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.