Recently, a friend of the IRL paid us a call and told us all about his special vocation as a real-life Santa Claus. Fr. Joseph Marquis is a priest of the Byzantine-Rite and serves as Pastor of Sacred Heart Byzantine Catholic Church in Livonia, Michigan. He has been “playing” Santa Claus for decades now and had asked the Lord in prayer to give him a sign if he should continue in this ministry. And it truly is a ministry. When he went back to his room and listened to his voice mails, he had one that said, “Congratulations! You have been inducted into the Santa Claus Hall of Fame!” He took that as a big sign!
Fr. Marquis uses this ministry to spread the true meaning behind Santa Claus who actually is Saint Nicholas, the great saint and bishop from the 4th century who was known for giving gifts. The most notable was anonymous gifts to a father who was thinking of selling his three daughters into prostitution because he couldn’t provide a dowry for them. St. Nicholas, according to tradition, provided it for them.
Father founded the Saint Nicholas Institute which gives “Santas” training in the true meaning of Christmas. “Two Baptist men who came knew about Saint Nicholas in a sketchy way, but for the first time in their lives, they realized what they were entrusted with,” said Father Marquis. Unlike Saint Nicholas, they are not shepherding a large flock but they are shepherding little children “and that’s a very serious obligation. They got all choked up. It’s funny how St. Nicholas can read into the hearts of people.” Of course, as Father reminded us, the candy cane is really a symbol of the shepherd’s crook.
One beautiful story: Father once visited a dying little girl in a pediatric ward in a hospital. Despite the fact that it was July, the whole unit was decked out for Christmas because the little girl had expressed the wish that Christmas could go on forever. When she saw Father Marquis/Santa Claus, her face lit up for joy. He talked with her and at the end of the visit, they sang Silent Night together. Father says, “All of a sudden in dawned on me that everything I had done before and after this minute was irrelevant.” She died 2 weeks later and was buried with the guardian angel doll that Father had given her and pinned to her dress was a button that said, “Santa says I was a good girl!”
Read the whole article in Our Sunday Visitor (12/2/12). And Happy St. Nicholas’ Day!