From the Prior's Window
News from St. Albert’s
I often feel I deserve to be called “a bear a very little brain,” the nickname given Winnie-the Pooh, the eponymous hero of so many of our childhood stories. To be sure, I cannot recall being dragged downstairs by one foot, my head thumping on each step to mark my progress. However, I am notoriously slow to ask questions, and, as a result, often very slow to receive answers.
For example, my Dominican brothers have frequently remarked how well my predecessor, Fr. Michal Monschau, “kept up” with the many friends and benefactors of St. Albert’s Priory. I am more grateful than I can say for the friendships I’ve made –and renewed – since I arrived at St. Albert’s a year and some weeks ago, but people speak of Fr. Michael’s interaction with you in terms of such awe that I realize he related to more of you than I, and apparently in a far, far deeper way. I cannot tell why I have taken so long to ask the simple questions “why?” and “how?” but such are the ways of bears of very little brain.
Last week, however, as I spoke to one of my Dominican brothers in charge of resurrecting the Priory’s web-page, I thought to ask, “why was Fr. Michael such a great communicator?” The reply? “He wrote a newsletter, which he posted on the Priory’s web-site, and made available to the folks who come to Mass.” For a moment I felt a little like Jesus, asking the crowds, “No, what did you really go out into the desert to see?” and then I realized what a powerful tool a newsletter can be.
When I was our Province’s Development Director, other Development Directors would ask me what first steps they should take to make known their religious communities or other organizations. I always replied, “Start a newsletter.” Doubtless you will quote the Scripture, or a variant, “then why, physician, didn’t you heal yourself?” And I’ll reply that we bears of very little brain often have remarkably short memories.
Our hearts, however, are generally in the right place, so this is my first letter to you. We’re working on the Priory’s web page, and when it’s up and running, future efforts will include pictures, but this initial effort will let you know a little of what we’ve been up to since I arrived, and what we plan to do in the near future. You’ve been, perforce, a part of the past; I hope you’ll want to mark your calendars so you can be informed and willing participants of our future.
If you looked at the west side of our yard this spring, you watched us remove four liquidambar tress, planted about fifty years ago by Fr. Edmund Ryan, when he was a student. The trees, we discovered, were in bad shape internally (many of us can sympathize, I’m sure) and represented a hazard to the safety or our neighbors’ property.
The City of Oakland allowed us to remove four trees, and ordered us to plant four new trees, to maintain the aesthetic contribution our yard makes to the neighborhood. We planted six new liquidambars, and placed them far enough away from the property line to protect the neighbors if anything goes amiss with their innards. Those of you who have read Madame de Sevigne’s letters know how she loved the avenue of trees at her home in southern France. I’m under no illusion that we’ve achieved the same dramatic effect, but we’re not finished. We will add at least six more trees, and as they mature, we will not only enjoy full benefit of their fall color, we’ll have, in effect, two small “alleys” of liquidambars.
Our Holy Week and Easter celebrations were dignified and very well-attended. The students advertised the services on local web-sites, so we hosted many new faces, and everyone, I believe, was quite touched. Easter was magnificent: the chapel redolent with the scent of lilies, and filled with faces old and new. I have not heard whether our Easter collection set a record, but it was a generous tribute to the generosity of the many friends who support our life at St. Albert’s, and are willing to sacrifice to help us prepare the next generation of Dominican preachers.
I left shortly after our Mass on Easter Morning, to serve as one of the chaplains for the Order of Malta’s annual pilgrimage to Lourdes. The time there was, as always, moving and blessed, and I prayed for you every day. Since our return, one of the invalids we cared for has seen his doctor, who reports that malignant spots on his lungs and brain have disappeared.
May has already been busy, with the funeral of Fr. Lawrence Banfield (the eldest Dominican in the Western Province) and it promises to be even busier and happier. I hope you will join us for as many of our special events as you can. Next Sunday’s Mass will honor the students who have received degrees from our Dominican School, and the following Saturday afternoon (May 28) will find us at St. Therese Parish to witness the priestly ordinations of our Brothers Mark Francis Manzano and Boniface Willard. On Sunday, May 29, Frs. Mark and Boniface will celebrate Masses of Thanksgiving here, in our chapel. Fr. Mark will celebrate the regularly-scheduled Mass, at 9:30 in the morning, and Fr. Boniface will celebrate Mass at 1 p.m.
This is the time of year that our Provincial make new assignments, so St. albert’s looks forward to welcoming two new members, Fr. Vincent Benoit, who will manage the Province’s website, and Fr. Michael Fones, who has been named our new Student Master. Frs. Mark Francis and Boniface will leave St. Albert’s for new assignments, of course, but so will a couple of other fathers. I believe they should have the opportunity to tell you when they will leave – and where they will be going – so I’ll leave that to them, at least for the present.
In the meantime, I am delighted to have discovered this wholly (for me, at least) new way to communicate with you, who are so valuable part of our lives. The Priory’s website plans will hibernate for the summer, while our students pursue summer ministries, but they will resume in the fall, and I look forward – sooner rather than later – to communicating more widely with our larger St. Albert family.
With my grateful prayers and every good wish,
Fr. Reginald Martin, O.P.