Tuesday, September 26, 2017


FINDING TRUTH WHEREVER IT MAY BE FOUND:  "The simple phrase, 'For God so loved the world . . .' would have puzzled an educated pagan.  And the notion that the gods care about how we treat one another would have been dismissed at patently absurd."  from Frank Stark's, "The Rise of Christianity"


Just pictures this week:

Bishop Gries OSB celebrating the first Mass at the Julie Billiart School of St. Sebastian last Friday.
Bishop Perez having Mass at St. Sebastian on Saturday.  Talk about being blessed with two awesome bishops!
As part of receiving permission to reserve the Blessed Sacrament at JBSS, the ordinary needs to visit the space.  So after dinner on Saturday, Bishop Perez made a visit to the new chapel.
Sunday was Octoberfest at St. Paul in Akron.  Here is something I thought I would never, ever see:  Fr. Pfeiffer cutting a rug on the dance floor!  Didn't know you had the moves brother!
Fr. Trenta left yesterday to return to studies in Rome.  He wanted Swensons for his farewell meal.  We took this picture and sent it to seminarian David Stavarz, sometimes resident in the St. Sebastian rectory, to encourage him on his soup and salad diet.
Even Sebastian got in on the fun.
Adam sent this two hour video in:

Monday, September 25, 2017


This is not an exaggeration.

At 2:55PM on Tuesday I made the casual remark that, although we have a lot to do, and Bishop Gries  OSB is coming on Friday to have Mass at the Julie Billiart School at St. Sebastian, there are no major events at the parish this weekend so it should be a relatively relaxing weekend for a change.

At 3:00PM I received a phone call.  "Bishop Perez wants to have Mass at St. Sebastian this weekend. Can that be arranged?"

Can it?  Ha!  I was terribly excited to welcome our brand new bishop down to the southern part of his diocese!  How ultimately awesome!  And an honor!

Then the doubts set in.  "Is he coming down because we did something right or because we did something wrong?"  (As it turns out he is going to be visiting every parish as he can and we just happened to have an early pull from the parish jar - but I didn't know that then.)

The rest of the week was a blur of getting ready.  A friend said, "Do you realize that you turn in to your Mother whenever a bishop is coming to St. Sebastian?"  With dread comprehension I knew it to be true.  Cecil B. Demille would have been proud of my pre-production preparations.  One of the best lasting effects have been that now it is Monday morning and things that I have been wanting to have fixed/cleaned in the rectory and church were taken care of for the Bishop's visit and today we enjoy it.

But there are so many things over which one just doesn't have control.  When does the battery in the air conditioner unit in the rectory decide to die?  While the Bishop is here.  When does every "empty" or "full" alarm go off in the rectory?  When the Bishop is here.  Of course.

It was a beautiful things seeing the church packed however.  The only thing that made me nervous was that my cousin Steven, a bit of a prankster, was sitting in the front pew.  And guess what, Bishop Perez likes to walk around when he gives a homily.  Guess where he stood the majority of the time.  In front of Steven who looked at me with his mischievous grin and wiggled his eyebrows.
By and large it was a great pastoral visit by our new shepherd.  The next visit, now that we know how to care and feed the shepherd will be much less stressful.  

Speaking of shepherds, Bishop Roger Gries OSB had the very first Mass at the Julie Billiard School at St. Sebastian, Akron on Friday.  That was much less stressful for the three priests here at St. Sebastian, Fr. Simone, Fr. Trenta and me.  It was more of a challenge for him.  From my years in children's theater I have learned that children are brutally honest.  And the can be like water, flowing in unpredictable places.

Bishop Gries had a wonderful Mass and during part of his homily he went down to speak to the K-2nd grade students.
You know, the best laughs in the world are ones where you are trying your darnedest not to laugh.

