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: