My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The days since we were last together have been so full that only now am I able to sit down and write one more letter to you.
I start this letter with the deepest sense of gratitude to all of you who made my last weekend at St. Frances Cabrini so meaningful and affirming. I was all but overwhelmed to see so many of you attending the Masses that weekend, and I was especially amazed at how many attended the 10:30 a.m. Mass. There were folks there from several of my previous assignments, and that contributed to making both the Mass and the reception afterwards such joyful events.
My thanks to all of you for the many cards, gifts, and expressions of appreciation for my ministry among you over the course of these last 20 years. I have had a very rich and rewarding ministry which, of course, had its share of challenges too. I believe every priest at some point in his life wonders if he has made any kind of impact in the lives of others. I have wondered that myself, but that kind of questioning was loudly answered by every loving expression from you over the course of my final weeks of active ministry. More than anything else, I believe I needed your sincere expressions of affirmation.
A great mystery has arisen! As you remember from the reception, I about lost my voice and needed to leave. I so regret not being able to greet all of you personally, but I just couldn’t speak anymore. All the cards that you gave me were placed in a gift bag which, I discovered later, contained an absolutely lovely quilt/wall hanging. However, if there was a separate card in the bag from whoever made the quilt, it got separated amongst all the others, and I have no idea who made it. Would that mystery person please let me know who you are?
I also want to thank all those “angels” who planned the reception. Honestly, I was thinking it was going to be a gentle little cupcake-and-punch kind of affair, and that would have been absolutely wonderful and enough. Again, I was surprised beyond words to see all that food! Thank you, “angels,” for not only all the planning, but for the lovely way you served our meal. There were so many compliments about the food and the festive spirit of the event, and I totally agree.
Of course, the surprises didn’t end with the reception. Fr. Marty and some friends of ours planned a little retirement luncheon for me on my last official day before retirement – that was on June 30. We planned to meet at Trattoria Pina, and enjoy quiet time together. Two days previously, Fr. Marty reminded me that he had an eye doctor appointment on the 29th. He assured me that he didn’t need me to drive him to the appointment since it was just a check-up. As he was leaving, he said, “I have to stop after my appointment to pick something BIG up for you, so when I get back, try to act surprised.” Me? Totally clueless. So, when he left, I just kept unpacking. I heard the garage door open an hour or so later, and then I heard him say, “I’m home!” I was in my room, so I came out to find him standing there with my two sisters who had flown in from Colorado to surprise me. And surprise me they did! I believe almost everybody in the known universe knew about them coming. The original plan was for them to just show up at Pina’s for the lunch and surprise me there. My younger sister said, “No, I don’t want him to take a header into his linguini when he sees us. Let’s just come in the day before.” We had a nice time together realizing that it had been just a little over 4 years since we’d last seen each other. They were here until the morning of July 4.
Most of you know by now that Fr. Marty’s mother, Betty Jean, passed away on the morning of July 4. He had been up to see her and the rest of his family just three weeks before. At 95 years of age and in a bit of a physical decline, the whole family knew that she was in her end days. She was totally lucid right up to the very end; her little body just had had enough. Marty flew to Chicago on Thursday of that week, and returned on the 13th. He presided at Nana’s funeral Mass, and has spoken of his gratitude for all the cards and expressions of condolence which he has received. Nana was just a quietly remarkable lady, and I know that I’m among the many who believe their lives have been enriched because she welcomed us into her life.
Now, I must bring this, my last letter to you, to an end. In so doing, Paul’s words from the beginning of his letter to the Philippians come into my heart. He wrote:
“I give thanks to my God at every remembrance of you, praying always with joy in my every prayer for all of you, because of your partnership for the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.”
I echo both his words and his sentiment. I do thank God for you. Thank you for having a part in helping form me to be the man and the priest that I have become up to this point. Thank you for understanding that, while I certainly made more than my fair share of mistakes along the way, my best intentions were always for the good of God’s people. Finally, thank you for receiving me into your hearts, your lives, your joys, your sorrows, your struggles and your victories. When I first came among you, I told you that I had an agenda, and that I would make three promises to you based on that agenda. I promised that I would walk with you – that in every event of your life into which you may invite me, I would walk through it with you. I promised that I would always try to feed you on the very best spiritual food that God would provide to you through my ministry. Finally, I promised that I would love you. That last one can be challenging, but in so many ways, I am able to love you because of the love of God that is in your hearts which you shared with me. I hope that I have been found by you to have been faithful to those three promises.
With my blessings and sincerest brotherly love in Christ,