August 2014

While my brothers at St. Albert’s were gathered for a first-ever Philosophy and Theology Colloquium two weeks ago, I found myself in Southern California for my high-school class’ fiftieth reunion. Plans for this event were underway before Fr. Bryan Kromholtz and the Master of our Order began preparations for the intellectual gathering at the Priory, or I would certainly have asked my classmates to choose another date – we had a number of options at the time – but Fortune found me making the endless drive down I-5 toward Apple Valley, so I could pay a visit to my folks, along the way to Los Angeles.

When I arrived, Apple Valley was a balmy 110-degrees, and I sent an email that the visit would have been a “Get Out of Hell Free” card for Fr. Vincent Benoit, who loathes warm weather. I’m not sure my dad and his wife much enjoy it, but they’ve endured it for thirty years, so at least they’re used to it. Why they’ve endured the penance is an interesting story. 

My father worked in insurance all his life, but his real love was motorcycles, race cars and, later, speedboats. I realize the world will find this hard to believe from looking at me, but my father set a land-speed record at Bonneville. Tinkering with all these engines involves noise, of course, and neighbors are apt to complain, so, over the years, my folks moved further and further “away from civilization.” Apple Valley was little more than desert at the time, so I guess no one cared.  The area is quite built up these days, so neighbors might still complain, I suppose, but my father has turned ninety-four and found other hobbies.

My dad was my initial driving instructor. “The first thing you need to learn is how to stop the car,” said he. He has just renewed his driver’s license, and is still a fine driver. For one of our field trips, after Sunday Mass, we visited the cemetery where he and my step-mother will be buried. Once, when I was newly ordained, I asked her what she and my dad planned to do about their funerals.

“We’re not going to do anything,” she replied.
“But you realize funerals are part of my job?”
“Then perhaps you ought to consider another line of work.”

Times change, obviously, and their interest in the Church has grown, so I thought I might pose the question again – especially as they seem so fond of their pastor, and he of them. I also thought that as I’d buried my mother at our Dominican cemetery in Benicia, I might be able to send some additional business Fr. LaSalle’s way. But they had foreseen this necessity, and arranged to be buried not far from Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. (Sorry, LaSalle!)

After a few days in the High Desert I made my way to Eagle Rock, where I paid a pleasant visit to our Dominican community. Few know there really is an Eagle Rock, but I recall being overwhelmed by sight of this natural wonder when I was a youth, living in North Hollywood. The freeways had not yet complicated life (the street we lived on didn’t have sidewalks!) so my father and I used to take surface streets to Eagle Rock, when he visited an auto parts emporium. 

Uh-oh, I think the squirrels on Birch Court have found a way to hack into my computer. A small delegation is standing beneath my window, carrying signs to remind me I’ve written an entire page of this reflection without mentioning them.  Okay, guys, you’re next!

St. Dominic’s, the parish we serve in Eagle Rock, was designed by Arnold Constable, the architect who drew the plans for St. Albert’s. The look, however, is the “mission” style he used when he worked with the Dominican Sisters at Mission San Jose. My good friend, Fr. Anthony Patalano, was pastor at Eagle Rock for some time, and as Anthony has never seen a church he didn’t improve, he installed a series of stained-glass windows with Dominican themes. One shows the fabled meeting of St. Francis and St. Dominic. It is a very touching rendering of this tale, and – to my surprise – what should adorn the lower corner but a squirrel, which has laid down a walnut to gaze in wonder at the sight of the two saints embracing one another!

When I arrived at Eagle Rock I had all sorts of ambitious plans for sight-seeing – the Dominican community lives quite near the Huntington Gallery – and I’ve long wanted to visit the William Andrews Clark Library, which was a gift to UCLA from the fellow who established the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Left to my own devices, however, the opportunity to enjoy the quiet and read seemed a much more attractive option. Our brother, Brian Mullady, recently introduced me to a fascinating book by Paul Johnson, "The Birth of the Modern," a thousand-page intellectual history of the universe between 1850 and 1930. It’s hard to put down, so I didn’t.

My classmates asked me to celebrate Mass, to get our reunion festivities underway, so I had a homily to prepare, too.  This was a great deal of fun, and took time only because whenever I marked “paid” and printed the effort I came up with a new idea and had to print it anew. Word processors were invented for individuals like me! I once heard a discussion about creativity on National Public Radio. One of the speakers said Helen Hayes called her husband one day and reported, quite excited, she had discovered a new insight into a role she was playing, and believed it would add a great deal to her performance.

Her husband replied, “Helen, the play closes in two days!”
She said, “But that means I still have three performances to try it out.”

I have been known to come back to my room and make adjustments to a homily after I’ve preached it!

The reunion was a remarkable event. Most of my classmates I had not seen in half a century, and I had met none of their wives. None of us would have recognized one another, and I doubt any of us imagined, in 1964, we would be the men we are today. I, who defined “wall flower” in high school, certainly never thought I would find myself preaching to my classmates. And doing so with an aplomb I would have thought impossible five decades ago. 

I drove home the day after the reunion and found my Dominican brother still quite excited about the success of the philosophy and theology Colloquium, “What Has Athens to Do with Jerusalem?” The lay guests had left, but a number of our European Dominican brethren had stayed behind, to enjoy a few days in the Bay Area, so we had very pleasant recreation conversations for the next week.

Fr. LaSalle, who generously volunteered his bedroom for the Colloquium, came home about this time. He had returned from the Order of Malta’s summer Pilgrimage to Lourdes, unpacked, and immediately run off to serve as chaplain for a summer retreat for the Christian Brothers. This was the first opportunity we had to hear how he and the high school students had fared in Lourdes.

To no one’s surprise, the experience proved quite moving, and the students put in some very long days, helping the folks in charge of “hospitality” at Lourdes to manage the thousand and one details of ferrying sick individuals to and from the baths and various prayer services. Bastille Day (July 14th) gets noticed in Lourdes, so Fr. LaSalle brought home some remarkable photographs of fireworks exploding over the castle that dominates the hilltop above the town.

If you join us for prayers at St. Albert’s, you have noticed a larger than usual number of students in our midst this summer. Some are working on Master’s theses, and most are studying French, to prepare for future graduate work.  Their presence in our midst has added greatly to our prayer life this summer, and I believe I speak for all of us in the “senior” community when I say we will miss them when they leave this week for their summer vacation in Oregon. You will surely miss them, as you will have to put up with our croaking our way through Office and Mass. I think we will all look forward to their return!

The clouds that gave us such a cool morning have cleared, and the fabled view from my window shows another magnificent summer afternoon’s blue sky. My furry friends, satisfied with my earlier note of recognition, must be taking a nap, as I’ve not seen much of them for some time. The quiet on Birch Court is a reminder of how very much we have to be thankful for, when so many individuals in the world – so many children at our border! – are suffering fear, insecurity, anxiety, and pain of all sorts. 

We have a great deal to be thankful for, and we at St. Albert’s never forget the immense debt we owe you. I may joke about the peace and quiet of Birch Court, unbroken except for the occasional unruly squirrel, but your prayers and support make possible all the harmony  we enjoy at St. Albert’s. In an hour or two I will go to the chapel for our evening prayers, and look out at the students whose lives and studies you make possible – and at the older members of our community whom you have supported for so long. Every word of our prayer is an offering of praise to God. Each is also a tribute of thanks to you!

Believe me when I sign myself...

--Fr. Reginald Martin, O.P.

 5890 Birch Court   ~   Oakland, CA   ~   94618-1627  ~   510.596.1800   ~   Western Dominican Province
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