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

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Love You and Love Me

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart…
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Mark 12:30-31

This third week of September, the world around me has reached the normalcy that comes with a new school year. The teacher in me impels me to gauge the moment at hand in accord with my life in academia. Since I entered kindergarten, I’ve settled into a comforting routine by this time every year. At least this was true for the years I spent as a student and the years I spent as a teacher and administrator.

This year, I’m having a little trouble finding that comfortable routine. A September vacation and some unexpected events in life around me have disrupted my self-imposed schedule. I can’t seem to organize or to prioritize effectively. When I try, the things I truly want to do still find their way to the bottom of my to-do list. “You’re not getting any younger,” I tell myself. “Something has to give…”

With that realization in mind, I reread the scripture I cited above. I do love God and I try to care for the things God loves. I love my neighbor as best I can and I try to behave accordingly. It occurs to me that God also loves me. If I am going to love others as I love myself, I need to love me. This means that, on occasion, I get to accommodate my own heart’s desire. Nice!

Dear God, I’ll try a little harder to find some balance in my life. Please help me.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Glimpses of God’s Heart

All the believers were together and had everything in common.
They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.

Acts 2:44-45

Last weekend when we gathered for Mother’s Day, my granddaughters happily shared the number of days left in this school year. The school year is winding down for our parish children as well. We’ve already celebrated our Confirmation and First Communion liturgies and we’re looking ahead to Vacation Bible School.

A few weeks before our religious education classes ended for the year, our fifth graders sponsored their annual A Book and A Buddy campaign in support of a local after-school and summer literacy program. The kids collect new and gently used books and stuffed animals. Each of these donations finds its way into the hands of a child who might otherwise not have books of his or her own at home. On the final day of the drive, I carried some of these donations to the children who would sort and prepare them for pickup. I was amazed by the over-stuffed bins of books and animals, many of which were newly purchased for this purpose.

This phenomenon is repeated often at my parish church. Whenever we bring the needs of others to our people, they respond most generously. It occurs to me that this capacity for generosity lies deep within each one of us. When we encounter a good cause, we are hard-pressed to ignore it. How wonderful it is that we have the capacity to express God’s generosity toward others! It is in the midst of these moments of sharing that we experience a full measures of unexpected joy.

Loving God, thank you for showing us how to love one another with our hearts and our treasure.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Was It The Wine?

The waiter in charge tasted the water made wine,
without knowing where it had come from; only the waiters knew,
since they had drawn the water.

John 2:9

I couldn’t help smiling as our guide read John’s account of Jesus’ miracle at Cana. I imagined an annoyed Jesus addressing his mother as “Woman” because he allegedly had no intention of performing a miracle at this local gathering. Still, Mary persisted and simply told the waiters to do whatever Jesus asked. The rest of the story gave me reason not to be concerned by the uncertainty of where this miracle occurred. Though two beautiful churches claim to reside on the actual site where Jesus changed water into wine, modern scholars concur that another village, slightly farther from Nazareth and which lies in ruins today, is more likely the site. While I breathed in the air of today’s Cana, I celebrated that miracle in spite of my distance from its likely setting.

Our guide piqued my interest further with his explanation of the language used to describe all that had occurred. Yossi told us that the waiters filled each wine jar to its “brim”. Yossi explained that the word for “brim” actually means “lip”. Yossi said, “Think about this. There is more here than meets the eye. The wine went from the lip of the jar to the lip of the mouth. Those who drank used their lip or their language to express what they received. The real miracle is that those who drank recognized Jesus for who he was and then they talked about it.”

My self-proclaimed secular Jewish guide had given me much more to consider regarding this event. It wasn’t the wine, but the receptiveness of those who recognized Jesus which made this encounter remarkable.

Generous God, help me to recognize your presence in everything.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Love’s Priorities

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart…
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Mark 12:30-31

This third week of September, the world around me has reached the normalcy that comes with a new school year. The teacher in me impels me to gauge the moment at hand in accord with my life in academia. Since I entered kindergarten, I’ve settled into a comforting routine by this time every September. This remained true for the years I spent as a student and the years I spent as a teacher and an administrator.

This year, I’m having a little trouble finding that comfortable routine. Unexpected events in the lives of those around me and in my own life disrupt my self-imposed schedule more often than not. The trials and tribulations of this world pull at my heartstrings. I can’t seem to organize and prioritize effectively because there is so much on my mind. When I try, the things I truly want to do always find their way to the bottom of my to-do list. “You’re not getting any younger,” I tell myself. “Something has to give…”

With that realization in mind, I reread the scripture I cited above. I love God with my whole heart, so I care for the things God loves. I love my neighbor as myself, so I care for my neighbor. It occurs to me that I’m one of God’s beloved as well. If I’m going to love others as I love myself, I need to truly love myself. This means that, on occasion, I get to accommodate my own heart’s desire.

Dear God, help me to find some balance as I strive to love as you do.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Gift of Compassion

They are more precious than gold, than a heap of purest gold;
Sweeter also than syrup or honey from the comb.

Psalm 19:11

While my granddaughters were here for an overnight stay, I stubbed my toe. As you likely suspect, the resultant pain was excruciating. I broke another toe a few years earlier as a result of similar clumsiness, so I feared the worst. Before I recovered from this present-day incident, my youngest granddaughter came bouncing into tho room. When she saw the look on my face, she asked, “Are you okay, Grandma?” Though I quickly wiped away a telltale tear and smiled my best, Claire knew that all was not well. “Oh, I just bumped my toe,” I said. With that, Claire ran to join her sisters in play. “Grandma hurt herself, so we have to be quiet,” Claire ordered.

Though my older granddaughters prefer to be in charge, they listened. They were especially quiet and extremely cooperative. When I joined them a few minutes later, they did everything in their power to lighten my mood. I admit that I was quite touched but the efforts of these three little girls.

My husband and I did our best to create a loving and compassionate home for our sons. Apparently, we succeeded at some level as illustrated by in granddaughters’ merciful management of my misery. God has worked to make this world of ours a loving and compassionate place as well. The best way to show our appreciation is to respond to one another in kind. This is more important today than ever…

Generous God, thank you for opening our hearts to your love. Remind us often that your most pressing request is that we love each other as you love us.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved