Within forty-nine hours of each other, I had the wonderful occasion to spend time with sixteen sisters (view photos by clicking here) who will or have celebrated major anniversaries of their life in religion and with the retired priests of the Diocese of St. Petersburg as well as elsewhere in North America. Both are annual occasions but what made them very enjoyable this year is that both occasions occured within the penumbra of Thanksgiving.
Regular readers of this blog should already know of my love and fondness for our sisters and the few brothers who are either active or retired and living in the diocese. The sisters have a hard time with the Church at times when it seems that they only arouse interest when someone or some part of the ecclesial bureaucracy is angry or frustrated with them. They often do not hear or do not hear often enough words of thanksgiving and gratitude from the likes of myself and would have reason to wonder if anyone even cares any more.
Of the sixteen of twenty-four who are celebrating anniversaries this year, there were two Benedictine sisters (blood sisters as well as sisters in religious life) who are celebrating eighty years of professed life. Imagine, they left their homes in Texas in 1932 to travel to San Antonio, Florida, and begin eight decades of witness to their Lord according to the rule of Benedict and Scholastica. The great depression was just getting rolling when they committed themselves and Hitler and his evil empire had not yet begun to make its presence known in Germany or Europe. Both taught school for years and years.
There were no twenty-five year or silver anniversary jubilarians this year (they are getting less and less) but there were a good number of golden (50) and diamond (60). One can’t help but love them. Their stories which are briefly summarized as they get a $25 gift certificate to Barnes and Noble (am I cheap, or what?) are always amazing. We would not be where we are were it not for the great work of these great women over the years. They know I both admire and love them and I suspect every reader of this post does as well. Health, happiness and holiness are my prayers for Brother Chris of Tampa Catholic and the sisters with whom we shared both the Eucharistic table on Saturday as well as a nice, simple meal. One requirement last Saturday, however, smacking of my memory of sisters of previous decades – we had to be through and back in place for the kick-off of Notre Dame’s amazing eleventh win against no losses. No losses in these jubilarians either – they are precious before the eyes of the Lord.
On Monday, I celebrated Mass (view photos by clicking here) at the Bethany Center for about sixty-two of the retired priests who reside within the five counties of the Diocese. We have about thirty-four retired priests of the diocese and another forty or fifty from other dioceses in the U.S. and Canada who spend either part of or the whole year here with us.
Many of them have no place to go for Thanksgiving and were it not for our annual Mass and outing, there might be no turkey and all the trimmings for them. They are always so appreciative and those from other dioceses are amazed that they are invited and welcomed to this event. Unable to be present this year but in 2013 to be celebrating their seventieth anniversaries of ordination are Monsignor George Cummings and Benedictine Father James Hoge. Both are approaching or have reached their ninety-fifth birthday and there is a Franciscan Father who is also at or soon to reach this threshold.
I often suggest to our priests that we do not reflect enough on the “shoulders of the giants” on which we walk and among our retired diocesan priests, there are to be found outstanding examples of priestly zeal, courage, fidelity and effective ministry.
With both groups I reflected on the fiftieth anniversary of the Second Vatican Council which we are beginning to observe. More about that in forthcoming reflections here. For the meantime, even though my brother from Buffalo is arriving to spend Thanksgiving with his son and wife who live here and his grandaughter of two and his 8/9s of grandchild number two, a great part of my Thanksgiving has already been observed with my friends.
Finally, I would be a real ingrate if I did not thank God for all of you whom it is my privilege to serve, and I will tonight and tomorrow, at Mass and throughout the day. HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO ALL.