June 2014

Dear Friends of Saint Albert’s,

My squirrel friends are angry because my last reflection hit the vestibule of the chapel on Mother’s Day, and they complain they’ve not had sufficient time to rustle up any news in the meantime. To make matters worse (from their perspective) they are – some of them, at least – facing eviction, as our neighbors immediately west of us on Birch Court plan to prune their oak tree. This will undoubtedly improve the view from my window, but my furry reporters fail to see that as an improvement to the quality of their lives.

Notwithstanding the wrath and sloth of the Squirus rodents, May was a predictably busy month at St. Albert’s. I returned from Lourdes on Wednesday, the 7th, and Saturday, the 10th, found us at the cathedral in San Francisco, to enjoy the Alemany Dinner, a festive event sponsored by the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology, which for three decades has honored individuals who have made significant contributions to Catholic education. Proceeds from the evening help underwrite the costs of educating the Dominican who live at St. Albert’s.

The celebration is named to honor Archbishop Joseph Alemany, the Dominican who brought the friars to California in 1850, and who served as San Francisco’s first Archbishop, from 1853 to 1884. He was a remarkable man, one of great vision and no little courage and endurance. He was born in Spain, but came to the United States in 1840. He served as Prior Provincial of the Eastern Dominican Province, and was in Rome, attending a meeting of Dominicans, when he was appointed Bishop of Monterey, California. When the cardinal in charge of such matters delivered the message, Alemany said no, whereupon Pope Pius IX summoned him to a private meeting and told him, “You must go to California…where others are drawn by gold, you must carry the Cross.”

On the way to his new home, Alemany stopped in Paris to beg Dominican sisters to send women to assist the friars in their groundbreaking labors. Sr. Mary Goemaere proved somewhat more accommodating than the newly-appointed bishop and volunteered to accompany Alemany and another friar to Monterey, by way of the Isthmus of Panama. 

This was some years before the canal was built, so the three made the journey on foot and a mule. Sister Goemaere was considerably taller (and more athletic) than either of her fellow pilgrims, so we are told they rode the mule, while she strode beside them, slapping the beast whenever it proved recalcitrant. Whether she slapped them into shape when they bemoaned their unwelcome lot is unrecorded.  I once had the good fortune to sail through the Panama Canal with a friend, on a cruise, and I spent the entire afternoon looking at the shore, imagining how endless that thirty-mile trek must have seemed, in wretched heat, to our Dominican forebears – and congratulating Sister Goemaere.

Four years after they arrived in Monterey, enough women had joined Sister Goemaere that a group was able to move to Benicia, and, in 1889, to San Rafael. There, in 1915, the women’s congregation established Dominican College, which, in 1917, was the first Catholic college in California to offer a Bachelor’s Degree to women.

“Ahem!” mutters one of the squirrels, “What about Alemany?” Oh yes…when the Archdiocese of San Francisco was erected, in 1853, he was appointed its first Archbishop. The rest, as my furry friends say, is history, and now San Francisco has Alemany Boulevard, and the Western Province has the Alemany Dinner.

Things grew very quiet in the Priory after the School’s annual fund-raising celebration. Our student brothers put finishing touches on term papers and dedicated themselves more attentively than ever to their studies. The professors in our midst, Frs. Augustine Thompson and Bryan Kromholtz, remarked how happy they would be to have lectures and examinations behind them so they could devote time to some neglected research projects. 

First, though, we surrendered to the discipline of the year’s final meeting of the Provincial Council. Our friends who remember John Marie Bingham will be delighted to learn he has been nominated to serve as pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Seattle. We are less happy to announce Fr. Vincent Benoit will leave St. Albert’s to go to St. Thomas More Community, in Eugene, Oregon, where he will work in the campus ministry. Br. Michael James Rivera will also leave us, but he will not travel nearly so far. He moves only to Siena House; from there he will oversee the Province’s Internet and website activity. On the bright side, St. Albert’s will be joined by a venerable member of our Province, Fr. Augustine Hartman, who presently lives in Seattle.

Fr. Augustine was in Anchorage to greet me when I arrived there for my first priestly assignment, in 1976. He had built an immense rapport with the Native American population of the area, and they flocked to him for counsel and support.  When he left Alaska, “Fr. Gus” served as hospital chaplain in Idaho, southern California, and Washington, and he came to Blessed Sacrament the last year I was prior there, in 2003. His love of gardening enabled him to put a number of fine, memorable touches on the Priory landscape.

We dusted ourselves off from the Council meeting to attend graduation at the Dominican School, an event advertised as the 82nd Annual Commencement, although the squirrel historians whisper that true graduation ceremonies do not go back nearly so far. If my memory serves, mine was the first actual ceremony, a very modest affair, back in – oh well, never mind. Whatever the case, this year’s proved an impressive exercise, and we were quite pleased to applaud the four of our student brothers who received degrees. The squirrel historians informed me the fellow who delivered the Commencement Address, Michael Oborne, has a long history with the Dominicans. He was part of the 1966 novitiate class!

The month’s true highlight occurred yesterday, on the Feast of the Visitation, when we made the trek to St. Dominic’s in San Francisco to witness the ordinations of our brothers to the diaconate and priesthood. Oakland’s bishop, Michael Barber, S.J., presided at the ceremony, and he preached a witty, yet pointed, homily that began with a tale of seminarians shopping for clothes; the Dominican in their midst headed straight for a site called “True Religion.” (The squirrels, who often shake their heads at my hopelessly old-fashioned clothing choices, assure me the place actually exits.) True Religion, Bishop Barber went on to say, is what our world continues to long for, and if our brothers take seriously the call to mercy implicit in their ordination, they must be generous in sharing its wealth with those they are called to serve.

Our ordained brothers come from all corners of the Western Province. Brs. Corwin Low and Gabriel Mosher, who were ordained deacons, are from Seattle and New Mexico, respectively, while the newly-ordained Fr. Justin Gable comes from somewhat south of Los Angeles, and Fr. Peter Hannah is from Bishop Alemany’s own Monterey.

After the ordination liturgy we enjoyed a pleasant gathering at St. Dominic’s, then repaired to the real reception here on the back lawn at St. Albert’s. Our kitchen staff had set up tables and chairs under the trees, so we came home to a very pleasant selection of salads and sandwiches. My furry friends allowed their greed to betray them, so we saw them hanging from what they imagined to be hidden perches in the trees, drooling as they scouted out the sandwich and other scraps that fell, unclaimed, onto the grass. Evening Prayer is but an hour away as I write this, so I can imagine the party among the wildlife once our two-legged friends vacate the premises.

I can write light-heartedly about all these events, but each of them is a tribute to you and your prayers and generous support that enable us to offer our Dominican brothers the education and training that will equip them to rise to the challenge of Bishop Barber’s homily – to preach Christ’s mercy, and to touch the world with the transforming power of His love. Thank you for believing in what we do, and thank you for your willingness to be a part of our future!

Gratefully, in Christ,
--Fr. Reginald Martin, O.P.

 5890 Birch Court   ~   Oakland, CA   ~   94618-1627  ~   510.596.1800   ~   Western Dominican Province
© St. Albert's Priory, 2014