If Thanksgiving comes, the squirrels ask, can Advent be far behind? In many ways, Autumn is something of a non-event in this neighborhood. Although we are treated to some spectacular foliage and a drop in temperature, little else punctuates the change from summer to winter. Three or so weeks ago we set our clocks back; in three weeks more we will yawn as we the calendar tells us we’re enjoying the first day of winter. But my furry friends remind me that November was a very busy month at St. Albert’s, and we were privileged to sharemany of the month’s events with those of you who join us for our daily prayers and Mass. The highlights, I believe you will agree, were the Feast of St. Albert, on November 15, and our celebration of our Provincial’s 50th birthday, on November 23.
Everyone knows St. Albert was teacher to St. Thomas Aquinas, in the 13th century. What is less known is that although he was beatified in 1622, Albert was not canonized until 1931. One might ask what prompted the delay – or perhaps we should be grateful he was canonized at all. A friend and I visited Rome once, and one of the Dominicans who worked with the Master of the Order led us about Santa Sabina, the Dominican Order’s home on the Aventine Hill.
“Do you see this land?” our guide asked, pointing to the hillside below Santa Sabina. When we nodded, he told us that when Mussolini was in charge, the Roman state wanted to lay claim to the property. The Dominicans objected, but the state persisted. At last, the Vatican intervened – diplomatically, of course. The message was something to the effect, “If you want Albert canonized, sell the land!”
Notwithstanding these difficulties, the liturgy to pay tribute to the patron of our community that evening was a splendid celebration. In St. Albert’s hono,r we inaugurated new white vestments and altar apparel given to the Priory by Fr. Augustine Thompson’s sister as a memorial to their father, who died last spring.
Our celebration for the Provincial’s birthday was equally festive, and marred by no unseemly wrangling such as that behind St. Albert’s canonization – although for a time we did engage in some back-and-forth negotiation about the date. Not the date of Fr. Mark’s birthday, but of the day on which to celebrate it. This was a milestone birthday for Fr. Mark, and once we settled on the date for the party, the community at St. Albert’s was both pleased and honored to welcome about eighty-five friends and benefactors to the afternoon gathering. The occasion also provided an opportunity to offer tours of the ground-floor of the Priory, so Br. Thomas Aquinas treated our guests to brief concerts on the new organ, and Fr. Augustine and I led excursions through some of the “quaint and curious volumes of forgotten lore” in the Priory’s Archives – and the collection of books I’ve been putting together with the generosity of some friends. These latter include some rare volumes of poetry by the former Dominican, Br. Antoninus (William) Everson.
Br. Antoninus was also a highly-gifted printer – a friend of mine, who is a judge of these things believes him to have been one of the great printers of the 20th century – and we have a number of texts he typeset and printed on a press in the basement of our Priory. One is an extremely rare copy of a new Latin translation of the Psalter, commissioned by Pius XII in 1955. Br. Antoninus undertook the work, but (for some reason) never completed it. It languished in the printshop until Estelle Doheney offered to publish it. She collected the pages, had them bound, and gave two copies to individuals – one to Pope Pius, the other to Br. Antoninus. The remaining forty-six copies she gave to college libraries and other institutions. One day, two years ago, the friend who introduced me to rare books called and said, “I’m executor of a bookseller’s estate in Berkeley. Would you like to have Antoninus’ own copy of the Psalter?” I asked the price, and he said, “It’s xx-thousand dollars.” “Let me call you back,” I replied. I called another friend and said, “How would you like to give St. Albert’s a gift worth xx-thousand dollars?” He said yes, so I called the first friend, and we met at the bookstore in Berkeley and made the purchase early on the Saturday morning of Boniface Willard’s ordination.
Br. Antoninus was nothing if not eccentric. When I was a novice, his room was across the cloister from mine, and I would sometimes wake in the middle of the night to hear him crying out, “After them!” or “Justify!” at the top of his voice. My classmates and I professed our simple vows in September 1969, and began our studies. On December 8th of that year, as we were eating breakfast (a meal taken in silence, in those days) someone whispered to me, “Have you heard about Antoninus?”
Our brother had given a poetry reading at UC Davis the night before, and, in the middle of the reading, stopped, removed his Dominican habit (fortunately, he wore more under it than I) and announced his plan to leave our Order to marry. That was the last we saw of him. For weeks we marveled at the suddenness of his departure, but no one seemed to find it surprising – this was the eccentric Br. Antoninus, after all. It was only after I came home with the Psalter that I looked down at the book (an admittedly handsome volume) and thought, “Wait a minute. If his departure was such a sudden decision, why didn’t we find this book in his room after he left?”
On most Saturdays, when he isn’t demonstrating the remarkable capacities of our new organ, Br. Thomas Aquinas can be found – for several hours, at least – in downtown Berkeley, where he distributes rosaries and conducts a lively sidewalk evangelization ministry. He is usually joined by one or more of his student brothers, and they report they are well-received by those they encounter. So, he says, are the rosaries, which are a gift from the Rosary Center in Portland. I still serve as director of the Center, although from afar, and I paid it a brief visit the week before Fr. Mark’s birthday. Each year we commission an audit of the Center’s operations, so this was my chance to chat with the auditors, and sign papers to complete their work.
