As I write these words for the first time as Pastor of St. Peter's Church, I must say I feel a bit at home. Though I have never been stationed at St. Peter's before I have been here for many meetings, ordinations and professions. In fact, I made my solemn profession as a Franciscan in this church forty-seven years ago. I have also helped out with Masses, confessions, etc. when I have been stationed at other ministry sites of the Franciscans here in the city.
As I begin to serve you as your pastor I would like to share with you a little of my history and background. I was born in Petoskey, Michigan. My father did a variety of jobs throughout his life. My mother was a registered nurse and I have a number of family members who have worked or are still working in the medical field. Both of my parents are deceased. I am the oldest of 4 children. I have two brothers and a sister. They are all married and live in Michigan and my youngest brother and his family live in Atlanta, Georgia. After graduating from high school, I entered Our Lady of Angels College Seminary in Quincy, Illinois. I graduated with a degree in sociology. I spent one year of theological studies at Catholic Theological Union here in Chicago and completed my last three years of theology studies at St. Louis University. So I have also been influenced by the Jesuits! I lived at St. Francis Parish in St. Louis while in studies. I was ordained at St. Augustine Parish in the Back of the Yards neighborhood in 1976.
After ordination I spent 10 years of ministry with Native American communities in northern Michigan and Wisconsin. I lived and worked in Harbor Springs, Michigan, Ashland, Wisconsin and on Bad River and Lac Courte Oreilles Indian Reservations.
I then served for seven years at Sacred Heart Parish in Indianapolis, Indiana as pastor and also a post-novitiate formation director. I then spend a year of studies in the spiritual direction program at Washington Theological Union in Washington, D.C. After completing studies at WTU, I worked for one year at St. Leonard Parish in San Antonio, Texas until I was asked to be one of the vocation directors for Sacred Heart Province.
I served as vocation director for 8 years for the Province, living first at San Damiano Friary in Cicero, Illinois and then at St. Joseph's Parish in the "Back of the Yards" neighborhood in Chicago. After the vocation ministry I spent a year on sabbatical at the Franciscan School of Theology in Berkeley, California. I then served for four years as the guardian and one of the formation directors for the temporary professed program at St. Joseph Interprovincial Temporary Professed program in Hyde Park. I was then asked to serve as pastor and Shrine Director at Cross in the Woods National Shrine in Indian River, Michigan. It was a unique privilege to serve at the shrine as my grandparents were some of the first parishioners to help in the founding of the Shrine and it is the parish of my baptism (a few years ago!).
In 2011 I was asked to be the pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in St. Louis, Missouri where I have been serving until a few month ago when I was asked to become pastor of St. Peter's here in the Loop. The last week or so I have been meeting with Fr. Kurt, other friars and the church staff here at St. Peter's to get a better idea of the parish and our ministry here in the Loop. Fr. Kurt, the friars and parish staff have been very helpful and welcoming to me as I learn more about the workings and ministry of St. Peters.
When I was asked to become pastor I could never have imagined that the world in which we now live would face daily the dangers of the coronavirus. The up and down pattern of this virus, the increasing tensions among so many people in our city, state, country and the world all contribute to the unease so many people feel today.
In early May, the Archbishop of Toronto, Canada issued a letter to address the spread of the coronavirus in his Archdiocese. His words I believe offer each us something to reflect upon as we deal with this pandemic in our country. Archbishop Thomas Collins wrote: While it makes sense for all citizens to follow the reasonable restrictions that have been imposed to contain the virus, for Christians doing so is also a matter of faith, charity and justice. After all, these are some of the stars we steer by:
1) "Am I my brother’s keeper?” Yes, we are responsible for others. In justice, as well as charity, we have no right recklessly to endanger others, or to cause their death.
2) “Thou shalt not kill”
3) “Love your neighbour as yourself.”
Over the centuries the Church, following the commandment of Jesus to love our neighbour, has cancelled the public celebration of Mass in time of pestilence. Our ancestors may not have had as thorough an understanding as we do now of how epidemics spread, but they did know that in such a situation when people gather for any reason, even religious, they can spread infection and harm their neighbour.
We should also recall that we Christians defend the sanctity of human life from the first moment of conception until natural death: in a time of pestilence, that commitment of ours requires us to follow the reasonable norms designed to protect the lives of those around us.
The assault of this unseen virus has touched the entire human race. As believers in Jesus we need to do all we can to protect everyone from this sickness. One of the most important things that we can do to help prevent the spread of this virus, as health experts continually remind us, is to (1) wash our hands frequently, (2) use a sanitizer if we can't wash our hands, (3) wear a mask and (4) avoid large public crowds.
While we presently continue to face dangers from this pandemic, I encourage all of us when this danger becomes less present in high risk populations, to call upon our politicians, our civic and business leaders, and our religious leaders to help everyone in our society, and especially the most vulnerable, to be given the means to obtain adequate housing, healthy food, jobs that pay just wages and equal education for all who live in our great country. As people who proclaim we are Catholic and faithful followers of Jesus... we can do no less.
In the coming months I hope to meet many of you who regularly attend St. Peter's and hope that our visitors, tourists, students and many others will find a place of peace here at St. Peter's in the midst of the present tensions of our world. And may we bring that peace of Christ to others. As the Peace Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi states, "Lord, make me an instrument of your peace" May each of us bring peace to our part of the world today.