Friday, August 17, 2018


One visits the offices by walking down a long sandstone walk boarded by flowers and azalea bushes that bloom beautifully in the spring.  Steps lead up to the arched front door of the rectory.  When I first arrived at the parish, the steel screen door was terribly rusted and a host of assorted and abandoned call boxes decorated the door frame.  One of my first official acts concerning the rectory was to clean this area up and make the house more inviting.

Everything electronic save for the doorbell was removed.  The thick, heavy wooden door was removed, sanded, stained, its hardware cleaned, and rehung.  Flags were hung on either side of the door; one the flag of the United States, the other the Vatican flag.  A priest friend who is did not approve of this touch looked at the Vatican flag and snidely comment, “What? Is the pope in residence?”  “No,” I responded dryly, “and neither is the president of the United States.”  It also makes a great marker when telling the pizza delivery guy where to drop off the pizzas.

Finding a new quality screen door was going to prove to be more difficult.  A shop was found that made special order screen doors.  The dimension were given to the man behind the counter immediately surmised, “So, you must live in West Akron.  We get a lot of strange doors from that part of town.”  Unfortunately the price he quoted was far too high to justify.  So were the doors we found through online sites.  Strangely enough, after making such a big fuss about the project, a good quality door was found at the local hardware store for a reasonable price.

The font entry was now ready.  The grounds crew had planted giant pots of flowers on either side of the door below the flags, and, at my sister’s insistence, geraniums bloomed from the cement planter at the second floor window over the door while verdant vines hung down softening the ornate stone arches. 

Just past that front door one finds himself in a small reception hall with a barreled ceiling with a dark, slightly ornate lighting fixture hanging from it.  This is the original office area and would be the first area indoors to experience my meddling.  Here, a picture of the pope, the bishop, the former pastor, and a composite of all the former parochial vicars were hung.  It was an act that felt a little exhilarating and, to be quite frank, a little sacrilegious to move the former pastor’s portrait over to where the former pastors were hung and replace the vacated space with my own image.  Finishing the job I winced at seeing my picture.  I have spent the rest of my time here studiously avoiding looking at it, the only time it requiring my attention is when a pope or a bishop changes.
To the right, the former pastor’s office, was now the office of the parish secretary and with her the parish records, various forms and envelopes and stationary of all kinds, an anachronistic typewriter, FAX machine, office supplies, mailboxes, and in general, anything that would not fit anywhere else.  Across the hall in what was the secretary’s office was now inhabited by the copy machine, copy paper, stapler, cutting board and all things copy machine related.  

It was announced that monies had been set aside in the previous year’s budget (before I arrived) to put drop ceilings in these rooms and that the workmen would be arriving within a week.  I probably overreacted but my abhorrence was real.  There are a few materials in modern architecture that I detest more than drop ceilings.  “Somebody call them immediately and tell them not to come!  Don’t let them anywhere near this house!  There will be no drop ceilings!”  I needn’t have been so dramatic.  They just shrugged and said, “Okay.” 

Thursday, August 16, 2018


When there was such a thing as institutional slavery, the Church recognized this as a fact of the world and gave teachings based on those given in Scripture on how those who “owned” slaves should treat their servants.  Over the course of time, the Church recognized that, because each human person has an inalienable dignity, nobody could possibly be “owned” by anybody and to be a person who “owned” slaves was inherently evil.  This happened at a time when the Christian world was sufficiently awakening to the evil of this practice it was possible to bring this abomination to an end.  

This was not a change in the teachings of the Church.  It was a development in the understanding of the inherent worth of each individual human soul.  It was a slow and painful path.  But the moment there was any recognition that the oppressed person was in fact a person with a soul, with dignity and worth, who was saved by the Passion of Jesus Christ, it was inevitable that slavery would be done away with.  The very idea of a “slave owner” was poisoned with the first drop of Christ’s blood and every subsequent teaching and recognition of the value of life brought it closer and closer to death.

