Dear Friends of Saint Albert’s,
When I closed my last reflection I had just heaved a sigh of relief that we’d re-elected Mark Padrez to serve another four years as our Provincial and I could retire after a week as “Vice President of the Universe.” I have served as assistant to two Provincials, and one of them took a sabbatical while I was in the Office, so I have some sense of the challenges the Provincial faces. Thus, I beg you to pray for Fr. Mark. Modern communications (which we barely had in “my day”) have made the Provincial accessible twenty-four hours a day, so his office – and that of his assistant – is no longer the gentleman’s occupation it was when I was a youth. Both Fr. Mark and Fr. Joseph Sergott deserve our prayers!
Once the excitement of the election was out of the way, we dedicated ourselves to the Real Work of the Chapter, reviewing the Province’s legislation, and recommending any changes to our rules, to reflect changes in the world around us. Fr. Chris Renz, whom many of you remember, and I were charged to come up with a new draft of the Province’s Mission Statement (some folks have all the luck!) so we spent a morning listening to what our brothers thought the statement ought to include, and then settled ourselves at computers across from one another at the table in the middle of my room. We exchanged words and phrases we thought important, and every now and then shared a complete sentence. After an hour or two we came up with a couple of sentences, and after another forty-five minutes we’d whittled things down to twenty-one words.
When we presented our efforts to the assembly the next day, no one seemed to recall our job had been to reflect the group’s contributions, so I reminded everyone (rather testily, I confess) we’d not spent the time expressing our own ideas but theirs. And then, at some point, the thought occurred to me, “Reginald, you were called to serve. Listen to what these people have to say and serve.” I have no idea what may have gone through Fr. Chris’ mind, but he was far more gracious, and we came up, at last, with a statement that should present the Western Province adequately and eloquently to the world.
Those of you who joined us for prayers during the Chapter undoubtedly noticed a number of familiar faces among the Chapter members belonging to those who have only recently completed their studies and been assigned to ministry. I have been attending these gatherings since 1981 (the only Chapter I missed was that in 1990) and the representatives at this assembly were the youngest I can recall – I was the second oldest! Many called this event “The Children’s Crusade,” although whether they intended the title a compliment I’ve not been able to determine. What was evident, however, was an exceptionally high quality of preaching at the Masses during our days together.
On the first day of our meeting I passed around a calendar for the month of January and asked my brothers to assume responsibility for the various Masses. One theme that occurred over and over in the preaching was our need to plan for the Province’s future, to care for our elderly members, and to offer necessary assistance to the men interested in entering the Dominicans and who might be burdened with educational debt.
Back in the Dark Ages, when my classmates and I entered the novitiate, student debt simply wasn’t an issue. College education at any of the California universities was free, and my four years of private college schooling had cost my parents no more than $15,000.00 – which included two years’ room and board (and laundry!) at St. Martin’s, in Olympia, Washington. Today’s younger Dominicans are quite aware of the challenges facing those who wish to embrace our life.
During the initial days of the Chapter we celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany, so the time came to remove the Christmas decorations that had so adorned our liturgical celebrations – and, indeed, our common life. I had put off opening one gift under our Christmas tree, simply because it added a little something to the décor in our common room. Also, it appeared to be a box of candy, and we’d consumed so much candy, I thought we might as well put off one more helping until we had worked up a sufficient appetite for the additional treat.
What I’d not anticipated was the squirrels’ (you were wondering when I was going to mention them, weren’t you?) sneaking into the Priory and re-arranging things. When I opened the gift I found not a box of candy but a handsome sleeveless wool sweater. My elegantly-clad friends apparently feared I might outshine them, so they removed the gift tag that identified the giver, whose indulgence I beg for not sending a personal note.
As January progressed, we celebrated the Feast of St. Agnes, one of my favorite saints. This year our friend, Dan Baedeker, made the day more memorable by informing me (to my surprise) the date marks Squirrel Appreciation Day. A note that accompanied a photograph of two Eurasian Red Squirrels (from Finland) remarked, “Aside from motivating people to learn more about the wildlife we see every day, Squirrel Appreciation Day enthusiasts suggest offering up a treat for hungry squirrels, especially hard-shell nuts or sunflower seeds. At the very least, doing so might keep the fuzzy bandits out of the backyard bird feeder for a day.”
When I am not enjoying the sight of wildlife frolicking outside this newsletter’s eponymous window, I enjoy watching the changes in the seasonal flora. Something that captivated me for several weeks was the garland of poinsettia flowers that bedecked the walkway to the Provincial Office. Until the day I visited the Office and couldn’t find the blossoms. When I returned to my room they magically reappeared, and I was quite puzzled – until I realized the flowers were actually the few remaining leaves on a branch that parallels the walk to the Provincial Office, and reaches out into my view. When the sun shines through them, as it has done recently, the leaves are brilliantly crimson.
One of the faces you do not see often enough is that of Fr. LaSalle Hallissey, today’s preacher. Fr. LaSalle was a Christian Brother for a number of years before he entered the Dominican Order, and he has never lost his devotion to the Brothers’ interest in education. He is chaplain to the students at De LaSalle High School, in Concord, and, sadly, his schedule at the school precludes his joining us for many of our liturgical exercises. As a result, we do not have the opportunity to pray with him, or hear him preach, nearly often enough.
Few of you know that Fr. LaSalle once weighed a great deal more than he presently does. When he was assigned to our community in Los Angeles, he found a doctor who recommended an heroic diet, which enabled Fr. LaSalle to lose quite a bit of weight – and to explore a hobby as a marathon runner and stair climber. Fr. LaSalle has raced up the stairs of some of the tallest buildings in the United States, and has taken part in some world-class marathons, including Rome’s.
He is also an avid cyclist. When he learned I’d gotten a good deal on a bicycle from a participant in last semester’s School of Applied Theology, he offered to take me cycling, to show me the scenery – and to see whether one really never forgets how to ride a bicycle. The date for our experiment finally came yesterday, and while he saddled the bike rack onto the car, I got onto the bicycle and coasted uncertainly around the back yard until I was able to fix both feet on the pedals, whereupon I determined I was prepared (if only just) for our Great Adventure.
“When was the last time you rode a bicycle?” Fr. LaSalle asked me. “When a friend took me to Hawaii about twenty years ago,” I replied. “We signed up for a bike ride on some mountain, and when the van arrived to fetch us we drove to the top of the peak. We and the other riders got out along with the bikes, donned our helmets, then coasted several miles down the mountainside. Other than applying the brakes, it didn’t require much effort.”
Today’s ride was somewhat more demanding, ten miles along the Bay. We would have embarked on the trip alongside the Bay Bridge, which Fr. LaSalle assures me is magnificent, but I began to fear my knees and other, nether, parts might complain, so we came home. To my surprise (and delight) a brief nap proved quite restorative, and I have felt (at least so far) no adverse effects.
Our students, who disappeared after Christmas to visit their families, returned for a day or two after the New Year, and then departed for a retreat with Fr. Michael Fones. They have been home for a week or two, and are preparing to resume classes tomorrow. While they have been doing housework and catching up on preparatory studies, I have spent the last week writing for the Rosary Center and putting finishing touches on the homilies I will preach at St. Dominic’s, in San Francisco, for the St. Jude Shrine’s novena to Our Lady of Lourdes.
I began the effort by writing a perfectly heart-breaking homily for tomorrow’s Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. As my work progressed, I needed to count the days so I could label one of the efforts. For some reason the numbers didn’t add up, and I realized the Novena does not begin tomorrow but the day after; one would think (by now) I’d be able to count to nine!
I have also been writing thank-you letters, to express my gratitude for your prayers and generosity. I regret the days of our Chapter kept me too busy to attend to these earlier, but my thanks are sincere, if belated. I have begun my last year as Prior here, and these years have been the happiest I can remember, simply because you have been so willing to make yourselves a part of our lives and everything we strive to do. As we begin our pilgrimage through this New Year, I beg you to keep us in your prayers, and I promise we will remember you each day in ours, gratefully and...
--Fr. Reginald Martin, O.P.