Those of you who pray with us at St. Albert’s have probably seen the "Light and Life" newsletter we place on the tables in the vestibule of the chapel. Each issue contains a reflection I write. Fr. Duffner, who directed the Rosary Center for two decades (and used to prepare the reflections), told me, “It’s easier to write a series,” so I began with the Luminous Mysteries, and worked my way through the Theological and Moral Virtues, Thomas Aquinas’ reflections on the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Hail Mary. I can’t recall where we’ve been since then, but I’ve recently decided to return to the basics; I’ve begun writing on the Ten Commandments, an effort that will keep me busy into 2015.
If you are interested in the Rosary apostolate, give us a look on-line, at www.rosary-center.org
Actually, if you do an Internet search for “Rosary,” we’ll be about the fourth link that pops up. We subscribe to a service that monitors these things, and I’m told we’re among the 500,000 most-visited sites on the Internet. The point of this shameless self-promotion is to invite you to join the Rosary Confraternity, which is a low-obligation, high-return opportunity for anyone who regularly prays the Rosary. All you need to do is pray fifteen decades of the Rosary each week. Period. The benefits are inclusion in the prayers of every other Confraternity member (they are countless) – and your own subscription to Light and Life. No more scrambling around in the chapel vestibule, only to see someone walk off with the last copy!
When I was growing up, everyone ate turkey on Thanksgiving, but only Protestants went to church on that day. Things have changed, so we were quite pleased to welcome a number of friends to our early Mass on Thursday morning. When I was a student (when the Dominican novitiate was still housed here at St. Albert’s) students would face-off against novices for the annual “Toilet Bowl” football game. These days the sport is Whiffle Ball, and I am sorry to report I do not know how the teams were chosen, nor do I know who won. I am assured, however, that a good time was had by all.
And while we’re on the subject of sport, please congratulate Br. Andrew Dominic, who successfully completed the Berkeley half-marathon last Sunday. Br. Andrew had been training for the event for some time, learning from the example of Fr. LaSalle Hallissey, who took up marathon running (and competitive stair climbing) when he left Holy Rosary Priory in Portland to take up residence at the Dominican community in Los Angeles. “It’s so close to the Rose Bowl,” says Fr. LaSalle, “it seemed a shame to waste the opportunity to run around the track.”
Fr. LaSalle is presently chaplain at De LaSalle High School in Concord, where he is an inspiration to the student body. Some of the more adventuresome students join him on his daily runs, but what is more to the point is Fr. LaSalle’s spirited support of student athletic events. He never fails to bless the “jocks” as they set off for their encounters, and he always tells them to “beat the ‘socks’ off their opponents” – for the greater glory of God, of course. Fr. LaSalle also directs our Dominican cemetery in Benicia, where he has made a number of substantial improvements to the property. Fr. LaSalle celebrates a Mass for the dead at the cemetery on the First Saturday of each month, and he then conducts a brief history tour of the Dominican friars’ section of the cemetery, where he introduces visitors to one or two of the permanent Dominican residents, and then takes guests to the San Rafael Dominican Sisters’ graves, where he does the same. These Masses are popular and well-attended events – anyone who knows Fr. LaSalle can attest they are also very devout and uplifting.
I beg you to pray for our students as you read this. They will soon complete their formal classwork for the Autumn semester and begin preparing for their final exams. During the days of this Thanksgiving holiday I have been blessed with leisure time to spend reading, going to a film with a friend, and writing this note to you, our benefactors. Our students, by contrast, have spent the time studying, completing papers and otherwise preparing for the end of the academic term. My classmates and I (I am ashamed to say) always secured high grades in our classes, but this had far more to do with cleverness than a dedication to study. Today’s students, by contrast, are devoted to their studies, and to listen to them talk about what they have learned – as I have the opportunity to do each day – is a remarkable experience.
To give you an example, let me quote from the homily I preached on the feast of St. Albert. I was working on the homily, and was quite pleased with it, but I did not have what I thought a satisfying conclusion. The morning of the feast – well, the homily will tell the tale:
"At breakfast this morning, Br. Thomas Aquinas told me St. Albert wrote a commentary on the Virtuous Wife in the Book of Proverbs. He compared her to the Church, and said that her blood, which nourishes the infant in her womb, is like the ministry of preaching. The prayer we’ve offered these past eight days has asked our patron to cultivate in us the gifts of wisdom and understanding so that we may share in his love of truth and 'preach it in the spirit of our holy Father, Dominic.' If we don’t share these gifts by the preaching of our lives, two things will happen, neither of them pleasant to contemplate. The first is that the world will be deprived of the gift we’ve been given – and given to share. The second, and this hits far closer to home, is that is that if we’re not willing to risk embracing our preaching ministry – in whatever form it takes – we will have absolutely no claim on our Master’s joy."
Your prayers and support are the source of everything we have and everything we do. On behalf of the Dominican students who are the chief recipients of your kindness, I beg you to accept our sincere thanks. You may be certain we will remember you gratefully throughout these days of Advent, praying that the Light of Christ, which these days anticipate, may become a deeper and deeper reality in your lives.