Dear Friends of Saint Albert’s,
I owe you an apology. One of my Dominican brothers pointed out a spelling error in my last reflection. I carelessly called our squirrel friends, Squirus instead of their proper name, Sciurus. This probably explains the half-eaten acorns and other detritus decorating the ledges of my window this last month, as well as the scornful glances the little fellows have tossed in my direction whenever our paths have crossed on Birch Court. “Heaven hath no rage like love to hatred turned, nor Hell a fury like a Sciurus –” well, you can fill in the blank.
Our friend, Ezio Maiolini, who joins us for Sunday Mass, sent me a charming note the other day. He said he was driving to work in a wooded area near Orinda, and encountered an injured squirrel in the middle of the road. He was unwilling to leave the animal to be squashed by another driver, but had nothing with which to move him to a safer spot (he feared moving him by hand, lest the frightened fellow bite him). Some gardeners were working nearby, so Ezio borrowed a rake and moved him to a shady area where he could die peacefully.
A few hours later Ezio retuned and took a look for the injured squirrel, but found no sign of him. Ezio ends his note, “I believe he managed to slip away further into the brush – or so I would like to think. I did my good deed for the day, and slept well that night.”
My last reflection ended with the splendid news of our brothers’ ordinations at St. Dominic’s, in San Francisco. The next day we had the great privilege of attending the newly-ordained Fr. Peter Hannah’s first Mass here in our chapel. I am sure we were all quite touched by his presenting his mother with the cloth he had used to wipe the chrism from his hands – and giving his father a scrap of the purple stole he had used to hear his first confession. If he managed to hear a confession and give hundreds of blessings after the ordination, Fr. Peter’s first day as a priest must have been very busy, indeed.
But the activity continued beyond that confession and those blessings. If you check the Dominican Vocations site on Facebook, you’ll find a picture of Fr. Peter and a number of our brothers standing next to a truck parked in front of the chapel. The truck belongs to Mark Valdez, one of our cooks, and he asked Fr. Peter to bless it.
The next two days were very busy for me. Fr. Joseph Sergott (the assistant to our Provincial) and I drove to McKenzie Bridge, Oregon, to fetch Fr. Augustine “Gus” Hartman to his new home among us. I introduced Fr. Gus in my last letter, and I cannot express my delight at the opportunity to live with him again. He has a remarkably droll sense of humor – manifest the other morning at breakfast, when he asked, “We live a common life, which means we’re supposed to share, doesn’t it?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“Well, let me share some of my sorrows and anxiety!”
When we lived in Seattle together, Fr. Gus was a great asset in the garden. I loved to plant roses, and put them wherever I could find a spot. But the city endured an earthquake, and our church, Blessed Sacrament, suffered significant damage, so I had to sacrifice my pastime to wander about on scaffolding with architects and engineers, examining the fine points of their restoration efforts.
The day Fr. Gus arrived to join our community I was fresh from one of these adventures, and greeted him in a hard hat and tee shirt – I must have made quite a “fashion statement”! I do not recall how the conversation turned to roses, but in a short time I no longer had to feel bad about ignoring the plant life on our property. And before long, Fr. Gus had transformed a bare spot between the church and the priory into a shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe.
I believe the novelist Thackeray observed, “We are not long is using ourselves to change,” and the organ in our chapel provides a perfect illustration of this wisdom. The organ’s installation was completed last Memorial Day, but it seems as if it’s been part of our worship forever. This June 8th found us gathered for a concert to celebrate the first anniversary of its installation, and Jonathan Dimmock provided an exquisite treat – music by J.S. Bach, his son Carl, Mendelssohn, Brahms, and a 20th century offering by Paul Hindemith.
You have, no doubt, noticed a larger than usual number of our Dominican students around St. Albert’s this summer. Some are studying French, Br. Gregory is helping with a program to train young missionaries for work in China, and we have a guest from the Central Dominican Province, Br. Raphael, who is studying Latin at Cal. Their various occupations make for interesting conversations at meals and recreation.
As June drew to its close I was privileged to take part in the Order of Malta’s ceremonies that welcomed our friend, Eileen Bitten, among those who pledge to “…defend the Roman faith…and to practice charity toward…the poor and the sick….” The installation ceremonies are very simple, and Eileen was given a cape with an eight-pointed cross, a reminder of the Beatitudes that she is asked, as a member of the Order, particularly to model in her life.
As I write this, Fr. LaSalle is packing to accompany members of the Order of Malta on their ten-day Summer Pilgrimage to Lourdes, an event in which thirty or so high school students will help provide all the necessary services to the malades who come to Lourdes seeking God’s mercy and, should He will, a cure. This pilgrimage is, in many ways, far more demanding than the one I take part in in the Spring. Mine is organized to accommodate individuals who, though ill, are capable of making the long airplane ride from the West coast to France; the students Fr. LaSalle is shepherding will greet trains equipped with cars specially-constructed to carry individuals on cots. They come from all over Europe, and speak a number of languages. LaSalle and his students will have to be Christ’s face and hands in very challenging circumstances.
