Dear Friends of Saint Albert’s,
When last I wrote we had just welcomed twenty young men who were interested in taking a look at Dominican life. Two weeks later, another dozen joined us for a similar exploratory weekend. These events are a great pleasure for the Priory community, and we always look forward to the next year’s novitiate class, to see who has accepted the invitation to embrace our Dominican vocation.
As I recall, I spent some time in my last reflection complaining about having to leave home in October to attend meetings of one sort or another. Duty called once again in November, so I found myself in Portland, where I spent an afternoon chatting with the Rosary Center’s auditors. They seemed pleased with the operation, so I can look forward to submitting a positive report to next month’s Provincial Chapter.
I was then able to pay a visit to one of my favorite emporia, where I added to the priory’s silverware. Any of you who has attended a reception here has seen our collection of silver trays, and some of you have asked whether we inherited the loot, or acquired it in some other way. I take great delight in replying that, with one or two exceptions, everything has come from St. Vincent de Paul, or the Goodwill “super” store in Portland. Some of the objects came in their original boxes, apparently wedding or other gifts the recipients didn’t want to polish.
The cost of these things is so ridiculously low, I revel in preserving the price tags as long as possible – and I treasure the permanent marks the folks in Portland make with some sort of indelible pen: a lasting tribute to my prowess as a bargain hunter. The Priory now has a silver closet that looks like a fairy tale pantry, and we are equipped for any special occasion. The joke is that this arsenal cost no more than two or three of my monthly allowances.
On this shopping expedition I also found the latest novel in a series of thrillers my mother introduced me to – they feature a lascivious grandmother and more exploding cars than one can count. “The author looks so nice,” my mom once observed, “I can’t believe she writes these stories.” I repeated the remark to a bank teller in Portland, to whom I’d lent one of the volumes. She replied, “I used to be a bartender, and we learn to look beneath the surface. I can believe she writes these stories!”
I returned home from Portland in time to drive to Menlo Park, to take my turn as confessor for the Dominican nuns at Corpus Christi Monastery. As I approached the front door, a most elegant squirrel ran across the sidewalk and disappeared into the shrubbery. One of the sisters mentioned my “squirrel report” after her confession, and I remarked the splendid appearance of the little fellow I’d just encountered. “He was much better-looking than his cousins on Birch Court,” I said. “He should be,” came the reply, through clenched teeth. “There’s not a fruit tree in our back yard that doesn’t bear some trace of these monsters’ invasions!”
Those of you who join us for Mass on Sundays have the immense honor of hearing Ron Cheatham play our organ. The other day Ron’s wife, Lori, handed me a large, square package. “We saw this and thought of you,” said she. When I came to my room and unwrapped the gift, I found a calendar illustrated with – you guessed it! – squirrels.
My friends’ investment in squirrel-related artifacts reminds me of the first year I served as pastor of our Newman Center in Eugene, Oregon. I’d always wanted a teddy bear, but no one took the hints I dropped, so one day, when a catalog arrived featuring nothing but teddy bears, I bought one for myself. Suddenly, I was inundated with teddy bear stationery, handkerchiefs, cookies and anything else you can name.
The bear, which I named Wenceslaus, to honor the saint on whose feast he arrived, proved a very helpful companion. I kept him in my office, and if someone were nervous or upset, I would offer Wenceslaus to the individual, by way of comfort and succor. I am by no means an insightful listener – I have absolutely no gift for spiritual direction – but Wenceslaus had an amazing capacity to calm folks down. I still had him with me, twenty-five or so years later, when I came to St. Albert’s. I figured I would no longer need him, so I gave him to a member of our domestic staff, and I believe one of her grandchildren was as delighted with him as I.
November brings two very important days to our Priory. The first is the feast of our patron, St. Albert the Great. This year the feast fell on Saturday, so our liturgy drew fewer of our friends than usual, but the feast day Mass was, nonetheless, memorable. Fr. Hilary Martin preached a homily that called each of us to imitate St. Albert’s compassion, magnanimity and unfailing dedication to the truth.
The second of the month’s important memorials, of course, is our country’s day of National Thanksgiving, and this year we were blessed to have among us Fr. Gregory Tatum, a member of our Province who teaches at the Order’s Ecole Biblique et Archeologique in Jerusalem. Fr. Gregory is a Scriptural genius, and he preached a masterful and thought-provoking homily on Jesus’ cure of the ten lepers, recorded in the seventeenth chapter of Luke’s gospel account. Fr. Gregory posted the homily on Facebook, so you can read it, if you like.
As you know, St. Albert’s hosts a sabbatical program, the School of Applied Theology, for religious and priests from around the world. The Dominican community is, ordinarily, very jealous of our time together, but we occasionally invite the School’s participants to join us for special occasions. Thanksgiving is one of these, so our friends were our guests for dinner, and made part of our dessert gathering afterward. One of the program’s participants, a priest from New Zealand, told me he was looking for a buyer for his bicycle, as he did not want to transport it home. When I asked the price, I was astounded at the bargain he quoted, so I immediately grasped the opportunity to buy the bike. To my delight, I learned it came with a riding helmet, with which I dazzled my brothers when I wore it into our common room last night. I will soon learn whether we truly never forget how to ride bicycles!
Needless to say, our students were the liturgical heroes of November’s celebrations, as well as the hands and arms that organized everything for our guests on Thanksgiving. You are probably weary of hearing me say our students are terrific, but such is the case. They are an amazing lot, and I need do no more than outline something that needs to be done for a special occasion, and they are “there” to fill in the blanks and make certain everything is in place to make the occasion truly special.
As I write these lines, our students are busily putting finishing touches on papers, and studying for the final exams they will face this coming week. I can hardly believe the fall semester has come to an end, and I dare say our student brothers share my sense of disbelief.
This first week of December has proven to be somewhat noteworthy. On Tuesday, I gave a Day of Recollection to the Dominican sisters in the infirmary at San Rafael. I treasure the invitations I receive from the San Rafael community, as they were my introduction to Dominican life when I lived in Reno, for a short time, in 1959, and attended their grammar school, Our Lady of the Snows.
On Thursday I celebrated my 68th birthday as we gathered for the final meeting of our 24th Provincial Council. We made certain the day will be remembered, for we chose Fr. Peter Rogers to serve as the new President of the Dominican School, in Berkeley. Fr. Peter will replace Fr. Michael Sweeney, who has served as President for the past ten years.
On January 2nd, we will gather for our 25th Provincial Chapter, at which we will choose a new Provincial and select (or renew) directors of our Province’s various ministries. These Chapters take place only once in four years and are, as you might imagine, extremely important. I beg you to pray for us as we set the direction of the Western Province for the next four years. I beg you to pray especially for me, as I shall be in charge of the Province for the first four or five days of the Chapter, until we elect the new Provincial. When this happened four years ago, I asked myself, “How did a nice boy like me, from North Hollywood, end up in this fix?” I shall undoubtedly repeat the question, but at least this time I know what to expect. Sort of.
Today is the birthday of our brother, Peter Yost. Br. Peter continues to give new meaning to the word “eccentric,” but one would have to look quite far to find a man more generous or devoted to those he lives with. This is Br. Peter’s 85th birthday, which means he has been a member of the Western Province long enough to witness a great deal of our growth. Please keep Br. Peter in your prayers.
And please keep our Dominican students in your prayers. They are Christ’s voice in the 21st century, and their hands will touch the world with His mercy and love. Thank you for being a part of their – and our – future!
With every prayer and good wish for a blessed Advent and a holy Christmas.
In Christ’s love,
--Fr. Reginald Martin, O.P.