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.