Saturday, May 30, 2015

New Deacons in Erie

     Back on October 1 of the year 2012 I attended the ordination ceremony for Bishop Lawrence T. Persico at the beautiful Saint Peter Cathedral in Erie, Pennsylvania.  The joy and the hospitality of the Erie Diocese at the ordination of their new bishop was wonderful and deeply appreciated.

Bishop Persico's ordination in 2012.

     Last evening, on the 29th of May in the year 2015, I was once again in Saint Peter Cathedral in downtown Erie, sharing the joy and hospitality of the diocesan family at the ordination of fourteen men to the permanent Diaconate by the hands of the now seasoned bishop, Lawrence T. Persico. 

Tom is in the back row behind the right shoulder of the bishop.
     My reason for traveling to Erie was in order to fulfill a promise to one of those men, Tom McAraw, whose mother was a parishioner at our parish until last year when she went to stay with Tom and his wife, Pam in Erie.  Tom is also the cousin of my late seminary classmate, Father David Schorr, who had served as a priest in the Diocese of Pittsburgh until his death late last year.  Last evening was a great celebration.

     We have four men who be ordained as permanent Deacons in two weeks in this Diocese, so to witness the ordination of fourteen men was wonderful, although a lengthy liturgy.  The Cathedral was packed with family and friends, parishioners of the newly ordained and priests and their fellow deacons and their wives.  Bishop Donald Trautman, the Bishop Emeritus of Erie, also concelebrated the ordination.  The music was outstanding and the festivities truly joyous.  I was glad that I made the trip up north.

     I was seated with two of the first year deacon candidates and their wives - Glenn and Diane Bailey and Randy and Anna Kondrlik - who served as gift bearers.  I enjoyed their enthusiasm for and anticipation of the diaconal journey, and their impressions at participating in such an ordination liturgy.  It was a delight to meet them and share their company, and I pray for them and wish them well.

     The Gathering Song was "Lord You Give the Great Commission" which very appropriately speaks of the call to service that the Lord gives to all of us through our Baptism, and which those called to ministerial ministry in diaconate, priesthood and episcopacy are entrusted with.  These men will serve God's people well.  I told Bishop Persico that he did a great job in sending these men forward on their great commission.

Monday, May 25, 2015


     For the third year in a row, we at Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish celebrated the great birthday of the Church with the Extended Pentecost Vigil Mass as is provided for in the current Revised Roman Missal.  I always loved the optional readings for the Vigil (from Genesis [Babel], Exodus [the giving of the Law], Ezekiel [dry bones] and Joel [outpouring of the Spirit upon all people]), but found it frustrating to choose one or another.  The Extended Pentecost Vigil gives the Church the opportunity to listen to all of these readings (along with Romans and the Gospel) in a setting similar to the Easter Vigil.  It obviously takes a little longer, but for such an important feast it is worth the time to celebrate well.

     Our choir, cantors and musicians did a great job in leading our prayerful response to these readings, and I attempted to show the working of the Spirit in the life of God's People, in the best of times and even through the darker moments such as the confusion of Babel and the lifeless condition of God's People found in Ezekiel 37.  And our people were patient and responsive to this "out of the ordinary" celebration of Eucharist.

     It is very important celebrating this "birth day" of the Church that we allow ourselves to remember and give thanks for the graces and sacrifices made that brings the Church to birth and keeps the Church alive.  If we remember, then we fight against the divisiveness of our arrogance found in the story of Babel, we always keep close to our hearts the gift that God had entrusted to us in the Law, especially the great Law of Love, we resist becoming listless and dried out - good for nothing but to be ignored, and we long for that reawakening of the Spirit in our lives.  That is the reality of Pentecost - not an event of the past to be commemorated, but the present truth of God's Spirit alive within us, helping us to be the Church Alive!

     I was truly blessed by our Extended Vigil celebration, and encourage you to encourage your pastor to consider the option for next Pentecost, if you are not already doing so.



     May 30th was set aside to remember those who gave their lives in service to this nation.  It was called "Decoration Day" simply because it was a day of remembering those who gave their last full measure of devotion by decorating the graves of those deceased veterans.  Years ago it was moved to the nearest Monday, providing a long, first weekend holiday of the summer.

     Memorial Day has, like so many other events, lost its meaning and purpose.  It has become a long weekend off ... a day of picnics or cookouts ... the beginning of summer.  At Mass this morning, we had the usual group - no additional People of God who have come to pray for those who sacrificed their lives, or those who have served well and have since died, or even those presently serving.  There will be many lining the parade route this morning in our local community, to see the band and the firetrucks, and to remember and celebrate with our veterans at the Memorial Service at the local cemetery.  But the primary purpose of the day takes second place to the desire for a day off.

     The truly sad part of all of this is that when we fail to remember, to keep deep in our hearts, the sacrifices that have been made by those who served in the military and elsewhere, then we fail to take to heart the seriousness of committing ourselves to the greatness of this nation and to resolving to hold fast to the vision and ideals of our founding fathers in their experiment of this Grand Republic.  We cannot afford to take this charge of freedom and justice for all people lightly.  We must highly resolve that those who gave their lives and service to this nation will not have done so in vain.  And that God be acknowledged as being "the" source of blessing for this nation.  It was wonderful to see and hear thousands last evening at the Memorial Day Concert in Washington stand and sing "God Bless America" from the bottom of their hearts.  May they and may we, as a nation and as individuals, keep God close to the heart of the nation ... and may we always REMEMBER and GIVE THANKS!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

A sigh of relief

     In the Diocese of Greensburg we have been extremely slow in recognizing and establishing the Order of Permanent Deacon.  When the Permanent Diaconate was reestablished in the Church, our bishop at the time took a cautious approach of "wait and see" how things panned out in other places.  The next bishop took as his focus full support and expansion of the role of the laity in the Church, neglecting this aspect of Holy Orders.  Under Bishop Brandt, we began a program, accepted two good men who were/are teachers, and after their theological preparation and ordination, have been placed in assignments within parishes.  We now have four men who have been preparing for years for ordination to the permanent diaconate in two successive program revisions and establishment of criteria, who have received Candidacy and Ministries and have been called to Orders by Bishop Brandt.  In fact, their date of ordination was set, at long last, for June 13th of this year.

     Then came the acceptance of the resignation of Bishop Brandt at having reached the age limit by Pope Francis and the appointment of Bishop-elect Edward C. Malesic as our new bishop.  Bishop Brandt was elected as Administrator of the Diocese until Bishop-elect Malesic is ordained and installed as the fifth bishop of Greensburg on July 13th.  But here came the rub.  It seems that according to Canon Law when one is ordained they are incardinated into a particular Diocese by making a promise of obedience to the diocesan bishop.  On June 13th we have no diocesan bishop - we have a former one who is an administrator and a soon-to-be one who is not yet ordained a bishop.  Both agree to the Diaconal Ordination, but it seems as if permission had to be received from Rome itself for Bishop Brandt to do the honors.  That permission was received earlier this week, with a great "sigh of relief" from the four men and their families who have planning to do.  One of the men is from our parish, and I kept reassuring his family that an okay would be received.  I am glad that I was right.


     So, with a "sigh of relief" and with God's grace, Stephen Black, Jeff Cieslewicz, Bill Newhouse and Mike Orange will be ordained as Permanent Deacons for the Diocese of Greensburg on the morning of June 13, 2015.  Pray for them and their families and their parishes and this diocese.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A challenge

     This afternoon I took part in the regular meeting of the Board of Trust Administrators (BOTA) of our Regional Catholic School - Queen of Angels - which I mentioned in yesterday's post.  We gather for our BOTA meeting just about every month at my place, and our meeting usually includes the five pastors, one of the associates, the principal and the school finance person and the development person.  Today we were joined for the first time by the relatively new Superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Greensburg Diocese, Dr. Maureen Marstellar.

     Dr. Marstellar shared her vision of Catholic School Education and pointed out a few specific areas of concern.  We had a great discussion of these matters, and she expressed her gratitude for our openness and candor, and our commitment to Queen of Angels.  At the heart of our discussion were two main challenges: enrollment and financial stability.  Neither are easy topics to conquer, and both demand creativity and resolve in order that our Catholic School - in fact all Catholic Schools - continue and flourish.

     The financial challenges can be met as we address the enrollment issue.  But the challenge we have to enrollment is threefold: a generation of parents that do not have the same intense loyalty and experience to Catholic Schools as past generations ... the high cost of tuition (in an area that was "brought up on" minimal tuition and the right of every Catholic student to a Catholic School education) ... and a number of good to excellent school districts within our region providing services that we simply cannot compete with.

     But our strengths are there as well: a long standing commitment in our parishes to Catholic School Education ... an excellent faculty and administration ... loyal parents and supporters ... and great kids.
We are committed to do all that we can to continue this outstanding tradition rooted in Immaculate Conception, Saint Agnes and Saint Edward schools and now found in Queen of Angels Regional Catholic School.

     I shared with the group a way of ensuring great enrollment for the school that I ran across.  In one of my assignments that had a school since the early 1900's, I ran across some old bulletins where the pastor made it very clear that if you were a Catholic parent, you had the obligation and responsibility to send your child to the Catholic School - under penalty of mortal sin!  I am not sure that this was the "law of the Church" and I am quite sure that this approach would not go over well today - in fact, despite my support of Catholic School education, you would never hear it from my mouth.   But encouragement and support, rooted in gratitude for my Catholic School Education (from Kindergarten through Graduate School in Theology), are always on my lips and in my heart.

Monday, May 18, 2015

100 Years

     Saint Rita of Cascia parish in Connellsville, a parish of the Diocese of Greensburg, celebrated the 100th year of their founding yesterday with a Mass with Bishop Lawrence Brandt, our diocesan administrator, Father Bob Lubic, the pastor, parishioners as well as priests and friends of this Italian parish family.  Our diocese has many ethnic parishes in our towns (Italian, Slavic, Irish, German, etc).  In fact, Connellsville at one time had an Irish parish (the territorial parish), Italian, Polish, Slovak and Croatian.  It now has three churches served by one pastor and a parochial vicar.

     I spent nearly three years in Connellsville in the mid-eighties at Saint John the Evangelist Slovak Church, just up the street from Saint Rita's.  I would visit there often, for the people were / are warm and friendly (and great cooks).  The ladies from the Christian Mothers and other ladies groups were always most generous with me.  Whether at their festivals or their annual cookie sales, I would always end up with a "care package" to take back to the rectory.  Their pastor at the time, the late Father Mike Bucci, would always wonder aloud why they were feeding that Slovak priest from up the street.  He would say this as he was being taken care of by these same ladies.  I have fond memories of good time and great friends.

    I was invited to join yesterday's festivities, and although not able to attend the early afternoon Mass because of a baptism, I was able to join them for the dinner celebrations, for which I am once again grateful.

    Pray for the people of Saint Rita Parish.  May they continue to experience the love of God.

8th Grade Graduation

     Despite an evening of steady rain, torrential at time, with lightning and thunder, I was honored to be a part of a wonderful celebration of the Norwin Catholic Community and our neighbors as we recognized the accomplishments of the Eighth Grade Students of Queen of Angels, our Regional Catholic School, and to acknowledge their moving onward.  We did this by way of the 23rd Graduation Liturgy this evening at Saint Agnes Church.  Monsignor Paul Fitzmaurice, the pastor, led us in prayer and was joined by five other local priests, the faculty and administration and many family and friends of our nine graduates of 2015.  As I mentioned, this is the 23rd graduation ceremony for Queen of Angels, which is the Regional Catholic School in our area serving Pre-K through Grade eight.  But Catholic School education goes way back in this area and preceded Queen of Angels in Immaculate Conception, Saint Agnes and Saint Edward Schools.  We have a great school, excellent faculty and staff, and committed parents.  The challenges are many, financially and enrollment wise, but we strive to continue the long and strong  commitment to Catholic Education in this area.

     Father John Moineau, the president of our Board of Trust Administrators (the five sponsoring pastors) shared words of inspiration and presented the awards.  Each pastor presented their graduate with their certificate.   The class had chosen as their motto this quote:

"Friends are like your favorite books:
you keep them with you
until you know them by heart."
     Being a part of a small class allows you to know and cherish the memories that you have of your friends, and I am sure that Cole, Claire, Hannah, Katherine, Lacey, Nolan, Mary Alice, Carley and Layla will find that true.  As our Principal, Mrs. Sandi Stonebraker expressed in the program -
"We wish our eighth grade students the best as they move on to a new school.  Our thoughts and prayers go with you always.
God bless you."
To that sentiment I add my own
If you had an Eighth Grade Graduation, do you remember it?
I do ... but could not find the picture of our class standing on the steps of the old Saint Joseph Church in Uniontown.  Our Assistant at the time, Father Anthony Wozniak, is one of our retired priests.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

A day to remember

     While today in Western Pennsylvania is warm and rainy and dreary, forty-two years ago the day dawned bright and sunny and a bit cool.  It was then, on May 5, 1973, that the late Bishop William G. Connare ordained four men for the priesthood in the Diocese of Greensburg at Blessed Sacrament Cathedral in the city of Greensburg.  Those ordained that day were V. Paul Fitzmaurice, Peter L. Peretti, Roger Statnick and yours truly, Leonard Stoviak.  All of us, by the way, are still in active ministry serving the People of God in the Diocese of Greensburg (a minor miracle in this day and age).  I recall being very nervous as we began that trek to the altar, and at the same time feeling great peace and joy.  A special joy was that my dad had been chosen to do one of the readings, and I was very proud.  Mom, dad and Janie sat in the front pew, along with the other parents, and their pride was obvious. 

    The ordination was a blur of activity, but two things stood out for me - the powerful prayers of the community over us as the Litany of the Saints was sung by all and the quiet power of the imposition of hands by Bishop Connare.

     My priesthood has been a blessing for me and I hope a source of blessing for the countless people that I have had the honor to know and serve.  Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has composed a prayer for the upcoming Holy Year of Mercy in which he says:

" ... You willed that your ministers
would also be clothed in weakness
in order that they may feel compassion
for those [who come to them]:
let everyone who approaches them feel
sought after,
and forgiven by God."
     In my years of ministry, and in my weakness, I hope that those whose lives I have touched feel sought after, loved and forgiven by God."  God is indeed very gracious to us all.

A great sister and a good friend

     Blessings come to us in many forms and a variety of circumstances.  My blessings are abundant, and I give thanks to the Lord for them daily.  One of my greatest blessings is the gift of my sister, Jane, who over the years has become one of my best friends as well as a fiercely loyal and loving sister.  Today is her birthday ... a significant one in that she turns sixty-five today ... and while you should never tell the age of a lady, I am sure that this birthday, which is even more significant because she also signed up for social security and will be retiring in mid June after forty-five years in retail, is worthy of mention and celebration.  In fact, I plan on taking her out to dinner later today.  Janie was also gracious enough to share her birthday with me forty-two years ago when I was ordained a priest at the ordination ceremony that began at 10:00 am on May 5, 1973.  

A very Happy Birthday, Janie!