May God Bless Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict’s legacy will be felt for generations to come.

The National Catholic Register has an article about Pope Benedict XVI’s impact on priestly vocations. Under his watch, the number of priests ministering to the Church worldwide has risen by 6000 men. The Archdiocese of Washington’s new seminary is almost filled to capacity. Mount St. Mary’s in Emmitsburg, Md. has more vocations than they have seen in years.

When Pope Benedict assumed the papacy  in 2005, Michael Roche was working at an accounting firm. These words from the Holy Father gave him the courage he needed to pursue his priestly vocation: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. … Open wide the doors to Christ — and you will find true life.  “That was pivotal in my life,” the now-Father Roche told the Register. “I can’t say I had been afraid of Christ, but I was not convinced that a vocation to the diocesan priesthood could be lived in this day and age.” It could and it is.

To see Pope Benedict’s final Apostolic blessing on the crowd in St. Peter’s square (and I can’t write these words without a lump in my throat), click here.

“There were also times when the water was rough and the wind against us,as in the whole history of the Church, and the Lord seemed to sleep. But I always knew that the Lord is in the boat, and I always knew that the boat of the Church is not mine, not ours, but it is His. And He will not let her sink, it is He who leads it, certainly also through the men he has chosen, because so He has willed it. This was and is a certainty, that nothing can obscure. And that is why today my heart is filled with gratitude to God because He has never left me or the Church without His consolation, His light, His love.”

His final words from Castel Gandolfo….

Dear friends, I’m happy to be with you, surrounded by the beauty of creation and your well-wishes which do me such good. Thank you for your friendship, and your affection. You know this day is different for me than the preceding ones: I am no longer the Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church, or I will be until 8 o’clock this evening and then no more.

I am simply a pilgrim beginning the last leg of his pilgrimage on this Earth. But I would still … thank you … I would still with my heart, with my love, with my prayers, with my reflection, and with all my inner strength, like to work for the common good and the good of the church and of humanity. I feel very supported by your sympathy.

Let us go forward with the Lord for the good of the church and the world. Thank you, I now wholeheartedly impart my blessing. Blessed be God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Good night! Thank you all!”

It is 1:11 PM on Thursday, February 28, 2013. The doors at Castel Gandolfo have just closed, the papal flag has been taken down. Pope Benedict XVI’s life of prayer has begun.

Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter

Pope Benedict XVI & Fr. John Berg, Superior General

It has been awhile since I looked at the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter’s website so I was happy to see that they have the largest class of tonsurandi in their history. The term tonsurandi was new to me so I was glad that they provided an explanation. The Rite of Tonsure is administered early in the second year of formation, and is the point at which a seminarian is invested with the cassock and surplice.

The Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, an IRL Affiliate, was founded in 1988 in Switzerland, though they established their Motherhouse in Wigratzbad, Germany, shortly thereafter. They were blessed in 1990 to have a visit from the then-Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, who celebrated mass in the Traditional rite and has been a good friend to them from their beginnings. I’m sure they will miss his paternal support.

In a statement released after the announcement of Pope Benedict’s abdication the Fraternity said: “We offer our sincere gratitude to the Holy Father for his tireless efforts to guide the barque of St. Peter along the path set out for Her by God. We thank him, in particular, for his kindness and paternal solicitude, especially on behalf of the faithful attached to the Extraordinary Form of the Latin Rite, which he universally restored to its honored place in the Church by his Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum in 2007.”

The Fraternity seminary in the Unites States, one of two that they operate, is located in Denton, Nebraska, which when it opened in 2000 welcomed 50 seminarians! They have many parishes throughout North America and Europe and Australia as well as missions in Nigeria and Brazil. Today, they have an astounding 397 members (11/2012) according to their website.

The Call of Divine Providence

Some of the most beautiful apostolates that our religious communities engage in are those that serve the mentally disabled. One community in the Chicagoland area that has been caring for the most vulnerable people in our society for generations is the congregation of the Daughters of St. Mary of Providence, also known as the Guanellians after their founder, St. Louis Guanella.

The Guanellians care for the mentally disabled, the homeless, the elderly, youth, those needing catechesis, the hungry and the poor in 14 countries around the world and in the Midwest and eastern states of the US.

St. Guanella began the works of the Congregation in the US in Chicago where the first Sisters ministered to  Italian immigrants and their families. They taught school and later built a residential home and school with the focus of caring for the mentally and physically challenged.

The sisters will be holding a discernment weekend in Chicago from Friday, March 15, to Sunday, March 17, for single women at their convent at 4200 N. Austin Avenue, Chicago, IL. Contact Sr. Beth Ann Dillon, DSMP (773) 545-8300 for more information.

Participants will be guided through a process of personal reflection & discernment. The Liturgy of Hours, Mass, Lectio Divina and small group work will be included as part of the weekend. Individual mentoring will be available upon request.

In our discouraging times, when life seems to have little value or meaning for so many people, the Daughters of St. Mary of Providence give witness that every life is a gift from God to be cherished and nurtured and respected and, more importantly, loved.

We give witness to the value of human life from conception to natural death and to the merciful love of Christ toward all men and are alert and attentive to accept the signs of the times as the call of Divine Providence.



A Milestone in North Dakota

This year, the Sisters of St. Francis of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Hankinson, North Dakota, are celebrating their 100th anniversary in America. Also known as the Dillingen Franciscans, the sisters arrived in Collegeville, Minnesota, from Germany in the summer of 1913 and served in the community there until 1958. In 1921, they opened a parochial school in North Dakota where the Motherhouse was built and still is today.

There are many Franciscan communities around the world , many of them new foundations. The charism of St. Francis of Assisi has remained new and vibrant for lo these many hundreds of years. The Sisters however are one of the very ancient communities for they can trace their beginnings back to 1241 in Germany (just 15 years after the death of St. Francis himself!). In the early 1300’s they became affiliated with the Friars Minor of the Strasburg province and they received the Third Order Rule of St. Francis. To survive almost 800 years in the middle of Europe is incredible.

In 1803, the government confiscated all of their land and buildings. The sisters were allowed to remain in the convent until their deaths but no new postulants were allowed to enter the community. By 1828, there were only 5 sisters  left but it was enough for a new beginning. By1847, there were 53 sisters and by 1968 there were over 2300! The Lord uses even the smallest seed to grow a large, fruitful orchard. The sisters today serve in Germany, Brazil, India and the US. In North Dakota they care for the elderly and sick, teach young people, visit the imprisoned, support pro-life causes, run a retreat house, produce altar breads and do other evangelical activities.

Commenting on the German sisters who came to foreign soil in Minnesota, Sr. Ann Marie Friedrichs, OSF, said, “I am filled with an immense amount of joy and pride every time I think of the courage and vision it took for our German sisters to leave their homeland…not familiar with the American customs and totally unable to speak English. What trust in God they had to say ‘yes'”!


The Lost Sheep and the Shepherd

I was thinking about the image of a shepherd’s crook recently and remembered a homily that I heard long ago about the symbolism of the crosier (pastoral staff) as conferred to a bishop when he receives his Episcopal consecration. The priest said that the crook was used by shepherds to draw in wayward sheep that had left the flock.  The image that came to mind was a sheep standing on the edge of a precipice with the shepherd drawing him back to safety, maybe unbeknownst to the sheep. The Catholic Encyclopedia says that the episcopal staff is the symbol of that doctrinal and disciplinary power of bishops in virtue of which they may sustain the weak and faltering, confirm the wavering in faith, and lead back the erring ones into the true fold.

When I was in the Holy Land driving around the desert in a rental car with a friend and a priest in tow, we passed a gas station in the middle of nowhere that was a popular stop for trucks. The noise and the fumes were tremendous. But in the corner of the gas station parking lot was a shepherd and around him, in a perfect concentric circle, were his sheep. You couldn’t have gotten a piece of tissue paper between them, they were packed in that tightly together .

What struck me was that they couldn’t have been terrorized because then they would have been dashing about in a frenzy. The shepherd must have given them a command and so they formed in around him. They had perfect trust in their shepherd to protect them in what had to be a hostile and unnerving environment.

I thought of that image yesterday when I heard of Pope Benedict’s retirement. My first reaction was one of anxiety— Who would be our shepherd? I realized how much I had come to trust in this shepherd. The Lord said, “And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd” (Ezekiel 34:33).

In the Gospel of Matthew, it says:  “When Jesus saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:26).  Jesus also said to Peter: “And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). This was the thought that comforted me as we await the announcement of our new shepherd. God will not abandon His Church. May God grant Pope Benedict the days of prayer he so longs for.

Vocations and Family Life

In the following video, Fr. Joseph Eddy, Vocation Director for the Mercedarian Friars, relates his vocation story. As is usual with many if not most vocational stories, he came from a devout Catholic family. As our National Director, Rev. Thomas A. Nelson, O.Praem., states in his vocational CD’s, as the family goes, so goes priestly and religious vocations. With the decline of the traditional family, there are fewer vocations. If we want priestly and religious vocations, we must build up holy family life again, rooted in the sacraments and prayer. We must pray for Catholic family life.

Father also has a list of the 7 quick questions to ask yourself if you want to discern if you have a vocation. This is geared towards religious life and the Mercedarians but it could apply to anyone. Parents could even answer these questions for their children and if one seems to have a vocation, then they can give them the encouragement they need to explore that beautiful calling from God, one that is vital to the Church and her evangelization efforts.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: Parents should respect and encourage their children’s vocations. They should remember and teach that the first calling of the Christian is to follow Jesus. (CCC 2253)

Evading the Nazis

Recently, Sr. Anne Green, l.s.p., died at age 100 in a Little Sisters of the Poor home in Scotland. As remarkable as as her age were her adventures as a Little Sister during World War II. Sr. Anne was living in the Little Sisters’ Motherhouse (all Little Sisters spend some time in France as part of their formation) at La Tour St. Joseph in Brittany, France,  when the Germans took over the area. Because Sr. Anne was a British citizen, she was forced to go into hiding for 6 years at a Little Sisters’ home near Belgium. However, when the Germans occupied that town, “the mayor phoned the Reverend Mother and warned her that if there were any British citizens there, she should send them away,” said Sister Anne. “There were four of us, including an Australian, and she told the mayor that there was nowhere for us to go. He said he would burn our registration papers and that we should remain in hiding.”

The one time she left the confines of the convent, she and her companion encountered a German patrol and Sister was forced to take refuge in a pile of potatoes loaded onto a cart. She was undetected and never left the convent again until the Allies arrived.

When American tanks came into the town, Sister stopped a convoy and asked the commander if he could find her brother Tom who was in the army. He said to her, “Sister, there are just a couple of million soldiers back there, but I’ll see what I can do.” Two days later, said Sister Anne, “they found him and brought him to see me. I will never forget seeing him walking in. It was absolutely wonderful.” I’m sure the American commander was amazed and happy too.

Sister Anne returned home to Great Britain in 1949 and served out her long life among the poor and aged in the United Kingdom. The Little Sisters have 4 homes in Scotland, 4 in Ireland, 9 in England and even one on the Isle of Jersey. May God grant repose to her soul and may the Little Sisters of the Poor continue to care for God’s venerable aged ones around the world.

“She was exemplary,” said Mother Aimee. “Her continual smile and serenity were testimonies to her happiness in religious life.”

See the full story in the The Scotsman.