Father Michael 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.