It was great to celebrate the 240th anniversary of the beginning of our nation last weekend, and any attention we gave to it was rightly spent. In the course of the festivities, another anniversary passed, far less significant, but I hope you will nonetheless enjoy recalling it with me: July 1st marked the tenth anniversary of my pastorate of Saint Bernadette.
Ten years is the longest period of my life that I have lived in one place. Priests joined me in the rectory, and in serving you: Frs. Winthrop Brainerd, Robert Golas, Vincent DeRosa, and now Fr. Gallaugher, the Archbishop of Washington assigned here. We also enjoyed the company of Frs. Joseph McCabe, M.M. and Clint McDonell; now Fr. Markey, and first, longest, and whenever he gets the chance yet still, the indispensable Fr. Food, …um, I mean, Fr. Nick Zientarski; these came because I invited them.
Adding the time I served here when newly ordained, my roots are deep and long. One of my favorite things to tell a young person is, “I have known you since you were just good news.” I have yet to witness the marriage of anybody I baptized, but it is getting close. Not only have I baptized the children of couples I helped prepare for marriage; I have given them First Holy Communion, presented them for Confirmation, and handed diplomas to them as eighth-grade graduates. From tiny to teen-ager, from punk to solid citizen; the kids I have watched grow and blossom into fine young adults bring me great joy.
One of my great delights has been accompanying people into the fullness of the Faith, and giving them the Sacraments of Initiation. It is such a delight to see them fully incorporated into the Body of Christ, here in this parish, often with their own children whose development in the Faith they now shape and lead.
More sadly, during these ten years many have left our parish communion: no small number by death; others by relocation to new homes; some by transfer to other parishes; and far too many by indifference. I grieve them all.
I arrived in 2006 to find a huge mortgage, and even a loan from the Archdiocese to cover payroll that summer. Later, we obtained a line of credit to complete certain projects on a more advantageous schedule, principally new, energy-efficient heating and cooling system throughout the school buildings. We are now debt free.
In a time or great change, cost, and difficulty, our (now fully air-conditioned) parish school is robust and respected. While the school community is strong, it is not the only strength or identity of the parish: our religious education and home-school families are more involved and invested than ever before. New families with young children, and young adults; folks relocating from elsewhere, and people of varied backgrounds and cultures make their home here, bringing new life to our parish.
What draws the most comment, and perhaps some controversy, is what everyone finds at the heart of our parish, in our beautiful church: liturgical worship and doctrinal preaching. This is the greatest treasure of our Holy Mother, the Church, and the heart of my priesthood. After decades of experimentation and distraction throughout the Church, it is not what many people are used to, or think they want; but faithful celebration of the sacraments while shining the light of Tradition on the rich depths of Scripture in the context of the Sacred Liturgy is the sine qua non of Catholic Christianity. It is our lifeline in a society at sea.
Our last two pastors, Fathers Bernard Martin and William Thompson, both served Saint Bernadette for about nine and a half years. In reaching ten, my tenure is second only to that of the inimitable and indomitable Msgr. William F. “Pete” Stricker, our first and founding pastor, who gave us twenty-seven years. While tying that record is beyond the reach of reasonable hope, continuing to approach it is a happy thought.
To paraphrase what they say on airplanes: This is your captain speaking. I know you have other choices when you travel toward heaven, but I am grateful you have chosen to travel with us. Thank you for everything you do to make our journey a success, and God bring you safely home.