The Sunday after Eileen’s installation, Fr. Vincent Benoit and I celebrated the anniversaries of our ordinations – his 30th, and my 40th. Fr. Brian Mullady preached at the community Mass that day, the solemnity of Corpus Christi, and touched us deeply with his heart-felt and challenging words. To have so many of you a part of the celebration was quite an honor. Some of you I have known only since I arrived here, four years ago. Others, like Helen Wood, have been a part of my entire priestly life. I thank you all for the prayers and support that have made my four-decade priesthood such a happy time.
I thank you, too, for joining us in the back yard after Mass, for what turned out to be a very pleasant reception. Last October, my good friend, Dave Fencl, offered to provide the champagne when we celebrated Fr. Mark Padrez’ 50th birthday. I (thinking ahead) suggested he buy extra, so we would have enough for my celebration. And then, because St. Albert’s has never had decent champagne glasses, I suggested he purchase something worthy of his wine. Dan Baedeker contributed some Prosecco to the occasion, and we had sparkling cider and fizzy water, as well – plenty of bubbles to fill the glasses.
Someone noticed we did not have a cake for the occasion, and I remarked I wanted nothing that required more than one hand to eat. Laura Patterson, one of our cooks, and I conned over the selection of open-faced sandwiches, and I think we came up with a splendid offering. In fact, she came to my rescue when my imagination deserted me. I bought a large helping of Brie, which I planned to use – somehow. I no longer remember what I had in mind, but when I tried the experiment, it was dreadful. “What are we going to do with all this Brie?” I whined.
“Let me take care of it,” Laura said, soothingly. I have no idea where she came up with the idea to combine Dijon mustard with apricot jam, but it made a magnificent foil for the cheese, and everyone who tasted it was enchanted. Sadly, for the Dominican community, we must bid farewell to Laura, who will leave us to take a new job, managing a restaurant only a few minutes’ drive from her home in Lodi.
The last week of the month was devoted to our Province Assembly, an event that gathers all – or, at least, most – members of the Western Province, and provides an opportunity to discuss issues to present at the upcoming Provincial Chapter, as well as simply renew old acquaintances. As you might imagine, such an enterprise requires a great deal of advance preparation, so everyone in the community was pressed into service to get things ready. I often say I was born to be a housekeeper, so when everything is in place I take great pleasure in looking around and seeing my brothers enjoying themselves.
On Monday we put finishing touches on the physical arrangements, and made sure we had enough tables and chairs for the next two days’ conversations. Tuesday and Wednesday were given to discussing various topics for the Chapter, and on Wednesday afternoon everyone (or nearly) gathered at our cemetery in Benicia, to offer Mass for our brothers who have died, especially those who died since the last Assembly. On Thursday we relaxed and enjoyed a Day of Recollection, with some very inspiring words from Peter Sartain, Archbishop of Seattle.
That evening we offered tributes to brothers who celebrated “milestone” anniversaries since the last Assembly. I was invited to congratulate Fr. Anthony Patalano, and thought I could be both lazy and clever by quoting from the homily I preached at his first Mass, twenty-five years ago. Little did I know the Provincial had asked him to offer the toast for my anniversary. Still less did I realize he would remember the homily – and remark it to the assembled gathering!
One of my grandmothers told she had gone to the twenty-fifth wedding anniversary of a cousin, back in the days when the top layer of wedding cakes was a fruit cake, to be saved to celebrate the couple’s silver anniversary. “Gladys had kept it in the freezer all these years,” my grandmother said.
“What did it taste like?” I asked.
“Like fruitcake that had been in the freezer for twenty-five years.”
I guess one might say the same for my words of congratulation to Fr. Anthony. Sigh!
The first of July is the day our new assignments begin, so as soon as the Assembly drew to its close, Fr. Vincent Benoit packed his books and clothes into a van and began the trek to his new home in Eugene, Oregon. Fr. Vincent has been assigned there before (although not so often as I, who – with four assignations – must hold the record) so he returns to a number of friends, although a number of his Dominican brothers bemoan his departure. We’ve heard his first Sunday at St. Thomas More went well, and (is anyone surprised?) his homily was very well received.
You’ve heard me say this before, but although the words are not new, the sentiment is always fresh: thank you for being a part of our lives at St. Albert’s. You cannot know how much your friendship means, or how much your prayers and generous support contribute to our life. I cannot imagine our life without you; with you at our side, I cannot imagine any challenge we cannot face – and overcome. Thank you for believing in us.
--Fr. Reginald Martin, O.P.