With Gratitude…

This extremely long post offers a farewell to the Carmelite Priests who have served in my parish for the past twenty-seven years. For those who aren’t a part of my parish family, I commend you and thank you for your endurance in making it to the bottom of the page…

The writer in me wonders how I might chronicle this special day. Is it possible to feel sadness at the close of a quite remarkable era while also feeling joyful anticipation regarding the things to come? If our parish family means anything to you, you understand my quandary. For some of us, it wasn’t easy to leave friends and familiar worship spaces to build a new faith community. For others of us, this opportunity offered a glimpse of hope in the midst of the pain which had made our former parish affiliations difficult. For still others of us, the prospect of helping to build a new parish where none had been before was life-giving. Some of us who had given up on church all together embraced this possibility. We came with the hope that God’s Spirit would renew us. Perhaps this would become the parish family which we would call our own for years to come…

I call us “family” because family is precisely what our founding priests hoped we would be. To achieve this, our founding pastor Father Farrell Kane and our associate pastor Father Phil Nessinger happily welcomed us early volunteers. We saw to a plethora of tasks even before we celebrated our first Mass. Sixty-seven individuals and families registered at our first gathering at the Gurnee Holiday Inn in February 1992. During our first weekend as a parish, March 7-8, 1992, our priests, Deacon Mike Penich, Deacon Bob Tomasso and we volunteers welcomed hundreds to each of our first Masses. More than two hundred additional individuals and families registered in the parish. Our parish family grew every weekend thereafter. At the same time, additional volunteers stepped up to offer religious education and other essential ministries which established parishes provide. In every instance, Father Farrell and Father Phil acknowledged the generosity of all concerned. They consistently overlooked the flaws which with we sometimes implemented our good intentions. Father Farrell and Father Phil admitted with smiles often that they were fully human as well.

It was during those years at Woodland School that we intentionally began to be present before and after every Mass. Father Farrell and Father Phil agreed that our people needed to see familiar faces to help them to feel that we were becoming a parish family. Both remained on site for every Mass regardless of who was celebrant. Both were thrilled that Deacon Mike and I and a core of volunteers did the same. At the same time, we looked longingly toward the day we would have a church building to call our parish family home. Until then, Father Farrell drove our van filled with liturgical paraphernalia to the Woodland School gymnasium every weekend. He allowed us “do our thing” as he perched himself on the sidelines to watch. Father Phil worked beside us as we set up folding chairs and prepared our portable altar for Mass. Throughout all of this, we and our priests shared tidbits about our families, our jobs, everything else of interest and our faith. In the process, we caught glimpses of one another’s hearts.

By the time we attended to the business of erecting a building, we had evolved into an authentic parish family. This building would simply provide a permanent home for us. Father Farrell and Father Phil had taken the time to get to know us and they welcomed all who were interested to participate in this process. Building committee meetings were sometimes lively and always productive. Our capital campaign unfolded smoothly and without pressure. Our priests considered every donation a gift. Father Farrell often said that this parish church was ours to build. It would evolve into the place where we would all feel at home. In the end, this building bears witness to our priests’ conviction that the talents of our parish family members are our greatest asset.

Just prior to the church’s completion, Father Phil moved on to a new parish. His vast experience assisted his new parish family as they weathered some difficult times. While we truly missed Father Phil’s warmth, wit and generous spirit, we welcomed Father Ray Clennon with open arms. After all, it had become our custom to welcome all of our new parish family members. Father Ray shared himself with us from Day 1, throughout his six years as associate pastor and his twelve years as pastor. His warmth and generosity were second only to his wisdom and his amazing skill with a camera. While he managed to hide the fact that he is also an accomplished pianist, Father Ray found it impossible to hide his love for God, God’s word and God’s people. This physics teacher-turned parish priest offered homilies which often gave us reason to chuckle and always gave us something to think about. He joined Father Farrell in serving our parish family in both practical and quietly profound ways. Indeed, Father Ray made it his mission to welcome us to God’s table, to enrich us with his stories and to break bread with us just as loving families do.

