The Prior and ‘The Boys’

Father MichaeSome of 'the boys' at AI, a few years ago with their nurse, Fr Wisdom & Fr Michaell became Pri­or at St Pius V Pri­o­ry in 2011. Since St Pius is a res­i­dence for many of the Domini­can senior fathers and brothers,it was a new expe­ri­ence for Father Michael . He had been a pri­or pre­vi­ous­ly , but the St Pius assign­ment offered him many chal­lenges. Father M stayed ‘half­time’ as parochial vic­ar of St Vin­cent Fer­rer , con­tin­u­ing with Mass­es, wed­dings  and funer­als there,commuting back and forth. But he was now  also in charge of the old­er priests, includ­ing some liv­ing in nurs­ing facil­i­ties. He vis­it­ed all his charges often. He was very ded­i­cat­ed to the seniors, though he heard a lot of com­plaints and demands from them. He tried to keep it all in per­spec­tive  and in good humor. In May 2012 Father Michael wrote me this email:“Thanks for the prayers. I find this peri­od of my life dif­fi­cult as I have to trav­el so much and look­ing after old­er Fathers has many chal­lenges.” An under­state­ment!

Some­times sto­ries of “the boys” would creep into the Sun­day hom­i­lies. I remem­ber once when Father Michael told us of the bro­ken St Pius ele­va­tor and the great project it was to get every­one up and down the stairs safe­ly. It sound­ed like such a cat­a­stro­phe ! I think Father Michael was most upset with the com­plaints about some­thing that obvi­ous­ly could not be imme­di­ate­ly fixed. So he vent­ed to us and we all kind of chuck­led. But I remem­ber Father M end­ing the homi­ly with a descrip­tion of his ‘boys’, rapt in evening prayer,their col­lec­tive lives and pres­ence a gift of grace. He said “And when they are pray­ing all togeth­er, what pow­er for the Lord they show!” He loved them and held them in rev­er­ence. Father Michael wrote me an email the next day :

Even when I am close to the ‘edge’, I still keep laugh­ing with ‘the boys’. Praise God the ele­va­tor is fixed and we are back to our routine.Funny how lit­tle things real­ly upset the applecart.But it all keeps me quite hum­ble and thank God I have humor.”

Father Michael had humor, yes, but he also was very human. He had his moments of pure irri­ta­tion with the boys. Once he called me to vent about some inci­dent, ask­ing me if he should start writ­ing a blog about all the stuff that hap­pened at St Pius. I said I thought it could be inter­est­ing and enter­tain­ing, if  he kept his humor fore­front. I don’t think he ever wrote it.….too bad. There was anoth­er time when Father Michael was so exas­per­at­ed by some of the boys, he told me that he and Father Louie were mak­ing a list of all the indi­vid­ual broth­ers’ most admirable traits and accom­plish­ments. Father Michael said he felt he need­ed to remind him­self to look beyond the sur­face.

Here are some typ­i­cal quotes from Father Michael’s emails about his pri­or duties:

I’m off to see my broth­ers in the nurs­ing home. Today at mass I real­ized how many of them had ill­ness­es that are tru­ly slow­ing them down. But they are troupers.”

Now I will go to the emer­gency room to bring one of the broth­ers who fell and cracked his head. He doesn’t want to go , but we have to have him checked. I hope it is not a 7 hour stay!!!!!”

I am off to see one of the broth­ers in rehab. Anoth­er has to go in the nurs­ing home and there are no beds at the moment.A third will soon be told he has to stay here per­ma­nent­ly. I am run­ning for shel­ter!!!!!”

Writ­ten when he was in can­cer treatment:“I’m just back from more blood work and off to the hos­pi­tal with one of the Fathers.”

When Father Michael returned to St Pius from Albu­querque, diag­nosed with can­cer, he broke down when he entered the build­ing . The com­mu­ni­ty had gath­ered to wel­come him.He described his reac­tion as pro­found and told me how incred­i­bly moved he was when one of the senior Fathers asked him sweet­ly and ten­ta­tive­ly “Will you still be our Pri­or?” Father Michael con­tin­ued as pri­or as long as he could, quite far into his ill­ness. Then Father M resigned, but remained deeply involved with” the boys”.

