As I prepare this article I cannot help but notice that the days are definitely getting shorter. The temperatures are a bit cooler and the fields and trees are taking on the colorful hues of fall. Although summer officially lasts three more weeks, the “back to school” reality seems to mark the unofficial end to summer and the beginning of fall.
The last weeks of August and the early days of September have provided me with a variety of occasions to visit parishes, enjoy my brother priests, reconnect with friends from the past, bury a dear friend, meet with people whose ministry is vital to the mission of the Church and mark the beginning of a new academic year.
On August 18, I celebrated Mass at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Verona to mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of the parish. It was a wonderful opportunity to pray with a vibrant, faith-filled community and to enjoy their company during the luncheon following.
Why do we celebrate anniversaries? An anniversary marks the date on which a significant personal or communal event has occurred. In celebrating anniversaries, we deepen our appreciation for those events and carry forward the good — and often challenging — things that have flowed from them.
An anniversary of a church challenges us to recall what is essential. The bricks and mortar and wood of a church are a testimony to the faith of the people who built them. But an anniversary acknowledges more than a building. An anniversary is a much-needed reminder that it is the priests and people of a parish, the “living stones” who hand on the faith from generation to generation, that are remembered fondly at the anniversary.
On August 20, I traveled to the Southern Tier for a clergy picnic at the McDevitt Residence. Prayer, a cook-out and relaxed conversation with my brother priests made for a pleasant evening. I enjoy these and similar gatherings that bring our priests together. Fraternal bonds are renewed and strengthened on such occasions.
August 23 found me in the pastoral center in Rochester. From there I continued to travel west to Buffalo for a few vacation days with family and friends. During my stay in Buffalo, I attended another anniversary.
The Sisters of St. Mary of Namur celebrated their 150th anniversary of arrival in the United States on August 27, and I was invited to concelebrate the Mass and speak at the dinner. Mother Emilie and four other Sisters of St. Mary of Namur arrived in North America on August 27, 1863. Divine Providence brought the Sisters to Lockport, where they cared for and educated the immigrant population. Their ministry of Catholic education expanded to Buffalo and eventually to the suburb of Kenmore.
My connection to the Sisters goes back (not quite 150 years) to my elementary school days. They taught me when I was a student at St. John the Baptist School in Kenmore. I have fond memories of those years and of the Sisters. Although most of them have gone home to God, I was delighted to reconnect with Sister Mary Oliver who took me through Voyages in English and the lost art of grammar in Grade 4 and introduced me to long division.
As with any anniversary, the celebration invited us to look “backwards” and recall the numerous ways in which God guided and inspired the Sisters, especially in their service to the poor. A glance at the past reminds us that God is ever with us and calls us to look toward the future. God’s providential presence is not confined to the past. What God did in the past He will continue to do in the future.
September 3 was a memorable day. I began with the celebration of Mass with our Catholic school administrators and over 900 Catholic school teachers at Holy Cross Church in DeWitt. Our Catholic school administrators and teachers play a vital role in our effort to pass on our faith to the children and young people entrusted to their care.
Our schools are sacred places where students encounter the living God in Jesus Christ. No school, however, can become that special place unless the people who work there have encountered the living God in Jesus Christ. A building cannot communicate this personal encounter. Only a faith community composed of living witnesses who are disciples of Christ can do this. My homily on this occasion appeared in last week’s Catholic Sun.
After the Mass with the teachers, I traveled north to the Diocese of Ogdensburg and the funeral liturgy for Msgr. Robert Lawler. Monsignor was a remarkable priest and a dear friend. He served as Vicar General for four bishops, and the priests of the diocese chose him twice to be the Diocesan Administrator. Although I had heard of the high regard in which Monsignor was held in Ogdensburg before I was named bishop, I remember with gratitude and affection how he welcomed me warmly in the first phone call and pledged anew his service to assist me, a new bishop. I relied upon his wise counsel and friendship and was honored to preach the homily at his funeral.
One more event rounds out the last few weeks. On Wednesday, September 4, I celebrated the Mass of the Holy Spirit for the faculty, staff and students at Le Moyne College. When I arrived in Syracuse, I was told that Bishop Foery had begun this tradition in the early days of the college. Dr. Pestello and the college administration hoped that I would continue to do this and I happily agreed. It is a special joy to see the college community in prayer at the start of another academic year.
The transition from summer to fall is in full swing. I pray that these days will be filled with all good things for you and your families.
If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.