Happily, Father Bernie Bauerle also joined our parish family to assist on weekends. Year after year, he drove more than an hour each way from Darien to celebrate Mass with us. He did this in addition to his day jobs which included administration of Carmelite personnel and finances. Father Bernie continued to share himself with us when he took on his current role overseeing the Carmelite National Shrine and Museum of St. Therese in Darien. Father Bernie always had a line of parishioners waiting to speak with him after Mass. He often heard a confession or two before returning home. When he came to help with our parish reconciliation services, Father Bernie consistently had the longest line. He never minced words in his homilies and he always spoke from his heart. Father Bernie seemed convinced that, though we are imperfect, God loves us with our imperfections intact and God simply asks us to do our best as only we can. I heartily agree!

While our parish family continued to grow, Father Farrell’s health began to deteriorate. In an effort to help, the Carmelites sent Father Herman Kinzler to us. Father Herman went to the seminary after working in business for several years. His administrative skills complemented Father Ray’s and Father Farrell’s efforts. His late vocation impelled him to feel that he was still learning when it came to integrating himself into our parish family. While he was with us for only a few months, Father Herman spent every weekend of those months in the gathering space. He was full of questions! He often asked parishioners’ names as he wanted to get to know as many of us as possible as quickly as possible. Though he was actually a bit shy, he shared Father Bernie’s propensity not to mince words. When a parishioner questioned a line or two of his homily, Father Herman listened and explained. He always took these exchanges to heart. Father Herman took his leave unexpectedly to become pastor of a parish out east where a fellow Carmelite had passed away suddenly.

While all of this was unfolding, Father Dave Genders had been busy assisting with our LifeTeen program. Though he had a busy weekday position with the Carmelites, Father Dave made time to share his weekends with us. He related well to our teens, their families and their teachers. Father Ray appreciated this effort and he felt that this young priest would be an asset to our parish family. Eventually, Father Dave was assigned to St. Paul’s where he quickly made his home among us. Numerous parishioners from the very young to vintage members have benefited from his caring ways. This tech-savvy, artistic and caring young man became part of our parish family in no time. As for me, I cannot thank Father Dave enough for his generosity and loving patience in caring for Father Farrell during his last few months with us. Father Dave made a difficult ordeal bearable for his Carmelite Brother.

One year after Father Farrell passed away, Father Ray retired. Father Greg Houck had been to St. Paul’s to assist with reconciliation services and weekend Masses on occasion. During one visit, we asked if he’d ever consider leaving his work with Carmelites-in-training to return to a parish. Father Greg said he would do this only if the parish was very special. Apparently, we met this criteria because Father Greg became our pastor not long after that conversation. From his first day among us, Father Greg has embraced our parish family and made it his own. He has schooled us in the ways of his favorite saint, Therese of Lisieux. He has revealed his own faith journey through his homilies and personal interactions with so many of us. Father Greg has approached his life among us and everything else with a passion which has drawn unexpected surprises from the most uncommon sources. He has welcomed all who have crossed his path regardless of where that fork in the road pointed. Father Greg has enriched our parish family as only he can.

In the process, Father Greg invited Father Leopold Glueckert to join us for weekend Masses. In generous Carmelite fashion, Father Leopold has done so even after knee surgery which threatened his mobility. Father Leopold has fed our parish family with both his presence and his preaching. This teacher-priest speaks to the point; another Carmelite who doesn’t mince words! He does so with such simplicity that we cannot miss his message. Behind the scenes, Father Leopold always has a kind word to offer, a bit of profoundly simple wisdom and the perfect joke to retell to your kids or grandkids.

Today, it seems impossible to express our gratitude adequately. Still, we thank our Carmelite Family for enriching our parish family. While Father Farrell and Father Phil witness our gratitude from above, we express the same to Father Ray, Father Bernie, Father Herman, Father Dave, Father Leopold and Father Greg. The Carmelite Fathers have treasured their affiliation with us and it is with heavy hearts that they return the care of our St. Paul the Apostle Parish Family to our archdiocesan priests. With deep gratitude, we ask God to bless each one of you with all you will need to continue the journeys which lie ahead for you!

