Always the Shepherd

The Lost Sheep/Daniel Bonnell
The Lost Sheep/Daniel Bon­nell

Yes­ter­day I was look­ing at a video of a Domini­can event that took place in March, 2013. At the end of the video the cam­era panned the group of peo­ple in atten­dance. Then it focused on some Domini­can fri­ars stand­ing in the back of the room. And there he was, Father Michael, hold­ing court just like he used to do at St Vin­cent, hug­ging and kiss­ing up a storm. There was audio, too, and I could faint­ly hear Father’s voice. Gosh, it brought tears to my eyes to see, as real again, a  com­mon scene I have remem­bered and cher­ished. Sad to say, they were still tears of sad­ness, not joy. I watched the clip twice and and then decid­ed to just leave it alone. It’s not sur­pris­ing to me that these ‘lit­tle things’ still hold a very deep mean­ing. Lat­er I remem­bered that I had actu­al­ly called Father M that day, want­i­ng to know if he was ready to eat some pies after com­plet­ing his chemo. Well, he was out of state, he said, but he was anx­ious for pie upon his return to St Pius. It was exact­ly a year and a day before he died.

I want to focus on the pos­i­tive. So I’ve decid­ed that I will share some ear­ly mem­o­ries of Father Michael-before his can­cer diag­no­sis. I know that I have men­tioned that I came back to my parish to dis­cuss some spir­i­tu­al issues with a priest. It was not a mat­ter of con­fes­sion; there was more to it. After a long delay, I approached Father M and he was very wel­com­ing. First I emailed Father, then I vis­it­ed him in the sac­risty, then set up an appoint­ment. This is about my first appoint­ment.

I made the appoint­ment about a week before and was a lit­tle ner­vous, yet felt I had found the right per­son. I was so impressed with Father Michael, I thought “I just know he’s going to talk about the grace of Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion”. I was sure he would sug­gest that to me. I thought if I made my con­fes­sion to Father Michael, I’d be so emo­tion­al­ly spent that I wouldn’t be able to talk about all the oth­er stuff. So that morning,after Mass at St Vin­cent, I went to a close-by parish for Con­fes­sion. I knew the priests were avail­able right after Mass. So fun­ny, because I think I felt like I had to cleanse my soul before I dared face the very holy Father Michael. And yes, he did bring up Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion that day!

Well, I was on time for the appoint­ment, Father Michael was a few min­utes late. I knew he had been with a promi­nent mem­ber of our parish who had passed away. The recep­tion­ist had been on the phone “get­ting the word out”. When Father arrived, we went into his office and sat down. Even though I had eat­en, my stom­ach had been rum­bling away-prob­a­bly nerves. I decid­ed to just be open about it and apol­o­gize for the noise ahead of time. Well, Father M laughed and said “Oh you don’t know about me and my stom­ach issues. Girl, you and I will just sit here and gur­gle at each oth­er!” So that broke the awk­ward­ness for me! Father Michael then start­ed to give me a his­to­ry of his stom­ach issues,the cur­rent ones (which many ladies of the parish knew well-and dis­cussed freely) . He then told of the bleed­ing ulcer he had in Den­ver. He was Domini­can Novice Mas­ter at the time. He said the doc­tors had told him he had “24 hours to live”. He claimed he told them “Good, no dra­ma, don’t wor­ry about noti­fy­ing my fam­i­ly”. He nev­er said how long it took him to recu­per­ate or if his fam­i­ly were ever noti­fied. I asked what he thought caused the ulcer and he said “I kind of let every­thing get away from me”. I didn’t feel com­fort­able ask­ing him to elab­o­rate, though now I wish I had. In lat­er con­ver­sa­tions, he did say that when­ev­er his stom­ach would give him trou­ble, he’d just stop eating,sometimes for a few days. He talked about pos­si­bly hav­ing lac­tose intol­er­ance, irri­ta­ble bow­el syn­drome and mul­ti­ple bow­el obstruc­tions. Father M was very frank about this stuff- though he nev­er men­tioned a doctor’s diag­no­sis. And– he also allud­ed to some regret about not being stricter as a Novice Master-“when I hear how some of them are now.”

So after the stom­ach dis­cus­sion Father asked me about myself. He was so care­ful in how he asked about edu­ca­tion. It was clear to me that he was leery of offend­ing some­one (espe­cial­ly a woman) by assum­ing her lev­el of edu­ca­tion was low­er than she had achieved. I’ll bet he’d made that faux pas a few times! The cau­tion was actu­al­ly very charm­ing. But I only have a B.A. from Loy­ola-so he had noth­ing to fear. That’s pret­ty aver­age. Then Father asked more ques­tions about pos­si­bly stress­ful sit­u­a­tions in my life. I rec­og­nized all the queries as being pret­ty stan­dard about death, divorce, mov­ing, job, abuse, addic­tion. Father was very gen­tle and kind and ten­ta­tive in his ques­tion­ing. I think he just assumed I was hav­ing mar­i­tal prob­lems. He men­tioned annul­ments and remar­riage a few times. Well, my issue was none of these, but it took me three or four appoint­ments before I felt com­fort­able telling him. I didn’t want to be dis­cour­te­ous and shut down all his kind effort, so I went along with it.

Of course we talked about oth­er things, most notably fam­i­ly, Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and the Eucharist. But most inter­est­ing­ly, Father Michael gave me a lit­tle lec­ture on the pow­er of the sense of touch. He explained that when he was a fresh­man at Dal­housie Uni­ver­si­ty, he and his old­er broth­er had attend­ed a sem­i­nar or lec­ture by a very famous sci­en­tist. The lec­ture was all about the sense of touch and how impor­tant and mean­ing­ful it was. I found myself think­ing “I am a wife and moth­er of three, why is he telling me this? If noth­ing else, I am ful­ly aware of how impor­tant this is for bond­ing moth­er and baby.” Well, Father talked for over ten min­utes on this sub­ject. I was fas­ci­nat­ed at his great emo­tion in relay­ing his thoughts with such con­vic­tion. Father end­ed his talk telling me of the new wid­ow he had just left. He described poignant­ly how she had stroked her dead husband’s arm over and over. And he showed me just how she did this. He choked up and teared up as he described his awe being in the pres­ence of such a great love.Quite an unex­pect­ed turn in our talk, but as I grew to know Father bet­ter, I learned that using touch was a hall­mark of Father Michael’s being.

Then we spoke of the Eucharist. I’ve writ­ten about this awhile back. For some rea­son Father Michael was impressed by my words that day. I still wish I could remem­ber what I’d said. In any case, Father M start­ed talk­ing about the way peo­ple received the Eucharist , peo­ple who would just grab IT from him, those who approached dis­re­spect­ful­ly, those who would receive and just walk out the door. He lament­ed that poor cat­e­ch­esis  had result­ed in peo­ple ‘who didn’t have a clue’. He was tru­ly sad about this. Then Father shared the expe­ri­ence of cel­e­brat­ing Mass in Cana­da with those very close to him. He quick­ly gave a run­down of those who were no longer prac­tic­ing Catholics and those extend­ed fam­i­ly who belonged to dif­fer­ent denom­i­na­tions. With big tears rolling down his cheeks, he said “I feel so bad about their receiv­ing Com­mu­nion, but I don’t know what to say.” Wow, was I sur­prised about that!!!!  After all he was a priest-and a good and holy one- who wouldn’t lis­ten to him?  I was con­cerned and empa­thet­ic, see­ing again this great emo­tion show so quick­ly. I said “Father Michael, I can under­stand that you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feel­ings or start a war, but maybe one of your broth­ers could explain this in a non-hurt­ful way”. Father just shook his head, he felt tru­ly help­less about the sit­u­a­tion. Father was unique in open­ly show­ing his vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty and I was priv­i­leged to see this in sig­nif­i­cant mat­ters of faith. When he vis­it­ed Cana­da, I prayed that he might have peace about this.

In my ear­li­est posts, I’ve writ­ten about oth­er aspects of this meet­ing. I won’t repeat them here.The meet­ing end­ed most pleas­ant­ly. And I felt that God had giv­en me a great gift in lead­ing me to Father Michael. It is so nice to rem­i­nisce. So much was so mean­ing­ful.

A Piece of Work

10659323_792403544131940_8024746960880772086_nIn gen­uine grat­i­tude toward God man becomes beau­ti­ful. He emerges from imma­nence, from the con­fines of ego-relat­ed­ness and enters into the bliss­ful giv­ing of him­self to God, the quin­tes­sence of all glo­ry, into the realm of good­ness and true kind­ness. In grat­i­tude, man becomes great and expan­sive. Blessed and vic­to­ri­ous free­dom blooms in his soul.”

Just some short thoughts today.…the quote above is from  the book, The Art of Liv­ing by Diet­rich von Hilde­brand-his essay on grat­i­tude. I’ve had this book since the ear­ly ‘90s. I keep it bed­side and con­tin­ue to find new mean­ings and nuances in all its essays.

This quote has always been one of my favorites, but in re-read­ing it today, I am struck by how it cap­tures Father Michael and his ever-present grat­i­tude. Who can ever for­get all the times Father Michael said “God is so good”? He was con­stant­ly express­ing his grat­i­tude and call­ing our atten­tion to do the same.

Good and kind, great and expan­sive.…. beau­ti­ful. I am grate­ful to have seen the truth of this in Father Michael. Blooms of his soul!!!

And that brings this Shake­speare quote to mind:

What a piece of work is a man! How noble in rea­son, how infi­nite in fac­ul­ty! In form and mov­ing how express and admirable! In action how like an Angel! in appre­hen­sion how like a god! The beau­ty of the world! The paragon of ani­mals!”

St. Dominic’s Feast

St Dominic by BotticelliToday is the Feast of St Dominic, so the Order of Preach­ers is pray­ing, preach­ing and.…partying. They have much to cel­e­brate in the gift of St Dominic and his vision of a unique way for a life to  serve the Lord. There is quite a lega­cy of Domini­can saints- St Thomas Aquinas, St Albert the Great, St Cather­ine of Siena, St Mar­tin de Por­res, St Rose of Lima ‚to name just a few.

And of course we for­tu­nate ones have expe­ri­enced the real, grace-filled influ­ences of many Domini­can sis­ters and priests in our own lives.That brings me, of course,to Father Michael Kyte.….what a won­der­ful Domini­can he was. So often he spoke with great ten­der­ness of his Domini­can broth­ers, the com­mu­ni­ty. Father Michael told me often things like “Father Louie is so kind and always good to me”. Or “Oh Father Rick is so holy and so learned, a schol­ar; he reminds me of St Dominic”. Or (talk­ing to me on the phone) “I ‘m here in the laun­dry room,watching one of the senior Fathers iron­ing his habit. I am hum­bled watch­ing him as I real­ize he has been iron­ing his habit with such care and love every day for over six­ty years.” Father Michael saw all the good­ness and bless­ings in his Domini­can com­mu­ni­ty life.…and tru­ly loved his broth­ers.

Preach­ing and pray­ing were a giv­en for Father Michael. He always claimed he was ‘no aca­d­e­m­ic’ yet I know he stud­ied and read all the time. And all of us ben­e­fit­ed from how he shared his learning-“the fruits of con­tem­pla­tion”, if you will. Father Michael was a true son of St Dominic.

I read Alden Solovy’s newest poem on  this morn­ing. It’s beau­ti­ful-about mir­a­cles- all kinds, large and small. We’ve all expe­ri­enced them-gifts from our Heav­en­ly Father. Some­times the mir­a­cles are the spe­cial peo­ple in our lives. On this St. Dominic’s Day, I’m shar­ing this sim­ple, yet exquis­ite poem:

About Mir­a­cles
Majes­tic Sov­er­eign,
Source of awe and won­der,
When did You decide
To make dai­ly mir­a­cles so sim­ple,
So gen­tle, so qui­et and so small?
Did our fear of Your Voice
Echo­ing from the moun­tain top
Push You away?
Or was this Your plan all along?
To show us Your Glo­ry
In fire and smoke,
In the part­ed sea,
In the dark­ness and in the light,
And then to draw away
So that we would
Yearn for You to be near,
So that we would yearn
For your pow­er and might,
For Your holi­ness
And for Your sal­va­tion?
Or are You wait­ing, patient­ly,
To return, again, with signs
And with won­ders?


                     © 2014 Alden Solovy and All rights reserved

A Priest Forever

This will be an odd post. It’s about my imag­i­na­tion and my dreams. So, no one’s real­i­ty but mine. I will note: I vis­it­ed Father Michael most recent­ly at St Pius. Each time I came by, he was dressed casu­al­ly in jeans and sweater or khakis and flan­nel shirt and on his weak­er days , paja­ma bot­toms  or sweats. Since Father Michael died, I have often recalled sev­er­al of our last con­ver­sa­tions. And I pic­ture the scene, most­ly at the St Pius Pri­o­ry par­lor, just exact­ly as it was. And I recall Father Michael just as he was-sit­ting or stand­ing- as we talked. But I  had the sense that some­thing was dif­fer­ent in the mem­o­ries; I strug­gled to put my fin­ger on it. Final­ly I real­ized what it was. In every mem­o­ry, I see Father Michael dressed in his habit, most times even wear­ing the Domini­can black cap­pa! There is one mem­o­ry where Father is stand­ing in front of me, vehe­ment­ly lec­tur­ing me, and he is garbed in a beau­ti­ful gold cha­suble. It shim­mers and sparkles in spots- stun­ning. In anoth­er, I clear­ly see him sit­ting in the reclin­er with his cap­pa all about him, a la Darth Vad­er, look­ing pleased as punch-and so ele­gant and serene.…and healthy.  And Father is say­ing “1981, Ah, I was just at the begin­ning of my Domini­can life”. It had been my son’s birth­day and Father asked me the year he was born.

