader in Moses.  Then he himself led them in the cloud by day and the pillar of fire at night to a promised land and a heritage that was great.  They received the Commandments from the hand of God, thus revealing the truth.  Truth lies in the relationship - with God and with each other.  Know who you are.  Your relationship with me is first and foremost in importance.  Your relationship to me binds you to each other, giving you a responsibility to each other.  It is because of that that we find community and truth.

     God entrusted to the whole Church the mission of sharing the good news ... the truth.  We do that as teachers, by proclaiming the Good News and allowing God's love to come alive in our hearts, by living the faith - not just on Sunday morning, not just in the classroom, but every moment of our lives.

     For those of us gathered here today we have the additional mission of being teachers in a Catholic system.  We have the responsibility of making sure that our lives have been touched by the grace and mercy of God and that we know the truth.  If we do so, that reflects upon every aspect of our lives as teachers, whether we teach math or science, reading or religion.  If the truth is alive within us and if we translate that and put it into action in our lives both at home and at school, then we are doing the job that the Lord calls us to do.

No free pass

     We all look for the "get out of jail free" card or the "free pass" or the "open invitation - all are welcome" sign in most aspects of our lives.  There was even an evangelization effort in a parish of our diocese a few years ago that advertised "All are welcome!"   And while it is true that the invitation to the heavenly banquet is open and meant for all, the reality is that it is NOT free.  The entrance fee for this invitation has been paid for by the Lord at a great cost - the pouring out of his blood on the tree of the cross.  It has been won by the ultimate sacrifice given freely and given in love, death at a great price.  And as we are reminded today in the Gospel passage, on our part we must so desire entrance into the Kingdom, so desire an intimate relationship with the living God, that we are willing to focus upon him, endure all for the sake of the Kingdom, and enter through the narrow gate.  While entrance does provide redemption and brings forgiveness, it is not a "get out of jail free" card but requires repentance and relies on mercy.  While freedom is the hallmark of those signed with the blood of the lamb, it is no "free pass" to enter and do anything I want or nothing at all - rather it requires us to commit our lives to Christ and his people and to be Church.  And while all are welcome, it will be the remnant, the small few among the invited who remain faithful who will ultimately share in the Master's joy.

     While this word sounds restrictive and limiting, it is in reality freeing and life giving.  May we enter through the narrow gate.  May we focus upon Christ.  May we enjoy the blessings of his love.


     Sorry for the break in the action these last few days.  Early last week I had a routine test that people of a certain age need every so many years which requires some wonderful prep - lots of drinking of the prep mixture and then lots of running.  All was fine with the test.  Then my sister and I went to Erie, PA for a few days to visit friends and relax.  We saw Bishop Lawrence Persico at dinner on Wednesday evening - he is the bishop of Erie and a priest of our diocese.  But, back to work, with a weekend already under my belt.  It is good to be home.

Saturday, August 17, 2013


     One of the most memorable and most beautiful liturgies of the Church year comes at the Easter Vigil.  It involves the building, the lighting, the blessing of the new fire of Easter as well as the blessing and lighting of the Easter Candle that leads into the darkened Church and from which all light their candles for the great Exultet - the Easter Proclamation.  Moving, powerful, memorable.  But the first part, in particular, is often problematic.

     I was never a Scout, so the building and management of a fire does not come easily.  The new fires of Easter in parishes are found in all shapes and sizes: a little fire in a hibachi grill, a bonfire type of blaze that one of our priests excels in with fire departments on the stand-by, fires in hastily pulled together pits, ours here at SEAS where we use a half barrel on legs (we are using it tomorrow for our parish picnic), and one year I even used a small oil lamp whose flame was woefully inadequate (I learned from my mistake).  However the fire is constructed, it needs to be tended, it needs to be substantial and lasting, and it needs watched.  But when done correctly, the experience of the fire, the Candle, the flame divided by undimmed, and the Easter Proclamation sung by candlelight is awesome.

     Jesus in the Gospel today says that he has come to set the earth on fire.  He says that he wishes the blaze was already burning.  His fire is not destructive or ravishing, but rather life giving and exciting.  His fire is the fire of his love, the fire of enthusiasm found in the Holy Spirit, the fire of renewal and new life that purges our sinfulness and shortcomings and opens the way for Him.  Our Faith is not meant to be a small votive candle burning quietly in our lives for our personal devotion, but a roaring fire set ablaze in our hearts that draws others to Him through us.  That is what evangelization is all about - stirring the flame of Faith ... coming alive in the Spirit ... sharing the Light with others.  We cannot allow our fire to be reduced to embers.  We must allow Him to set our hearts on fire.  We must stir the flame until it blazes anew.

Friday, August 16, 2013

A review

     It felt like I was in class again as I listened to the first reading from Joshua (Joshua 24: 1-13) this morning at Mass.  It was like the mini review that takes place at the beginning of the semester when last year's material is given in an overview.  It was like looking at the "Cliff Notes" edition of salvation history.  The People of Israel had "crossed over" and entered the Promised Land.  Joshua called the entire people together and gave them a run down of God's working in their midst and on their behalf.  The understanding was that they could not effectively move forward without recalling their history. 

     It is equally important for each of us to recall what has paved the way, what has gone before, in order to adequately move forward.  Whether it is an examination of conscience at the end of a day, or a morning offering at the beginning, or a moment of quiet reflection during, these moments ground us in God's grace and lead us into his continued plan for us.  Without that, we have "tunnel vision" and "react" rather than act with love and understanding and mercy.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The ultimate sacrifice

     On August 15th in 1941, a forty seven year old Franciscan priest from Poland was given a lethal injection of carbolic acid and died.  His body was cremated in the ovens at Auschwitz, were he had been a prisoner since May 28th of that year.  His death came after a two week period of starvation which he had survived. His feast is celebrated today, the 14th of August, since the 15th is the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  His name is Father Maximilian Mary Kolbe, a saint of the Church.

     Father Maximilian Kolbe had been arrested in his native Poland by the Nazi's because he was an intellectual, a noted communicator through the press and radio (he led a group that published a monthly magazine and a daily newspaper that at its high point reached 230,000 people), and one who resisted the regime.

     He accomplished many things in his lifetime, including a great devotion to Mary, a great defense against the enemies of the Church, and a effective ministry for six years to the people of Japan ... but his greatest achievement was found in his last actions.  At the end of July, a few prisoners escaped the confines of Auschwitz.  The commandant was furious, and order a number of random prisoners to be put to death in retaliation.  One of those chosen was a young man named Franciszek Gajowniczek, who cried out for mercy since he had a wife and child.  Hearing this, Father Maximilian stepped forward and offered to take this man's place.  Franciszek was spared, and Father Maximilian "laid down his life for another".   His death was the greatest witness that he could give of following in the footsteps of Christ and laying down his life for another.  If I remember correctly, Franciszek Gajowniczek was present at his canonization on the 10th of October in 1982. At a time when all too many "look out for number one", his witness gives a tremendously necessary lesson for which we are grateful.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

It is not about me

     We have been reading about Moses in the weekday scriptures from Deuteronomy of late.  Remember his story?

     Saved from death by his mother, who was inspired not to follow the Egyptian law that every male child of the Hebrew people must be put to death, Moses was found and came under the protection of Pharaoh's daughter.  Raised in privilege in the royal court, Moses had everything.  Then came that moment of temper that saw him lose his status and position, and forced him to go into exile.  Settling down as a shepherd for his father-in-law, Moses encountered God in the burning bush, and God called him to accept a task that he was reluctant to embrace, to be a spokesman and leader of his people.  But he took up the responsibility, confronted Pharaoh, led his people out of Egypt through the sea and into the desert.  He beheld the face of God when given the tablets of the law and was assured that he would lead his people to a "promised land", a land flowing with milk and honey.   Forty years he led them   Then, on the edge of that promised land, God told Moses that Joshua would be the one to lead the people into the promise ... Moses would not cross over.

     I'm not sure about you, but I think that I would be an unhappy camper!  I did all of this, put up with everything, was faithful (except for that moment of doubt when he tapped the rock not once but twice in order to bring water out of the rock for the people), and now I don't get to cross the threshold?

     But there was the lesson to be learned.  It is not about me, it is about God.  It is not about what I want, it is about God's plan and design.   Moses understood that he had done his part, he had led the people to the promised land - but not into the promised land - now it was Joshua's time.  It was God's plan, and Moses was the humble servant.

     In today's Gospel of Matthew, Jesus stands a child in the midst of his followers who had been arguing about who was the greatest in the Kingdom.  He points out that this child is the greatest because he does not seek the glory.  It is not about this child, it is not about them, it is about God working within them.  Good lessons to be learned.


