It’s been a busy year, and as I begin this blog post I am grateful for being home with my family for Thanksgiving for the first time in 26 years. I wished everyone a blessed 2022 in my last post, and it has been a year full of blessings. In January I did another virtual visit to DMU (Divine Mercy University) because of bad weather to sit in on a few sessions of their spiritual direction certificate course. I also gave a talk on communion to the NC members of Regnum Christi. In February the priests serving the diocese of Raleigh gathered at Wrightsville beach to discuss topics of pastoral planning for the diocese: allocation of clergy, where to build new parishes, how to best serve rural parishes, etc. The diocese is blessed with a great fraternity among its priests. It was the first priestly assembly I attended, but I was welcomed at every table and had already known many from my deanery.
I also helped with a Regnum Christi three-day renewal retreat at St. Francis Springs Prayer Center in Stoneville, NC. Regnum Christi members do an annual retreat and renew their spiritual commitment to the Movement. In the main hallway of the rooms there are a series of striking portraits of the life of St. Francis.
Lent began on March 1st, and with it penance services across the diocese, so I helped out at various parishes with hearing Confessions. I spent Holy Week at Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Joseph’s in Raleigh.
After about thirteenth months and over twenty-five applications for teaching positions in the United States, I took the hint that the Lord had something else planned. The major superiors were about to start personnel meetings, so I told them my academic job hunt was concluded and they could put me back on the potential personnel list. This was a moment of closure for me. I’d never expected to stay in Raleigh for long. It was just where I resided while seeing where the Lord would take me. Now I was putting the ball back in his court.
Within a few weeks I was sounded out about becoming the new superior for my Legionary community in the summer, since the current superior was concluding a three-year term. I was also asked to start helping the Territorial Secretary as an assistant, working remotely from Raleigh. I said I would be open to both, and waited for the assignment letters to come closer to the summer.
After the liturgies of Holy Week, on Easter Sunday the community left for SC for a few days of vacation. Around this time we also received some news: we would be taking over the pastoral care of the Duke University Catholic Center in Durham and Cardinal Gibbons High School in Raleigh. Our community of five priests would grow to seven by the end of the summer.
It also meant our community couldn’t all fit on the property of St. Joseph’s anymore. A house in Durham, near Duke, was made available for us to rent, managed by Duke Catholic Center. So we had to start planning a summer move for some of the priests of the community (including yours truly).
In May I helped with a Regnum Christi discernment course via video conference, and took a weekend trip to Cleveland to represent the community at the funeral for the father of one of our priests. The following weekend, our superior travelled to New Zealand to be with his dying mother. It was planned that I be named acting superior in his absence, but to take the weight off his shoulders I made the transition to community superior on the eve of Ascension Sunday (May 28th) when his mother passed.
In June we’d arranged some coordination meetings for the coming year, but now I would be running them as superior. We’d now have seven priests with one parish, three chaplaincies, and two residences. So we talked about how we could support each other in ministry, when the community would gather for daily prayer, weekly activities, etc., and how we could work together with local members of Regnum Christi.
I concluded June with a trip to Philadelphia on the way to an academic seminar held at St. Vincent’s College, Latrobe, PA. I’d intended to visit Philadelphia and St. Vincent’s in 2020 and 2021, but COVID shut that idea down. The seminar had been postponed twice, so we were all looking forward to reuniting.
I only had a morning in Philadelphia, and I spent most of it in the National Constitution Center. It had a new wing on the Civil War and the years immediately following, and another on the woman’s suffrage movement. It ended up being a good preparation for the academic seminar at St. Vincent’s College (founded and still directed by the Benedictines), which was organized by the Fides et Ratio seminars.
It was the first of a four-year cycle of seminars on the American Regime and Catholic Social Thought. The first seminar spanned texts leading up to the Declaration of Independence and to just before Civil War. Reading the documents of the Founding Fathers and their thoughts, as well as the Catholics who witnessed the foundation of the United States was a great source of insight into what led to the Civil War and its repercussions even today.
Toward the end of my visit to the college we had our sessions in a building dedicated to Mr. Rogers, which included a museum in his honor. He was born in Latrobe. Seeing the puppets, sweaters, and trolley gave me a warm nostalgia for the days I barely remember when I would watch him on PBS and feel loved and cherished. I recently watched a documentary that included his philosophy and clips of his early shows (that I would have seen as as child), and it struck me how powerful his message was (that you are special and lovable just as you are), in contrast to so much media attention today that insists people pay to be perfect in a shallow and superficial way (glamor, popularity, etc,).
I returned from the seminar to NC on the Fourth of July weekend and spend a few days scrambling to get ready for the move to a new house on July 10th. In June we’d worked out who was moving, so now it was a matter of packing up and walking through the new house to see what was needed. The Franciscans who’d previously done the Duke chaplaincy left the house in great shape for us, and I’m grateful to everyone who contributed to our moving needs and expenses. I moved my belongings to the new Durham house the morning of 7/10, then headed to St. Gabriel’s in Charlotte to help cover the parish for a few weeks. While in Charlotte I finished most of the work for my new book (more on this below), and prepared for a retreat scheduled for the first weekend of August.
I returned to St. Francis Springs Prayer Center in Stoneville, NC to preach open spiritual exercises for men organized by the North Carolina members of Regnum Christi. It ended midday Sunday and I returned to Durham and spent my first night in my new room of the new community house.Two days later I started my vacation by driving to Patriots Point in Charleston, SC, on my way to Cumming, GA to visit friends and confreres for a few days, then to Mandeville, LA as my final vacation destination. The Mandeville LC community always gives me a warm welcome, and with a summer full of travelling I just stayed home, read (C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy), tried improving my pencil drawing with a course on Udemy, watched some videos, and played some video games.
I interrupted my vacation at the end of August for some meetings, and then headed back to Cumming, GA for an overnight, followed by my eight-day annual retreat at a cottage at the St. Francis Springs prayer center. It had been a busy and beautiful year, so I took stock of all the blessings received, contemplated the new duties I’d been assigned (and my 55th birthday), and prepared myself for the new year.
I wasn’t directly involved in a school year anymore, but the year seemed to start in September. Labor Day weekend I finished my vacation at home, then helped the community’s new administrator finalize our LC community budget proposal for 2023 and headed to the Legionary of Christ College in Cheshire, CT to visit the novices and humanists and participate in the college board meeting in person for the first time and lunch with the other board members as the Legion’s Territorial Prefect of Studies.
In the first week of October I went to St. Gabriel’s in Charlotte to cover the parish again, then returned on 10/7 to give a presentation on the dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium as part of a series of formation talks on Vatican II at St. Michael the Archangel Church in Cary, NC. That same afternoon (10/8) I flew to Rome for training for new superiors at our General Directorate. It was the first time I lodged there, since the LC International College (CILC, formerly called the CES) was where I resided while I studied and worked at Regina Apostolorum. I hadn’t expected to return to Italy for a while; I’d left on New Year’s Day, 2021 with no plan to return after four years if going back and forth annually, preceded by five years living there full time. In total I’d lived at the CILC about thirteen to fourteen years, so when the other fathers in town for the meeting invited them to go out in the city to shop and see the churches, I stayed home. I’d seen plenty of Italy. I took a few Rome fathers out to lunch, and also published the first volume of a series of homiletic reflections on Amazon (buy multiple copies, please), just in time for Advent. I’d worked on the book gradually since 2015, so I was excited to finally send it to print. I hope to have Volume II ready for Lent and Holy Week.
At the end of new superior training in Rome I was blessed to return to Croatia to visit with my family for a few days.
In 2021 I couldn’t visit them when departing Europe because if COVID restrictions, and I hadn’t seen any of them in person since 2015. It was wonderful to meet toddler cousins and one who was two weeks old. The weather was unseasonably warm and I did another walking tour of Diocletian’s palace, which contains the cathedral, in Split.
I then went by ferry to the island where my family was from (the island of Brač) and arrived at the village of Pučišća. I visited the marble quarry and the the remains of a stone house my dad and family had hidden in in World War II, my cousin’s olive groves, and a museum on olive oil production with a marvelous tasting at the end.
He also showed me the best spot for a picture of Pučišća and a monastery closed in the eighties.
I went on a brief boat tour of the bay, and saw the completed marble model of St. Peter’s Basilica that I had helped by getting some photos in Rome.
I returned for one night to Rome and then back to the United States…for bi-annual superiors meetings at Our Lady Queen of Peace retreat center near Memphis, TN. With some strong coffee I was functional at the meetings, then returned to Durham and joined the community the next day in Kiawah Island, SC for a few days off. It was Providential, because I came down with a nasty cold and with the rest and extra sleep I had recuperated a lot before returning to NC.
Then I had a few blessed weeks at home in Durham, at the new house, working on projects. Our major superior came for a canonical visit for five days. In our congregation he or a delegate comes annually to meet with the community together and individually, and then has meetings with the community administrator and the superior. From my concluding conversations with him the community is doing well. As religious we support each other as brothers, so having different assignments can silo us if we don’t work on it.
About a week later I came home to Watsonville for Thanksgiving with my family. It’s a great grace to be home for Thanksgiving for the first time in twenty-six years, by my reckoning, as I finish this blog post. Just one of many things for which I am grateful. Have a blessed Advent and Christmas.