Friday, September 22, 2017


In a letter dated May 1st, 1933, Father Zwisler wrote to his parishioners:
“A grave emergency has arisen.  Your parish faces a serious crises, which you alone can, and, I have every confidence, will avert.  This Emergency occasions an Urgent Appeal . . . the success of the Appeal will save your parish with its efficient Church, School, and convent.”
The letter went on to describe what is later known as the Great Depression.  The parish built quickly and accumulated substantial debt during a very prosperous time in our nation.  It was thought that the fledgling community could easily handle the debt given enough time.  But before the new building was even occupied, the financial crash hit and its wake leaving four years of economic depression and high unemployment.  

The parish budget was slashed.  The pastor no longer took his pay.  About 60% of the parish was fortunate enough to be able to continue to support the parish, and money was carefully set aside to pay parish debt.  

The heaviest obligation was coming due on June 1st, $8,000, a tremendous amount of money in 1930’s dollars.  The parish had carefully saved the money and placed it in the bank.  But then the bank crashed and the money was lost.

“We must meet this obligation,” wrote the pastor.  “This cannot wait.  Parish Solvency and Credit are at stake.  You have maintained your Parish credit until now.  You cannot default.  Failure to meet this obligation (would be) disastrous.  You will not fail.  You will be generous in relieving a tense situation created by the Bank, not by you.”
The appeal was asking “each solvent adult” to give $10, the more fortunate being asked to make up for what the less fortunate were not able to give.  The money had to be raised in just three weeks time.  So he asked, “Please to bring, send or mail to the Rectory or place on Collection Plate on any of the next three Sundays.”
At the end of the letter he added, “With your very generous response, you may also make it possible for your Pastor to draw on some of his long past due allowance, and thus enable him to continue to maintain his Ford in the better interest of the parish.”
According to the St. Sebastian Silver Jubilee booklet, during this time “the pastor was driving a faithful 5 year old Model T Ford in those days to try and keep up with his many appointments.  One day he was heading for an important engagement when the “flivver” finally stopped running and he left it in its tracks.”
The campaign was not entirely successful in meeting all of the parish debts.
Every parish in the Diocese of Cleveland pays an assessment to the diocese.  This helps maintain offices and programs that serve the entire diocese.  As the dioceses offices do not generate their own funding, they rely on an assessment or tax, which is a portion of the Sunday collection, to fund them.  In September of 1934, Father Zwisler wrote to Bishop Schrembs asking for relief from having to pay the assessment due to economic hardship.

“This concerns our diocesan (assessment).  In spite of our heavy parish debt, we have never failed to meet all our diocesan obligations even during these depression years.  This includes not only the (assessment), but every diocesan campaign or collection as well.  With the help of God, we are doing so this year in spite of the fact that the parish is debt poor.  We cannot, however, meet the (assessment) until the end of this year.”
The letter goes on to explain the bank failure and the extra costs involved with meeting the extra debt incurred because of late payments.  He also explains other parish financial responsibilities:
$13,000 in salaries
$2,400 in taxes
$1,500 Diocesan tax
$600 rectory rental
$800 office expenses
$500 building repairs and renovations
$500 sacristy and sanctuary expenses
$150 telephone
$300 janitor and supplies
These amounts when added to the parish debt meant that $44,500.00 was needed to operate the parish for that year.  As a side note, it was estimated that it cost the parish about $8,000.00 a day to operate in the year 2010.

For his part, the bishop wrote back:
“I have your letter of September 20th, and I fully appreciate your financial difficulties.  Try, by all means to keep up the spirit and the morale of your people.  Surely the present depression cannot keep on forever.  Let us hope and pray for better days.
“With kindness and personal good wishes,
“Very cordially in Christ,
Bishop Schrembs, 

Bishop of Cleveland.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017


HELP GET THE NEWS OUT that Bishop Nelson Perez is coming to St. Sebastian Parish for 4:30 Mass this coming Saturday, September 23rd!