     Pope Francis tweeted on Sunday - August 11th:

One cannot separate Christ and the Church.
The grace of baptism gives us
the joy of following Christ
in and with the Church.
To all of those angry with the Church for a variety of reasons, it is an important lesson to be learned.  You cannot know Christ and possess his grace apart from his Body which is the Church.  Sadly, too many people don't understand that truth.  Pray for them.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

A tribute

     I have a good friend named Donna Parish from Masontown.  For many years she has belonged to All Saints Church (the new Saint Francis of Assisi) and taught kindergarten in the school until retirement.  She was/is an excellent teacher.  Donna is, like many in the area, very upset about the changes in parish life and the closing of All Saints School.

     The other day on her FB page she did something very nice.  She asked those who attended or who had ties to the school, which has been in operation since 1911, to share their stories and memories.  Hard as it is to see the school close, this is the way to celebrate the blessings of these years.  As of today, there were thirty-three beautiful comments shared.  I would like to honor the history of All Saints School with a few of those comments (the authors will remain anonymous).  The annual bazaar on Labor Day weekend was mentioned by many as a way of staying in touch with friends, the Christmas pageants, Halloween parades through town, scrabble tournaments, basketball games in the old gym, and school picnics in the park.  Many recalled the school masses, prayer times and May Crownings.  Rose in the cafeteria was remembered, as well as pizza, bread sticks, the juice machine and chocolate cake with peanut butter icing.  The big brothers and sisters program - one person said "My boys still remember their big brothers and the little ones they were big brothers to!"

     But comments like "The teachers were awesome!" and mention of some of the excellent teachers like Donna herself in Kindergarten, Ed Rockwell, Sisters Asumta, Rosaire, Mildred and Barbara are what is the greatest tribute.  Staff members like Mrs. Burns and Jim and Cliff and Rose are remembered.  One person said "When I went to Albert Gallatin after graduating from sixth grade, I had not only the educational background I needed to succeed, but also the morals to shape me into a polite young lady.  All Saints is to thank for that."  Another said "My favorite memories are some of the amazing teachers I had that set the stonework for my education."  Another one said "It was so much more than a school, we were a community.  We all knew each others names, the parents looked after all of us like we were their own.  It was definitely something special that I have not been a part of since."  "All Saints was very special, it created friendships that will last a lifetime" said another.  To sum up, a person said that his memory will always be the "good times we had.  God bless us all."  Amen to that.

     I was always impressed with the periodic school reunions that All Saints/Kolb High school planned over the years.  They were days of positive remembering of great experiences of Catholic Education.  My hope is that the alumni of All Saints Grade School will always be grateful for the blessings received and in the future celebrate in the way of the high school family.

     It is never easy to say goodbye to something that is important to you and that you have loved.  Educationally I have seen my grade school close (opened in 1907), high school (opened in 1847),  minor seminary residence (1962),  college seminary (?), major seminary (?).  It is always sad, but life continues, and the foundation set by those schools has served me well.  For that I am grateful.  I will pray for the All Saints school community, past and present, and I ask that you do so as well.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Degrees of separation

     A Carmelite nun by the name of Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross died in the gas chambers of Auschwitz on this date in 1942.  She had been arrested in Echt, Netherlands earlier that year.  She was arrested by the Nazi's because she was Jewish by birth, a woman of note and an intellectual.  In her youth she saw the horrors of war and leaned toward atheism.  But as she studied and became recognized as a noted philosopher and an observer of man's inhumanity to man, she was drawn to faith, and specifically to the Catholic faith.  She was baptized into the Church in 1922, and after a period of strengthening her spiritual walk and defending the role of women in the world community, she entered the Carmelite Order in 1933.  Moved from Germany to Echt to escape the Nazi's, she finally entered into eternal life on this day seventy one years ago, and was declared a saint in 1998.  Today is her feast day.
     Just over a year before, in the same terrible place known as Auschwitz, a young Franciscan priest from Poland by the name of Father Maxillian Kolbe, was put to death by lethal injection because of his faith and his kindness in taking the place of a fellow prisoner who was chosen for death.  Father Kolbe died on August 15th of 1941, and his feast is celebrated on August 14th each year.  Born in Poland in 1894, he was ordained a O.F.M. Conventual Franciscan and spent time in both Rome, Poland and Japan.  He was involved in the communication mission, publishing papers and pamphlets, and spreading a devotion to Mary.  For six years, from 1930 to 1936, he ministered in Nagasaki, Japan with great success.  Arrested by the Nazi's for a number of reasons, including his publishing, his faith, and being a Catholic Pole, he was imprisoned in Auschwitz, where he ministered to his fellow prisoners in many ways.  His taking the place of the man condemned to die was not surprising to those who knew him.  His body was cremated the day he died.  He was declared a saint of the Church.

     Both of these great saints of our time died a year apart in Auschwitz during a dreadful time in human history, within the midst of a terrible war.   But they are not the only ones who died in those years, whether in a camp or in battle or in great moments of inhumanity.   Coming full circle, three years to the day after Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross died in the gas chambers, about 70,000 others, mostly civilians, died in the dropping of the second atomic bomb on the city of Nagasaki where Father Maxillian Kolbe ministered to those same Japanese people just a few years earlier.  That bombing happened on this date - August 9, 1945.   We do not seem to handle conflict well as a society, but maybe that is because we don't embrace the presence of God and the peace of Christ in our hearts.  Pray that we eventually learn our lesson.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Unleashed Power

     Things were looking bad.  The end was near.  Hopelessness and despair were setting in.  It was at this juncture that Jesus took his closest friends, Peter, James and John, with him to the mountaintop to pray.  Nothing unusual.   It was at this moment that Jesus decided to give them hope, to share a vision of the divine reality, to let them know that all was not lost.  He was transfigured before their eyes.  A blinding light, immense power unlike anything ever seen before, a vision of all of human existence brought together in the presence of an all powerful God as represented by Moses and Elijiah - the law and the prophets.  By rights and from tradition Peter, James and John should be dead.  Very few see the face of God and live ... and if they do, they are never the same, they are transformed as were Moses and Elijiah.  But this release of power brought life.  It gave hope and joyful peace to hearts.  It was a reminder that the power of God is meant to give life and transform a fallen world.  Those three came down from that mountaintop bolstered in their resolve to be disciples and strengthened to share the Good News.

     Today the Church celebrates that moment in the great feast of the Transfiguration of Jesus.  It is a celebration of the wisdom that when we are one with the source of true power and glory, we are in peace and filled with joy, we are right with the world and right with God.  May our lives always be found in this wonderful moment.

     Ironically, today the world remembers the dropping of the first atomic bomb, called "Little Boy" on the city of Hiroshima, Japan.  It happened on the morning of August 6, 1945.  A second such bomb was dropped on the city of Nagasaki on August 9th, this one named "Fat Man".  These bombings unleased a blinding fireball of light and cloud such as the world had never seen before.  It also unleashed death and destruction upon Hiroshima (70,000 to 80,000 killed outright by the blast, with between 90,000 to 166,000 total deaths) and Nagasaki (60,000 to 80,000 deaths).  Most of these were civilians.  It brought about the end of the war with Japan.

     The genius of creative minds developed this ability, and political necessity justified its use.  But the moral implications have affected us ever since.  Some power is beyond our ability to use wisely.  Just because we can do something does not mean that we should do it.  Despite the good that may have come from the actions on these two days in August, we have unleashed a power that is not our right to possess or use in order to take life.  We have lived in fear of others possessing such power ever since.  We have made ourselves into gods, rather than bringing ourselves into the reality of the true God.  The road to redemption is repentance, prayer and fasting, and a renewed committment to Christ rooted in a renewed committment to the peace found only in Christ Jesus.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Local historical milestone

     Our part of the Commonwealth often saw conflicts of various degrees that touched upon our lives.  The struggle for the lands west of the Allegheny's was fought between the British and the French and their Indian allies.  The fort at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers was Fort Pitt and then Fort  Duquesne and then Fort Pitt, depending on who was dominant in the area at the moment.  The French and Indian war was our little part in the Hundred Years war of Europe.  The Native Americans generally fought with the French, because the British were not always faithful to their treaties and agreements. 

     Once the French and Indian war ended, the Native Americans under the leadership of a chieftain named Pontiac, led a rebellion against the British for the survival of their way of life.  They attacked forts in the west, and sought to drive the British out of their territory.  But the pioneers were already deeply embedded and the western movement increased.

     When word was received in Philadelphia in 1763 that places like Fort Pitt were under siege, the British sent a relief column of five hundred men under the command of Colonel Henry Bouquet over the mountains to Fort Pitt in Pittsburgh.  Leaving Fort Ligonier after an overnight stay, they headed for Pittsburgh.  On the way, at a place near Bushy Run in what would become Westmoreland County in 1773, Colonel Bouquet and his troops were ambushed by a large force of Delaware, Shawnee, Mingo and Huron natives.  The battle was fierce, with fifty British killed and an unreported number of natives dying - but the British prevailed.  They went on to Fort Pitt and provided needed security and defensiveness.  The battle was a major victory for the British and enabled them to secure their control over the Ohio Valley and what was to become the Northwest Territory.   Lewis and Clark began their trek to the Northwest Passage from the Pittsburgh area.

     The Battle of Bushy Run took place a few miles from where I write this post on August 5 & 6, 1763 - 250 years ago today.  This past weekend they celebrated at the State Park with re-enactments and festivities of all sorts.  Our own township, which at that time would have included the Bushy Run area, was incorporated just nine years later, on April 6, 1772.  Lots of history in our area

Friday, August 2, 2013


    The little perks in life are to be appreciated.  Hopefully we don't expect them as our right or privilege, but rather see them as a blessing and sometimes an expression of respect and love.  I have had a few perks that have come my way over the years, including one this morning.  But in reflection ...

     ... Those of you old enough to remember the early seventies remember the gasoline shortage, rationing according to odd and even plate numbers and limits to how much gas at one time.  I was at IC in Irwin, and we had a parishioner with a gas station.  He told us that he could not ignore the rationing restrictions, but if we needed gas, we could get our quota, go around the block, and come in again.  It was one of the perks he could give to his priests.

     ... When in Masontown I hung out at a great restaurant called Dolfi's - so much so that Greg, the owner, gave me my own reserved seat/booth that was rarely given to anyone else.  A nice perk that I accepted.

     ... In Greensburg at Jioio's restaurant (I eat out alot) the owner and chef would make me baked chicken breasts with lemon butter at my request, an item not on the menu, but known to the staff as "Father Len's chicken".  Another great perk.

     ... And this morning I received another wonderful perk.  My adult daily mass server is Ace Mathias, whose wife Marcie is an excellent baker.  They belong to Saint Agnes, but Ace serves the weekday Masses here.  This weekend is Saint Agnes' Festival, and Marcie bakes.  One of my favorites and her specialties is a peach pie made with Chambersburg peaches (for those not from this area - the juiciest, tastiest peaches).  My perk this morning before Mass was a warm, fresh out the oven, peach pie.  Tonight, when I go to the festival, I will make my payment to the baked goods stand (I do not want to cheat the festival) ... my perk is receiving it ahead of time, since her wares sale out quickly.  Thanks, Marcie.

     Sometimes perks are wonderful ... and this weekend's dessert will be deeply appreciated and enjoyed.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Joy's story

     My oldest cousin (don't tell her I said that) on the Stoviak side is my cousin Joy, the only daughter of my late uncle Ray Stoviak.  Joy is about six years older than I am, and lives with her family in Nicoya, Costa Rica.  The other day I was sent an article by email written by Arianna Mckinney for "La Voz de Guanacaste" "The Voice of Guanacaste" on July 28th.  It was entitled "Joy Came to Nicoya for the Peace Corps; She Stayed for Love."

     The story reveals that in January of this year, Joy Stoviak Flores was invited to the U.S. Embassy in San Jose, Costa Rica, for a reception to celebrate the 50 years of Peace Corps in Costa Rica.  She was one of 23 volunteers who arrived on January 23, 1963 to begin work as a volunteer in an organization created by President Kennedy to reach out to many areas of the world and help people.  She had studied Spanish and upon graduating from Colorado College in 1962, she entered the Corps.  After two months of orientation and three weeks of physical training, she and a partner were assigned to Nicoya, a small town at the time with no paved roads and limited electricity daily.  Rooming with a family, she and her Peace Corps partner, Midge, developed an English studies program with the high school teachers and served as translators whenever needed.  She became good friends with a neighbor girl across the street that turned into a life long friendship.  She later married her friend's brother, Israel Flores Cardenas.  They have three children: Marco, an architect, Jennifer, a lawyer, and Israel Raymond (who I baptized a long time ago) who runs the family ranch.  They are married, and Joy has four beautiful grandchildren.

     Over the last fifty years, Joy has taught in public schools in Nicoya (which is now a substantial city) as well as various colleges and universities until retirement.  She still helps as a courtroom translator.  She also takes great delight in her family, most of whom we met at the Stoviak family reunion recently in Eastlake, Ohio (eight were up north for the affair).  In the article Miss Mckinney is quoted as saying that Joy "has no regrets, knowing that through teaching she touched the lives of so many people, some of whom come up to her and let her know that what they learned from her has helped them in work and in life."  Joy said "It's nice to know that something you did was good."

     We are very proud of her, and grateful for her fifty years of service to her people in Costa Rica.   Talk about a vocation decision that changes your life!