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.
4 thoughts on “ANOTHER ANNIVERSARY APRIL 23, 2003”
Father we have all been changed due to this injustice;i for one and i know many more will not stop trying to right this wrong
this Bishop is supposedly a descendent of the apostles yet he never exercises mercy,forgiveness,love etc; EVERYTHING that JESUS himself is
i continue to pray to the Blessed Virgin Mary of Fatima;saying the rosary,and praying thru her miraculous meda;;She has NEVER failed me and i dont expect she will now either
WHAT A BEAUTIFUL AND POWERFUL LETTER. WE CELEBRATE YOU AND GIVE THANKS FOR YOUR BEING OUR PASTOR LEADING US AND BEING STRONG FOR AND WITH US. GODS GIFT TO US WAS YOU. NOTHING STAYS THE SAME ESPECIALLY WHEN ITS A CHURCH THAT WAS RANSACKED AND DESTROYED LEAVING BEHIND A LEADER FULL OF FEAR . THE SHELL HAS CAMERAS, GUARDS ,CONTROL A LIST OF NAMES FORBIDDEN TO ENTER ( AMONG THEM THE VERY PRIEST AND SOME OF THE PARISHONERS THAT BUILT THE BEAUTIFUL CHURCH WITH THE FAMILY THAT PROVIDED WHAT WAS NEEDED.) GOD WILL PROVIDE! ………….AND HAS FOR THOSE OF US BLESSED WITH LOVE ,HOPE ,STRENGTH AND WISDOM TO FO FORWARD. MANY OF US HAVE SEEN SO MUCH IN LIFE , THE BEST OF THE BEST AND THE WORST OF THE WORST. WE KNOW WHEN GOD GIVES US SOMEONE SPECIAL AND TIME FOR US TO BE TOGETHER NO MATTER WHERE, WHEN OR HOW , WE ARE GREATFUL AND GIVE OUR THANKS FOR EVERY BLESSING AND ASK GODS BLESSING UPON FATHER CHRISTOPHER AND HIS FLOCK UNTIL WE ALL ARE CALLED HOME.
Father Chris, you inspire me with your strong & gentle faith. As a newer snowbird, we loved the welcoming feeling generated by the people of St. Isabel. I refuse to leave my winter parish, trying to be friendly to everyone even in a chilly atmosphere. Kill them with kindness! I picture you on the altar at every Mass & pray for your strength & healing. God’s plan is a mystery at times, isn’t it! Hoping your surgery is successful. 🙏 Sandy McMahon
Sent from my iPhone
Dear Father Christopher— We are thinking about you today and hope your surgery went well and you will feel good again soon! We do pray for that every day!
Our years as ‘winter folk’ to Sanibel were always so wonderful—we didn’t ‘belong’ there but felt like we did! Church there was a continuation of the church life we left behind -while away! Sr, Isabel’s was our parish when away from home! We knew we were lucky to be there at such a parish!
—- we loved being at your liturgy…..we were always inspired to want to know more and learn more and listen better–and when we got back home we had been inspired to do more —
your homilies did that for us! Our faith today is better because of your sermons. We liked being a part of the parish when there was a social gathering e g the Lenten fish fry or the scripture class or the St Joseph/ St Patrick party! We attended the welcoming ecumenical liturgies on the island as ‘members of St Isabel’s!.
The people we did meet were friendly to us and made us feel welcomed too – and so did you ! It was such a good feeling to be recognized as folks returning for the season—we really liked being there! As lovely as we found Sanibel – we most of all loved that parish where you were the pastor and where we felt like we ‘ belonged’!!
We looked forward to our return each year — so glad we could get to the liturgy at St Isabel! We were always glad to see you there again! Thank you for adding to our lives the friendship we knew— just from weekday morning mass and saying ‘hello’ and getting one of your smiles after Mass on Sunday! We appreciated it! You were nice to everyone who stopped to say hello! We noticed that and liked that about you!
We still recall the beautiful spiritual and spirited music and the children that you blessed so lovingly and sincerely at each mass. How could we not have noticed or loved that?? It made people look at each other and smile! We are glad we got to have that experience and we still do miss it ! We miss you! We remember! The Church needs priests just like you —so of course you are part of our daily prayers— we pray and hope you will always be a part of our church as you deserve to be and as we know you still are a priest forever — in your good heart !
We miss you! Get well soon! God bless you —With love – Mary Jo and Hank of Michigan