Dear Friends of Saint Albert’s,
If, like my furry friends on Birch Court, you have wondered why the shades have been lowered on the eponymous Prior’s Windows these past couple of weeks, the reason has been the Prior’s helping with a retreat for members of the Order of Malta, and then, at the Provincial’s command, attending a meeting in Texas. The latter dealt with matters concerning preventing sexual abuse; I leave you to guess which I enjoyed more.
As you know, the Order of Malta was established around 1050, to offer hospitality to pilgrims making their way to Jerusalem. Members of the Order later became an effective military presence, and were part of the Christian naval force that defeated the Turks at the Battle of Lepanto, in 1571. I am a student of 18th and 19th Century British literature, but I was early captivated by a French masterpiece, Choderlos de Laclos’ Dangerous Liaisons, in which the young Chevalier Danceny was unable to join the Order of Malta (but nonetheless able to get into all sorts of other mischief) because he could not swim.
My commitment to this retreat (and my early-morning departure for San Antonio) meant I could attend neither Corwin Low’s ordination to the priesthood, on October 25th, nor his First Mass the following day. My elegantly-clad squirrel spies, however, assure me both events were splendid affairs. The bishop who ordained our brother, Charles Moreod, O.P., made the journey from Geneva, Switzerland, for the occasion, and proved a heart-winning presence.
Corwin made Bishop Moreod’s acquaintance in Rome, in 2000 (before Corwin was a Catholic or Charles Moreod a bishop) and they formed a strong friendship. The St. Albert’s community was honored to offer him hospitality during his stay, and although I am sorry I was unable to greet him, I was delighted to encounter – if only to bid farewell to – many brothers from various corners of the Western Province as they departed for their far-flung communities. I had the opportunity to greet Fr. Peter Hannah, ordained in May, who brought good wishes from our brothers in Salt Lake City, as well as Br. Andrew Dominic, who is spending his “residence” year in Portland, and Br. Thomas Aquinas, who is spending his year with the Dominican community in Anchorage.
The residence year is an important part of our students’ formation. It allows our brothers an opportunity to live in a smaller Dominican community, one engaged in pastoral ministry, and, thus, to experience Dominican life as it is lived in the so-called “real world.” I spent my residence year at our campus ministry at the University of Oregon, in 1973, and I am delighted to say I have maintained to this day some of the friendships I made at that time.
The week of my retreat was a busy time for many other members of our Priory community. The students enjoyed (I think that’s the proper term) a “Reading Week” in which they had no classes, which meant they were free to spend time catching up on assignments and doing research for term papers. Fr. Augustine Thompson made a journey to Ohio, where he delivered a lecture on St. Francis at the University of Dayton, and took part in a “Vocation Witness” luncheon with seven young men interested in the priesthood.
The University of Dayton is famous for holding the world’s largest collection of Mariological artifacts, some of which are quite rare, others merely unusual, such as the painting of Gabriel’s surprising Mary by giving her a kiss on the cheek and causing her to spill a pitcher of milk!
At the same time, Fr. LaSalle Hallissey led about forty seniors from De LaSalle High School on a “leadership” retreat. These events, held throughout the students’ senior year, allow the young men an opportunity to speak about their faith and share strategies for building on past spiritual foundations once they graduate and find themselves in less faith-friendly environments.
On October 17, the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake (who will forget that World Series game?) we attended the funeral for Catherine Colvert, Fr. Antoninus Wall’s sister. Like her Dominican brothers, Mrs. Colvert was possessed of quite an intellect, and earned a degree in Psychiatric Social Work from UC-Berkeley. She also studied at Columbia University and our own Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology.
The meeting in San Antonio proved interesting, although I pray I shall never have to employ any of the things I learned. Fr. Joseph Sergott, assistant to our Provincial, has attended these meetings in the past, so his guidance and companionship were a great boon. The gathering took place at the Theological and Renewal Center operated by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, and as I walked to our first meeting I noticed a number of acorns on the pavement and wondered whether the campus had any squirrels to manage them. The thought had barely crossed mind when I saw the first of several – not nearly so elegant as those that guard St. Albert’s, however.
Our meetings were over by late afternoon, so on two nights, after prayers (and, in my case, a nap) Fr. Joseph and I took advantage of San Antonio’s “River Walk” for some exercise and our evening meal. This walk, I learned, has an interesting history. In 1921, when the San Antonio River flooded, and fifty individuals died, plans were afoot to dam the river and lay a cover over the water that ran through the downtown area. The mayor suggested an alternative to hiding the water: building embankments, and encouraging commercial development along the river.
The city did not immediately embrace the plan, but its supporters prevailed, and the River Walk is now a remarkable two-and-a-half mile addition to the city’s downtown, with tour boats plying the river, and hotel lobbies, restaurants, and shops opening onto the water. One night Fr. Joseph and I were joined by two of our Dominican brothers from the Eastern Province, and we enjoyed a splendid meal – Mexican fare, which a duck insisted I share, reminding me by pecking at my leg whenever his plate was empty.
Fr. Joseph and I returned to Oakland Thursday afternoon, and I was very happy to find several early arrivals for our Vocation Weekend. More young men arrived on Friday, and the last of the group arrived Friday night. If you are reading this before our All Souls Day Mass, you can see the crowd your prayers have drawn to our weekend, twenty-four prospects in all. So many men expressed interest in the event that we have scheduled another in two weeks!
Our students are drawn into service as guides and guardians during these weekends, and with so many visitors we also turned to Br. Andy Opsahl for assistance. This is Br. Andy’s residence year, and he is spending the time at St. Dominic’s, in San Francisco. His ministry schedule is quite challenging, and involves visiting home-bound parishioners, organizing children’s liturgies, and working with parents of the young parishioners preparing for Confirmation. He is also preparing a number of presentations for an Advent Day of Recollection. These will guide his listeners in developing a strong self-image through identifying with the cross. Whew!
Br. Andy is only one of eighteen students we are preparing for Dominican ministry. If you look at what he is doing, and multiply that by eighteen, you get some idea of the impact our young Dominicans are making, even now, upon the Church in the 21st century. They are a force to contend with, and I am by no means sentimentalizing your contribution to their effort when I thank you for the prayers that have helped make our Vocation Weekend such a success. You support all we do at St. Albert’s, and we are deeply grateful for your willingness to be a part of our life – and our future.
Today’s Commemoration of the Faithful Departed ushers in the month of the Holy Souls, so let me close with a reflection from St. John of the Cross, who observed, “At the evening of life we shall be judged on our love.”
In my homily this morning I remarked how grateful we must be that God has provided a means of purification for those whose love was not altogether perfect at the time of their death. Our belief in Purgatory and the value of our prayers for the dead remind us that even when death claims loved ones, we have the opportunity to hasten their longed-for heavenly reward by embracing the sacramental death and resurrection of Christ in the Eucharist. Throughout this month we will offer Mass for you and for those close to you who have died.
I never tire of thanking you for being a part of our life at St. Albert’s. As our liturgical year draws to its close, let me express my gratitude once again for all you have enabled us to do – and be.
Sincerely, in Christ,
--Fr. Reginald Martin, O.P.