It has been a good weekend. It always is when I am privileged to give First Holy Communion to any soul but especially when I do it for so many (fifty-three!) young members of our parish. Everybody’s eyes are on the kids, but what I get to see is that their eyes are fixed on Jesus. They have an awareness that I am giving them a whom, and not a what, and they show their eager hospitality to the Divine Guest about to enter under their roof. It is a beautiful thing, and very likely my most favorite Mass of the year. It is one of the great joys of being a pastor.
Because it is kind of hard to do everything with the same level of enthusiasm I have for First Holy Communion, it is also good to have a little help. So, even before I moved in here as Pastor, I invited Fr. Nick Zientarski to live with me while he pursued his doctorate in theology at the Catholic University of America. He stayed for five happy years, from 2006 to 2011.
Shortly after Fr. Nick moved out, Fr. Clint McDonell began helping here while he pursued his studies in philosophy, and moved into the rectory full-time in 2012. A few months later, I got a call from Fr. Joseph McCabe, M.M., whom I had met while I was working in Rome. He was looking for a parish in which he could live while earning his License in Canon Law. I invited him, and he moved in January of 2013.
Having finally this winter been allowed to finish his final requirements, Fr. Nick will receive his hard-earned doctoral degree at CUA graduation. Fr. McCabe just told me his thesis is approved and will be published, his comprehensive exams are scheduled (May 7-8; pray for him!), and he, too, will march to receive his degree the same day. Father Nick will go back to the seminary in Yonkers, and Fr. McCabe will go on to a new mission for Maryknoll.
That was pretty much what we had been expecting all along. Not expected was that Fr. McDonell learned last week that before his triumphant completion of academic expectations, his Archbishop is calling him home to Detroit to teach in the seminary there. It is not that he should have finished his degree work by now – that was neither expected nor even possible. No, it is just the needs of the local church and the decision of the bishop. He may be back someday to finish what he started, but he will not be living at Saint Bernadette in the fall.
All of this is coming to a head in the same weekend. On Saturday May 16, Fr. Nick and Fr. McCabe will celebrate their graduations, and while they are busy with that, Fr. McDonell will offer his last Sunday Mass in our parish at the Saturday vigil. The next morning, Fr. McCabe will celebrate the nine o’clock, and Fr. Nick, the eleven. They will all race away that evening or the next morning, and while Fr. McCabe will be back around Memorial Day weekend to pack and help me with Masses, it will be a lot quieter around here all of a sudden.
On Sunday, May 17, the week after Mother’s Day, after the nine and eleven o’clock Masses, we will have a celebratory reception when you can greet, congratulate, thank, and send off Fr. Nick, Fr. McCabe, and Fr. McDonell.
Priests come and go, in a parish and in parishioners’ lives. Christ Himself remains constant, but his voice and his face change. These three priests all did something for you, and probably even did something helpful or beautiful or memorable or simply needful. Their main job and only assignment was their academic work; everything they did here in our midst was on their own initiative, on their “own time,” as it were. It was very good, and we are very grateful.
I always ask the children to whom I have given their First Holy Communion to remember to pray for me throughout their lives. Heck, how hard is it to remember Smith? Somewhere on a list you keep of people you want to remember in prayer, write down these three names, and pray for them. Thanks to them, it has been a very good couple of years.