Mi nuevo pais/ My new country


"No prayer can ever bring God any closer. Already, without any effort on your part, God patiently dwells within the tender recesses of your own heart."

Mark Yaconelli, Wonder, Fear, and Longing: A Book of Prayers.

Beauty Ever Ancient, Ever New


I am preparing for some changes. Fr. Peter Pacini, C.S.C. will be taking the helm of St. Adalbert and St. Casimir Parishes in July. I am also preparing to walk the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, departing July 1 and returning August 10. It is a time of taking stock and passing on. It is a time of preparation, spiritual and physical, for the rigors of the pilgrimage. It is a time of remembering and looking ahead.

I have been taking some long walks through the neighborhood. I walked past one street to see a crew doing a home demolition. The home has rested on the West Side for probably one hundred years, but I have known something of it since 2001. In 2001, I came to St. Stephen and St. Casimir as associate pastor. Early in my time at St. Stephen, a woman would call the parish office and speak to me anonymously. She was in a violent marriage, raising three children. In a series of calls, I learned that she had previously been hospitalized for a beating that she had taken. I suggested a safe house here in South Bend. I suggested what she should do to prepare to leave, the kinds of documents she would need for herself and her children. She was close, but she never quite wanted to take the step. She was frightened. . . of life with her husband as well as frightened of life without him.

At the same time, I had been taking training with a local organization that would attend to victims of sexual and domestic violence. I was invited to serve as a Spanish-speaking translator for the organization. After completing the training, it so happened that I was called to the hospital one night to translate for one of their volunteers. A woman had come to ER with wounds from domestic violence. As I began to translate for the volunteer and the victim, it was clear that she was addressing her remarks to me rather than the volunteer, and I discovered that she was the woman who had been calling me. Rather than continue translating, I intervened to act as her priest. I told her that, while this was frightening, she was lucky. This was her second hospitalization, and she may not get a third chance. Eventually, she agreed to go to the battered women's shelter with her children. It was rough on them. Eventually, she managed to move to Albuquerque to begin a new life with her children. From time to time she would call me to update on how they were doing.

The home that was coming down had been her's. The walls in that home, hopefully, had seen many years of love, but in their last decade they had known plenty of violence. Perhaps it is fitting that this now abandoned house comes down so that something new can begin, just as something new began in this woman's life.

I attach, then, for your meditation this image of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I took it last night at our parish's grotto. I love the way that Mary is reflected on the polished granite of the altar. Mary, queen of families, pray for us. Mary, Mother of Him who makes all things new, pray for us.

Inner-city Contemplation and Action


There are a few phrases that I find really heartening to describe our work. One begins an article: “It is a beautiful thing to see a good pastor at work.” Chew on it, and the phrase bears tremendous respect for the art of being pastor. Another phrase that helps me comes from a priest describing a ministry resembling my own: “One must be a contemplative to work in the inner-city.”

Jesus was sent into the world. Jesus was sent by the Father not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved by him. We, too, are sent into the world. Into its very heart. We parish priests live close to the people. It is a privileged view. Without earning it, without deserving it, we are with folks, invited in, at the most intimate of moments in their lives. Moments of joy-- births, baptisms, marriages. Moments of sorrow-- in the confessional, hospital visits, deaths, funerals. Ours is a privileged view.

Some days, I am really tired. I feel like I have seen about all the garbage that the world can dish out. It can seem so ugly. So rotten. Burying folks at too young an age. Domestic violence. Addictions. Bills people have to pay. I give someone $20 bucks, only to find out later from Fr. Michael Mathews, C.S.C. that the same person tried a different story on him. I hardly want to admit to him that the guy got money from me. Sometimes, I am short with people. Sometimes my temper gets the better of me. Sometimes, I lack the patience necessary for it all.

There is also the old phrase: if it is worth doing, it is worth doing well. I think that is not quite right. We never do well those most important things in life-- like reading Shakespeare and loving one another, but they are worth doing anyhow. Because, as Hemingway wrote: "The world is a fine place and worth fighting for."

It was such a fine place that the Father sent his Son. And the Congregation sends us. Not to condemn the world, but that it might be saved by Him who has loved us.

Holy Week at St. Adalbert






In the midst of Holy Week, we join with whole church for the celebration of these holiest of days. These are a few snapshots of our celebration of these great days.

Catholic Schools: Faith in Every Child

Well, even the longest day can be lifted by a visit to kindergarten. Few things are more delightful than the laughter heard from the playground.

The children in our school are filled with such promise, such potential. Along with them and their parents, our task is to help them develop and use their God-given gifts. We know that every child brings a unique, precious gift, if we have the eyes to see it.

We also know that our mission is uniquely about the task of drawing these children deeper into our Catholic faith with an authentic encounter with Jesus Christ.

In Catholic education, a Holy Cross education, we seek to educate hearts and minds and hands.

Since 2003, the Congregation of Holy Cross has served at St. Adalbert Parish on South Bend’s west side. St. Adalbert, the Krakow parish and a home to Poles for almost one-hundred years, has seen a tremendous shift in its demographics as the neighborhood has become significantly Hispanic.
As with many ethnic parishes, the 1950s were the heydays. Six priests lived in the rectory, perhaps as many as a dozen Felician Sisters in the convent. A giant school of 900 children produced good Catholics, good students, and, especially at St. Adalbert, good football players. Then everything changed. For the past twenty years, rumor circulated that the school at St. Adalbert might close. In 2003, we had just 93 students.

However, we are “men with hope to bring” as our Constitutions call us. St. Adalbert Parish serves one of South Bend’s poor neighborhoods. We aspire to be a beacon of hope to our neighbors. One place where we fulfill those hopes is in the classroom. St. Adalbert School has the highest diversity and serves the lowest income students of any school in the Diocese of Fort Wayne- South Bend. More than 80% of our children come from below poverty line. That means that a family of four might live on about $19,000 per year, and they will contribute perhaps 10% of their income toward their children’s education in our Catholic school.

However, we are “men with hope to bring” as our Constitutions call us. St. Adalbert Parish serves one of South Bend’s poor neighborhoods. We aspire to be a beacon of hope to our neighbors. One place where we fulfill those hopes is in the classroom. St. Adalbert School has the highest diversity and serves the lowest income students of any school in the Diocese of Fort Wayne- South Bend. More than 80% of our children come from below poverty line. That means that a family of four might live on about $19,000 per year, and they will contribute perhaps 10% of their income toward their children’s education in our Catholic school.

Parents sacrifice because we make a difference. Research done by Notre Dame shows that our students typically transfer into St. Adalbert two years below grade level. For example, a fourth grader reads and writes on a second-grade level. The research indicates that within two years, the same child is reading and writing at grade level. Thus, that same child, now a sixth grader at St. Adalbert is reading and writing at a sixth-grade level. Our school has been recognized under Indiana’s version of the No Child Left Behind Act as an “exemplary” school every year that the law has been on the books. As a consequence, we now enroll more than double the children we had six years ago.

Please pray for and support Catholic schools, where we have faith in every child!

Catholic Schools: Dividends for Life

Today begins Catholic Schools Week. St. Adalbert Parish is blessed with an "exemplary" Catholic school-- it is not just me saying so-- the State of Indiana has agreed every year that they have been evaluating Hoosier schools!

Bishop Kevin Rhoades, pictured at left, said it well: "A Catholic school is not just a physical place; it is a spiritual reality" as it is commissioned to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.

That reality, built on Christ, requires students (naturally), devoted faculty and staff, parents, friends, clergy and religious. An "exemplary" teacher is Annette Romans, sitting to the left of Msgr. Bill Schooler (in the front row). Annette goes above and beyond the call of duty with her students. She serves on our school board. She works closely with parents in the Home And School Association (HASA). Annette was named our Light of Learning winner for 2010. Thank you, Annette, for all you are and do!

Thanks, too, to all who have a part in making St. Adalbert an exemplary Catholic school.

(And thanks, Mom and Dad, for the sacrifices to send me and my siblings to Catholic schools!)

Reaching to Heaven


The West Side is dotted with beautiful churches-- not just at St. Adalbert and St. Casimir, but all over. The immigrants who came to the West Side did not have much, apart from a dream and their faith. They lived in smaller homes, but they built beautiful churches! These shared spaces of beauty have always been places of pride in our community.

Sometimes, when I drive over the railroad tracks at Ford Street, near Walnut, if I look down the way, I can see St. Hedwig's. I can't tell you how many times we've had cloudy days but a ray of light shines down and illuminates that church.

Here is a photo of the bell tower at St. Casimir, taken yesterday (January 30, 2010). It reaches up to heaven in a blue sky. I also love the wispy clouds!

Serious Amateur


There is an old story about how a person decided to change the doorknob on the front door. This homeowner purchased a lovely doorknob. Once the new one was in place, the homeowner no longer liked how the door looked with the doorknob, so a new door was purchased. Well, the new door and doorknob looked lovely, but, honestly, the house now needed re-painting. You can imagine where this is heading.

Well, I purchased a new camera, an Olympus E-620. A couple of professional photographers have crossed my path. They have been very encouraging as I began to use the camera's new features. Pretty soon, I am shooting in a RAW format. Well, Olympus makes good cameras, but they do not make great software. So, I bought Adobe Photoshop Elements 8 after some investigation. Then, I needed some classes. Then. . .

You get the picture. And I am trying to take some pictures. Recently, my neighborhood was described as "blighted." Well, it is not beautiful everywhere, but I hope to show some of its beauty through this effort at photography. Though "blighted," my neighborhood is beautiful. It has beautiful people, beautiful churches, beauty in many forms.

I have always loved the conclusion of Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls: "The world is a fine place and worth the fighting for."

So, I am see more deeply into this fine, beautiful world created by God.

[I took the photo with this entry last night from the third-floor balcony outside my room, looking at the rising moon over the church.]