In my opinion, the recent teaching of Pope Francis on the death penalty can be seen in the same light.  What he now says (though I understand the difficulty in the way he said it) does not negate the realities and teachings of the past.  By the time we get to St. John Paul II, because of the advancement of culture and our ability to detain and isolate persons who are a serious threat to society, he had difficulty imagining any scenario in which the death penalty could be used.  He stood at the precipice of the seamless garment of the respect of human life, unable to imagine the need for civilized Christians to resort to killing an otherwise detained person for the sake of the salvation of the world.

As there was a point in which slavery was no longer a tenable option for Christians, Pope Francis says such has the time come for the death penalty.  

Many will disagree.  Many will disagree with the way he said it.  Many will disagree with the format in which he said it.  Indeed, the reader of his article may think the pope was either premature in this declaration or a bit of a Pollyanna in his worldview or that he took one step too far, but, in my opinion, the one wagon that no one should jump on is that he has been speaking heresy.  It is not only unhelpful to the conversation it does not display an understanding of how the Church has operated for 2,000 years.  

Tuesday, August 14, 2018


FINDING TRUTH WHEREVER IT MAY BE FOUND:  "'Sure there's a hell . . . It is the drab desert where the sun sheds neither warmth or light and Habit force-feeds senile Desire.  It is the place where mortal Want dwells with immortal Necessity, and the night becomes hideous with the groans of the one and the ecstatic shrieks of the other.  Yes, there is a hell, my boy, and you do to have to dig for it . . .'"  from  Jim Thomson's "Savage Night"

QUOTE II:  "Man is forced to give up so much of his dignity by the mere exigencies of existence."  same source.


Here are some events coming up:

Also, this Saturday morning following the 8AM Mass (so approximately from 8:30 to 9:25 when confessions begin) there will be a symbolism and architecture tour of St. Sebastian.  We will have A LOT to get in so it will be a whirlwind tour!  Meet in the new piazza and hold on to your hat.

At some point, for some reason, I started hanging on to my Monday Diary drawings.  They are really stacking up!  They should be worth something someday in tonnage of recycling.
The Cannon Matthew Weaver, newly ordained, had a Mass of Thanksgiving at St. Sebastian this past Sunday.  

Death with dignity?  Two and half minutes.

Monday, August 13, 2018


When I was very little my mother would sit me on her knee and sing this song while bouncing me:
Pony boy!
Pony boy!
Won't you be my pony boy?
Don't say no.
Here we go far across the sea.
Marry me, carry me far across the sea.
Giddy up. giddy up, giddy up, giddy up WHOA! Pony boy!

I don't get it either.

Anyway, the bouncing would get more and more intense until the final. "WHOA!" which would be a big buck of course and I would laugh and say, "Do it again!"

I kinda do the same thing with my dog Sebastian.  (Well, I don't sit him on my knee of course.)  But on Fridays one of his favorite people in the world comes to work in the front office.  Every week without fail she brings him a treat and toy.  We've nicknamed Friday, "Girlfriend Day!"  And we must be very careful not to mention those words at any time other than Friday morning or Sebastian, expecting one of his favorite people to arrive, will sit at the back door, tail wagging for HOURS.  (It is so heartbreaking.  How do you explain to a dog that they misunderstood without just building their hope up higher?)

Anyway, on Friday morning I DO build the anticipation with him.  When we get to the top of our block (and there is nobody in sight) I will bend down to his level, unleash him and ask him . . . 
And then I shout . . .
He goes tearing off directly for the door of the rectory.  I don't think an overturned meat truck would distract him from his rendezvous.  I follow behind, eventually unlocking the door at which he is desperately barking and letting him into the rectory and singing my heart out:

Girlfriend day!
Girlfriend day!
Don't you know it's Girlfriend day!
Don't say no!  Here we go!   Far a cross the sea . . . 

Which is all innocent and fun until I realized this past week there was a houseful of visitors a witness to me singing about girlfriend day.

Friday, August 10, 2018


The Parish of Saint Sebastian was founded in 1928.  Until 1805 the east boundary of the parish was the western boundary of the United States.  The modern day road marking this line, Portage Path Road, roughly follows the trail Native Americans once used to portaged their canoes from the Cuyahoga to the Tuscawarus river.  Doing this allowed them to travel from the Great Lakes all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico via waterways save for this relatively short stretch of land.  

The land on which the parish buildings stand were once was part of a large farm that served as the county home.  Evidence of this farm exists to this day by way of a city park located one block east of the church.  Every summer rectangles of slightly greener and quicker growing grass appear in perfect rows at one end of the park, remnants of what once served as the graveyard for residents of the county home.  The graveyard was moved when the home was moved further out into the country when the city invaded what was once nothing but farmland.  After having done some excavation to improve the flooding conditions of the park, the city declared that all of the bodies had indeed been removed.  But I don’t go walking in that park on All Hollow’s Eve at midnight just the same.  (Just kidding.)

Originally the parish was to be located about an eighth of a mile from where it now stands but anti-Catholic sentiment forced them to buy some former swamp land which, in the long run, became a much more ideal location.  God works in wondrous ways.

The first building to be built was a combination church, school, convent, parish offices, and social hall.  The pastor lived at the local Catholic hospital and served as chaplain there until he moved to a rented home a few blocks south of the rectory.  But in the mid-thirties that house was sold forcing Father Zwisler and his parochial Vicar, Father John Murphy to find another house to rent.  It was at this point that the pastor decided that it was time to build a parish rectory.

Fishing around in the parish archives, I came across some old newspapers that the parish published in 1936 concerning the campaign to build a rectory.  The masthead of the “The Local Motive” was a head on picture of a locomotive charging toward the reader and written on it it declared that the parish wanted to raise $30,000 to help erase debt and $30,000 to build the rectory.  “Give it right away!” it urged.  

From reading the various articles, it sounds as though the project was not without controversy.  The great depression was still on, the bank that held the parish’s saving had just failed and this was no small amount of money.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics consumer price index, $100 in 1936 equaled about $1,813 in purchasing power in 2018.  Today it would be the equivalent of raising well over a million dollars.  But it was successful and soon the rectory was constructed.

There is surprisingly little known about how the rectory originally looked interiorly.  There are no pictures of the furniture, window treatments, or wall colors.  Apparently the floors were covered in brown linoleum which still exists in some closets and under the carpeting.  The only picture of the original interior of the house of which I am aware is of two couples who were married in the pastor’s office before the young grooms were sent off to World War II.  In the upper right hand corner you can just about make out the end of a curtain rod, remarkably similar to ones found in the living room but that were only installed recently, and a bit of a curtain with flowers on it.  Not much else is known.

Despite the size of the parish and the house, it was only built with three offices; the large one for the pastor which also contains a vault, and two smaller offices, one for the secretary and one for all other priests to share.  This was not all that uncommon.  Unlike modern parishes, there were no business managers, bookkeepers, youth directors, directors of religious education, marketing directors, development directors, let alone computers, copy machines, FAXes, and a host of other large electronic equipment we cannot live without today.  Parishes were not expected to do as much, priest’s roles were a bit more limited, and so the construction of a hallway of offices would have seemed an extravagant waist.  Those three offices still function as the main offices of the parish though their use as changed.  

Thursday, August 9, 2018


You are walking down the street with your dog.  It doesn’t seem like there is another person on the face of the earth.  But three of you, all with dogs, show up at the same corner at the same time and jockey around to see who will pass and how.

You are driving down a lonely stretch of road.  You haven’t passed another care in the last 5 minutes.  You get to an intersection and there are three cars and a struggle to decide who gets to go first.  Then you don’t pass another car for 10 minutes.

You are in a practically empty store.  The one thing at which you want to look has someone standing right in front of it.  For a long time.  And you grow weary of pretending to take interest in toothbrushes while you await your turn. 

There are (basically) two ways to handle this.  One is to get frustrated and angry.  (I preferred this method for a long time and to which I still sometimes revert when not at my best game.)  “You’ve got to be kidding me!  God, is this a test?  Oh come on!  This is ridiculous!  What are the chances?  People are so annoying!”

The others is to take as a test.  “Well, this is very odd yet again.  Okay God, I posit from this that you are paying attention to me because of the weird circumstances and that you want me to learn something from this.  What is it?”  And then (to the best of your ability) enjoy the moment by discerning what it might be.  (Hint:  If you are still frustrated or annoyed, there is still something to learn.)

