This is a wonderful week of great feasts and Christmas blessings. Today begins with the feast of the first martyr, Stephen, whose courage under the pressure of the treat on his life was an inspiration for the early Church. His death was not touched by fear and dread, but with a joyful spirit of love for the one that he called his friend and lord, Jesus Christ.
For the parish where I have served for the past eight years, Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, this day is filled with memories that are sad yet filled with gratitude. Twenty-four years ago on this day, the day after Christmas, a fire destroyed the rectory of the parish which was attached to the church proper. Through heroic efforts, the church building was saved, and the young parish would continue. However, we lost our pastor, Father William McGuire, who had died as he attempted to exit the house. He was the second, and much beloved, pastor of this parish. His death was a great shock and loss to the community. I remember hearing of the fire from my young associate (who was home in Irwin for Christmas), and driving Route 30 from the Church of Saint Paul in Greensburg. By the time I arrived, the fire was contained, and I watched (and prayed) from a nearby parking lot. I had not yet heard of the death of Father McGuire. I remember concelebrating the funeral a few days later ... never guessing that one day I would be pastor to this parish family.
We prayed for Father McGuire at Mass this morning, and prayed for those first responders and volunteers that helped save the church building twenty-four years ago. And we gave thanks for the blessing that God has given us over these years.