When I final­ly real­ized what I was see­ing, I tried to make sense of it. It had nev­er hap­pened pre­vi­ous­ly. I have always thought of Father Michael as first and fore­most a holy priest. His priest­ly char­ac­ter was so vis­i­ble. So I feel like God blessed my mem­o­ries in this way to recall every minute with Father as being in the pres­ence of an extra­or­di­nary priest . It is a lit­tle thing -but so sig­nif­i­cant. I cher­ish this grace of see­ing Father Michael robed as a ‘priest for­ev­er’.

On a lighter note, after I wrote my “Sols­bury Hill” entry, I had a dream. I saw Father Michael in his habit-there he was, a vision in black and white -Irish step-danc­ing to “Sols­bury Hill”. He cut quite a rug.

When Father  Michael was alive, part of my prayer rou­tine was to say a per­son­al­ized ver­sion of the Divine Mer­cy chap­let, nam­ing Father Michael in each prayer. After he died, I went back to the reg­u­lar chap­let. It cer­tain­ly went a lot faster! Then late­ly, I’ve had a few recita­tions where I ‘slipped’ into my old habit, say­ing Father Michael’s name in the prayer.  It amused me because I couldn’t imag­ine Father Michael need­ing my prayers any­more. I was sure he’d gone right to Heav­en.… until I had this dream.……

I saw Father Michael and he gave me a hug. I remem­ber noth­ing at all about the set­ting, just him. I thanked him for help­ing me and oth­ers who had prayed to him for this or that . (I think so many of us feel we now tru­ly know a saint in heav­en who pays atten­tion to us.) Any­way, Father Michael was so hap­py to have helped. He said he was very busy. I said “It sounds like you’re work­ing up there!” And he said “Well, the Lord has gra­cious­ly allowed me to be half­time in Heav­en and half­time in Pur­ga­to­ry”. I said “you’re still in Pur­ga­to­ry????!!!!” Father said “Yes, but there were just so many prayers and requests to me,that they want­ed to let me loose to start tak­ing care of them- so I ‘m doing it half­time”. I said “maybe the Lord will let you do many things at one time”. He laughed and said “Well , just keep pray­ing that Divine Mer­cy chap­let for me, I need it”.  That was it.

Iron­ic about the half­time-at least he doesn’t have to com­mute on the Ike!

Yep, I know,crazy.  I am doing the spe­cial chap­let though, at least for a while.

Reverend and Dear Father

Father Michael

Father Michael was just so MUCH per­son and he always made sure there was enough of him to go around. He took the time for us. Yes, he did all those love­ly, kind, fun­ny, holy, sil­ly, human things with and for us. Father Michael was so much a reflec­tion of the Lord in all ways. John the Baptist’s words “He must increase so I must decrease” bespeak our Father Michael’s life. He squeezed every iota of the Lord into his per­sona: His kind­ness, His love, His gen­eros­i­ty, His humil­i­ty, His suf­fer­ing, His atten­tion, His pres­ence. These were all facets of Father Michael which were so com­plete­ly good, so guile­less­ly pre­sent­ed, so aching­ly beau­ti­ful.

What a spe­cial man! How he could preach! It was always quite sim­ple- about our everyday,ordinary lives- but punc­tu­at­ed with joy and laugh­ter, with sad­ness and some­times tears , always with beau­ty, under­stand­ing and elo­quence. Father Michael’s gift to us there was only enhanced by his love for his prayer life- plain and sim­ple- it was the focal point of his day. He once joy­ous­ly told me “Guess what! Today I had three hours of con­tem­pla­tive prayer before Mass!” Anoth­er time, he spoke of peo­ple vis­it­ing reli­gious web­sites on the net. Father Michael said “I don’t know why they’d do that! I ‘d rather spend the time in church!”

Father Michael was a man of great com­pas­sion. Once he was talk­ing about a fam­i­ly he knew, and said, eyes welling up with tears  “Oh — Peo­ple have such suf­fer­ing in their lives!” He tru­ly suf­fered with people;it was very mov­ing to observe. Anoth­er time he lis­tened to a fam­i­ly sto­ry of mine: I relayed how, as a small boy in the 30’s, my dad had used his news­boy mon­ey to buy his old­er sis­ter some ice skates. I glanced at Father Michael and saw the tears form and fall. He loved see­ing the good­ness in peo­ple. “God is so good” he ‘d say again and again.

For me, it was the “being with” Father Michael that made such a dif­fer­ence in my life. The cir­cum­stances didn’t mat­ter; the truth of our Faith was sim­ply always there with him. It was a joy to be with him no mat­ter what. That was the King­dom of God- right there in Father Michael, plain as day–in that win­some yet wise pres­ence, in that lov­ing heart, in that smil­ing coun­te­nance of peace. If you were with him, you felt it, you saw it, you believed it and knew it — the truth.….. the good­ness of God.