From the Prior’s Window - Mother's Day
Dear Friends of St. Albert’s,
Last month’s reflection ended rather abruptly, before the month was half over. That was a conscious decision, as the latter part of the month held three important events, and I didn’t want to delay my thanks for your Easter prayers and gifts. Now I can give these special occasions the attention they deserve. The first notable event, on April 22nd, was the 60th anniversary of Sr. Maria Goretti Eder’s religious profession. Those of you who have been part of our life for some time will remember the Oakford Dominican sisters who were part of St. St. Albert’s for many years. They cooked for us, sewed our habits, did our laundry, and contributed a priceless, indefinable family quality to our community life.
We have never looked so good as we did when they were in charge of our clothes. In the summer of 1971, when Berkeley was in the hands of some decidedly untidy-looking hippies, my superiors sent me to Cal to study French. Apparently students could sign up for as many classes as they liked, once they paid the tuition for the first, because I recall enrolling in a weight-training effort that brought me back to the days when I used to go to the gym with my dad. One afternoon, after I’d taken my shower, and was walking home, I excused myself as I walked past an elderly woman on the sidewalk. She paused, looked up, and examined me very closely, with my short hair and my shirt with its button-down collar. She remarked, “I must say…” “Oh no,” I thought, “What have I done?” “I must say,” she continued, “It certainly is nice to see someone who looks – clean!” I came home and raced down to the laundry room to remark the sisters’ triumph over the prevailing culture.
Sr. Goretti was in charge of the kitchen, and there was nothing she couldn’t cook, and cook well. As I look back, I think her favorite things were desserts, which were masterpieces, but I fell in love with her stews and short ribs. When I was growing up, both my parents worked, so we frequently went out for dinner, or ate steaks and other things that could be quickly prepared at home. Dinner for the first night of my novitiate was pot roast; I couldn’t believe my good fortune! The next night we had fried chicken. “On Thursday?” I marveled.
I’d learned the basics of cooking by watching my mother and grandmothers, but I discovered how much fun cooking can be under Sr. Goretti’s guidance. In the beginning, the adventure was almost medieval: the Priory kitchen had a stove with burners that completely covered the cooking flame. The temperature of the grill was pretty much anybody’s guess. My novitiate classmates and I had been assigned to cook one Sunday evening, and one of us suggested hamburgers and French fries, thinking this would be a fairly simple meal. I suppose it would, if one could see how hot the cooking surfaces were, but we had no clue!
I am, by nature, very shy, but I could see disaster looming over our meal, so I found myself giving orders that somehow made sense. My six classmates listened, and the meal was an unqualified success. The kitchen floor was something of a loss, but we cleaned it up, and I decided to pay closer attention to Sr. Goretti.
In the late 1980s, St. Albert’s hosted the Dominicans’ General Chapter, a gathering of Dominicans from around the world, who come together to renew the legislation that governs our Dominican life. The Chapter we hosted consisted of about a hundred members, and took up every room in the Priory. I lived at Siena House by this time, and was assistant to Fr. John Flannery, who was our Provincial. Everyone in the neighborhood was assigned a job for the Chapter, and I got put in charge of the kitchen. I knew who would really be in charge, but I also knew what Fr. Flannery and some of the other officials liked to eat, so I sat down one day and put together a month’s menus.
The Chapter was during the summer, so I tried to show off as much of our local produce as possible. Sr. Goretti and I took a close look at my work, and she disagreed with only one of my suggestions. Then the crowds arrived, and the six or so of us assigned to the kitchen went to work. What I realized immediately was I’d succeeded far too well with the menus. At the end of the third day we were preparing twice as much food as we had prepared on the first. And by the end of the week, we had nearly doubled the volume again. Sr. Goretti looked down at an empty platter, looked up at me and said, “Fr. Reginald, these people aren’t eating.” She was too polite to say what she thought they were doing, but they were certainly enjoying her food.
And at the end of the Chapter, the Master General came to the kitchen and said, “At every Chapter the food is good the first day; you’ve made it good every day!” As if to illustrate his point, the food at the next Chapter was terrible. I was in charge of the Provincial Office while Fr. Flannery attended the sessions. One day he sent me a Fax, which said, “The food is so bad, if this were a prison, there’d be a riot.” The Provincial was ill for the next Chapter, so I took his place in Bologna, Italy. To my surprise, my brother Dominicans still came up and remarked how well Sr. Goretti had fed them at St. Albert’s.
The next event that drew us together was the Solemn Profession of our brothers Corwin Low and Peter Hannah, on April 28th. The crowd was larger than we could accommodate at St. Albert’s, so we held the ceremony at our parish, St. Dominic’s, in San Francisco. By his solemn profession a brother takes vows that bind him to the Dominican Order for the rest of his life. This is a major step for our brothers, and to take it is a sign that they are nearing the end of their initial formation. We have you to thank for the prayers and financial support that have played so vital a role in our brothers’ lives, and we are, I assure you, deeply grateful.
The formation process has changed a great deal since the “olden days,” when I was a student, but Brs. Peter and Corwin should be ordained to the diaconate next year. Their priestly ordination will follow sometime later. You may be justly proud of these fine men you have helped us equip for the task of preaching the Good News in this unfolding Third Millennium!
Two Sundays ago I zipped my suitcase and boarded an airplane to join members of the Order of Malta on their annual pilgrimage to Lourdes. I was one of about fifteen chaplains, a group that included our own Bishop Cordeleone. I have written before that I find this adventure a very moving experience – sharing the faith of individuals hoping to regain their health, reaching out to their caregivers, and offering whatever support I can to the volunteers who make the pilgrimage possible.
Lourdes seemed remarkably uncrowded this year; I waited no more than a minute or two when I went to confession, and the day I went to the baths, I was in the freezing water before I knew it! I’ve decided that water is actually something of a relief – the sopping, bitterly cold cloth the attendant wraps around the bather is the miserable part of the exercise! In the few moments I lay in the chilly water, I tried to remember all the intentions I’d brought with me. You may be certain I prayed for you, who make our life possible here at St. Albert’s.
I returned to Oakland on Wednesday, May 9th. By Friday I realized I’d come down with a cold, which prompted one of my Dominican brothers to observe, “Reginald, don’t people go to Lourdes to be cured of illnesses?” His cynicism notwithstanding, it was an invaluable journey.
Yesterday brought the news of my mother’s death. She was 86, and had been lingering in a sad twilight state since October, when she suffered a small stroke, which affected her ability to walk, after a fairly simple surgery. She had been in a nursing facility in Los Angeles, but this was by no means “home,” so I have no doubt she is far happier today than she was yesterday. When I was growing up I once asked how she wanted to die. She replied, “In my sleep.” God appears to have been listening. I have no doubt He will be equally attentive to your prayers for my mother, and both she and I will be very grateful.
I woke up early this morning and celebrate Mass privately. I’m coughing very unpleasantly – and frequently – so I’ve decided to spare you my toxic company this morning. Nevertheless, let me wish the moms in our congregation a very blessed and Happy Mother’s Day. I look forward to greeting you in person next week.
Fr. Reginald Martin, O.P.