FINDING TRUTH WHEREVER IT MAY BE FOUND:  "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities."  Voltaire

QUOTE II:  ". . . the Church is the only thing defending whatever is at the moment stupidly despised."  G. K. Chesterton


A couple people sent THIS article in about "How Do We Fund Sacred Art in the Church?"
Speaking of the Beautiful, Eucharistic Devotions continues at St. Sebastian Parish with closing ceremonies tonight at 7PM.  Come say hello to Him sometime today!
This little guy is at One of a Kind Pets.  I am in the market for a pal for Sebastian, but I don't have what it takes at the moment to care for a guy this small.  But that face . . .  
This past Saturday was the Open House and Dedication of the Julie Billiart School at St. Sebastian, Akron.  It was a great turn out!  Below is the painting by Eric Armusik that was unveiled that day.

One of our parishioners is studying at the Franciscan University of Steubenville and had recently won a Magic contest.  Here is his video  (12mins):

Sunday, September 17, 2017



It is a blessing to have more than one priest at a parish.  Not every priest is for (the taste of) every person.  So it's a wonderful thing to have someone who preaches differently, celebrates differently and offers the Sacrament of Confession differently.

Over the summer we most often had three priests hearing confessions at St. Sebastian and we are very different.  As one person put it, our way of celebrating is like different ways of getting food at various restaurants.  I am like fast food - a Taco Bell confession . . .
Fr. Simone is more like an upper end steak restaurant - maybe like Flemmings . . . 
Then there is the person who thought we were more like the Three Bears.
Which led Fr. Simone to opine . . .

Friday, September 15, 2017


Much of the first two paragraphs were taken from the Our Lady of the Elms website.


Our Lady of the Elms was founded by the Akron Dominicans in 1923, five years before the founding of St. Sebastian Parish, having their first day of school on October 15, 1923. To get to this momentous day, a score of Sisters of St. Dominic from the Dominican Province of Caldwell, New Jersey, led by Mother General Avelline Quinn, OP, purchased Elm Court, the beautiful mansion, grounds and buildings on West Market Street.

They saw beyond its beauty as a piece of property. They envisioned it as their center of operations in Akron, Ohio. Here there would be a Dominican Novitiate to form young women into Sisters of St. Dominic who would join their ranks and share in their work. They also opened a new school for young women where the Dominican vocation of teaching the young could be accomplished through the particular charism of Dominican education. A little band of Sisters of St. Dominic led by Mother Beda, newly-appointed leader of the new Cleveland Diocese Dominican Motherhouse, in just a few months in 1923, transformed Elm Court into Our Lady of the Elms, a convent and a day school. Classes for the first thirteen students were held in the convent building. 

The school clearly proceeded the opening of the St. Sebastian Primary school and as such competed for students.  From the outset, there was tension between the two institutions.  Numerous letter were written back and forth to the bishop asking him to intervene between them.    In a letter to the Right Reverend Monsignor McFadden dated March 14, 1931, Mother Beda O. P. writes, in obvious response to accusations made by Father Zwisler:

“He insists that Sister Jeanette, the principal, has frequently proclaimed the priority rights that would seem to indicate that he had no right to establish a parish school.

“In November, having heard rumors of Father’s public attacks on private select schools, Sister Jeannette and I went over to his rectory to visit him.  When we asked him what was the trouble, he answered that there was no trouble but we had believed women’s gossip, etc.  However, during the course of the conversation, Father maintained that private grade schools should not exist anywhere in the country where the nation is dotted with parochial schools.

“We answered that this property had been purchased, with the permission of the Rt. Rev. Bishop, to open a novitiate to supply teachers for this diocese.  In order to support this novitiate, since we are only a teaching community, we had to open a school.  Then Sister Jeannette, turning, remarked, so we have priority of existence.  Evidently Father Zwisler has interpolated her remark, as Sister neither insinuated nor said that ‘he had no right to establish a parish school.’”

But that is not to say that the relationship was entirely competitive.  According to the same letter, when Father Zwisler first came to Akron the children of the Elms put on a program for him to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Armistice Day.  Father and especially his parochial vicar said Masses, instructed children, heard confessions, and even had entire classes spend a week at St. Sebastian School when preparing for First Communion, a forerunner of our current “Jesus Day.”

Thursday, September 14, 2017


I killed a great and successful program.

I feel extremely guilty about it.

I could offer ALL KINDS of excuses but when it comes right down to it, I could have handled it in a more constructive manner.

Let me just say it was drawing a lot of desperate people from near and far; men, women, old(er), young(er), Catholic, non-Catholic, to come together a pray, study, and (toward the end) have a good time together once a month.

Unfortunately, it was in the rectory, I am at the old(er) end of the scale, it was always on a work night, and I was always having to kick people out so I could get to bed.  “No, seriously, you people have to leave now.”

The reason I bring this up is that I was having a discussion with a newly ordained recently and we were debating what works and what does not work when it comes to forming community and getting people involved at the parish.  Clearly, our model of programs, initiatives and posters no longer work well.  Something new is needed as we rebuild Catholic culture in the United States.  

Here is something that doesn’t work (that surprised me) and something that did work (that surprised me.)


Meetings on the parish grounds that featured Bible studies or theological talks.  We peppered them up, gave them snappy titles, made great posters and turned it into a social/coffee house to try to up the attendance.  The same 30 people turned out for all of them.  Great people.  But why were we failing to attract more?


Theology on Tap has been a wonderful success thus far.  Hundreds of people have been through the door over the past year.  (We are coming up on our 1 year anniversary.)  Theology on the Rocks has almost been too much of a success.  We have had angry people because the venues have been so crowded.  At each of these there has been a solid theological talk, questions and answers, and, of course, food, drink and community.

The group with which I opened this article was a study of the writing of a turn of the last century Catholic writer.  Who would come to such a thing besides a few nerds like me?  But they did.

So . . . what is the THING and how can it be applied to other programs that are withering on the vine?  What are the ingredients?  Do we need to have PSR classes at Taco Bell?  What would make you come out for a Bible study?

Tuesday, September 12, 2017


FINDING TRUTH WHEREVER IT MAY BE FOUND:  "No man consciously chooses evil because it is evil; he only mistakes it for the happiness he seeks."  Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

QUOTE II:  "The young man who rings the bell at the brothel is unconsciously looking for God."  Bruce Marshal


K. S. sent this picture in from the St. Sebastian cutting garden with the caption, "Did you every wonder where bees take their naps?"
R. G. sent in an article about the release of Chesterton's, "The Flying Inn."  Read more HERE.

Eric Armusik is selling copies of his painting of Chesterton HERE.

This picture came from Fr. K showing us old folk why Pokemon is so interesting.

Speaking of the ever entertaining Fr. K - first here is a picture of Sebastian I caught one day:

Here it is re-created by Fr. K:

Babylon Bee is a biting, satyrical sight that occasionally hits a point better than most.  HERE is, "'Racism Is Bad,' Says White Woman Who Oversees Systematic Annihilation of Minorities."  Thanks A. K. 

I had Mass at St. Augustine in Barberton a couple of week ago.  I loved the statue in the sacristy of St. Anthony with an itty bitty St. Francis peeking out behind his foot.  (Congratulations guys on your new pipe organ.)

If you want to watch Bishop Perez's installation HERE is all three hours of it.

Monday, September 11, 2017


Before I get to the reason for my letter I would like to thank you very much for your product.  My dog has been happier and healthier because of it and as a result I am happier.


My dog Sebastian hates your product.  He doesn't perform many tricks but there is one he has perfected.  I can hide his pills in treats, wrap them in meat, plunge them into peanut butter, put them inside slices of cheese, and he will sort the whole thing in his mouth, swallow the food, and spit out his pills.
Consider this:  Sebastian had a hot spot a couple of years ago that he wouldn't stop licking.  So I bought this disgusting stuff that you are to spray on it that tastes SO HORRIBLY that you dog will no longer bother the spot.  After about three applications, he grew to like the stuff and would wag his tail in anticipation when I got the bottle out.

So I think of your wonderful pills that my dog will have nothing to do with and what he will eat.  Which is really just about anything.
 Including the cat's litter box at my sister's house.
And I do realize this is a first world problem but really.  It seems as though just a little more effort would make such a difference.  I mean - really - cat poop is winning out over you.

Thank you for your kind consideration,

Rev. John A. Valencheck
owner of Sebastian

Friday, September 8, 2017



This park directly across from the parish is often called Forest Lodge Park though the official name is Elm Hill Park.  Forest Lodge is the name of the building located in the park.  It was built in the 1930s by the WPA.  The upstairs was used to house the caretaker of the park and his family, the children of whom attended St. Sebastian Parish School.  The bottom floor with its two fireplaces was used for park activities, the best remembered being skating which took place when the large depression in the middle of the park was flooded in the wintertime.  Skates were rented from the hall and warm fires chased the chill out of the skaters.  


By all accounts the parish was off to a tremendous start.  In 1930 the Holy Name Society began.  This organization for men balanced that of the Sanctuary Society which was for the women of the parish.  Among other responsibilities, Father Zwisler entrusted the Society with providing youth activities for the parish.

Father had a powerful personality.  He was also a man of vision who not only built a parish from scratch but also planned for it’s future growth.  These two traits combined allowed him to form a strong, tight knit community with a well designed parish campus.  The St. Sebastian Parish campus, in this author’s opinion, remains one of the few in the diocese whose original intent, integrity and plan for growth successfully saw it through many years of expansion and growth.  

Father ran the parish with German efficiency and order.  Famous are the stories about children being sent home for not wearing the mandatory galoshes to school in season (October 1 through May 1).  Children were marched out of the building to the drums played by one of the students.  The wooden floors of the school were scoured by students with steel pads every Friday.  The “Skater’s Waltz” would play over the PA system while the children shuffled on their steel pads removing all of the scuff marks of the week.  There were also “Dandelion Picks.”  Classes were in competition to pull dandelions from the parish grounds, the winning class getting candy bars and the losers being consoled with lollipops.  All of this kept the parish running smoothly and maintained its facilities in tip top condition.

But a powerful personality can also have a downside.  When asking those who knew Father what sort of man he was, the conversation almost always begins with a quick intake of breath through clenched teeth followed by, “Well, he was a good man.”  Father was fiercely protective and loyal to his people and to the parish; and that protectiveness could, at times, cause difficulties.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017


It has been a busy few days around here and so I am way behind on posting.  Yesterday was the installation of Bishop Perez.  Here's a shot of some of us waiting to get things started.
I parked across the street and saw this great view of the cathedral.  Another priest and I laughed when we admitted to going to confession just before hand just in case there was someone who wanted to do some damage during the ceremony.  Coming across a couple other priests and telling them the story, they admitted to doing the same thing.
If you are really interested in how everything went (it went well) there are plenty of videos for watching the ceremony.  What you probably did not see is that the city was as nervous as we were worked hard to make sure we were safe.  Here are some of the dump trucks filled with sand that were used to block off the streets around the cathedral to make sure nobody tried to ram the area with a truck bomb.
There were a few bomb sniffing dogs and police everywhere.  It was touching watching a police officer walk a couple of elderly nuns across the street.

Here is the bicycle brigade that was making the rounds.
The mounted police made an appearance.
Police cars lined up in front of the cathedral as the procession made its way in.  There were rumors that there were snipers on the top of a building or two but that is unsubstantiated.  But let me tell you, I felt safe!
I felt safe enough to take this shameless selfie with Bishop Perez

It is a shame that we live in that kind of world that we have to take such precautions.  But we made it in safely and enjoyed the celebration.