August 1, 2012
Dear Friends of Saint Albert’s,
The fabled view from my window has been obscured lately, and the sight of frolicking squirrels has given way to that of visitors unpacking an extraordinary variety of conference gear. Summer is a time when the School of Applied Theology, our usual tenants, vacates the East wing of the Priory, and we let out the space to a number of other groups.
These range from Dominican campus ministers to the San Francisco Early Music Society, as well as Dominicans in the Arts, and each group, it seems, has special equipment it will use during the days it spends here. I was prepared for the early musicians’ recorders, bassoons and viola da gamba. But the Dominicans in the Arts took me by surprise with their collection of skin drums and other African paraphernalia.
Then I discovered they had invited a woman missionary to present a series of reflections based on her forty years (a number of them spent in prison) in Africa. At the keynote address I attended she spoke of the links among God, nature and our spiritual lives – and how these can build the foundation for various forms of artistic expression. The drums, I learned, played a part in the groups’ free time and prayers.
The Dominican Institute for Student Ministry (DISM) holds a special fondness for me, as the campus apostolate at the University of Oregon, in Eugene, was my introduction to Dominican ministry, in 1973. I was a deacon at the time, one of the first students to be sent out on what is now called a “residence year.” The purpose of the year is to give a young student an opportunity to experience life in a community smaller than St. Albert’s, and to take part in whatever apostolic activities that community has embraced.
I returned to the ministry at the University of Oregon for a year after I was ordained, and I then had the immense honor to serve as pastor there. The worshipping community in Eugene is unique in my experience; it has the greatest continuity of any of our ministries I’ve been assigned to. I lived there for another year, in 2004, and encountered old friends from 1973!
In the past, summer visitors to St. Albert’s have been no more than faces I’ve nodded to in the hallway; this year they have become individuals with names. In the past, our student Guest Master has stayed home to manage the details of Priory hospitality, while his peers have gone off to summer studies or ministry assignments. This summer, by contrast, our Provincial determined that all the students deserved the opportunity for a summer ministry outside the house. This has left me to learn the details of the Guest Master’s job – on the spot.
Were I not already grateful for the many things Br. Lupe and Fr. LaSalle, a new member of community, do for the Priory, I would be forever in their debt for their assistance in welcoming our visitors, opening doors, tending to their audio-visual equipment needs, and otherwise freeing me to cope with the intricacies of (what I find to be) a very unfriendly – even hostile – Guest Master computer program.
I realize I need to be fair when I criticize this program. I remember a W.C. Fields film from my youth. A smart-mouthed young girl looked up at Fields at one point and smirked, “There ain’t no flies on me!” To which Fields replied, “Don’t blame the flies, Francine.” I must hold the computer program harmless in this encounter, hard though that may be. Those of you who have received thank-you notes from me know I still use a fountain pen, so you can imagine the near-despair this program has caused me – the absolute horror, for example, of entering the name of a new guest, only to discover that I’ve over-written the name of someone else!
The list of actual mistakes goes on; the potential errors are too frightening to consider. And because Br. Richard Maher, the former Guest Master, is doing God’s work in Mexicali, I have had to cope with feelings of immense guilt if I send an email SOS, the response to which I fear will take him away from his service to the poor. Thus, I sit before the computer, shaking my fist at the impassive screen, making my way very slowly along what appears to be an endless learning curve. I realize this is dangerous to say, but – at last! – I think I have mastered the essentials of the program; at this point I can “fake” the rest to get by.
A far simpler technological task is dealing with the sacristy laundry. Here again, Fr. LaSalle has been a godsend. We have occasional contests to see who can iron more purificators in an allotted time. I’ve noticed that whenever I iron the purificators we use at Mass, the work I do on my handkerchiefs improves considerably. Practice does make perfect.
Back in June I wrote that a friend and I had gone to Los Angeles to sort through my mother’s things after she died. Just as we were preparing to leave I remembered she had a locker in her carport, so I thought I ought to take a look to see what it held. I found the key, opened the locker and discovered a box with a label indicating it contained my “tin soldiers.” We tossed the box in the back of the truck, and it somehow made its way to my friend’s home rather than my room. I forgot about it until last weekend, when the friend suggested we go to a movie – “and,” he said, “I’ll drop off that box of toys.”
The box was fairly large – far larger than would have been necessary for the soldiers that I recalled – so I was curious to know what else might be inside. You may imagine my surprise to find a carefully-tied bundle of special sections of the Los Angeles Times, devoted to the 1932 Olympic Games, one section for each day. I’d heard my father talk about going to some of the events when he was small, and here were all the details. My grandmother had also saved a program, with her notes on the competitors’ times – and she even saved some of their admission tickets!
Most of our friends peer only seldom into our refectory (dining room) so you probably won’t see the newspapers on display there, but if you happen to be near the front door, ask Delmira, our receptionist, to direct you to the display case in the Priory’s first floor hallway. There you’ll see my dad’s admission ticket (fifty cents) to one of the track and field events, as well as a couple of pictures of the Memorial Coliseum, which was built for the games, filled to capacity. That this little trove, after eighty years, should have fallen into my hands a day after the opening of the 2012 Olympics, goes a long way toward proving the truth of the motto on the sweatshirt of one of my Dominican brothers , “Coincidence: God’s way of staying anonymous.” Fr. Gregory Tatum will attest this is simply further proof I am “the Darling of the Cosmos,” but that’s for another installment of these reflections.
As August unfolds our students will complete their summer work and assemble at the Western Province’s retreat center at McKenzie Bridge, Oregon, for their vacation and planning meetings. They will return to St. Albert’s at the end of this month, and we will look forward to greeting four new students, who will profess vows on September 3. They will be joined by two Dominican students from the Province of Poland. This summer the Polish Dominicans hosted the Order’s international “preaching camp,” and our Student Master, Fr. Michael Fones, together with our newest students, Brs. Kevin Andrew and Brad Elliott, represented the Western Province. They had a chance to meet Grzegorz Kuras and Marek Rozptochowski, the young Polish Dominicans who will join us, and they assure me we have a great deal to look forward to.
Summer is always a season of mixed blessings. We welcome Fr. LaSalle Hallissey, who has taken a position as chaplain at de la Salle High School in Concord, and we look forward to greeting the new students, but at the same time we are forced to say good-bye to men who have been an important part of our lives, and are moving to new assignments. Fr. Steven Maekawa, our Vocation Director, was recently elected Prior at St. Dominic’s in San Francisco, so he has gone west, and Fr. Dominic Briese, one of our Province’s traveling preachers, will soon be moving east to join our brothers in Salt Lake City, where he will serve as high school chaplain and provide Sunday help to parishes in the area.
I pray that these summer days will be grace-filled and peaceful for you. The squirrels and I look forward to greeting you as you return from your summer holidays and we embrace a new academic year together. I remember you gratefully each day in my prayers, thanking God for all that your prayers and generous support allow us to do. This Wednesday, August 8, is the feast day of our founder, St. Dominic. I shall offer my Mass that day for you and your intentions. I beg you to pray for us as we strive to prepare the next generation of Dominican preachers.
Sincerely, in Christ,
Fr. Reginald Martin, O.P.