Dear Friends of Saint Albert’s,
September already? What happened to August? A couple of events stand out, to be sure, but the month seems to have passed without much to interrupt the summer’s calm. Just to make certain didn’t miss anything, I consulted my calendar and found exciting reminders, like “Conference call,” “Preach,” “Haircut,” and “Dentist” – the sort of entries that make one wonder whether a calendar is worth the cost.
Hoping for better things, I turned to my journal, and here I encountered an absolute trove of exciting (yawn!) summer activity. One morning I polished all the chalices in the sacristy closet – did you notice the extra shine when you came to Mass? Most of the chalices were commissioned for the Western Province’s Centennial celebration in 1951, and are quite handsome. They are also perfect illustrations of the “conspicuous waste” Thorsten Veblen remarks in his Theory of the Leisure Class. With their wealth of applied decoration, they demand attention and bespeak a day when our community had lay brothers who could devote significant time to cleaning them. One had tarnish that defied all my efforts, and the Tidy Reginald is not one to be defied in these matters!
The day after my silver-polishing orgy, I woke up aghast to see my hands and fingernails looked as if I’d been grubbing for oil – without gloves. Soap and water obviously hadn’t made any impact, so I considered other options and finally tried scrubbing them with silver polish and a brush. Presto! Clean (or at least cleaner) hands. Encouraged by this success, I then ironed all the altar linens. The students, who ordinarily deal with them were about to come home from their vacation, and I remarked to the journal I didn’t want them to think the Senior Community incapable of dealing with these domestic details.
When Vincent Benoit left for his new assignment in Eugene, and Fr. Bryan flew to Washington State to visit his family, and Fr. Michael Fones joined the students in Oregon, the Priory’s Senior Community was dramatically reduced, so my journal also records preparing a larger than usual number of homilies so I could celebrate a larger number of Masses. Aside from that, though, August was a pretty ho-hum experience until the Feast of the Assumption, when I had the honor to offer three reflections for members of Benicia’s Dominican Laity, who joined our tiny community for their annual retreat.
I believe all will agree preaching differs from teaching, and I am always amazed to discover some of my Dominican brothers prefer the latter to the former. Teaching terrifies me, as does the sort of preaching one is called upon to do at a retreat. Mass homilies, by contrast, are far briefer, and if one isn’t a success, I don’t have to stick around to deal with the shame. Retreat conferences, on the other hand, are an entirely different matter. Those making the retreat can ask questions, and if one of the conferences isn’t a success the preacher must put on a brave face and show up for the next one.
These fears notwithstanding, the event seems to have been a success. The retreat drew to its close on Saturday afternoon, but I was scheduled to preach on Sunday (August 16th), and I wasn’t altogether happy with my homily, so I kept making amendments – the last about ten minutes before Mass, so I could include some brilliant ideas I woke up with that morning.
Violence had escalated in Iraq and Syria, and we had just received a heart-breaking letter from a bishop in the area, as well as a copy of a letter the Master of the Dominican Order sent to the Dominican observers at the United Nations. I seldom preach on the day’s news, but the day’s readings seemed to lend themselves to the current events, so I wrote and re-wrote the homily until I exhausted the printer’s toner cartridge. Word Processors were invented for obsessive individuals like me!
I also had the good fortune to celebrate Mass several times for the Dominican sisters in San Rafael, at their infirmary. The chapel is a handsome space, with the altar and tabernacle set in a large bow window. One morning, during my homily, I repeatedly heard what sounded like rocks being tossed against the glass. At first I imagined someone might be mowing the lawn, but I didn’t hear a lawn mower. Finally, one of the sisters said, “It’s the squirrels; they’re dropping acorns.”
I interrupted the Prayer of the Faithful to remark this present journal, and to add that some of its readers have nicknamed it “The Squirrel Report.” One of those at Mass said, “Now you have something else to report!”
I can also report more reporters. My dad and his wife recently sent me a page from their newspaper. “World of Wonder” it’s titled, and the page deals exclusively with our sleek friends. By five weeks old, I learned, squirrels have fur and begin to explore. Their sharp claws and hairless foot pads are what enable them to climb vertical surfaces so skillfully.
For about twenty years I have been a member of a discussion group that meets three or four times a year. At each gathering a member delivers a paper on some aspect of Victorian British Catholicism, and we extend our conversation through lunch. Most of the group’s members are married, and the meals prepared by their wives are pretty nice, thus setting the bar rather high for Your Humble Correspondent when it falls to him to reciprocate. Nonetheless, I do my best to compete.
I got a lot of practice in the kitchen here at St. Albert’s when I was a student, and the Dominican sister in charge of our meals was an absolute genius, at whose feet I dutifully studied. My Dominican brother, Jude Eli, cooks on television shows and auctions off his skills for vast sums at Catholic fund raising events. He is a genuine chef, and when a recipe calls for chicken broth, Jude grabs an axe and sets out in search of a chicken.
I, on the other hand, will take any available shortcut, and prefer to spend as little time as possible preparing a meal. In fact, my favorite sort of cooking, in the smaller Dominican communities I’ve been assigned to, is to assess the leftovers and see what I can construct from the ingredients on hand.
That expedient will not work when the lot falls to me to prepare lunch for the discussion group, so I ask myself, “What would Frederick the Great do?” and start planning. Perhaps I should mention Frederick is one of my heroes, not least because he insisted on providing his soldiers real bread when they were in battle – a singular, humane touch in time of war – something that required specially-built ovens that could accompany the Prussian troops.
The summer gathering does not feature a paper, and wives are invited to attend, so I felt I really had to excel. I set the table (for fourteen!) in the back yard, and everyone seemed pleased with the effort. By way of decoration on the serving table, I arranged some fruit. “It looks like a still life!” cried one of the wives.” Perhaps it looked too much like a painting; no one ate any of it.
As August drew to its close, our students came home from their summer assignments and brief vacation at our retreat house in Oregon. Everyone was assembled by Sunday, the 24th, and we welcomed the two novices who would take vows that week, as well as Br. Martin Dyjak, a student from the Province of Poland, who will join us for this year. We welcomed back Brs. Kevin Andrew, Dennis Klein, and Bradley Elliott, who had spent their “Residence” year away from St. Albert’s, and bade farewell to Brs. Thomas Aquinas, Cody Jorgensen, Andrew Dominic, and Andy Opsahl, who left to begin their year in smaller communities.
To celebrate their return we enjoyed (?) an earthquake, modest by the time it reached us, but a great deal more destructive to our neighbors in Vallejo and Napa. The Carmelite Friars were particularly hard hit, and have sought refuge with the Christian Brothers in Napa.
On August 28th we gathered at St. Dominic’s in San Francisco, where we witnessed the Vestition ceremony of our eight newest brothers. “What do you seek?” the Provincial asks the young men who are about to receive the Dominican habit. “God’s mercy and yours,” they reply. The Provincial then explains that with their Dominican garb each man will receive a year in which to discern whether Dominican life is to his liking. If you turn to the “Dominican Vocation” site on Facebook, you’ll find some very moving photographs of this event.
The two men who received the habit last August apparently found our life attractive, for two days after the Vestition ceremony, Brs. John and Chrysostom professed their Simple Vows here at St. Albert’s. Three days later they joined their student brothers for the beginning of the Fall semester at the Dominican School.
Not, however, before the traditional “work day.” As usual, Fr. Michael Fones asked whether I had any tasks I wished the students to help with. I have been doing some work in the Province Archives, so I had a pile of things to dispose of – have I ever described how much I love to throw things away? – and I am proud to say our life is at least a little less cluttered.
Fr. Augustine Thompson has been working in the Archives, too, moving the Priory’s rare books onto shelves from which he has taken Province records, which are now in a safely locked area, while the books are more easily accessible should anyone wish to consult them. Along the way he found a magnificent volume from 1489 we removed during the Oakland Hills fire in 1989 and have been unable to find since. We imagined it lost – or stolen – but, in fact, it was simply never replaced in the incunabula cabinet, but placed on the shelf with other works bearing similar call numbers! My own discoveries have been far less dramatic: I located recordings of retreat conferences Bishop Fulton Sheen gave here in 1971 or so, and I uncovered a tiny portion of Br. Robert Lavigne’s legendary stamp collection. The collection was immense, and disappeared the way these things do.
We have the pleasure to welcome among us a priest from the English Dominican Province, Fr. Robert Verrill, who is pursuing a Master’s Degree in Philosophy at our School in Berkeley. Fr. Robert comes equipped with a Doctorate in mathematics, so he adds an interesting (and challenging) voice to our conversations.
Have I movie fans among my readers? If so, you might be interested in the newly released film, “When the Game Stands Tall,” which is based on the true story of nearby De LaSalle High School’s 2001 football team. I know very little about high school football, but De LaSalle’s record is stunning enough to have registered on even my somewhat sports-oblivious mind.
As you know, Fr. LaSalle Hallissey is campus minister at the school (he was also a member of its first graduating class, in 1969) and he says the film is quite true to life. Fr. LaSalle is also director of the Western Province’s cemetery in Benicia, so if any of My Readers is interested in accommodations for another life, give Fr. LaSalle a call. He will guarantee a dwelling place in very exclusive company, including my mother and many of your favorite Dominicans.
The return of our students means you can see how God is answering your prayers and investing the gifts you shower upon us. If you can, please join us at 5:15pm for Evening Prayer on Saturday and Sunday. Here you will have an opportunity to hear these young men preach, and to witness what a spiritual treasure your generosity enables us to nourish. Thank you for being a part of our life at St. Albert’s. I never tire of saying we depend on you for all we do. We can do little in return but offer prayers for you and your intentions. Those we offer in abundance, and always
--Fr. Reginald Martin, O.P.