Fr. John T. Maher, C.M., Director of Vocations reflects on “The joyous family” in this new feature Vocation Viewpoint
The ‘family’ is a hot topic these days. In Rome, the recent Extraordinary Synod of Bishops focused on pastoral care of the family. In Philadelphia, the recent, stirring visit of Pope Francis was due to a triennial meeting organized by the Pontifical Council for the Family. And with a presidential election next year, ‘family issues’ will surely be a theme. Of course, discussions in Rome and Philadelphia focused on the many changes the family has undergone in recent decades and the challenges the Church faces in trying to be pastorally present to the family. The issues are many and complex, but the Church must engage them to better serve God’s people.
Regarding the family, there is some good news pertaining to vocations. The NRVC (National Religious Vocation Conference), in conjunction with CARA, (Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate), recently released a study on the correlation between family life and creation of a culture for religious vocations. The study found that recent entrants into religious life and diocesan priesthood often came from families who attend Mass regularly, pray together, and develop active faith lives, all of which encourages them to consider a religious vocation.
Here are some benchmarks from the study on how family life creates a culture of vocations:
Private and public religious practices, such as grace before meals and bedtime prayers;
Regularly eat dinner together and gather as a family for games or discussions
Witness and talk about their faith in their daily lives;
Attend Catholic schools or receive parish-based religious education;
Actively participate in parish life and charitable services.
Of course, these results make sense to those raised in such families. However, due to a less stable family environment, many young people today find (including our seminarians), faith development in family life often lacking. This survey also indicated that a percentage of parents actually discourage a son or daughter in pursuing a religious vocation. A common objection of parents is that he or she would be ‘wasting’ his or her life by forgoing married life and children.
However, on a happier note, the survey indicated that parents with these concerns changed their minds after they saw the effect a religious vocation had on their children. The happiness apparent in their child’s living out a religious vocation convinced them it was the right choice. As any parent knows, witnessing the happiness of their child is truly the pearl of great price. In his Apostolic Letter on the Year of Consecrated Life (21 Nov. 2014) Pope Francis best captured this reality:
“The old saying is always true: ‘Where there are religious, there is joy.’ We are called to know and show that God is able to fill our hearts to the brim with happiness… that the authentic fraternity found in our communities increases our joy.”
Perhaps each of us can take some time to reflect on and share with others how our ownvocation has been a source of joy in our lives, especially when we “come to the altar of God, toGod, my delight and my joy.” (Ps.43:4) Tell your vocation story with joy and gratitude!
With Pope Francis’s canonization of Junípero Serra, O.F.M. here on American soil last month, a quick trivia question comes to mind: who is the only American-born priest who has been canonized as a saint in the Catholic Church?
But this is really a trick question: the answer is “none”. The United States rightfully celebrates St. John Neumann as one of our own; although he was born in Bohemia, he served in Niagara Falls and Buffalo before becoming the Archbishop of Philadelphia. And we do have some outstanding home-grown women saints such as Katherine Drexel, Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton, and Kateri Tekakwitha—as well as the naturalized St. Frances Mother Cabrini. But no American-born male has yet been canonized.
However, all that may—may—be about to change: former students of Niagara University—one an alum, the other a transfer—have been both declared “Venerable Servants of God”, which puts them merely one step away from being declared “Blessed” (beatified), and just two steps away from the ultimate goal of any Catholic: Sainthood (Canonization).
But perhaps the most incredible part of this story is that both men attended Niagara University’s Our Lady of the Angels Seminary at the exact same time! Indeed, it is even possible that they may have been classmates.
The Right Reverend Monsignor Nelson H. Baker, V.G., P.A.— but universally known simply as “Father Baker”—was the eldest man in his entire class (he had left a lucrative business career to study for the priesthood), entered Niagara University as a seminarian in 1869—after having served in the Civil War– and finished his course of studies in 1874. His definitive and official story, which I had the distinct pleasure of editing, is told by the noted Church historian, Rev. Richard Gribble, CSC in his book Father of The Fatherless: The Authorized Biography of Father Nelson Baker (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2011).
His Niagara classmate, Fr. Michael J. McGivney, however, had an even farther-reaching effect on the Church: he single-handedly founded the Knights of Columbus, the Catholic laymen’s society that brought life insurance to millions of Catholics who formerly could never afford such a “luxury”. He attended Niagara’s Seminary from fall 1871 through the summer of 1872. Fr. McGivney’s definitive biography was penned by Douglas Brinkley and Julie M. Fenster, in Parish Priest: Father Michael McGivney and American Catholicism (NY: William Morrow, 2006).
Although both men were “formed” by the Vincentian Priests who were in charge of the diocesan Our Lady of Angels Seminary at Niagara, neither of them apparently aspired to be a member of the Vincentians—or any other religious order—although Fr. McGivney would eventually wind up studying his theology at a Jesuit Seminary in Montreal, and then one run by the Sulpicians in Baltimore. Upon his graduation and ordination, Fr. Baker began a quick and meteoric climb up the ecclesiastical ladder, culminating in his titles of “Prothonotary Apostolic” (a “Monsignor”) and the Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia for the Diocese of Buffalo.
However, the spirit of the Vincentian founder, St. Vincent de Paul—especially that saint’s love for the poor and suffering—is prevalent in both men. Fr. Baker spent his nearly one hundred years (he lived well into the second administration of FDR, who phoned him on his 95th birthday) on this earth serving orphans, abandoned babies, “troubled” youths, the steelworkers of the steel mills of South Buffalo, and black Catholics at a time when it was unpopular, even unheard of.
Fr. McGivney, his life cut tragically short by pneumonia in only his 38th year in 1890, did just one thing that has forever changed the face of American Catholicism: He founded a men’s benevolent association that today boasts nearly two million members. And even more staggeringly: The Knights of Columbus hold $90 billion in life insurance policies, backed by nearly $20 billion in assets. Their life insurance is considered the gold standard in the business, and the proceeds from this business fund the organization’s worldwide charitable programs.
The closer we look at these two Venerable Servants of God, the more different, very different, they seem to be: Fr. Baker, the eldest member of his class, a lifelong Western New York resident, was a member of the drama and singing clubs. Fr. McGivney, who was still a teenager when he arrived at Niagara University, excelled in baseball and seemed to have had a bit of a peripatetic streak: after being born and raised in Connecticut, the young Fr. McGivney began college studies for the priesthood at St. Hyacinthe in Quebec, then moved to Niagara University, and after only three semesters moved again to Montreal to study at the Jesuits’ Sainte-Marie College.
After the death of his father, Fr. McGivney’s bishop preferred to keep him closer to Connecticut (or at least out of Canada), sending him to Baltimore’s St. Mary’s Seminary (run by the Priests of Saint Sulpice), before finally being ordained and incardinated back in his native Connecticut.
So what are the chances that two Niagara University classmates—a school so small it numbers even its current enrollment at 3,300 undergraduates—could possibly be declared Venerable Servants of God? Very slim. There are only eight other current Venerables from the United States (or naturalized citizens). Venerable Solanus Casey, a Capuchin friar, is indeed American-born, but unlike Fathers Baker and McGivney, he is not a secular (diocesan) priest. Ironically (and almost unbelievably) the only other American-born diocesan priest to be named Venerable Servant of God is Fulton J. Sheen—bishop of nearby Rochester, New York from 1966-69—and a holder of an honorary degree from… Niagara University!
An archivist’s dream would be to come across an ancient daguerreotype of Fathers Baker and McGivney, circa 1871, side by side, heads bent in prayer in Niagara’s stunning Alumni Chapel, or a candid photo of the two saintly men walking and talking on the Monteagle Ridge overlooking the Lower Niagara River. Alas, no such photo exists. Indeed, due to the fact that Fr. McGivney was just entering the seminary while Fr. Baker was well on his way to finishing—and due to their age difference and preferences in how to spend their free time—it is unlikely (though not impossible) that the two men spent much, if any, time together aside from group functions for seminarians in general.
But none of this is of any great matter: the Vincentian spirit of Catholic social justice fired both Michael J. McGivney, the young, restless, wandering spirit, and Nelson H. Baker, the already elderly, former businessman and homebody. Both men took St. Vincent de Paul’s example to heart to help the poorest of the poor, leaving a legacy of service throughout the Catholic Church.
It’s a tradition both Venerable Fr. Baker and Fr. McGivney can be proud of, regardless of when, if ever, they are officially raised to the altars of the Church.
Read more: http://www.ncregister.com/blog/dicamillo/one-college-two-possible-saints/#ixzz3pITnY6qK
Arnie Simonse just sent word that former CM Dick Thayer died. From the Funeral home website…
Richard Thayer, of Warwick, passed away on October 15, 2015 at Good Samaritan Hospital, Suffern, NY. He was 81 years old.
Born on June 13, 1934 in Dushore, PA, he was the son of the late William and Catherine (Walsh).
He was married to Dorothy (Omark) Thayer.
Richard was a Public Affairs Manager with AT & T in New York, NY. He was previously a College Professor at St. John’s University, NY, Georgetown University, Washington, DC and at the University of Maryland.
He is survived by his wife, Dorothy of Warwick; his daughters: Melinda Stein of Greenwood Lake and Noel Thayer of Pleasant Valley; a grandson, Jack Stein; two sisters: Sr. Theresa Thayer of Scranton, PA and Genevieve Kvasnak and her husband Michael of Endwell, NY.
Funeral Mass will be at 11:00 am on Tuesday, October 20th, at St. Stephens RC Church, Warwick.
Memorial donations may be sent to The Catholic Worker, 36 East First Street, New York, NY 10003- www.catholicworker.org
– See more at: http://www.lsvpmemorialhome.com/Obituary/4256/Richard+Thayer#sthash.HBrw99pW.dpuf
Kitty Prager writes…Students from St. John’s Preparatory High School joined St. John’s University in a day of service at Sts. Joachim and Anne’s Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Coney Island.
In the morning the group visited and chatted with residents, and then played board games and Trivial Pursuit. After taking a stroll on the boardwalk, Prep students and members of the university’s Sunday choir performed a concert and sing-a-long. They were led by SJU Mixed Chorus Director Kim Oler, two-time Emmy Award winning conductor/composer. It was a joyful presentation that swept away both the performers and the audience.
Each year the worldwide Vincentian Families gather to commemorate the September 27 feast day of St. Vincent de Paul by engaging in a day of prayer and service. Here in the metro area, several thousand St. John’s students and alumni worked at over 150 different sites making a difference in the lives of many. St. John’s Prep was founded by the Vincentian fathers in 1870 and is located in Astoria.
“Pope Francis’ words and actions sound like St. Vincent”. Words from Dr. Joann Heaney-Hunter of St. John’s University as she reflects on her experience as a commentator for Time Warner Cable News during Pope Francis’s visit. In the homily at the St. John’s University Founder’s Day Mass she elaborated…
Last weekend, I had the joy of spending many hours covering Pope Francis’ visit for Time Warner Cable News. Like many of you, I watched him speak with, pray with, and interact with all sorts of people in various situations.
For part of the time on Sunday, (which, by the way, was the actual feast of St. Vincent!) I was working with another professor from a college in New Jersey. At one point in the coverage, he said to the anchor, “Dr. Heaney-Hunter and I are both connected to the pope, because both of us are Jesuit trained.” A few moments later, I said, “I may be connected to Pope Francis because I’m Jesuit trained, but really, Pope Francis’ words and actions sound like St. Vincent de Paul, whose spirit is the heart and soul of my University, St. John’s,” and I went on to say how I thought Pope Francis was really Vincentian, and how we at St. John’s try to embody that Vincentian spirit every day.
Today as we celebrate the feast of St. Vincent de Paul, I couldn’t help but think of the connection between Vincent, a great saint who was tireless in his care of the poor, and Francis, an inspiring pope who has touched our hearts with his humility, faith and joy. Do they resonate for you? Can Pope Francis be a role model for us as we try to carry out the mission of St. John’s University, which follows proudly in the tradition of St. Vincent de Paul? Can we follow a path that calls us out of ourselves so we can serve Christ as he appears to us in our brothers and sisters, especially the poor?
Let’s turn to our readings.
In the first reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah, we hear the words “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the one bringing good news!”
Isn’t that what St. Vincent did? He was a bearer of the good news of Christ’s hope and consolation to the poor in France, to the Daughters and Ladies of Charity, to the clergy he trained, and to all he met, especially those in most need. In his own words “Keep alive your determination to go in search of the lost sheep.” (IV:118)
If we recall images from the Pope’s visit, wasn’t he beautiful – a bearer of good news, as he preached the Gospel message of hope to the people of the United States and Cuba? Didn’t he make a deep impression on members of Congress, and world leaders at the UN? Didn’t he bring great joy to New Yorkers cheering for him in Central Park and praying with him in Madison Square Garden? Wasn’t he a comfort to immigrants when he reminded them and all of us that he was the son of immigrants, and that our nation was built by immigrants?
We watched with delight as he greeted children everywhere he went, blessed and kissed babies along parade routes, and even learned how to use a smartboard from a 3rd grader attending a Catholic school in Harlem!
I was deeply touched when he stopped everything to greet the family of a young person with cerebral palsy, and to bless the child with care and love. No matter how busy he was, he seemed to be happiest as he reached out to those that others might forget.
As members of the St. John’s community, aren’t we asked to do these things? In our classwork, in our internships, in our interactions with students, staff, administrators and faculty, aren’t we invited to follow Vincent as a bearer of good news, and can’t we look to Pope Francis as a wonderful contemporary role model? Let us ask ourselves – How do we make a difference by being bearers of good news to others on campus? How do we step up to be present to those whom others might forget? It’s important to reflect on these things as we celebrate the feast of our founder.
Now let’s listen again to the words of the second reading — “Consider your calling – Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, and not many were of noble birth.” For St. Paul, power and nobility come from living simply, and preaching the message of the crucified and risen Christ.
Again, we can make a link to St. Vincent, who reminded his companions, “Everyone says that the missionary spirit is one of humility and simplicity … take hold of it.” (I:518)
We saw over and over again last week how that gets lived out by a pope. Every time Pope Francis popped out of the little black Fiat, surrounded by enormous SUV’s, he spoke volumes about simplicity without saying a word. When we read that he had passed up a fancy lunch in the halls of Congress to spend time with the poor at a Catholic Charities site in Washington, D.C, we knew where his heart was. When we heard about the chairs he used at the liturgies in New York and Philadelphia, made with love by people in prison in Pennsylvania, or immigrant day laborers from New York, we got it loud and clear – power and nobility come from simplicity.
Simplicity. How do we embrace it today? How do we manage it in our technology-packed, busy lives? I know it would be too much to ask any of us (me included) to abstain from the devices that have changed our lives – I don’t think I remember how to live without that little pocket computer called a smartphone – but I think we can all take small steps each day to embrace simplicity. Let’s ask ourselves – how attached are we to things? Does “stuff” rule our lives? Are we driven by our desire to acquire? Attitude makes a big difference. As people called to follow the simplicity of Vincent, and who saw the example of Pope Francis, let’s try to detach from the things that keep us from seeing Christ in the simple people and events of life. It’s important to reflect on these things as we celebrate the feast of our founder.
Finally, we take a line from our beautiful gospel, the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” This phrase is striking as we reflect on the life of St. Vincent, and on Pope Francis’ visit.
In Vincent’s life, bringing God’s peace to others was a constant call: he reminded his confreres that “God’s Spirit is a spirit of peace, a gentle inspiration that slips in without any commotion. Everything He does is always followed by calmness and gentleness; He is the God of peace and union. He cannot tolerate any disturbance or division.” (XII, Letter 214)
Vincent was a tireless missionary of God’s peace. He preached with actions and words that we are called to share God’s peace with our brothers and sisters. Vincent understood, as Jesus did, that he was called to bring God’s peace not to the wealthy and comfortable, but to the poor, the stranger, the one who was marginalized because he or she is different from others. These, the most vulnerable are the face of Christ in the world, and they must receive God’s peace.
At the deeply moving, profoundly prayerful interfaith service at the 9-11 memorial, Pope Francis said, “I trust that our presence together will be a powerful sign of our shared desire to be a force for reconciliation, peace and justice in this community and throughout the world. For all our differences and disagreements, we can live in a world of peace.” He then modeled that statement by reaching out in love and respect to the diverse religious leaders gathered on the stage. He didn’t say much to them, he just walked from person to person, sharing a sign of peace. What was so striking to me was his utter respect for and focus on each person – clearly, in Francis’ eyes, all were equal, and God’s children, regardless of religion.
And what about us? How do we embody St. Vincent’s and Pope Francis’ call to bring peace to others as we go about our daily lives on campus?
This is such a simple question — but it will take us all a lifetime to perfect the answer. Each of us, in our own way, can pray every day for the grace to bring God’s peace to others. Throughout our time as students, faculty, staff and administrators, let’s check up on ourselves – do we sow peace or discord? Do we extend a hand of love or do we withhold it? Do we look for ways to help each other, or do we close our hearts because we’re too busy or tired or stressed? As members of the St. John’s community, we are called to evaluate our lives in light of Vincent’s message. Pope Francis has given us an example of how to do that. It’s important to reflect on these things as we celebrate the feast of our founder.
We at St. John’s have an extraordinary role model in St. Vincent, and last week, we witnessed Pope Francis, who inspired us by preaching with his life a powerful message of good news, simplicity and peace to all who were open to hear it. As we celebrate Founders’ Week, and all throughout the year, let’s ask God to help us as we try to put their ideals into concrete action each day.