In the fall of 2013, I began to vis­it a very weak Father Michael at St Pius. Father Michael loved pie, so I’d bring him a pie. And then I added cof­fee cake for shar­ing and lat­er a loaf of Czech hous­ka bread–and then an extra one for the boys. I felt so good because it was so sim­ple to do and pleased Father Michael. Here is a typ­i­cal response from Father M:

The food was deli­cious. I even put my favorite bread in the bread box think­ing there would be some for the morn­ing. Was I wrong! They got a taste of that and they were off to the races! It is a joy to see that small things make them so joy­ful. Thanks for bring­ing that joy to our house.”

In that amus­ing vein, I recall Father Michael warn­ing me not to just drop off the cakes and bread with the recep­tion­ist. He said “No,no,no — give me a call to meet you there.….otherwise ” the boys” are like vul­tures “. So fun­ny.

Around the same time last year, I start­ed to send Father Michael beau­ti­ful lilies every month. He enjoyed them so much, but was more excit­ed that “the boys are delight­ed”. Lat­er he told me that the scent was over­pow­er­ing at times for some of the fathers, includ­ing him! I  made a men­tal note about that.

I have no one to vis­it at St Pius any­more, so no more bak­ery deliv­er­ies from me! But I still send the broth­ers lilies on spe­cial days– Asi­at­ic lilies with no annoy­ing scent. I know it must please “the boys” to receive love­ly flowers…a lit­tle joy. I hope it reminds them of their days with Father Michael. I know they are grate­ful.

The Sigh of the Weary

Well, it’s been quite a month. Here’s anoth­er weird post.…all my issues,with just a tiny bit of Father Michael. Late one night in July my broth­er called to tell me that he was tak­ing my moth­er to the hos­pi­tal ER.  I knew that like­ly we wouldn’t know my mother’s sta­tus for a while. I tried to sleep that night , but my head was spin­ning and I couldn’t stop think­ing and wor­ry­ing. So I lay awake and then I felt I ‘heard’ Father Michael’s voice telling me to relax and pray . And he said “I want you to just keep pray­ing ‘Into Your hands I com­mend my Spir­it’. I ques­tioned this as I asso­ci­at­ed those words with the sad moment of Christ’s death. “Oh no,” Father M said,” they are words of trust and hope! Keep say­ing them!”  I did fall asleep then and when I woke in the morn­ing those words were the first I thought. And they kept com­ing back to me and calm­ing me, all through the crazi­ness in these last six or so weeks: ultra­sounds, CTs, angiograms, arte­ri­ograms, stents, ampu­ta­tions, debride­ments, EKGs, echoes, more ampu­ta­tions and debride­ments, mild heart attack, par­a­lyzed vocal cords, men­tal con­fu­sion and per­haps a ‘lit­tle can­cer’ i.e., a spot on the lung, etc, etc. But my lit­tle prayer has kept me going, despite it all. Thanks so much Father Michael,my help­ful friend!  Thanks too, to my sis­ter and broth­er, who have shared in the med­ical excite­ment. And our hos­pi­tal saga with my moth­er con­tin­ues…

And the crazi­ness spilled over ! My niece with the MS  fell down the stairs, neces­si­tat­ing stitch­es in her chin, three inside, three out­side! My husband’s car was stolen , involved in a hit and run, and totaled.

On the bright side, we now have a ‘new’ used car. And, I may have expe­ri­enced a healing-I’ve had very painful Achilles’ injury for sev­er­al months, but in these last few days, it seems to be gone!! Being cau­tious­ly hope­ful on that.  And then last week­end, my youngest son got engaged to a love­ly young woman! God is so good!

You’ve prob­a­bly heard the say­ing “It’s not the moun­tain ahead that wears you out -it’s the grain of sand in your shoe”. I’ve always known that I was more of the ‘grain of sand in your shoe’ ilk. The lit­tle things! They bug me! It’s been a sandy jour­ney late­ly. But of course, I try to keep aware of oth­ers’ great  pain. So much unbe­liev­able suf­fer­ing is hap­pen­ing all over the world. Peo­ple are dying and cul­tures are being sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly  destroyed . Their suf­fer­ing puts my com­plaint in per­spec­tive and dwarfs it. Besides, I know I need to stop com­plain­ing if I ever expect to become a saint (per St Cather­ine of Siena, accord­ing to my pas­tor).

Amer­i­can com­pos­er Stephen Fos­ter express­es our sense of com­pas­sion for our broth­ers every­where in this song. It is almost a prayer. I place it here to remem­ber the suf­fer­ing: