ANOTHER ANNIVERSARY APRIL 23, 2003
Today is yet another anniversary – the day eighteen years ago when I began my tenure at St. Isabel. In the still unfamiliar ride across the causeway, I knew a new chapter had begun in my life, a chapter which God blessedly keeps hidden from our eyes. I began meeting people once I arrived on the campus I am now forbidden to step foot on, many of who now rest in the arms of God: Jane Devaney, Greg and Claire O’Neil, Dr. Joe Giattini, Kay Suriani, Carol Lautenbach.
The people could not have been more friendly and welcoming, but because of the time of my arrival at St. Isabel, short-termers (snow birds) were already leaving, and committing names to my memory was difficult without continual reinforcement. When people returned in the fall it was as if I had taken control of a whole new Church, and learning names, without any kind of badges, became a rather challenging experience.
By the new year, I felt I grasped the ebb and flow of St. Isabel Parish life, i.e. until Hurricane Charley in the late summer of 2004. The disruption to parish life, including the return times of regular parishioners, was, at the very least, extraordinary. “Normal” parish life would not return for years, and the time spent in the parish hall was punctuated by the deaths of a not insignificant number of close family.
The return and blessing of the new church was thoroughly joyful, even though marred by the unpleasant discovery that the sewer lines had been completely severed in the construction, which led to odiferous consequences on the busiest day of every year – Easter Sunday. After the sewer lines were fixed, and the months-long paving and landscaping was completed, we were finally poised to begin as close to normal as any parish can be. The Woman’s Guild, and the soon to be founded Men’s Society, were free to have their functions in the Parish Hall, without any disruption to daily or weekend Masses. Parishioners were proud of “their” church, and good liturgies, fun functions, and the extraordinarily welcoming nature of the parish community caused more and more people to actually register. There were never any shortages of people for ministries or for providing the help that was often needed. What’s more, people came to know people they had only seen at Mass, and working together across the strata that are part of every parish, there was a cohesive sense of being “one parish.”
Needless to say, it all came to a screeching halt with the events of October 28, 2016, when people’s generosity to me came back to haunt me. This was made possible by a Bishop far too eager to cooperate with purely evil relatives of a well-remembered parishioner. The civil accusations leveled by the family went nowhere, precisely because there was not an ounce of truth to any of their frivolous accusations. Yet the Bishop was determined not to let it rest, and used it as the starting point to secure vengeance for a largely unknown personal offense.
In October, this unfortunate case will mark it’s fifth anniversary, a sad reminder of what can happen when mercy and justice are never taken into consideration. One would think that the sheer time this has gone on would be enough to weigh the scales of justice with the desired “pound of flesh,” but there will be no resting until the elimination of my priesthood is complete.
On this day when I fondly remember my arrival at St. Isabel, I am keenly aware that there of thousands of memories that I can never be robbed of. Further, these 4+ years have been an opportunity to better understand the healing power of friendship, and to watch a different kind of parish rise from the ashes made by other’s efforts of destruction.
There is a wonderful musical based on the author of the famous book Peter Pan. I confess to days which are similar to the cancer-ridden heroine who sings: “There are days when I feel so afraid, I can hardly remember to breathe. When reality crashes in wave after wave, pulling me further beneath. So what’s the point in planning for the future, when it all can be stolen away. It’s all I can do to hold on and survive, when the colors have faded to grey.”
The words are true, but I continue to do as well as I do because of all of you, who have steadfastly stood at my side and supported me, even though it left you without a parish on the island. I still believe that there is a “future” to look forward to, and it is less “grey” than some of the days described above. Another musical, Wicked, describes what I feel about all of you.
“I’ve heard it said, that people come into our lives, for a reason. Bringing something we must learn, and we are led to those who help us most to grow, if we let them, and we help them in return. Well, I don’t know if I believe, that’s true, but I know I’m who I am today because I knew you….Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better, but because I knew you, I have been changed for good.”
Thank you for all you have done, and continue to do for me. God bless.