The second option may seem a bit much to expect but the alternative is to be angry and frustrated.  And it really is up to you.  So choose.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018


FINDING TRUTH WHEREVER IT MAY BE FOUND:  "The unappreciated, disregarded miracle had happened once more; it was day again."  from Cornell Woolrich's, "Night Has a Thousand Eyes."

QUOTE II:  "'You believe in God, Tommy?'  'Well, yeah, I guess so,' I said.  'THat's the way I was raised.'  'Then you believe that's heaven right up over us, so close we can almost touch it.  We're just a little south of heaven, right?'"  from Jim Thomson's, "South of Heaven"


I am very excited to announce that the Musical Concert Series at St. Sebastian has again won a grant from the Ohio Arts Council!  The season is really quite outstanding this year for our 90th anniversary.  Go HERE and click on the Musical Arts Series to see the schedule of upcoming events.

A one man play about G. K. Chesterton is coming to Akron sponsored by the St. Sebastian Chesterton Society!  Tickets go on sale tomorrow:

G. P. sent in THIS article for troubled Catholics for the painful position in which the Church has allowed herself to go.  Thanks!

P. V. sent in THIS article about "Gosnell" actress Tessya Whatley choosing not to abort her child on film and in life.

Don't tell him that I told you but tomorrow (Wednesday) is Fr. Simone's birthday!

Tomorrow is also the next Theology on Tap Akron!
Here is a good 3 minute video:

Sunday, August 5, 2018


It used to be
that the birds from the trees
would fly to the church
on the steeple perch
- and I thought it beautiful.
But now’s the church clean
the birds seem so mean
with their filth and dirt
to a mess we revert
- and it drives me nuts.

It used to be
that the rain would fall free
and I’d sit and listen
our crowns it’d christen
- and I thought it beautiful.
But now’s our crest gilded
and with all of my will did
not curse the rain
with its spots and its stains
- and it drives me nuts.

It used to be 
that kids in glee
would play on the pews
with their cars and choo-choos
- and I thought it beautiful.
But now’s the stain new
and toys gouge and chew,
Cheerios ground in to floors
handprints on new doors
- and it drives me nuts.

Today our church home
is as shiny as chrome
with its new this and that
(though no clip for your hat)
- and I think it beautiful.
But “new” is so fragile
and dirt is so agile
and I think I’ll be serene
when we’re back where we’d been

- and that drives me nuts.

Based on the poem, "He Worried about It" by Sam Walter Foss.  Thanks to Fr. Ference.

Friday, August 3, 2018


On a drizzly afternoon in June, the Knights of Columbus council at St. Sebastian came to St. Clare in Lyndhurst, about 45 minutes away and where I had served as parochial vicar for the past three years to help pack up my belonging and move me south to Akron.  St. Clare had been very good to me.  The rectory there had been recently renovated and my room was very generous.  It was one of two parishes in the diocese that still had a live-in who cooked and did laundry; Social Security and rising standards of living having all but wiped out the need for a person to find work in a rectory to make ends meet.

Though that rectory that stands out in the diocese as a very fortunate place for a priest to live, the St. Clare rectory was in the middle of the church and school parking lot as well as right off of one of the busiest roads in Cleveland: Mayfield Road.  Mayfield is one of those magical roads on which you can find just about anything you might need with the exception of quiet and easy driving.  Businesses on the East side of Cleveland gravitate to this road that stretches from Little Italy in the heart of Cleveland to the rich suburbs far out toward the rising sun.  But that also means that it is a nasty tangle of traffic most of the day and being a main thoroughfare, if an emergency vehicle is going to be called to any place, it is going to go past St. Clare on the way there with sirens screaming.  

One night, waking me from a deep sleep, the sirens made their usual racket becoming louder and louder as it neared the parish and then, at its peak, abruptly stopped instead of fading as it made its way past.  I opened my eyes to find my room awash in blue and red flashing lights.  Padding over to my window I saw a car turned over on the immaculate front lawn.  Apparently someone had thought it a good parking spot but not wanting to mess up the lawn with tire tracks decided to park it on its roof.  (Fortunately no one was hurt – or wouldn’t be until the next morning when the hangover and the clarity of what happened the night before set in.)

All the rectories that I had lived in previous to coming to live at St. Sebastian had been in the middle of a field of a tarmac parking lot.  This was particularly evident at my first parish when car alarms were finishing their first blush of being standard equipment on cars.  Gentlemen, and I use the term loosely, still thought it hysterical to wait until a female acquaintance walked by their car so they could set off the alarm from a distance and bend over laughing when the lady would screech.  Neither the women nor I, listening to it for the umpteenth time in my room, found it the least bit funny.

Privacy, then, is always at a bit of a premium.  I remember once, at St. Ambrose, I had been taking a nap, woke thirsty, and stepped out of the room to go downstairs to get a cup of water.  The door was locked to keep well intentioned persons from coming in.  After stepping out into the hall, the wind from an open window caught the door and slammed it shut locking the room up tight.  It was one of those days that I wanted desperately to have a little alone time so I snuck downstairs in my stocking feet, hair mussed (having hair then) and clothes crumpled.

I butter knife was snuck out of the kitchen and I tried to jimmy the door open.  First one person than another showed up to try to get me in my room.  Soon there was a group of about seven people offering advice on how to get the door open.  The handle was completely disassembled and still there was no gaining entrance.  I snuck away, got an extension ladder and, in front of the entire school out for recess, climbed up to my window, slid in and announced, “I’m in my room!  You can all leave now!” and then curled up on my couch to finish a nap.

Of course, having people around is also a blessing.  When John Paul II died and I was in one of my wanting to be left alone moods, I got that same ladder out and climbed to the roof of the church to hang the black mourning banners.  A strong wind came along and blew the ladder down trapping me in the roof (this was long before I owned a cell phone.)  Fortunately a kind jogger came along and heard my cries for assistance and righted the ladder.

In contrast, the rectory at St. Sebastian is located in the middle of green lawns, hemmed in by the school and the church building.  But no general parking lot comes near it.  Across the brick avenue is a park named Elm Hill Park though everyone calls it Forest Lodge which is the building that stands on its grounds.  The new building built by the WPA was named after the hunting lodge that once stood there when this part of Akron was considered way out in the country.  All in all it is about as nice a setting one could hope for while still being inside the city limits and it was this house that the truck carrying all of my worldly goods drove up to using the curving brick driveway under a canopy of oak and maple trees to the rear entrance of the rectory.

Thursday, August 2, 2018


We often hear that the sacrament of confession is dead.  I don’t buy it.  I think it is like a local restaurant that I like that has inconvenient hours and even when I make it a point of going to their horrible hours it is closed on that particular day or the owners are on vacation and have a sign tacked to the door.  I show up with friends only to be turned away.  After a while it falls off of my radar screen and I don’t even think to go until some bazar thing happens like finding myself in front of the store just when I happen to be hungry.  Thank goodness the wait staff is good and they don’t run out of my choice (too often.)  How they stay open I don’t know.  Likewise it is amazing that the sacrament of confession is still in use for these same reasons!  There must be something about it that it still survives at all!  We’ve done just about everything we can do to kill yet it remains more resilient than Godzilla.  

I don’t claim to have all of the answers, but here are 15 suggestions on how (in the long term) to take the sacrament from being Wall Flower at the dance (there but not very popular) to at least being the punch bowl attendant (still not overly popular, but most will at least stop by when they are thirsty.)

1)  If you are in an area with parishes in relatively easy driving distance, don’t have confessions at the exact same time as everybody else.  If someone can’t make it to one, they can’t make it to any of them.
  1. Have more than one scheduled opportunity to go to confession and at different times of the day.  Once again, if someone can’t make your Tuesday night confessions because of work, they will never have the opportunity.  Or if they work nights and you only have night time confessions . . . 
  2. Don’t rely on “confessions by appointment.”  I didn’t even go to see my doctor when I thought I was having a stroke because it seemed like such a bother.  (I know, I know.)  And this is much more important.  “By appointment” is largely for trauma cases, the super comfortable person, and 5th steps.
  3. When starting a new confessions time, it takes months of getting the word out for people to really start taking advantage of it.  It has to enter their consciousness.  That takes a while.  Commit for at least half of a year (part of it in a penitential season) before deciding if it is a poor time to have the sacrament.
  4. Do NOT cancel confessions.  Think of the poor soul hanging on the faith by their fingernails that FINALLY worked up the nerve to go to confession only to show up and find out that there are no confessions that day for some mysterious reason.  But if there are times that you must cancel, make sure that it is well announced and advertised and that there is a sign on the door explaining the extraordinary circumstances.
  5. Nothing will work if you don’t preach it.  There are great events that I want to attend in my own area of West Akron - BIG ONES - and I miss them because they don’t cross my mind.  I get on with life and the next thing I know I’ve missed them for another year.  You don’t have to beat people over the head with sin - but we do need reminding.
  6. Advertise.  Make sure that the bulletin, the parish signs and the web site all list confession times clearly and that the information is accurate.
  7. Pray for those who would benefit from going to confession.  Ask their guardian angels to get them there.
  8. Even if you are a lion in the pulpit, be encouraging and merciful in the confessional.  Your reputation will proceed you.
  9. The biggest and most common complaints that I hear in the confessional are:  The priest talks too much, the priest didn’t let me finish, the priest told me I don’t need confession for one reason or another (my sins weren’t big enough).  I’m sure there are grave deficiencies in my methods that this or that person does not appreciate.  That’s why it’s good to have other priests available when possible.  
  10. Find ways to stop someone who is at confession more for counseling than confession.  Can you imagine showing up early for confessions that only lasts for a half an hour and the person two people in front of you being in there for 20 minutes?  Sometimes I will say to such a person, “This sounds like it needs attention outside of the sacrament.  Let’s continue this conversation later in the rectory.”
  11. Do what you can to make confession obvious and welcoming. Make the church look open.  (Have the lights on.)  Have confessions in an obvious place (not a side room that people should just know to go to.)  Make it as private (sound proof) as possible.  
  12. Let people know that if they have not been to confession in a long time and are afraid that they forget how to go or don’t remember prayers that you will talk them through it.  It will be just fine.  In this case getting to confession is more important than remembering how to do it exactly correctly.
  13. Let people know where they can find an examination of conscience.  (There are oodles of them on line for various persons and vocations.)
  14. Advertise the times of surrounding parishes (if there are any close) for people to go to if they are ashamed/embarrassed/uncomfortable/just-plain-not-of-a-mind to go to their parish priests.
  15. When handling large groups of confessions such as for a school, do not rely all the time on the rite for group confessions.  From the start, people need to learn how to and be comfortable with going to confession on their own.  

Yes it’s a pain.  Yes, it’s time consuming.  Yes, there are more and more things required of priests.  Yes, it can be trying sitting in the box on a day that is slow on confessions.  But really there are few things more important than for the father of a congregation to be with his people when they need healing.  

Tuesday, July 31, 2018


FINDING TRUTH WHEREVER IT MAY BE FOUND:  "Holiness consists in this: Showing up.  Listening.  Speaking truth without blame or judgement.  And being open to the outcome."  The Rev. John Loya


P.V. sent in an article HERE about why Chief Sitting Bull wore a crucifix.

From the same person two more stories:  What went wrong with the sexual revolution HERE and an article on why so many persons quit the production of a movie on Roe vs Wade HERE.  Thanks.

Eric Armusik's work (often mentioned here) was in the news again.  Go HERE and scroll down to page 17 fo the story.

M.K. sent in THIS article about the difficulty of buying a house in Akron as they are flying off of the shelves (so to speak.)  A couple of our parishioners are mentioned in the article.

This week's video is HERE.  It made me laugh - and it is SOOOOO soon.

Monday, July 30, 2018


Me thinking about cars when I was little and trying to impress Mom with what I thought was cool:
She liked things simple.  The more complicated they got the more complicated (not to mention expensive) things became when those things stopped functioning properly.  I think that is why I like mechanical clocks so much.  You can always oil them or something and get them running again.  Other clocks are throw away clocks - once they stop working it is too expensive to bother getting them fixed.

SOOOO we move on to the NEW sound system at St. Sebastian.  It promised to clean up all of our problems and, I will admit, when it works, which has been most days except Sunday, it is pretty great.  The problem is that the sound guys come in on Friday to make changes and that means we don't really get to try it out until Sunday Masses.  So last week this happened:
Needless to say I was not a happy camper.  THIS WEEK everything was supposed to be fixed (with some minor tuning yet to come for those hard to hear areas.)  Then we had a power surge on Sunday morning and our fancy shmancy computers all went rogue.  The air conditioning went down because the programming was lost and the sound went out because the system lost its brain.  There was nothing we could do - no switches to touch - no slides to slide - no buttons to punch - NOTHING AT LEAST TO KICK!

Finally half way through the Mass I just unplugged the (darn) thing and plugged it back in.  It kind of worked then but the computer screen was all wacky (all wacky?) and we could not make any adjustments or turn things on and off.
Ah!  The wisdom and cleverness of Mom.  I may not have fully appreciated it back then but how could I have ever doubted?

Friday, July 27, 2018


That is not to say that the way the pastor had the rectory set up is wrong.  It was right for him.  He is of the type of gentleman that gets his energy from being around people.  My first pastor was like that.  Fr. Hilkert of St. Ambrose Parish (God rest him) loved being around people and he didn’t have a lot of boundaries.  His suite was off the first landing on the stairs and easily visible from the front offices.  It was not unusual for him (he was in his mid-80s when I was with him) to be in his pajamas by 8PM.  The secretary might phone up and say that someone stopped by to see him and, putting the phone down would holler down the steps, “Just come on up.  I’m in my chair and have no intention of getting up.”  It would be unheard of today in our litigious society to greet somebody in your pajamas but back then it was a funny quirk.  

Once, getting back to the St. Ambrose rectory late the secretary stopped me and said, “Would you please go up and see if Father is alright?  A couple of big young men stopped by to talk to a priest and he told me to send them up and they have there has been a lot of yelling coming from up there.”

I ran up the stairs, knocked, and went in.  There were two rather beefy young men with Father and they were all holding Bibles and talking over each other.  It turns out that they were Protestants and one of them was getting married to a Catholic and wanted the straight story “from the horse’s mouth” exactly what Catholic believe.  Greatly relieved I said, “Hold on, I’ll get my Bible,” and so joined in on the conversation.

In many ways, though I think we had the relationship I had with that pastor was that of Grandpa and Grandson, Fr. Hilkert and I were polar opposites.  But it was his rectory and whatever he wanted went.  That is, until he decided he was going to put a deacon’s office on the second floor where the living quarters were, directly across the hall from my bedroom.  This house was built in the ‘50s when there was no need for as many offices as a modern parish needs and so, as happened at St. Sebastian, offices crept further and further into this house until there was only one spot left un-invaded by office workers – the guest room directly across the hall from my bedroom.

Sometimes I worry that I am a little too private or picky.  But the idea of taking a shower and changing my clothes and hearing a meeting going on out in the hall with only an inch thick door separating us was more than I could bear.  So I went to Fr. Hilkert’s office, with whom never an ill word passed, and said, “This is your house, and you may do whatever you want with it and I will support you.  But I just want you to know that if you put an office across from my bedroom, I will move out.”  I said it in a very calm and matter of fact way – or at least that is the way I remember it.  There I times that I think I am being very calm about things and friends will say, “Boy, could we tell you were loaded for bear.”  I am always amazed by this.

“They aren’t gonna be coming in your room!” he grumbled back, perhaps sensing an underlying feeling of petulancy.  

“I didn’t say they were.  I am just saying that if there is an office up there, I will not be.”

“I can put offices anywhere I want to.”

“I know that.  I didn’t say you couldn’t.  I just said that I would be moving out.”  

That was the closest we had ever come to fighting in the seven years we were together.  He finally gave in and I apologized.  Looking back I know I was bull headed enough to carry out my threat but I have no idea where I would have gone.  Living in the rectory, after all, is part of our compensation.  One night in a hotel is more than a priest makes in a weekend of Masses.  And the food isn’t as good.

Priests who are extraverts are few and far between.  At least of the ones I know.  This is a good thing.  If you put 5 introverts in a room with a bowl of peanuts, come back in an hour and they all will have found something to read.  Put 5 extroverts in a room together with a bowl of peanuts, come back in an hour and at least one will have to go to the hospital to have the bowl of peanuts removed from his nostril.  So considering we end up living together in situations not far removed from arranged marriages, it is good that so many of us so inclined to some amount of passivity.

There are ways, however, in which it is far easier to be extroverted priest than one that is introverted.  One would be in the arrangements of the rectory.  It is easy to open up your house and invite everybody and their pet cat to roam through at will, dropping in on your breakfast to get a cup of coffee and make idle chatter, taking a short cut to the church when you have company, popping in at night to “get some things done” while you are sitting in the living room in sweats, eating popcorn and watching the game.  True extroverts love this.  “No!  You’re not interrupting!  Sit down and talk for a few minutes.”

Woe for the introverted priest whose assignment as pastor follows that of the extroverted priest.  While the extravert gets his energy by being around people and the more the merrier, the introvert (such as myself) gets his energy by being alone.  And we know from experience that when we try to fashion our home as is befitting an introvert after an extrovert has been there, we seem territorial and mean spirited.  Maybe we are.

So at first you try to live with it, silently crushing your newspaper when someone interrupts breakfast to catch up.  Or scuttling out of the kitchen late at night not wanting to be seen on your PJs when an unexpected visitor with keys comes in the back door to work on a project for the morning.  First we try polite explanations such as, “Could you please not come in to the rectory late at night without warning me?  Sometimes I like to come down from my bedroom for a late snack and am not dressed for visitors.”

Inevitably will come the reply, “Oh but Father, I don’t mind seeing you in your PJs.”  Which may be very true.  But the problem stems from not wanting to be seen in my PJs.  So then the introverted priest starts laying down rules such as “Nobody in the rectory after office hours!”  Maybe that’s it.  We stuff it down until we are upset and then it comes out a bit harsh.  So you feel guilty and so maybe you bake a little something and leave it on the kitchen counter to try to make up for it.  It is best to be a good baker in times like these.


Baking only ingratiates one for so long.  Soon the complaints of ruined diets start marring the positive effects that the initial baking created.  But there was a perennial favorite: my mother’s apple strudel.  It always appeared around the fall and would disappear like a freed helium balloon on a windy day – more of a flash of sweet memory than anything lasting.  

(As copied from an ancient piece of notebook paper, written in her own hand and covered with grease spots.)

¼ cup of water
3 eggs
2 Tbsps. of vinegar
2 cups flour
2 sticks of butter (½ pound)
9 (Mom always used half Macintosh and half Jonathon)
1 cup sugar
Dash of cinnamon
Dash of lemon juice
1 cup crushed cornflakes
(I add a little vanilla to the dough.)

Mix together the water, vinegar, and 3 egg yolks (& vanilla.)  (Save the whites for later.)

In another bowl, cut the butter into the flour as you for pie dough.  When the butter is “pea size” add the liquid ingredients and knead until it forms a ball and no longer sticks to the side of the bowl.  A good amount of flour may need to be added as you knead.  Let the dough sit covered in a bowl in the refrigerator for at least an hour or even overnight.

The Filling:
Peel, cut and slice the apples to a size of your taste
Add to the apples the sugar, cinnamon, lemon juice, and 1 cup crushed cornflakes.

Preheat oven between 325-350

Divide dough into four to six balls and roll out a thinly as possible into a large rectangle.
Place apples along one edge.  Place a row of cornflakes alongside.
Roll the dough, folding over the ends and sealing all with the egg whites.
Paint the rolled loaves with egg whites or melted butter, sprinkle with sugar bake for 1 hour or until golden brown.


Instead of slicing up the apples, peel and core depending and size, about 10 of them.  
Roll out dough into as many squares.
Place apple in the middle of the square and fill the now empty core with sugar, a dash of cinnamon, and a pad of butter at the top.
Fold the dough up and around the apple securing with the eggs whites like glue.
Coat with egg whites or butter, sprinkle with sugar and bake for 1 hour or until golden brown.

In a double boiler melt some red cinnamon candy.

Put dumplings in a bowl with ice cream and pour to cinnamon mixture over.  Serve piping hot.