Is it possible to feel sadness at the close of a quite remarkable era while also feeling joyful anticipation regarding the things to come? It is the spirit of our parish family which causes me to respond with a resounding “Yes!” So it is that we open our hearts to our new pastor Father Chris Ciastoń and our new associate pastor Father Joe Curtis. Both come to us from parish families who are deeply grateful for their presence among them and who have also had a difficult time saying good-bye. Just as we wish our Carmelites well in their new communities, we welcome Father Chris and Father Joe into our parish family. We know that God has sent only the best to care for us and we will do our best to return God’s goodness in kind!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Good Samaritans All

After the funeral and burial of a dear friend’s brother, we stopped for lunch at a nearby restaurant. This small group included our friend’s family and my husband and me. When we gathered at the table, I sat across from Mike and between a fourteen-year-old boy and his uncle. Because I hadn’t seen this young man since he was a little boy, I expected our conversation to be awkward at best. I’m happy to share that I was proven wrong just minutes into our exchange. Billy and I quickly discovered our common knowledge of my childhood neighborhood in Chicago. Apparently, Billy and his dad drive through my old stomping grounds when they visit extended family in the city. As Billy and I talked, he shared stories from his dad’s childhood which have become part of his own history. I responded with accounts of a few of my Chicago adventures which have also become part and parcel of who I am today.

By the time we parted ways, I realized that Billy has developed very strong feelings regarding many things as a result of his dad’s experiences and his own, especially our responsibility to step in to help when someone is in trouble. Apparently, his dad’s experiences and recent news reports contributed to this assessment. In Billy’s mind, this is the only logical response to a person in need. I admit that I share Billy’s conviction in this regard. I lived through similar events with my mom who habitually stepped in to see to the basic needs or safety of others. Billy seemed not to be surprised that my mom intervened in a fight on a bus. “That’s the only way you can keep people from getting hurt,” he observed. “Good for your mom!” he added. When we parted ways after that day, I offered a prayer of gratitude for this encounter and for Billy. I also added two requests: That someone like Billy intervenes the next time I’m in trouble and that I have the courage to do the same for someone else.

I think Billy’s sense of responsibility speaks to the heart of Luke’s gospel (Luke 10:25-37). Luke tells us that a scholar of the law asked Jesus what he must do to gain eternal life. Jesus replied with a question of his own: “What is written in the law?” The scholar answered that we must love God and our neighbor. Jesus complimented the man for identifying the means to eternal life. Unfortunately, the scholar wasn’t satisfied with Jesus’ reply, so he persisted by asking, “And who is my neighbor?” It was then that Jesus offered the story of the Good Samaritan who stopped to care for a man at the side of the road who had been left for dead by robbers. A passing priest and a Levite not only ignored the man, but also crossed the road so as not to be contaminated by him. Their concern over the law regarding ritual cleanliness -staying away from defiled people and things- kept them from helping a fellow traveler. The Samaritan, considered to be an enemy of the community, stopped to help. When Jesus asked who was neighbor to the injured man, the scholar admitted that the Samaritan had acted as a neighbor. Jesus ended this encounter by telling the scholar, “Go and do likewise.”

Though we don’t know how the scholar responded to Jesus’ story, we can determine our own responses. The Samaritan’s remarkable compassion compelled him to help the wounded man. He dressed his wounds and delivered the man to an inn to recuperate. He left money to provide for the man’s care and promised to repay the innkeeper for any additional costs. It seems to me that the Samaritan could have no more left this man to die than his own mother or spouse or child. His compassionate heart urged him to do something. As I consider the goodness which defined the Samaritan, I wonder what defined the priest and the Levite who left the man to die. What drove them to value ritual purity more than they valued the life of a fellow person? What allows any of us to walk by, to step over or to run across the road from a brother or sister in need?

Most of us will never encounter a scene which demands action as dramatically as that dying man on the side of the road. I hope Billy and all of us never have to step into situations like those his dad, my mom and recent people in the news have endured. At the same time, I do hope that Billy and the rest of us embrace life’s frequent opportunities to do what we know is right when we encounter someone in need. Each good deed will become part and parcel of who we are. Eventually, we’ll find it impossible to avoid stepping up because helping has become second nature to us. Eventually, we’ll all become compassionate Samaritans as well.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Be Good Like the Samaritan

A few weeks ago on the way to our family picnic, I noted several state troopers on the side of the road. Each one busily issued a citation to a motorist who likely “pushed the limit” a bit too vigorously. After offering thanks for my husband’s reasonable driving, I considered a similar encounter of twenty-two years ago…

Our son Tim and his dad had set out for Wisconsin. They stopped for gas and hurried back on the road. My husband hopped into the car and sped off without giving a thought to his or Tim’s seatbelt. A block from the gas station, Mike noticed flashing lights in his rearview mirror. Before he could ask himself, “What in the world?” he realized what was wrong. “Oh no! Our seat belts! Put on your seatbelt, Tim!” Mike said as he pulled over. When the trooper approached the car, Mike asked, “Is there a problem, Officer?” The man looked at my husband and son whose seatbelts were now precisely where they should be. Then the officer asked, “Did you have those seatbelts buckled back there when you pulled out of that gas station?” Poor Mike, who at the moment wanted nothing in this world less than a traffic ticket, answered with great reluctance, “No, sir.”

I admit to being extremely pleased that my husband took the high road by telling the officer the truth. Mike could have lied to avoid a ticket which would have given him and Tim something to chuckle about on their way up north. This lie would also have given our son a terrible lesson regarding honesty. Ultimately, that single lie would also have tarnished Mike’s spirit a bit. Every lie makes the next one easier to tell, chipping away at ones honesty until there isn’t enough left to recognize.

I share this adventure with you because it speaks to the heart of a passage from Luke’s gospel (Luke 10:25-37). A scholar of the law asked Jesus what he must do to gain eternal life. Jesus replied with a question: “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” The scholar answered that we must love God and our neighbor. Jesus complimented the scholar for identifying the means to eternal life. Unfortunately, the scholar was not satisfied with Jesus’ reply, so he persisted by asking, “And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus offered the story of the Good Samaritan who stopped to care for a man at the side of the road who was left for dead by robbers. Though a passing priest and a Levite not only ignored the man, but also crossed the road so as not to be contaminated by him, this Samaritan stopped to help. When Jesus asked who was neighbor to the injured man, the scholar acknowledged that the neighbor was the one who treated the man with mercy. Jesus ended this exchange by telling the scholar, “Go and do likewise.”

Though we do not know the impact of Jesus’ story upon the scholar, we can assess the impact Jesus’ story has upon us. The Samaritan’s remarkable compassion caused him not to hesitate in responding to the wounded man. He not only dressed his wounds, but also delivered the man to an inn to recuperate. The Samaritan left money to provide for the man’s care and promised to repay the innkeeper for any additional costs incurred. It seems to me that this Samaritan could have no more left this man to die than his own mother or spouse or child. His spirit -his soul- impelled him to respond.

As I reflect upon the goodness which defined the Samaritan, I wonder what defined the priest and Levite who left the man to die. What drove them to value ritual purity more than they valued the life of a fellow person? What allows any of us to walk by, to step over or to run across the road from a dying brother or sister?

Most of us will never encounter a scene which demands action as dramatically as that man on the side of the road. Still, life offers us frequent opportunities to strengthen our spirits by choosing to do what we know is right. Each good deed becomes part and parcel of who we are –like the honestly which caused Mike to tell the good officer the truth that day so long ago…

Just for the record, the officer ended this encounter by sharing that had Mike lied in front of his son, he would have awarded him with a citation. Since Mike did the right thing, the officer let him go with only a stern warning regarding seatbelts.

©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved