Anyone who knows me knows of my love for music and my love for singing, which I developed at an early age. I do not have the gift of playing any instrument, but have been given a gift to use my voice to sing. I know many of you who are reading this have this same gift.
As I write this article I have my mom close to my heart as today is the 15th anniversary of her death. One of my fondest memories was most every night around 5:30 our dinner was made and being warmed in the oven. We would await my dad’s nightly return from his work. The smells were wonderful. While waiting, my mom would be sitting in the darkened dining room at the piano, playing the soft, delicate yet moving songs she knew by heart. Both my parents could play the piano. My father had a beautiful tenor voice. They first taught me to love music.
For many years Ursuline Academy in Springfield had as its motto Serviam, which is Latin for service (serve). A large part of the Christian formation of the UA students was centered on offering “service” in the church and the community.
Often, in the sacrament of confirmation programs of formation for young adults, one of the important components is completing “service hours.” Often parents (not the youth) would ask if a certain task would be “counted” as falling under the umbrella of “Christian service.”
I had the privilege to spend some quality time with the majority of our diocesan seminarians at a gathering at the Villa Maria Catholic Life Center a few weeks ago. I fully agree with our vocation director, Father Brian Alford, that our diocese is so blessed with the 24 seminarians (counting the transitional deacons) that God has called to discern becoming diocesan priests for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.
This is one of the finest groups of men I have ever seen for our diocese. They have a strong bond and support each other well. You may have met some of these men who may have been assigned to your parish for a summer internship. I hope you got the opportunity to get to know them, and personally welcome them to your parish, as well as having kept them in your prayers.
One of our treasures in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois with a particularly unique history is the beautiful Ss. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Alton.
Our diocese was once known as the Diocese of Alton from 1857 to 1923. Ss. Peter and Paul were the patronal saints of that diocese, and this amazing parish church was the cathedral (or mother church) during these years.
I was presiding recently at their weekend Masses, with a welcoming invitation from new pastor Father Jason Stone. At each of the three Masses I was blessed to be able to pray with a wonderful parish family who is filled with many stewards who blessed the parish worship as they serve in many ways.
When was the last time you truly felt blessed by God and maybe shared your true feelings with another person? Did your parents buy you a new car for your graduation? Did you sell your home after burying St. Joseph in the backyard? Did you get hired for the job you and nine others interviewed for? Did you marry the love of your life, and now 50 years later are still celebrating that love you felt when God united you as one? Was it when you held your first born for the first time in your hands? When do we get to that point where we simply know, “I am blest”?
Back in 1997 Bishop Daniel Ryan called me and asked if I would become the parochial administrator at St. Rose of Lima Parish in Quincy. He shared with me that the long-time pastor, Father Francis Damien Lee, was in the hospital and would not be able to return to his pastoral duties at St. Rose and would retire.
I arrived on the scene sometime around July 1 of that year and the parish had no staff at all. I began to celebrate daily Mass at the parish and met a few folks that first week. At most we had about 10 devoted St. Rose of Lima parishioners attend daily Mass and they were mostly retired folks. They began to welcome me to their parish and said they were ready to help me in any way possible.
Each year when May 10 comes around I call my good friend and classmate Bishop Carl Kemme — and/or we email one another — to extend our “Happy Anniversary” message to each other. We walked into the Diocesan Seminary of the Immaculate Conception on Lake Springfield the same day, and have been and will remain “classmates” and friends for the rest of our lives and ministries.
This week I spent three days at what we now call the Villa Maria Catholic Life Conference and Retreat Center. As always, I experienced a rush of both memories and emotions when I entered this beautiful place of rest and spiritual refreshment. For three days I helped Shaun Riedell, director of the Diocesan Office of Development, host the Region Vll (Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin) directors of Stewardship and Development for the 16 dioceses of this region. I also celebrated Mass and shared time with Chris Malmevik, our outstanding and gifted director of the Diocesan Office for Catechesis, along with 14 of our “best” and gifted directors of religious education who were on a day of recollection.
The time spent at the Villa Maria gave me ample time to pray and reflect on my own journey which began in this holy space 39 years ago. It really began years before that, but I formally was accepted by Bishop Joseph McNicholas to study and discern a call to the priesthood back in 1978.
Now being ordained 31 years I ask, like many, “How did the time go by so fast?” Believe me, it didn’t seem that “fast” while in those first days, weeks, months and beginning years of our eight-year journey. Yet now as I look back I remember a few tough times, but with a smile I can remember hundreds of “graced” and “blessed” moments. I never was known during my seminary years to be one of the “sharpest” pencils in the box, but I know for sure that many of my greatest lessons and learning moments have come from the “real” moments of encountering God, and his infinite love and mercy, along the way.
My journey toward priesthood included some great priests who took time to encourage me, pray for me, and most of all give me a good example to follow. Msgr. Paul Heinen above all was my “hero” if you will. He taught me hospitality, and how to live priesthood “joyfully.” Father Richard Chiola inspired me as a phenomenal homilist who could always reach you where you were with the right message. Father Martin “Mitz” Mangan was a great example of what it means to be a “compassionate” shepherd who truly cared for his flock. Father Tony Tamulis showed me how important “youth ministry” was and to always stay connected with the youth. Father Ken Venvertloh taught me the importance of “justice and peace.” Msgr. James O’Shea taught/gave me the great example of how a priest must be humble, “Christ-centered,” and rock solid as a man of prayer. And Pope John Paul ll — well, the list is so long — he will forever be in my heart.
All of these priests in their own way have blessed me and now continue to challenge me to strive to do my best. What priest has blessed your life? What priest has brought the “joy of the Gospel” to your journey? Do you know your priest? Have you taken time to come to know him as he serves you, your family and your parish?
On May 10, 1986 I had pancakes for breakfast and then processed with my two classmates down the main aisle of our Cathedral. I had asked Msgr. Heinen, who was in his 80s and a priest for 57 years, to vest me as a newly-ordained priest. He vested me and then whispered, “You will always be one of my boys.” That was moment I will never forget. The priesthood journey began for me that day 31 years ago.
This weekend we will host, at our mother church, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, our ordination of our four “soon to be” diocesan priests. From that a moment on they will, I pray “affectionately” be called Father Michael Friedel, Father Ronnie Lorilla, Father Rafal Pyrchla and Father Wayne Stock.
Our diocese is blessed, and our presbyterate as well, to welcome these four men into diocesan priesthood for priestly service in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. They are fine men who are so ready, and so joyfully willing to be “disciples” — servants of God.
I feel privileged to have been asked to vest Father Pyrchla during this ordination Mass. Five years ago I picked him up at the Cathedral to bring him to live at St. Paul’s Church in Highland. We are so proud of him and have great hope for him as he begins his journey of priesthood. He has traveled over 4,900 miles to say “yes” to priesthood for our diocese. Father Lorilla has come 8,200 miles. They are truly living as “missionary disciples” as they each become one of our priests. In this year of our synod, we are all being called to be “intentional disciples.” As Bishop Paprocki often says, “May God give us this grace.”
Congratulations to Father Friedel, Father Lorilla, Father Stock and Father Pyrchla. Thanks to your parents and families, and your parish families who have prayed for you and fostered your vocation to the priesthood. What a great journey you have traveled, and we pray blessings to you on the journey ahead. Welcome!
For me personally, one of the main highlights of our diocesan pilgrimage to the Holy Land last fall was to walk on the road to Emmaus. I took time away from the other pilgrims and had my beautiful walk in silence down this simple, dirt road — a road that was filled with tremendous blessings. For years of hearing and preaching the Easter Gospels I have longed to “get there” and allow myself the privilege to go and walk this road with great hope that I would encounter his presence.
Lent has come and gone. Those 40 days have led us to the Easter resurrection. This springtime journey in our liturgical year invites each of us to enter into the paschal mystery of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Our encounter of the paschal mystery depended on how much we were willing to journey into the darkness of our own sin and then seek the conversion of our heart from darkness and sin to reconcile our life and find our way, through “the light” — back to the path of holiness.
Recently, Father Carlos Martins, of the Companions of the Cross, blessed all those who made a pilgrimage to our Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Springfield to pray together and to see the Sacred Relics Exposition. Included in the exposition were over 150 relics of our faith, some dating back 2,000 years. While there, I talked to so many excited Catholics, like 9-year-old Marissa Davis of Riverton, who traveled from near and far. They shared with me they could “hardly wait” to see the relics.