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’s Work

…love one another as I love you.
No one has greater love than this,
to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

From John 15:12-13

I admit to lots of anger over the suffering of those I’ve been given to love. Whether they are my own family members or children starving to death half a world away, I find it difficult to accept that there actually is nothing I can do to help. My frustration is amplified by my conviction that our problems can be solved if we consider them from a loving perspective. This isn’t a pie-in-the-sky impossibility. Years of work with some tough youngsters taught me otherwise. When I approached a troubled student with sincerity and genuine concern, he or she sensed this and responded in kind.

What a different world this would be if we set aside our own pride and our own agendas for the good of others. It seems to me that we amass a treasure trove of goodness for ourselves when we put others ahead of ourselves. What a different world this would be if we did lay down our lives for one another! What a different world this would be if we each accomplished one good deed -instead of the opposite- every day!

Loving God, you gift each of us with the ability to make this world a better place. Help us to realize our potential and to make our positive mark as only we can.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

At Home and Then Some…

Give to the man who begs from you.
Do not turn your back on the borrower.

Matthew 5:42

The other day, someone requested my help. Before finding out precisely what I needed to do to be of assistance, I decided that I wasn’t going to get involved. Having said this, I admit that I’m convinced that there are no coincidences and that people wander onto my path for a reason. Still, I was so busy and so tired at the time that I decided to stick to my plan not to get involved… So much for my plan! After talking with my new friend for a few minutes, I decided I would indeed help with what needed to be done. On the way home from this encounter, I happily thanked God for the opportunity to bring a bit of love into this person’s life.

This adventure has given me insight into Jesus’ life. Jesus found it impossible to resist a troubled soul. Jesus stopped in the midst of what he was doing whenever he saw a soul in need. The gospels are filled with story after story of Jesus’ efforts to bring a word of consolation and to heal to a suffering person. Whether their illnesses were of the body of the spirit, Jesus stopped to do whatever he could do for those in need.

I think Jesus never tired of reaching out to those in need because he couldn’t help loving them. If my adventure is any indication, Jesus also appreciated the joy which comes with helping someone. Though I still contend that charity does begin at home, with practice we can somehow manage to help those beyond our front doors.

Loving God, no wonder you ask us to love one another!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Share God’s Treasure

Though my mom passed away in 2003, my sisters and I finally dealt with the last box of her things at a family gathering in early December. This single cardboard carton holds the costume jewelry which had become our mom’s hallmark. My sister Rita had meticulously sorted and bagged each item so it can be sold or donated. Rita left it to me to determine what to do as she’d done quite enough in this regard. When I took the box to the door, I turned to ask my sister about a little gold ring my mom had allowed me to wear for very special dates while I was in high school and college. This very thin band sports two tiny rubies and a small pearl, none of which may be authentic. All of us had gone through my mom’s jewelry several times and we never came across that ring. Though I’d assumed long ago that it had been lost, I had to ask about it one last time. My sister assured me that the ring wasn’t among my mom’s treasures. With that, I stowed the box in my car and headed home.

A few weeks later, I took out a wreath pin to wear for a Christmas gathering. Because it has gold-colored trim, I searched for gold earrings. I didn’t have much time to spare and I was becoming more annoyed with each passing minute of my search. I did find two small boxes of gold jewelry which hadn’t seen the light of day in quite some time. I thumbed through the first where I found two gold hoops of different sizes. Though it occurred to me to wear them with the hope that no one would compare earlobes, I decided to look in the other box for matching earrings. While thumbing through the contents, I found a matching pair. When I took out the earrings, I noticed something dangling from one of them. When I looked closer, I couldn’t believe what I saw: My mom’s little gold ring! I immediately called to my dear husband, “Mike, I can’t believe it! I can’t believe it! I’ve found my mother’s ring!” The poor man had to listen as I recounted my sisters’ and my years-long search for this elusive bit of jewelry. How had it gotten into that little box? I hadn’t seen that ring since before my mom passed away.

Needless to say, I wore my mom’s ring that evening. I also repeated my tale regarding this amazing discovery several times throughout that party. The following morning, I shared my good news again in the gathering space here at St. Paul’s. All the while, I pictured my mom smiling broadly. That little ring was a gift from my father. She loved that ring and she wore it often. My occasional requests to wear that ring signaled to my mom that I really liked the boy I was dating at the time. My mom’s permission to wear that little gold band signaled to me that my mom loved me and that she trusted me with her treasures. I still can’t get over my good fortune in all of this and I still can’t help sharing this good news with anyone who will listen.

It occurs to me that our treasures aren’t meant to be hoarded and good news is meant to be shared. The scripture passages we hear today echo these sentiments. The Old Testament chronicles God’s attempts to share everything with us. When centuries of attempts to build a relationship with us humans failed, God sent Jesus to give a voice to God’s intent and to give flesh and bone to God’s love. In the first reading (Isaiah 60:1-6), Isaiah called Jerusalem to celebrate this amazing relationship with God. Isaiah insisted that God’s presence among the people made them shine bright enough to guide all of the world in God’s direction. God commissioned Israel to welcome all who would join them as God’s family. The second reading (Ephesians 3:2-3a; 5-6) underscores Isaiah’s proclamation. The author who wrote with Paul’s authority reminded the people “…that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” This news of the inclusion of all continues through Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 2:1-12). Matthew noted that when Joseph and Mary welcomed the Magi, they offered their relationship with God to the entire world. When the Magi returned to their homes, they carried this good news to all whom they met along their way. The treasure they’d discovered far out-valued my little gold ring and they shared it as generously as my mom had.

On this Feast of the Epiphany, we’re invited to celebrate God’s love for us in precisely the same way. Though we’ve packed away our Christmas decorations, God asks us to carry the good news of Jesus coming and God’s love for us wherever we go. God asks us to be modern-day Magi who share the treasure we’ve discovered. Like Jesus, our words and our deeds speak of God’s love to our neighbors, our coworkers and grocery cashiers, to everyone we meet at school and here at St. Paul’s and to our own spouses, children and loved ones. The treasure we find on this Feast of the Epiphany is the same treasure that I found in being allowed to wear my mom’s ring: God’s love and God’s trust in us to share that love with the rest of God’s family.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

We Are God’s Poor

God hears the poor,
and those who are in bonds God spurns not.

Psalm 69:34

Sometimes, when we hear or read about the poor in the scriptures or via the media, we assume that the term references those with dire material needs. Though this is certainly often the case, God’s definition of “the poor” is all-inclusive. God attends to each one of us whether our needs are material or otherwise.

Sometimes, when we find ourselves doing well in the world’s eyes, we also find ourselves in need deep within us where it matters most. Just as the materially poor climb a slippery slope when it comes to establishing a secure life for themselves and their loved ones, the materially rich sometimes expend so much energy holding on to what they have that they lose their grip on the things that matter most to them.

We all take turns being counted among God’s poor. This much-loved group includes you and me and all of our brothers and sisters whenever this life robs us of the things we need to continue on. Whether we’re lacking money enough for a loaf of bread or love enough to care for our aging parent, God knows our suffering. Whether we are besought by the enemy before us or by the demons within us, God stands at our sides. All the while, God offers us enough love to get by.

Loving God, you recognize our poverty in all of its forms. Be persistent with your generous love, that we may share that love with one another.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Transform the Negative into Love

Caiaphas said to them, “…it is better for you that one man should die
instead of the people, so that the whole nation may not perish.”

John 11:50

This isn’t my favorite scripture passage. Caiaphas sends a chill down my spine. His words threatened the Good Shepherd who would leave his entire flock to find one lost sheep. He sought the death of the one who inspired the father of the prodigal son. Remember that dad who gave that young man half of his wealth, watched him squander it, forgave him and welcomed him home? Caiaphas mustn’t have heard the parable about the pearl of great price for which a man sold everything. He must have missed the tale of the woman who swept up and dusted her house again and again until she found a single coin which was precious to her. Poor Caiaphas seems to have missed everything of importance which Jesus said because he was blinded and deafened by his desire for stature and power.

You know, there are many people near and far who are distracted by their clouded vision and deaf ears. Some have lost their perspective through selfishness much like Caiaphas. Some suffer distractions wielded upon them by the injustices of our human existence. Caiaphas’ callousness serves as a reminder to me that many people have little about which to rejoice. Today, Caiaphas’ hatred and selfishness encourages me to love as he could not love. Today, Caiaphas, your influence takes a positive turn as you inspire me to make things better for someone who needs to experience God’s love.

Dear God, thank you for using even our weaknesses to teach us to love.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved