Saturday, August 25, 2018


Having had a recent birthday, I was struck by how things you loved as a kid are not so great as an adult and visa versa.  Take this birthday treat for example:
Even one's views on certain presents changes between being a younger person and an older one:

And then there is this - said over the course of three notes to express embarrassment:
Just a note - I will not be posting the rest of the week.  I will be back the following week!

Friday, August 24, 2018


The next part of the project was that of changing the copy room into an office in order to get all of the offices off of the bedroom floor.  Thee is just something creepy and inappropriate about taking a shower and getting dressed in your bedroom while in the very next room someone is meeting with a bereft parishioner.  

The first move would need to be the evicting of the copy machine out of its own office in order to free up some space.  It turns out that if the copy machine were a person it would be appreciated for its efficiency and hard work, but nobody would want to partner with him because he took up  lot of space and was smelly and noisy.  Conversely, nobody wanted to be too far away from him.  Put him in the secretary’s office?  He was too noisy and it was already too packed in there.  The basement?  Too far away and too damp.  The hallway?  Too small and there were no available outlets.  The volunteer office?  Move over and make room for your large, smelly, loud new partner.

With this space and some other creative adjustments in the house, all of the offices were moved out of the bedroom hallway.  A little ground had been claimed for house!  That would not be the end game for the little office in the front of the house.  Before things really settled there would be a few more moves but by and large the staff was amiable about their relocations.  It turns out they were uncomfortable having offices amongst the bedrooms also.

Interestingly enough, the change in status of the rooms altered our taxes.  Every square foot of the house needs to be accounted for.  Having offices turned back into living space means a slight loss of a tax break for the Church.  But hopefully the investment in sanity and appropriateness would be worth it.

Thursday, August 23, 2018


Attending a party as a seminarian and being in a Roman collar, a lady came up to me to talk and she started telling me all kinds of things that I doubt she really wanted just any old person to know.  I interrupted her and said, “I’m not a priest.  I am only a seminarian.  I don’t think you should tell me these things.”  She waved my comment away and said, “You’re close enough,” and continued with her story.

I told one of professors about this and asked him what he thought.  He said that it was because of the good reputation set up for us by priests who have gone before and so we are often automatically given the benefit of the doubt.  We should be grateful and work diligently to keep that reputation in tact for future priests.

Well, you know the muck we are in (again) right now.  Just when it seemed we were gaining traction again . . . well, you get it.

So what is a priest to do at the parish?  Pennsylvania is the elephant in the room.  The readings for this weekend are so beautiful, challenging and dynamic but, because of the actions of some, we will have to deal with the scandal.  Trust has been gravely damaged.

Trust is not a boomerang.  When it is thrown away it doesn’t just come back.  Like a marriage in which on of the spouses has broken the trust of the other, saying, “Sorry” doesn’t cut it.  It takes a long time because the trust needs to be rebuilt.

Sin always leaves its mark.  There is no such thing as private sin.  It always leaves a stain because one of the very definitions of sin is that it brings harm into the world spiritually, mentally or physically.  This sin exploded in a such a dramatic way that it not only harmed those directly involved, but it brought damage to the greater Church.  (Hw grotesquely powerful the sin is!)

I imagine almost every Catholic knows now what it is to be guilty by association.  Yet that is there to say?  What happened was wrong.  It was indefensible.  It was terribly damning. 

As one priest put it, the Church is on fire.  What are we to do?  What does Christ call us to do?  Run away or hide until there is no more need for fire fighters?  Or does He call us to run in and help put out the fire especially where souls are most at risk?  

Do not grow tired or discouraged.  It is a terrible day.  But it is the terrible days that call for saints.  

At the very least, pray for all embroiled in this sad situation, especially those at ground zero.  But also the many people whose faith journey will be tested (or even derailed) because of the selfish desires of some.  Could a bomb do any more damage? 

Tuesday, August 21, 2018


FINDING TRUTH WHEREVER IT MAY BE FOUND:  (On theologians)  "The image you should have in mind is not the professor with a tweed jacket, but rather the disciple who dropped everything to follow Jesus.  Becoming a theologian means following God's Word where it leads with all one's mind, heart, and strength."  from Kevin Vanhoozer's, "Letter ti ab Aspiring Theologian" in "First Things."

QUOTE II:  "Theology is the study of how to speak truly of God and of all things in relation to God.  But theologians can't approach the object of their study the way biologists study living creatures or geologists the earth.  God cannot be imperially examined.  God is the creator of all things, not to be identified with any part of the universe or even with the universe as a whole.  Speaking of God thus poses unique challenges.  If God had not considered to commute to creatures something of His light, we would be in the dark."  same source


Here are some upcoming events to which you are invited sponsored by St. Sebastian Parish:

        2 September 7PM  “An Evening with G. K. Chesterton” at Pub Bricco
8 September 5:30  90th Anniversary Spaghetti Dinner
12 September 7:30 Theology on Tap at the Harbor Front
17 September 7:30PM Theology on the Rocks at Diagnese’s
30 September 4PM  Concert: Keller Consort

Fr. Peter Kovacina gave a great talk on Pope Benedict last night at D'Agnese's for Theology on the Rocks.   For more information go HERE.  I will be the next speaker and the topic will be about reading liturgical statues, paintings and a little bit on church heraldry.  

 Thank you to our awesome hosts!

N. S. sent THIS in.  The real thing to see is the link at the bottom to a video of a three-year-old singing the Salve Regina.  I will think of this the next time someone asks (after hearing their child rap an entire song) if their child can call me Fr. V because Valencheck is way too difficult for a young person.

P. V. sent in THIS article about a nun throwing the first pitch at a White Sox game.

Go HERE to see the Akron First Friday Club schedule or listen to their podcast.

Here is a video of the play, "An Evening with G. K. Chesterton which will be performed here in Akron on September 2nd at Club Bricco as part of St. Sebastian's 90th anniversary celebrations.  It might seem odd putting the play online but it is here to give you a taste because there is nothing like seeing it live.  Tickets available by calling or stopping by the St. Sebastian rectory or in the lobby of the church after Masses this weekend.

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.