Thursday, December 31, 2015

Reflect vs React

     On this night when we mark the passage of time in our New Year celebrations, we do a great deal of remembering the events and the people of the past year, the joys and sorrows of our human experiences.  We celebrate the transition of time with fervor and often times with reckless abandon.  There will be many a hoarse voice or pounding head tomorrow after the festivities of tonight - First Nights, dinners and dancing, drinking and partying.  We will picture 2015 as "Old Man Time", ancient and decrepit, carrying the scythe that cuts down time ... and we will envision 2016 as the new baby embodying new beginnings, starting fresh.

     The Church in her wisdom has placed a feast at this moment of transition in honor of Mary, the Mother of God.  We often honor Mary with special celebrations.  I find today's celebration fitting in that we are once again reminded that Mary is a model, an example of how we, mortal human beings, can deal with the immortal experience of our encounter with her son.

     The example that she gives to us is seen in how she / we deal with the circumstances of life as they confront us.  We party hardy on this New Year's night and try to forget the past year because we react to the things, good and bad alike, that we have had to deal with.  The New Year's Baby starts the whole cycle over again, a new beginning, a fresh start.  Within a year, that child will be "Old Man Time", and we will be saying goodbye again.  But have we grown?  Have we learned anything?  Are we rejoicing in the life that we live?

     In the Gospel from Luke for this feast, we hear that Mary took all of these things shared with her, the reports of the shepherds and the angels, the prophetic words of the Scriptures, and reflected upon them in her heart.  Hers was not a "reaction" but rather a "reflection" of the circumstances of her life, good and bad alike, as seen in the relationship and experience that she had with her son, Jesus.   Mary has found the wisdom to move forward with faith and trust, to not try to forget and block the past out, but to embrace each moment in the joy of salvation and love.  Thus we acknowledge her to be the Mother of God (her earliest title) and our mother (entrusted to us by her son at the foot of the cross), a woman of holiness and full of grace, and an inspiration to a world lost in itself.   Hail Mary!  Full of grace!  The Lord is with you!

     On this New Year's eve, my prayers are for all who read "Journey Thoughts", to your families and loved ones, to the faithful of God in the Church and beyond, and for a wisdom for all to reflect rather than react, bringing peace into our hearts and into the world.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

A Higher Authority

     On this 29th day of December, in this Christmas week, the Church remembers and celebrates a great witness to the Faith who met his death in Canterbury Cathedral in England in 1170 - the Archbishop Thomas Becket.  His story has always been for me a fascinating read and an inspiring account of the struggle between Church and State, between two worlds that collide in the turmoil of friendships, power, authority and loyalty.  On this day in that year the Archbishop of Canterbury was murdered in the cathedral at the hands of knights who sought to please their king, and with the understanding that the king desired to be rid of this "thorn in his side".  This murder did not bring Henry II the freedom from the Church that he longed for, nor the peace that was denied him when his good friend was forced and then embraced the new task assigned to him by Henry, the leadership of the Church in England.  Thomas Becket found that he could not serve two  masters, and he chose a "higher authority" to listen to, to follow, and to serve.  He remained a loyal friend of the King, but he now understood his role as the loyal servant of God.   Like another Thomas who had served as Chancellor of England under a different Henry hundreds of years later - Sir Thomas More under the reign of Henry VIII in 1532 - we can see that Thomas Becket would have found that the words that Thomas More spoke before his execution where just as applicable to him - "I die the king's faithful servant, but God's first."  Each were different, each their own man, both caught in challenging turmoil that set them on a collision course with authority, but both were men of faith and conviction, who could not accommodate their conscience to the earthly authority of the day, but found that they served "a higher authority."

     We need women and men that this today.  Maybe the example of Thomas Becket and Thomas More may inspire.  Maybe all of us can see that given the loyalties that we are called to honor, there is ultimately a much higher one that we must follow.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Rejoice in the Lord

     Our Journey through Advent marked a significant moment this past Gaudete Sunday, the Third Sunday of Advent.  We prayed through the Lord's help to attain the joys of so great a salvation as is found in the fulfillment of the promise of God to his people - our redemption and salvation in Christ Jesus.

     In our Diocese [the Diocese of Greensburg] this was a significant day for two other reasons:  first was the blessing and opening of the Porta Sancta in five churches designated as Churches of Pilgrimage in our Diocese throughout this Jubilee Year of Mercy called for by Pope Francis.  The Porta Sancta or Holy Door is part of the tradition of a special year of grace and jubilee, and traditionally are to be found in the four major churches or basilicas of Rome.  I hope to explain the tradition of the Holy Door in my next post.  The Holy Father has asked that this idea of a place of entry for pilgrims be extended to every Cathedral church in the world, and other designated placed in each diocese.  In addition to Blessed Sacrament Cathedral in Greensburg, Bishop Malesic has designated one church in each of our four counties as pilgrimage churches: Saint Vincent Archabbey Basilica in Latrobe; Saints Simon & Jude Church in Blairsville; Christ, Prince of Peace Church in Ford City and Saint Francis of Assisi Church (Footedale site) in Fayette County.

     Bishop Malesic opened the Porta Sancta at the Cathedral at their late morning Mass, paving the way for pilgrims to journey to our Mother Church and receive graces.  It was a great moment in Greensburg and in those four other communities.

     Later that afternoon, at a 3:00 pm Ordination ceremony, Bishop Malesic ordained a young man of our diocese to the transitional diaconate.  His name is Ryan Ravis and he is from Sacred Heart parish in Youngstown, Pennsylvania.  God willing, he will be ordained to the priesthood in early summer.   The ordination was beautiful, and many who were there  for the first time for such an occasion were in awe.  Ryan, I am sure, was nervous, but did not give evidence to that fact.  And neither did our new bishop.  He told everyone before his homily that he called Ryan on Saturday evening to see if he was ready.  They compared notes as to who was more nervous - Ryan who had never been ordained before, or the bishop who had never ordained anyone before.  The bishop acknowledged that he was probably more nervous.  He did fine, however.

     Our bishop has a great preaching style, relaxed, informed, informal, pastoral and with a wonderful sense of humor.  Ryan afterwards spoke of how meaningful the bishop's words to him and to us all were.   We were blest on Sunday with a reason and a call to rejoice and be glad, with a "doorway" into the sacred that was presented to us in this Jubilee Year of Mercy, and with a friend and brother who has accepted the call to serve in the office of deacon.  I've included a picture of Ryan with his family with the bishop.

An early greeting

     On this Tuesday afternoon, I will celebrate Mass for the kids at our local Regional Catholic School, Queen of Angels.  And just be chance I received their Christmas greeting yesterday by way of this beautiful card, so I thought that I would share it with you.  So, from the Queen of Angels Regional Catholic School family ... A blessed Christmas!  Remember the reason for the season.

Mea Culpa

     In this third week of Advent, our area is celebrating a series of four Advent Penance Services, with last night's being at our parish.  It is a cherished tradition that allows us to prepare spiritually for the celebration of Christmas, to prepare our hearts for a renewed encounter with Christ, and, looking to the future, to keenly prepare the way within our lives for the second coming of the Christ.

     In the spirit of our need for Christ and his family, the Church, and in recognition of our shortcomings and failings through sin, and our need to repentance, I would like to offer a sincere "mea culpa" for lagging in my postings.  I wish that I could give you valid explanations and excuses, but the truth is that I have been lazy.  These past weeks since Advent began have been filled with thoughts and reflections that I have tried to give flesh to, but they have never reached these pages because I have failed to sit down and put them into Journey Thoughts.  "Mea Culpa - My Fault ... mea maxima culpa!"

    There have been so many great things happening and so much worthy of our reflection, that I will attempt to "catch up" in the next few posts.   All I know is that the refreshment and blessing that I feel as a conduit of God's mercy and forgiveness has again been a source of blessing as I prepare for Christmas.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Faith ... a blessing

     As we began this great season of Advent, I reminded our people of the fact that we are children of the promise, rooted in that unique relationship that the Father has established with us in Christ Jesus.  He shares with us that relationship of life, the redemption that we found necessary for that relationship of holiness to continue, the blessings that sustain us on our journey, and the vision of eternal life with him that is our destiny.

     Today I shared the reality of those countless blessings, flowing from his love and found in his sharing of blessings, giftedness, love and virtues that bring us into the divine.  One of those virtues is the gift of Faith.

     Faith is something that we have been given and are called to embrace.  Faith in God, in his love and mercy, in his call to be one with him in his Church, in our call to holiness.   We are men and women of faith.  But there is the flip side of that coin of faith ... and that is God's faith in us.  Despite the lack of foundation upon which to base that faith, God does have faith in us.  He never gives up on us, he never fails to see the good within, the potential for growth, he never fails to love us "to life".   That is why we can hear in the prophet Baruch this morning words that speak of a restoration for his people.  That is why he gave words of strength and encouragement to the voice of John in the desert to prepare a straight path for his coming.  That is why we can see and use this time of preparation for the celebration of the birth of Christ as a preparation of our lives for his immediate and immense presence, now and at the time of fulfillment.

     Creator God, we are filled with light and life.  We are your creation.  Stay with us and allow us to be worthy of the faith and trust that you place in us.  Let us be signs to each other and to all of creation of your holy presence.


On this feast of Saint Nicholas, I hope that all found blessings and gifts in their shoes or stocking.  As I told the youngsters, I know that Santa is always grateful for the example of love and kind generosity that Saint Nicholas provided at this time of Jesus' birth.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The grace of mercy

     Today was my day off.  On those days I enjoy the luxury of "sleeping in" without setting the alarm.  And while the day was refreshing, it was even more so for two other reasons.

     The Diocese scheduled an Advent Day of Recollection at the Bishop Connare Retreat Center for the priests of the Diocese.  There was a good response to the invitation which involved an afternoon of prayer, reflection, Adoration, Reconciliation and Evening Prayer before refreshments and dinner.  My ordination mate, Monsignor Roger Statnick, gave an excellent presentation for our thought and reflection.  He was, and is by nature, a good teacher.   It was a great moment at the beginning of our Advent journey as priests, with the ministers being ministered to by the gracious love of the Lord.

     I have to admit that I absented myself from the dinner at the Recollection day, because I needed to get back to the parish to prepare for our parish celebration of First Reconciliation this evening.   Our youngsters at the second grade level have been preparing for this Sacrament throughout the past months, and tonight was "the" night.  I always enjoy this experience of "first confession", and while it is a celebration for the kids, it is even more so for the parents and grown-ups who are also present.  I am keenly aware of the "scariness" of first confession, for I remember back to mine, in the enclosed, dark, confession box.  Things have changed, and much for the better.  I spoke to the kids and told them of how precious they are to God.  Our theme is that of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, bringing together the lost lambs.  Each family "created" a lamb, which was placed at the feet of the image of the good shepherd placed before the altar.  I spoke to the adults of the unconditional love of God for us all, and the mercy that brings his love into our lives.  This coming Tuesday marks the beginning of the Holy Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis.

     The kids were great.  One young man told me afterwards that this was one of the most exciting days of his life.  Another, after receiving absolution, stood up, thanked me, and said "Wow!"
Such excitement, such simplicity, such clarity of vision as to what had just happened.  I came away more refreshed that those that confessed and were forgiven.  I thank my neighbor and brother Father Alvin Cabungcal, one of our International Priests, for helping us out this evening as well.  God is indeed very good to all of us, and is filled with mercy.  As the Collect Prayer this morning said:

"Stir up your power, O Lord,
and come to our help with mighty strength,
that what our sins impede
the grace of your mercy may hasten."

Monday, November 30, 2015

Running forth to meet Christ

     Jeremiah the prophet tells us:  "The days are coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and Judah."  And when that day comes, "Judah shall be safe and Jerusalem shall dwell secure."  With this first step on our fresh journey into the new year of grace, as we enter into the season of Advent, as we allow the hungers that were not satisfied by Thanksgiving to be addressed, we must remember that we are "children of the promise".  I shared this fact over the weekend.  Promises are made all of the time, and we are truly people acquainted with promises freely and generously made.  But very few of those promises reach fulfillment, and those that do are constantly challenged by the harsh realities of life.  But we are "children of THE promise" - the one made to us by the very source of all things.  Our God, life-giver and creator, savior and friend, the very definition and source of life and love, has promised us a heavenly Kingdom that is experienced in part on our present journey and anticipated in its fullness when he comes again in glory.  He calls us to wait in hope for that day, to be ready to enter into his joy, to build an earthly kingdom that will help us reach for the heavenly, and to love the things of heaven and the things of earth.

     The Prayer After Communion for the first Sunday of Advent prays:

"May these mysteries, O Lord,
in which we have participated,
profit us, we pray,
for even now, as we walk amid passing things,
you teach us by them
to love the things of heaven
and hold fast to what endures."
     As we begin our Advent journey, let us recall and celebrate the promise that our Savior made - that he will come, and we need not fear.

Thursday, November 26, 2015



     On this Thanksgiving Day in the United States, the Collect Prayer at Mass says the following:

"Father all-powerful,
your gifts of love are countless
and your goodness infinite;
as we come before you on Thanksgiving Day
with gratitude for your kindness,
open our hearts to have concern
for every man, woman and child,
so that we may share your gifts in loving service."
     And in the Preface we hear:
"You have entrusted to us
the gift of freedom,
a gift that calls forth
responsibility and commitment
to the truth that all have
a fundamental dignity before you.
In Jesus,
through his Death and Resurrection,
we find our ultimate redemption,
freedom from sin,
and every blessing."
     In these days and our discussions regarding refugees and immigration, both legal and illegal, let us remember who the refugees were in the story of our first thanksgiving, and of the need today to "open our hearts to have concern for every man, woman and child" to those who come to our shores.
     But most importantly, let us give thanks for the blessings of our loving God.  Mine are abundant and rewarding.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Caring hearts

     In October the Church celebrates Mission Sunday.  Throughout the year, she places before us the needs of others and the mission and task of sharing the good news and responding to those needs, both physical and spiritual.  And in our diocese, through the leadership of the Mission Office - the Propagation of the Faith - each year every parish is visited by someone representing a missionary effort of the Church, providing information regarding their work and seeking prayers and financial support for their efforts.

     Last weekend was our Mission Co-operative visit here at Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton parish.  We were visited by Sister Mary Jennifer, a Religious and co-founder of the Adorer Missionary Sisters of the Poor from the Diocese of Moshi in Tanzania.  Their religious community is rather young, and their efforts are three fold: first to adore the Eucharistic Lord in a special way; to help those in need, especially the poor, and to do so specifically by caring for the many orphans in their parish / diocese / country that find themselves alone because of the epidemic of HIV that effects so many.  Sister told us that in her parish in the Diocese of Moshi, they have around 700 orphan children that need help with food, education, love and even a place to stay.  The Adorer Missionary Sisters have over eighty in their convent/orphanage at the present time, with the need to take more in.

     Sister spoke at the three Masses last weekend, and our people responded  with their usual warmth and welcome, their prayers that day and those pledged in the days to come, and a very generous response financially to Sister's appeal.  In fact, of all of my years of these Mission Co-op appeals, this was one of the greatest, if not the largest, response that I remember in that second collection.  Our people once again overwhelm me with their generous spirit.  Not all of these speakers do a good job [I remember one who visited to tell us that he had never been in a missionary land himself, but knew that those in the mission lands liked to hand out candy to the youngsters at their mission, so he asked for our help], and Sister did an outstanding job is bringing the message of the Gospel come alive in Tanzania to our people in Western Pennsylvania.  All for the glory of God and the care of his people.  We are family.  We are Church, We are the Body of Christ.

     The Sisters have an informative web site:  Check it out.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Entrusting the gavel

     This evening our Christian Mothers Confraternity is holding their November meeting in our church hall.  At the meeting, I will be presenting a "new" gavel to the President as a gift.  Their gavel is nice, but small, and I happen to be in possession of a beautiful oak gavel that has a story attached, and which I am willing to part with in my efforts to slowly begin to downsize my "stuff".


     Here is the story:

     On Wednesday, November 14, 2007, at the invitation of my State Representative, Debra Kula and the House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, I had the honor of leading the assembly in prayer for the opening of that day's session of the 191st Session of the General Assembly.  The House convened at 11:00 am that day.

     I was given a special guest parking pass in the Capital building and then escourted to the Speaker's Office.  After introductions with the then Speaker, Dennis M. O'Brien and his staff and guests, including that day the Hon. Dennis Hastert, the retiring Speaker of the House of the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, we waited for the Session to begin.  From the Office we formally processed into the Chambers led by the House Mace.  Speaker O'Brien called the House to order and then introduced me.  From the Legislative Journal:

"The SPEAKER.  The prayer will be offered by Father Leonard Stoviak, guest of Representative Kula.

FATHER LEONARD STOVIAK, Guest Chaplain of the House of Representatives, offered the following prayer:

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Ladies and Gentlemen, let us pray:
     At the beginning of today's work, we pause as men and women of faith to humbly entrust ourselves and our work to the source of all that is, to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to the God that Jesus invites us to call Father, to the God that most acknowledge to be Lord.
     Unless we seek your wisdom, we stand inadequate to the tasks entrusted to us by the people of this Commonwealth.  So we ask for Your spirit to empower us with wisdom in our deliberations today.  We rejoice in Your love for us and in the trust that You and Your people have placed in us.  We embrace the trust and faith of these good people, who chose us, and pledge to do our best in serving the needs of all.  We are humbled by the responsibility, but strengthened and emboldened by their trust.
     Guide us today, and, gracious God, bless this great Commonwealth and her leaders, bless her people and their service to others, and bless, in a special way, this august legislative body and our special, honored guests today.
     In faith, hope, and love we pray.  Amen."

     What followed was the Pledge of Allegiance and the opening business, approval of the Journal, Roll Call, and introductyion of guests of the Assembly.  Among those guests, Speaker O'Brien introduced:

"The SPEAKER.  Also to the left of the Speaker we have Jane Stoviak, the sister of the guest Chaplain today, and Rhenee Kapr and her husband, Frank, sister and brother-in-law of Representative Kula.  Would you please stand and be recognized.  Welcome to the Chamber."

     It was a great morning and a wonderful experience, one that will live in my memory, and I hope that the Christian Mothers will use this new gavel well.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Immigration - pastoral vs political

     Today is the feast of Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, known as Mother Cabrini, the first United States citizen recognized as a saint of the Church, and the patron saint of immigrants in the United States.  Her story is one of service and outreach to those marginalized by their new society and culture.  Her story is one of living the Gospel message and bringing the love of Christ to others.  Her message is that there are people to care for, God's children in need, and that while the harsh realities are being dealt with in the political, economic and social scene,the spiritual and emotional needs of those who have come to a new land must be ministered to.

     Mother Cabrini was sent to New York from Italy by Pope Leo XIII in 1887 with a simple directive "Take care of the Italian immigrants!"  She and her Sisters, the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart did just that, ministering in New York, Chicago, Denver and Latin America to the "aliens", the "foreigners".  Like many who have found their way to this country in our day from Mexico, Cuba, Latin America and from around the world, often illegally and not having gone through proper channels, they found themselves belittled, ridiculed, stereotyped, discriminated against and taken advantage of.  Mother Cabrini and her Sisters brought the love of Christ into their lives, and with it dignity and hope, and with it the invitation to embrace this great land as their own.  She did that herself, and became a naturalized American citizen.

     We are a nation of immigrants - my ancestors came from Eastern Europe years ago.  Our strength as a nation is in the reality of being a "melting pot" of the best that the world has to offer, with the encouragement given to them to build this nation into a gift from God.  Countless men and women, like Mother Cabrini, continue to do so through the legal process.  Unfortunately countless others have chosen other means.  This must be addressed in fairness and with justice.  The border must be secured.  But we must recognize the human lives that are are at stake, caught in the mix, and in need of the Mother Cabrini's of our day.  Let us intercede with her for wisdom and courage, rooted in the love of Christ.


     I mentioned back in a 2011 post that Mother Cabrini stayed overnight at our convent at Saint John the Baptist parish in Scottdale during her travels.  The Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill, who were assigned there, shared their hospitality with her.  It was always a local tie in to this wonderful saint when I served there as pastor, and it still is.

Friday, November 6, 2015

A friendly welcome

     Last Saturday evening at the 4:00 pm Mass I had the honor of hosting and our parish had the joy of greeting the three new Filipino priests that have come to minister within our diocese.  At the invitation of Father Jonathan Wisneski, the coordinator of the program for our International Priests, these three men are visiting a number of diverse parish families to meet and greet and to get a feel of the faith of the good people of this diocese.  We had a great time, and I was impressed with the warm welcome that those attending Mass afforded our new priests.  They concelebrated with me, and introduced themselves and spoke of their commitment to come to this country for a five year period of service to this local church.

Picture taken by Mary Seamans of the Catholic Accent

    The three are Fathers Andres Gumangan (Father Andy), Ricardo Cortez (Father Ricky) and Gregorio Soldevilla (Father Greg).   These men have left their families and loved ones, their dioceses (at the invitation of their bishops), and their culture and priestly experience to venture into something new, yet ever the same - priesthood.  In looking at the stats from their respective dioceses in the Philippines, I am embarrassed that we asked them to come and help us, since their own circumstances are much worse that what we experience in terms of priest/people ratio.  And yet I am very grateful for the help that they provide in these days of shrinking numbers of clergy in this area.  They are great guys who have joined with nine other Filipino priests who are currently assigned in the Greensburg Diocese, in a program initiated by our retired bishop, Lawrence Brandt.

     After Mass I took them to dinner and returned them to the Bishop Connare Center where they are residing during their orientation period.  They spoke so highly of their welcome by our parishioners that I had to promise them, in front of everyone, dessert.  There were even a few families at dinner who had been at Mass who made sure I upheld my end of the promise.  It was a great evening with new friends and dedicated brothers.

Thursday, November 5, 2015


     The immersion referred to in the title of this post has nothing to do with the Sacrament of Baptism, but rather the experience of our bishop with this small but wonderful diocese called Greensburg.  I've mentioned before that since his ordination as our fifth bishop in July, Bishop Ed Malesic has immersed himself into the lives of his people and brings with him a great joy, a warm welcome, a great wit, and a caring spirit.  Having gone through a round of parish visits before going off to Rome for a few weeks of meetings with officials at the "school for new bishops", or as he calls it "Baby Bishop's School", and then doing the whole Pope Francis U.S. trip agenda, he has settled into using every opportunity to meet and greet, to go to parishes and schools, visit Religious Congregations, attend gatherings and meetings of groups, and just be there with people in that charming way that he cultivated over the years of being a pastor.

At New Kensington Confirmation
At Greensburg Central Catholic Homecoming
With the Daughters of Mary from Saint Anne Home 

     Much of this has been chronicled in our Diocesan paper "The Catholic Accent" and on our diocesan web site, but also on the Bishop's own fb page [Bishop Ed Malesic] which he keeps supplied with pictures.  He is, as I have said before, a refreshing change.  I am sure that his schedule will demand more time in the office and the physical limits to being everywhere at the same time will come into play, but in the mean time I/we are grateful for his spirit and energy and his presence among his people.

Acknowledging need

     As a part of our regular practice here in the parish, we celebrate the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick on the first Wednesday of the month following our morning liturgy.  Our numbers are usually a bit more on those days (yesterday being one of them).  But we also have the joy of celebrating a Communal Anointing of the Sick during the month of October, and this year it was on the afternoon of Sunday, October 25th.  There were at least one hundred people present who came in their need and pain, their illness and aging weakness, to be embraced by a loving God and affirmed in their faith.  It is for me one of the most special times of the year, and this year was no exception.

     This need for healing, this desire for strength and restoration, is deeply felt among us.  We struggle.  We question God.  We desire health and freedom.  And we trust the words of the Lord that tell us that if we ask, we will receive.  So, following the instruction of the Apostle James, we come to the elders of the church and we pray over the sick brought before us, we lay our hands in blessing and anoint them with holy oil, the Oil of the Sick, and trust that in the name of Jesus they will be set free of their sins, strengthened, and restored to health.  Usually crutches are not thrown down, or the blind see, or the dead brought to life as we celebrate this sacrament ... but all are loved, the weak are strengthen by the embrace of Christ and his church, those losing hope are shown a way in which the suffering Lord sustains them, and God's healing is present in our midst.  The older that I get and the more physically challenged that I become, the more that this great Sacrament of Healing and of Love becomes precious to my life.  And to celebrate this Sacrament for God's People is an added blessing that I cherish.

     The other thing that we do here at the parish on that day is to invite our "senior members" to a catered buffet dinner in appreciation of their faith and example, their dedicated service and generosity over the years.  Those attending this year expressed their delight at the dinner and their gratitude for our gratitude.  A good time was had by all.  It is a small way of saying thanks.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Lives that touched with gentleness

Father Jacques DePaul Daley, O.S.B.
     This past Sunday, October 25th, Father Jacques DePaul Daley, O.S.B. of Saint Vincent Archabbey died at the Archabbey.  Father Jacque who was born in 1936 and been a solemnly professed member of the Saint Vincent Community since 1968, has been a priest since 1971.   After studies in French literature in Vermont and Paris and theological studies in Rome, he did his doctrinal studies on the writings and spirituality of Saint Therese of Lisieux.  Father Jacques was well known for a number of series on EWTN on Saint Therese, Saint Catherine of Siena and Saint Faustina between 1995 and 2006 as well as a series on the Rosary.  He served as chaplain at three local hospitals from 1984 through 2014, where he ministered with great care, joy and love to countless people from the Diocese and the area in their moments of need.  Seeing Father Jacques roaming the halls in his habit and black skullcap meant a kind word and compassionate and prayerful care to one and all.

     Father Jacques had one of those unique and quirky personalities that made him stand out in a crowd.  As priest, scholar, teacher, retreat master and spiritual director, TV personality, hospital chaplain and most especially as a Benedictine monk, Father Jacques' presence was known to all.  From his obit, Archabbot Douglas Nowicki of Saint Vincent said that "Father Jacques loved his special ministry to the sick and hospitalized.  His outgoing and friendly personality enabled him to inspire hope in those who confronted disabling physical and mental challenges, or personal losses.  He was greatly loved and will be greatly missed."  I echo Archabbot Douglas, and express the gratitude of so many in and beyond the Greensburg Diocese.  May he rest in peace. 

Tom Bayne
     And I just received word of the death of one of our former priests of the Diocese of Greensburg who had died on August 30, 2015.  Thomas B. Bayne was living at the Vincentian Villa in Pittsburgh with his wife, Clara, until his death.  Tom was ordained for the Diocese of Greensburg from Saint Vincent Seminary in 1959, and served a variety of assignments before leaving the active ministry.  Leaving active ministry is a misnomer, since I understand that Tom and his wife are very active in the life of the Church in the Pittsburgh area.
     My memories of Tom, who was 82 years of age at his death, involved his assignment to our high school minor seminary in Greensburg that I attended since its opening.  Tom as assigned to "build a library" and with the help of a Sister of Charity of Seton Hill (whose name slips my mind), worked diligently with his knowledge of library science to do so.  I remember helping him catalogue books and set up the stacks, and teaching me to love and appreciate books.  I thank him for that, and for the genuinely gentle spirit of this good man.  May the Lord grant him joy and give comfort to his family.


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A dedicated priest

Father Joseph L. Sredzinski
1944 - 2015

     Sixty-five years after the founding in 1905 of Saint Joseph Parish in Uniontown, a church founded by Polish immigrants of the area, the first son of the parish was ordained a priest and celebrated his "First Mass" at the local church where he grew up and grew spiritually.  His name was Father Joseph Sredzinski.  It was a long wait for a priestly vocation from the parish, with much prayer and encouragement and many boys entering the seminary.  But that May day in 1970 unlocked the door to other vocations and in the last forty-five years there have been seven men ordained from this small parish of deep faith and good people, including yours truly.  Father Joe, though, has the distinction of being "the first".

     Father Joseph Sredzinski, who had just retired from active duty this July at the age of 71, after forty-five years of dedicated service, died in his sleep on October 10th while visiting in Krakow, Poland.  His funeral Mass was yesterday, October 20th, at his home parish of Saint Joseph.  Bishop Edward Malesic led us in Eucharist and prayer for Father Joe.

     Father Joe's ministry involved parish and chaplain assignments  over the years, including the local State prison in Greensburg, Westmoreland Manor, and Saint Emma Monastery with the Benedictine Sisters.   He served as Chaplain of a number of groups and organization, including as National Chaplain of the Polish Falcons of America for over thirty years.  He took the reins of a short radio program of meditations on WMBS in Uniontown entitled "That You May Believe" when I gave it up after fifteen years, a program originated by the late Father Andrew Charnoki.  He had a great love of his Polish heritage and background, and even though born in the U.S., we jokingly said that he was "more Polish" than our priests who were born in Poland.  There were only three years that separated Joe from myself in ordination years, but at times it seemed as if we were an era apart.  Joe was "old school" when it came to his lived expression of priesthood, and yet embraced the qualities of ministry, prayer, devotions, teaching, evangelization, tradition and caring - qualities that served to define his priesthood.   Those who were blessed by his life and ministry can and do attest to his impact in their lives.

     Father Joe also held an unusual honor among the priests of our diocese.  He was named an honorary Canon of the Lubin Cathedral in Lubin, Poland, for his contribution to the cause of Polonia (of promoting all things Polish).  We have one other Canon in the diocese - Father Rudy Koser - who is a Canon of the Cathedral in Ankara, Turkey, where he served while in the Air Force Chaplaincy.  Canons are not usually found in the U.S. Church, but is found more often in Europe.

     May the Lord welcome and richly bless Father Joseph Sredzinski as the servant and priest of God's People.  May he rest in peace.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Convocation 2015 - a different tone

     Every Fall for as long as I can remember our priests have gathered for a Convocation, a two day gathering over three days (this year from Noon Wednesday through Noon Friday).  We have covered the gamut and have experience "the best of times and the worst of times" as Dickens would say.  We have had some great speakers and wonderful experiences, and during the time that I was involved in planning we also had "the convocation from hell", as we so lovingly describe one of our gatherings.

     In recent years we have set our focus on the stress and strain of the clergy, and seem to have beaten that one to death, so much so that just discussing it again brings more depressing feelings.  But this year was different.

     This year we have new leadership with our new bishop, who I understand initiated some change in approach.  This year we moved away from variations on the same topic and instead looked at the theme of mercy and reconciliation, preparing for Pope Francis' invite to a Holy Year of Mercy to begin on December 8th.  This year we called upon the excellent services of two of our Benedictine brothers from Saint Vincent Archabbey instead of bringing in "experts from the outside", and the presentation from the new rector of Saint Vincent Seminary, Father Edward Mazich on the scriptural understanding of mercy and mercy as found in the sacraments by Father Tom Acklin were both outstanding.  This year the guys seemed more relaxed and responsive to the needs and concerns of each other.  This year had a clearly different tone.

     I am most grateful to those who planned the convocation and to Fathers Edward and Tom for their presentations, and for our international priests and Benedictine brothers for strengthening and blessing our diocesan priesthood, and for a new pastor who serves us as our bishop.  But most importantly, I am most grateful to a loving and gracious God who shares with us the mission of spreading the Good News and building up the Kingdom.  God is good!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Columbus Day Dinner with the Knights

     Sunday evening I had the honor of joining with over two hundred brother Knights of the Knights of Columbus with their wives and honored guests at the Columbus Day Dinner at Ferrante's Lakeview facility in Greensburg.  This annual gathering
of the Knights from the Greensburg and Pittsburgh Dioceses of Western Pennsylvania was hosted by the Greensburg Diocesan Chapter whose President is Donald Granata and Chaplain Father Paul Lisik.  The Greensburg Chapter is comprised of twenty-five Councils, including the Saint Jude Council 9019 of which I am Chaplain.

     This event, held on or near Columbus Day, is a celebration of Faith and of our wonderful Catholic Fraternal Organization known as the Knights of Columbus.  Our evening was enjoyable, with a delicious dinner, good company and the meeting of new friends, an excellent talk by Bishop Edward Malesic, and the recognition of some outstanding Brothers.  At our table we had Father Robert Washko of our Diocese along with three of his parishioners from Seward and three new friends from Canonsburg in the Pittsburgh Diocese.  A number of the State Officers were in attendance at the event.

     The Knights of Columbus is a Catholic Fraternal Benefit Society and Order within the Catholic Church which was established in 1882 in New Haven by a parish priest there named Father Michael J. McGivney.  The principles that underlie the Order are Charity, Unity and Fraternity set within the context of Patriotism.  Worldwide, the Knights have spread to 17 countries with 15,100 Councils (local groups) and a membership of nearly 1.9 million members.  In the annual report given this year, the Knights have donated $173 million dollars to charitable works and most impressively have donated 71.5 million hours in service to the Church and those in need.  Check out the K of C website for more info.

     Our evening was capped off with remarks from Bishop Malesic, specifically addressing the issues of religious freedom and immigration.  He shared his recent experience at a gathering of new bishops for orientation in Rome of meeting bishops from areas of the world where the need of immigration is great, and their request for prayers for their people.  I am very grateful for my association with the Knights of Columbus since the mid-seventies when I entered the Order, and for the opportunity to share in this event.  My thanks to the Greensburg Chapter for a wonderful evening.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Blessing of Pets

     One of the great moments of my priesthood is the annual blessing of pets and animals on or near the feast of Saint Francis of Assisi on October 4th.  Yesterday saw another one of those wonderful days.  In our parish, we scheduled such a blessing at 2:00 pm in the afternoon at the church, and I experience another "first".

     It was a beautiful Fall day and our parishioners brought out about thirty five pets.  This year they were mostly dogs of every variety, size and shape ... but there were also hermit crabs, a gecko, a parakeet, and for the first time, a horse.   With that many animals in one place, you can imagine the commotion and the strain on leashes.  But as always, when it came time for the blessing, there was a very noticed quieting of those present.  I shared a little of the life and spirit of Francis of Assisi, and then asked the Heavenly Father to bless these friends and companions of our parishioners.  They then were blessed with holy water ... a few, at the request of their masters, for a double dose.  Our horse this year, named Mishu (spelling ?) even did a graceful bow before receiving the blessing.

Mishu and yours truly
Mishu "Bowing for the blessing"
     In the past years we have given out medals or holy cards on this occasion.  This year we asked people to bring something to help a local Animal Shelter, and we received a load of stuff that we will take to them this week, as well as a monetary gift for their fine work.  It was a tremendous response, an inspiring event, and most importantly, a lot of fun.
     My sister, Janie, had her little one, Sammy, there as well.  He is such a good boy, and Uncle Len loves him.
Samuel Leonard Stoviak ... Sammy

Friday, October 2, 2015

Inspired and truly blessed

     I have attempted to sit down and post following the return to Rome of our Holy Father Pope Francis, but could not find the words to express my heart.  I can delay no longer.

     The visit of the Holy Father to the United States was powerfully moving to me.  I must admit that I was a bit fearful that the people of this nation would be unconcerned and unmoved by this papal visit, and relegate it to the "showy but unimportant news of the day".  I was pleasantly surprised by the coverage and by the interest of so many, catholics and those of other faiths and those of no faith.  And the coverage was generally very balanced.  The Church was center stage and the Holy Father was the catalyst.  And his messages, rooted in the simple Gospel message of love, were listened to and affected many lives.  He gave us an invitation to re-group and recommit ourselves to the building up of the Kingdom of God.   But he has gone home and things are back to normal - routine - broken.  Even before he left this nation, the political parties were at each other, after having listened to the inspiring words to Congress by the Holy Father ... as were the candidates for our highest office, whose attacks of each other do little to exhibit respect and civility in the public forum.  Confrontation rather than cooperation was the mode of the day at the U.N General Assembly after he spoke to them.   The call to end the death penalty was met with the execution of a woman in one of the States.  And another sensless shooting at a college campus brought violence into our homes once again.  Words that he spoke and actions that he took were being used to promote agendas.  A desecration of the shrine of our newest saint - Junipero Serra - by protesters last weekend at the Mission of Saint Charles Borromeo in Carmel was cruel.  And I find a sense of hope, which he called us to, to be a difficult comodody to find.

     But what he said was so simple and so necessary for us to hear:
We are loved by God ... we are sought by God, he waits for us ... our Father will not be outdone in generosity ...  we must have an openness to God ... we must respect each other, and find ways to work together through diologue to meet the challenges that confront us ... we must be generous with our blessings, for that generosity is itself a blessing ... we must be people of hope ... and people filled with gratitude at the rich heritage and traditions that this nation is founded upon.   The positive challenges continue to resonate with those whose hearts are open.

     As I reread his words and rejoice in his actions as a pastor, I see hope and joy that will spur us on to do greater things.  May our openness to God continue to guide our lives in the days ahead, for without witnesses like us, I fear for the life of this nation and the world community.  And they have been entrusted to us for stewardship.   We must embrace our roles of servant leaders.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

He has arrived

     We live in a vast nation that prides itself in its diversity despite generations of hostility and fear and prejudice for what is different.   That is why the welcome and the coverage of the visit of Pope Francis to the United States is so unusual and comprehensive and gratifying.   Watching his arrival in Washington this afternoon and the fact that most stations devoted enormous coverage of the events was uplifting as a Catholic.  I pray that his visit with us be one of safety, health and spiritual challenge.

     Everyone wants to know what he is going to say and do, what issues will he challenge our leaders and the representatives of the world with, and the reaction of our society and politicans to his message.  Sometimes I find the commentators frustrating in their "analysis" and words of prophetic controversy, even Raymond Arroyo and his companions at EWTN.

     I enjoy the posts by Bishop Lynch of Saint Petersburg, Florida.  In today's, entitled "The Barque of Peter Arrives on the Shores of the U.S.", he had this to say about how we as Catholics should be attentive to the message of Francis in these next few days.  He says:

" ... listen to the Pope and carefully read and ponder what he has to say.  Agendas abound for this visit but there is only one which really matters and that belongs to the Successor of St. Peter, Francis.  His is a message of "yes" and not "no".  His is a message of God's love for every human being and not just for those who feel they have it made.  His is a message of mercy, not punishment.  His is a message of sharing not hoarding.  His is a message of inclusion, not exclusion.  His is a message of joy in the Gospel, not burdens.  His is a message of relief, not bondage.  Listen to him - this immigrant to our shores, as he opens the vision of Jesus to all humankind.  Don't let the "spin-doctors" spoil the moment - one of the greatest for Catholicism in my lifetime."

     I wholeheartedly agree.  We live in a world of many talking heads, of opinions that are rooted in the greatness of the one expounding them, of an intolerance of others.  I spoke this past Sunday about the basic truth of the Gospel message, which Francis bases his life and message on.  It is stated well in the Collect of last Sunday, the Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time.  I repeat it here because it is important to keep before our eyes and in our hearts.

"O God, who founded all the commandments of your sacred Law upon love of you and of our neighbor, grant us, by keeping your precepts, we may merit to attain eternal life."

     "THE" God given Law, rooted in the love of God first and then of neighbor (not self) must guide our lives ... and by keeping to that Law we may attain to that life that is unending and filled with ultimate happiness.  I look forward to hearing and witnessing that message of love in the visit of Pope Francis.  I hope that you do as well.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Youthful enthusiasm

     I just returned from the first fund raiser of the school year for our Regional Queen of Angels Catholic School.  School began a few weeks ago, and we are at it already.  This first fund raiser is a "Walk-a-thon" held for the past few years on the campus of Saint Edward Church in Herminie, one of the five parishes responsible for the school.  The day was beautiful and the kids filled with energy and enthusiasm.  Saint Edward is in the country, and the course was set around their upper parking area with plenty of grass and trees to provide a relaxing setting.

     The kids get pledges or gifts from family and friends for the laps that they complete.  The day began with a prayer time in church followed by a group picture and then the laps. Teachers and parents helped with the kids, the older ones walked with the younger ones, and a number of parents and even grandparents also did the laps.  They had fun.

     For the past few years, there has been a friendly competition among the five pastors as to who might bring in the most money for this event.  We share this challenge with our people, and encourage them to support this effort by sponsoring us.  My unique perspective on this challenge is that, given by back problems and mobility issues, I ask them to sponsor me to watch the others walk.  Our people are great, and to date I turned in $2,100 from about 90 donors from the parish.  I have to report that I watched everyone walk and cheered them on with enthusiasm.  I hope to bring in more this weekend.  People are great, and so is the cause.

     Last evening I attended the Open House at the school, where the administration gave a "state of the school" report, we opened a twenty-five year old "time capsule", blessed a renovated front entrance way with new ramp, visited classrooms and teachers, and had an ice cream social, thanks to the generosity of a local ice cream parlor owner and supporter of the school.  The school was bustling.  Queen of Angels has an enrollment this year of over 260 from PK through grade 8, the second largest elementary school in this Diocese.   Our enrollment remained consistent with last years numbers.  Enrollment continues to be a challenge with tuition being high and surrounding school systems that are very good.  I remember the days when our grade school at Saint Joseph in Uniontown had over three hundred kids, and we were one of four grade schools in town, plus a high school.  Now there is one catholic school in Uniontown.  Times and circumstances change, but our commitment to Catholic School education continues.

     And this past Tuesday I had the weekly school Mass for the kids.  We celebrate Mass in the auditorium, and it is a little bit strange to have the altar "on stage".  But I always enjoy the experience.  This was a "school week" for me and a week of youthful enthusiasm.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Good and Faithful Servants

     Within the past few weeks the people of this area have lost three priest who have entered Eternal Life.  Two were retired diocesan priests, and one was a monk of Saint Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe.  I knew all three, and can attest that they were good priests.  Together, they gave 158 years of service as priests, and the Church has been truly blessed.

     On August 7th, Benedictine Father Blane Resko died at the Archabbey.  He was 75 years old.  He was from Patton, Pennsylvania, a great Benedictine stronghold, and was solemnly professed as a Benedictine in 1954.  He served in school ministry, parish work, and held various positions at the Abbey.  It was during his tenure as pastor of Saint Bruno Parish in South Greensburg that I came to know Father Blane.  I was pastor at the neighboring parish of the Church of Saint Paul.  Blane was a quiet, simple man of deep faith and gentle pastoral zeal.  He was also a good friend and brother in our shared ministry.  He has been at the Archabbey since 2007.  His funeral Mass was on August 11th.  God grant him eternal rest.

     Ordained fifty years ago by the late Bishop William G. Connare, Monsignor Charnoki served Bishop Connare as his secretary during two different terms.  It was sort of a running commentary that he shared with everyone, and the lighthearted banter usually involved someone saying: "Did you know that Bill was Bishop Connare's secretary?" followed by a knowing smile.
     Father Bill Charnoki was ordained in 1965 and his first assignment was at Saint Mary (Nativity) in Uniontown, my hometown, where as young high school seminarians Father John Cindric and myself received lots of encouragement and support from this young priest.  Bill served in many parishes, was secretary to the bishop, received his degree in Canon Law and served on the Diocesan Tribunal, was assistant chancellor and served on many committees and councils, and was named a monsignor in 1986 and in 2005 was named a prothonotary apostolic supernumerary, the highest rank of monsignor.  Proud of his humble upbringing in Greene County and his Slovak heritage, he was also very active in support of Saint Vincent Seminary which he attended, he retired from parish life in 2013.
     An interesting fact about Bill was that he was the third priest in the family - he had two uncles who were priests: Father Andrew Charnoki (whom I replaced in Masontown) and Father John Charnoki, a priest of the Pittsburgh diocese.
     Bill was always warm and caring, showing a genuine interest in priests and seminarian, and loved his people.  He was buried from his former pastorate at Holy Family in Latrobe on August 19th.  May he rest in peace.
     And finally we received word of the death of another retired priest of our diocese, Monsignor Stephen McCarren, who died on August 31st at the age of 86 in Florida.  Monsignor McCarren served in a number of parishes and capacities over the years in the diocese, and in 1983 went for further studies before serving for many years as a chaplain for the Archdiocese of Military Services at VA hospitals.  In 1993 he was named a Monsignor.  He has been living in Florida, where his funeral rites will be held.  Steve was another warm and outgoing guy who always shared a smile and a good word.  His 60 years of priestly service have been a blessing to countless people.  God grant him joy and peace.
The Church is so blessed
with good and holy priests.
These three are but a small example.
Pray for continued vocations to priesthood
and religious life.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

On the road

     Ever since his Ordination a little over a month ago, Bishop Ed Malesic has been "on the road", travelling the Diocese of Greensburg and using every opportunity to "meet and greet" the good faithful.  He is doing and outstanding job and is winning the praise and gratitude of people throughout the area.  Tonight he will be at my home parish of Saint Joseph in Uniontown, as part of a series of area wide Masses (eleven in all) where he meets for dinner with the local priests, celebrates a votive Mass of the Holy Spirit in one of the churches, and then attends a reception where he makes sure to greet everyone who wants to meet him.

    This Tuesday he was in our area at the neighboring parish of Saint Agnes where about ten priests shared the hospitality of Monsignor Paul Fitzmaurice before concelebrating a wonderful liturgy in a packed Saint Agnes Church (one of our larger ones).  The liturgy saw a combined choir from the three local parishes and shared ministries of lectors and servers.  The bishop's homily was very well received in his easy style, filled with humor and rooted in the message of Jesus as the center of our lives.
The Christian Mothers of Saint Agnes prepared the goodies for the reception, and from the end of Mass until eleven o'clock he greeted people, spoke to everyone and took a multitude of pictures.  It was a great evening.  I've enclosed some pictures from this visit and his previous ones to the parishes, compliments of the Diocesan facebook page.

 Mass at Saint Agnes on August 18th

Mass at Saint Agnes on August 18th
    The bishop began his visits at Saint Thomas More University Parish in Indiana, Pa on July 21st.

Saint Margaret Mary Church in Lower Burrell on July 23rd.

Saint Pius X in Mount Pleasant on August 4th.

Saint Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe in Kittanning
on August 11th.

and Saint Francis Parish at the Footedale site
on August 13th.
 Father Bill Berkey, Pastor
     In addition, he has been "everywhere" - Slovak Mass at Kennywood park, Mass for the Deacons and their wives on
their annual retreat, celebrant and homilist for the Annual Priests' Day celebration at Saint Vincent, Mass and visit at Saint Anne Home for the Elderly in Greensburg, dinner at the Catholic Charities Golf Outing this past Monday, and so many other opportunities.  On Wednesday he presided at the funeral of one of our priests, Monsignor Bill Charnoki before installing Father John Harrold as pastor in Ford City that evening.  He continues these area Masses and now begins the installation of other new pastors.   He is making his presence known and is bringing the warmth of the massage of Christ's love to the people of God.