Thursday, July 30, 2009

Closing Time

The last two days have been insane as the end the summer program is wrapping up. I am just about to jump in the car and drive the first ten hours to South Bend, Indiana. I am hoping to update the blog later tonight over dinner or tomorrow at lunch. My summer experience was amazing and I have so many wonderful stories to share over the next few days. I have a little catching up to do!

Please keep me in your prayers as I make the long trek east. Please also know that I will be lighting a candle for you all and praying for your intentions at the grotto at Notre Dame, this very evening.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Confessional Humor

A Catholic guy goes into the confessional box. He notices on one side a fully equipped bar with Guinness on tap. On the other wall is a dazzling array of the finest Cuban cigars.
> Then the priest comes in.
> "Father, forgive me, for it's been a very long time since I've been to confession, but I must first admit that the confessional box is much more inviting these days."
> The priest replies "Get out. You're on my side."

99 Balloons

Below is a powerful video that was forwarded my way. It is a testament to a couples love and the gift of life.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Good Times

Over the past eight weeks all 175 of the seminarians enrolled in the I.P.F. summer program have been assigned to do volunteer work in the greater Omaha area. Some guys have been sent to hospitals and nursing homes, while others have been at schools, parishes and even Boystown. I was lucky with my placement and joined nine other guys volunteering at an assisted living complex. Actually the building itself is a fourteen story high rise for the elderly.

Last night the activities director, Judy, invited the seminarians assigned to the tower to her home for dinner. Along with several coworkers, she served us a gourmet feast fit for a king. After gobbling down all of the wonderful home cooked food, we gathered in her living room to share stories. One by one Judy had us go around the circle and share what led us to enter the seminary. As we went around it was amazing to hear the different lives each of us lived before deciding to follow God's call.

The stories ranged from the simple to the profound. Some of the seminarians knew since high school, the others in college and beyond. The single most prominent theme that they all shared, was this gnawing away feeling in the back of the mind. Each of the guys spoke of there hearts causing them to wonder, but their minds pushing it away. There was no sense of certainty in the call, only in the need to respond and discover where God truly wants us to be. As each young man spoke, they shared the same story of being scared, nervous and afraid to say anything. The hardest part for all us was mustering the courage to begin the conversation.

One thing that has always struck me about vocations is precisely this, the nervousness with which we approach this all too important concept. I am remember in my own life, despite preaching to my students about vocations, being afraid to begin any real conversations about it. I was the God guy, yet even I was nervous about what to say, what people might think, and the possibility that I might be crazy for even considering it. Thankfully, along my journey, I had good friends who I could trust and who supported me. In particular my brother, Brian Flaherty and some good friends really pushed me to look deep inside, to get off the sidelines and to follow where God was leading my heart. Had they never pushed me, I likely would have been too afraid to act, and instead remained still wondering and unsure to this day.

The most interesting story of the night was from an El Salvadoran who shared his story of coming to this country. As a child his mother was forced to raise seven children (6 boys, 1 girl) alone, as her husband was in America sending back money so they could survive. As the evening progressed, the seminarian told his story of coming to America. In order to enter the country he had to sneak across the border three times, being arrested on several occasions. Once in America with his family, he encountered many struggles, eventually becoming mixed up in gangs, sin, etc... As he continued his story he told us of a profound moment of conversion which he experienced while on a retreat. He spoke vividly and beautifully of encountering God in pray before the Eucharist, something that forever changed his life. Asked how he ended up on a retreat when he was away from God, his faith, etc... He answered, a friend asked me to go. Adding, "I didn't want to go but I told him I would, so I did."

As I heard the moving story I was moved by the fact that the young man's entire life was saved and because a friend had the courage to speak up. Looking back on my own life I am struck by the number of times I have chosen not to speak, not to invite someone who has fallen away to Mass, to Church, to pray, to encounter God. How easy it has been to be stuck within my own comfort zone, but how important it is that I step outside of it. As I type this post tonight (actually morning, it is 1:17am) I can think of many good people who have wandered away from God's loving arms and desperately waiting for someone to invite them back. I know that God's calls them, but I also know that sometimes we can ignore his voice, I did. Sometimes, God speaks loudest through others. I think it may be just about time for God to start making some calls from my cell phone and yours.

So I leave with three resources:

1. An Internet site that invites those who have fallen away from the church to come back

2. An Internet source on discovering one's vocation

3. My email address:

Also- Be sure to click on the video link on the top left of the page

Friday, July 24, 2009

spelng misstakkes

Each time I update the blog it is usually late at night and right before bed. Needless to say I am usually rushed and exhausted by the time I begin typing and thus prone to a high number of clerical errors. I have just discovered tonight that when I run spell check and then post my blog posting, it actually reverts to the original unedited version. I have yet to figure out why that is. In the mean time my apologies to all of the readers who have been scandalized by my many errors. I am horrible with grammer and spelling as I am sure you have noticed. However, I am horrified to discover that all this time, what I thought had been corrected has not!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

My apologies- I will see if I can figure out what the problem is.

If anyone is into blogging, uses blogspot, and might have had the same problems, please let me know.

Bad Combinations

In life I have discovered there are many bad combinations:

Mexican Food and Long Car Rides

Long Masses and Uncomfortable Seating

Finger Painting and New Carpets

Small Children and Falcons

High Schoolers and All -U- Can Eat Buffets


drinking 32 ounces of water right before Holy Hour with the New Archbishop of New Orleans..........

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Below is an article from our Seminary Paper, which I oversee. It is written by a visiting priest from Zambia. I thought you might enjoy it.

I am Fr. Justin Matepa, a Diocesan priest from Mpika Diocese in Zambia, Africa. It is my pleasure and honor to share a few things about myself, formation of priests and the Church in Zambia.

I am currently here at St. Mary’s Seminary and University studying for my STL in Moral Theology. After my ordination in 1996, I had my apostolate in the Parish for three years, one of which I was Priest-in-Charge of a rural Parish. Prior to my coming here, I worked as Diocesan Pastoral Coordinator up to the time the Society of St. Sulpice offered me a scholarship to come over here for studies and ongoing formation. You may want clarification on some terms or designations used above already. A Priest-in-Charge is basically an administrator of a parish doing all that a pastor does, like in America, but does not ‘enjoy’ the canonical privileges of a pastor. The office of Pastoral Coordinator is a particular feature of the AMECEA area (Eastern region) of the Church in Africa. This office is responsible for pastoral planning at the Diocesan level, and spearheads information to and of pastoral agents in the parishes.
Like most young Zambian men, I entered Seminary for priesthood formation immediately after high school when I was 19. After the Spiritual Formation Year, I proceeded to do my Philosophy and Religious studies at St. Augustine’s Major Seminary for two years The last four years was for my Theological studies at St. Dominic’s Major Seminary. As by that time there was no pastoral year-- which is now mandatory for all Dioceses in Zambia-- I had my pastoral experience of two months each year in a different parish during the summer breaks. I should mention that I had good support and encouragement from my family, the priests, and laity in my local parish; their support and prayers have continued even through this time.
While pastoral formation has been streamlined with the introduction of the pastoral year and some courses updated and even new ones introduced, the academic structure has remained traditional, that of studying Theology after Philosophy, in Zambia and most Seminaries in Africa. While here, seminarians have the availability of academic resources like books and technology; in Zambia, like in many African countries, it is not always easy. So generally, the lecture method is what is employed. After that, further reading and research can be done from the Library with mainly available reference texts. As for pastoral formation, apart from the pastoral year, which is for all dioceses, much is the same as I have observed here with the different local assignments either in parishes or institutions during the school term. Of course one is also prepared for the vast pastoral opportunities and challenges of ministry in Africa, owing to the low literacy levels, disease with the anguish of malaria, and HIV/AIDS, justice and governance issues. Special programs/seminars are arranged for inputs on these issues by the seminaries, or if an opportunity arises during pastoral year. The other particular phenomena of the Church in Africa, especially in the AMECEA region, are the Small Christian Communities (SCC). Including family life ministry and enculturation, these are important areas seminarians and priests need always to acquaint themselves with. SCCs are an equivalent to the “De Base” in Latin America. As for where most time would be spent in formation, generally it’s in the classroom and study, and as per the objectives of priestly formation, adequate time for community prayer and exercises is also allocated. Students in African seminaries normally have sports time together and still do station up-keep and production chores, for example gardening, general in-house cleaning and surrounding maintenance.
The Church in Africa especially in the above region has a strong moral and social voice. This is owing to its closeness of its apostolate and structures, which include schools, development, and health care services and programs in the remote areas. It is not unusual that the political leadership sometimes feel uneasy or even become hostile to the Church when it gives any social, political and of course moral opinion or counsel. Overall, people still value and look up to the Church, not only Catholic but every denomination, for such a voice. The relationship between Catholics and non-Catholics varies in Africa. We have portions of conflicts in one or two countries, but overall, relations are good, especially with ecumenical efforts. In general it’s from the same extended families or close neighborhoods that people come who attend different churches and will always help each other at funerals and rejoice together at a wedding. That said, we still have to grow as nations, going by the tribal and ethnic conflicts in the past and present, which are normally fuelled by bad political ideologies that appeal to hate for those not of one’s tribe or political affiliation. With this, I am sure one would already envision what it is like to be a priest or a seminarian in Zambia or in Africa. The calling is an important one, but the challenges are equally big, given also the insufficient human and financial resources.
Staying away from home and a place you know well is not always easy, and to me, the challenges would not be extraordinary from what others may have experienced. I should say, I miss my family, friends, the food and the sound of the drums and ululation in the liturgy. But equally, here in America, in addition to the academic and spiritual formation I have, I found wonderful families, made friends, hummed the wonderful organ melodies, and even though winters were long, always spring came with its beautiful flowers.
For the American seminarians, I would like to say, keep up with your outstanding commitment. It is my hope that you will continue praying for the Church in Africa and help when you can with say, that spiritual textbook you no longer need today, and in different ways of solidarity when you are ordained, so we could all continue doing “everything for the Glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).
May I end by thanking the Sulpicians, through the Provincial and through the Rector of St. Mary's, and all the staff and students for your support and kindness.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A Spirit of Love, Life and Joy

Early this week when I heard the news that Tyler Coffey, one of the kindest students I have ever taught, passed away I was devastated . I was devastated because I knew that the world had lost someone special, someone who meant the world to so many.

In the course of the life of a teacher, hundreds of students darken the doorways of one's classroom. Some students bring great joy and laughter and cause their teachers many headaches, all the while they secretly smile inside. Other students demonstrate sheer brilliance and leave us wondering how they will change the world. Finally there are those students whose mark is left in the moment, not by short lived laughter, or future dreams, but rather by an indomitable spirit of love, life and joy that profoundly transforms all who encounter them.

Six years ago this fall, Tyler first entered my classroom with a nervous smile and a moppy haircut. From the first day he arrived in room 2 to the day he walked across the stage at Sullivan arena, Tyler was a class act. He was one of those rare people in life, who was truly in touch with who they are. He was devoid of any egoism, pretension or self absorption, and instead was the kind of guy that everyone could depend on. He was dependable because he was real. He was a young man who was always honest and who was embodied with a true sense of character and integrity. Tyler was the same person on the day he first arrived and on the day he graduated. He never changed who he was in order to be popular or to bend to the winds of peer pressure. This was precisely what made him one of the most well respected members of his class. Tyler was real, and in that realness was a young man with a deep sense of faith, a genuine concern and love of others, and someone not afraid of a good adventure.

Thinking back this past week on the many wonderful memories I have of Tyler's time in my class, and at Trinity, I share with you one of my first, and one of my last memories of Tyler, both of which are emblazoned forever in my mind.

1. The Family Project- In the fall of 2003 I assigned my class a small project that required them to reflect on families and the role they played in their lives. Six years ago Tyler's project caught my attention because he was from a large family, something that is unfortunately less and less common these days. He proudly posted his family portrait on the front cover. I took notice because most high school freshmen would do almost anything to avoid sharing a family portrait with all the awkwardness it necessarily entails. Tyler however was not at all dissuaded by this notion and instead proudly shared with all, the love of his life, his brother, four sisters and parents. After exploring his project further and after reading his descriptions and reflections on each member of his family, I remember being moved by the depth of love he had for each of them. While many of his classmates complained about the annoyances of their siblings and the rules of their parents, Tyler did no such thing. He was proud of his family and no amount of beginning of the year shyness or freshman awkwardness was going to stop him from sharing. Tyler's thoughts were conveyed in his distinctive penmanship and in a written voice that spoke from a heart filled with love. Over the years I have read hundreds of such projects, but with all sincerity I can say that one would be hard pressed to find one that matched his love.

2. The End of the Year- I remember the exact classroom, where he was sitting and who he was sitting with. It was during the last few days of school and the Senior class was anxious for school to end. They had checked out and did not wish to be bothered by the many procedural annoyances that accompany the close of the year. I had gone into Tyler's classroom to make a few announcements. As I began to speak many in the classroom carried on with their business, writing notes, staring out the window, typical activities for seniors days from the finish line. As I looked to the back of the room, I noticed that the back section was not exactly with me, they were good kids, but their minds were elsewhere. They were not paying attention at all, except for one. Amidst a sea of senoritas, one young man ignored his friends and listened respectfully to every word I shared. My words were mere reminders of what everyone already knew, but none-the-less, Tyler would have no part of being disrespectful, it was just who he was. The story is not much of one, except for the fact that it speaks to the type of guy he was. Someone who was always respectful of others, someone who never lost sight of his inner core, someone we can all learn a lot from.

As I complete this post tonight I wish I could find the right words to convey the beauty and spirit of his life, but I cannot. I consider it a great privilege and honor to have know Tyler Coffey for the past six years. He has had a profound impact on me as his teacher, and his passing is met with great sadness and sorrow. I cannot begin to imagine the loss and pain that accompanies those that knew him as friend, brother and son.

In the end I suppose we are all left with a choice, whether to remember Tyler by the tragedy of his loss, or the amazing gift of his life. At the end of my life I have always hoped that God would look down, smile and say "well done, my good and faithful servant, well done." I know one thing for sure, that is exactly what he said of Tyler Coffey this week.

Posting Later this Evening

I am back from NH and will be posting later this evening.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Prayers Requested

Late last evening I recieved the tragic news that Tyler Coffey, one of my former students, passed away in a tragic accident. Tyler was an amazing young man who I had the utmost respect and admiration for. He brought gentle joy to all he encountered and was a true man of faith. Please keep him and his family in your prayers.

I will post more on my many fond memories of Tyler when I am enroute to NH to visit the family and prepare to serve at his funeral Mass. In the meantime I need to be busy tonight doing all that is necessary so that this trip is possible.

Monday, July 13, 2009


Saturday afternoon all 175 of the Seminarians in the summer program visited Boystown just west of the city. Boys town was founded in 1917 by Father Edward Flanagan an Irish Catholic priest who served in Omaha. Father Flanagan noticed large numbers of homeless boys in the city and became determined to help educate and save them. His belief was simple, one of the best ways to combat homelessness in adults is to prevent it in children, and to educate them so that they have an opportunity in life. Father Flanagan quickly went to work with the help of many others at creating a home for homeless boys. His small idea quickly grew until he found himself overrun with needy children.

Father Flanagan gave his all to the kids and sacrificed immensely. He focused on empowering children, during a time in which children were left to wander the streets, locked up in prisons and brutal "reform schools." He encouraged all kids in music and the arts, as well as traditional academics and sports.

Father eventually purchased a huge farm outside the city and created Boystown. A town run by and for homeless children. His success was later featured in a 1938 film featuring Spencer Tracey and Mickey Rooney.

Father Flanagan believed there was no such thing as a bad child, or a boy who wanted to be bad. His small town eventually grew to house hundreds of children. The boys elected a mayor, city council and had their own judges! His astonishing belief in children, was revolutionary and still is lightyears ahead of the education system today. In one famous case he used the national airways to lobby the governor of Missouri for the transfer of two imprisoned boys ages 7 & 9. They were locked up in a hard prison for stealing! Father Flanagan's Boystown had no walls, kids were free to leave at any time. However, very few did because they knew it was a city built on love.

Interestingly enough Father Flanagan even created quite a stir when he visited Ireland in the forties. He openly and passionately denounced the Irish Industrial School System for its abuse of children. The industrial schools were Irish reform schools where abuse was rampant (by the government and clergy). He was so vocal in decrying what was happening to children that he he was denounced by the government. Just last month the Irish government released a report on the abuse of children in schools during this time period. Remarkably they are saying today what Father Flanagan said 60 years ago. He blew the whistle, no body listened. Father Flanagan was unafraid to speak the truth!

On May 15th, 1948 while on a trip to Germany at the request of President Truman, Father Flanagan collapsed from exhaustion and took ill. The bells tolled at Boys Town and all of the boys flocked to the chapel to pray for his recovery. A few hours later he died, and the world stopped to remember a man of hope and faith.

Our tour of Boystown was wonderful and it really stirred an interest in learning more about Father Flanagan. He was a pioneer in education, a man of faith and Irish- he shared all of my loves! Tomorrow I am going to the library first thing to check out his book, and later on to the chapel he built to be continued

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Matt & Kate + 4

My entire fourth of July expereience in Yankton was wonderful. I absolutly loved the opportunity to spend time with the Althoffs and their incredible hospitality.
Rick + Mary were great hosts, between Rick's no fear adventuresome side and Mary's loving care of the entire family, I was in good hands. Annalise and Gina you guys are crazy and hilarious. Isaac you are the hardest work of all, and a gift to your family. You also have the same no fear gene as your father.

One of the other great joys of my time in South Dakota was visiting with Matt, Kate and their four children (Matt is one Rick + Mary's older sons). In every sense of the word Matt and Kate's family was truly beautiful. Their four children were full of life and entertained me with their humor and wisdom. As I spent the afternoon on the river with them, I realized that I was looking at the ideal family. The type of family I would want to have if I were going to become a priest. The opportunity to reflect on what I could have, and what I was giving up was profound . It is was one thing to want to be a priest and to feel called, it is another to be face to face with the joyful and beautiful reality of the possibility one gives up. For me the decision to study for the priesthood has never been a choice, but rather a calling that wells up from within and draws its origin from the God who created me. However, looking face to face at a beautiful, happy, Catholic family who embodied everything I would want in life was challenging. However, seeing their joy and the joy in their children's faces reminded me of the beauty and gift of God's call. I would be dishonest if I did not admit that coming to terms with the loss of one day having my own family, was difficult. However, I also realize that there are many wonderful families in the Church who I can serve, and who will welcome me into their lives with open arms. The reality of the sacrifice is real, but so is the gift. Spending time with Matt + Kate plus four, reminded me of this. As I continue my discernment I am grateful for having encountered the joy of family life, and the gift of good friends.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Fourth of July (Part 3)

After a wonderful dinner and some down time. Mary, Rick, Isaac and I made our way to Missouri River for Yankton's Fourth of July Fireworks. Our first stop was a small amphitheatre where we enjoyed American Folk/Bluegrass music. Beneath the stars, beside the river, and in the Heartland of America I watched and listened as the fiddle fiddled, a bass player worked his magic beside the strumming banjo. It was like something out of the movies and it was perfect.

After a few minutes of music we made our way to the town docks to stake out a good place to see the fireworks which would soon descend on the river. The Althoffs, having lived in Yankton for many years, were like celebrities or beloved politicians, exchanging greetings with all they encountered. The greetings were real and they were conversations. It only reminded me further that there is nothing like small town America!

It was not long after we arrived that Yankton's fireworks began. Fireworks are fireworks, but two things made these special. First and foremost they were over the Missouri River. The river provided an amazing background for the pyrotechnic artists to do their work. Secondly the finale was unlike anything I have ever seen before. I love fireworks and have seen many shows, however Yankton's closing was far superior to them all. The final barrage of light and glow was so bright it could have easily been mistaken for daytime.

The following morning I attended Mass with the Althoff family. Their parish community was very young and vibrant and there seemed to be an abundance of children. The vitality of the parish itself was refreshing to see and offered great hope for the future of the Church. Interestingly enough the diocese of Sioux Falls (128,000 Catholics) just ordained two priest and three deacons, while currently having sixteen seminarians. By comparison the diocese of Manchester (310,000 Catholics)recently ordained two priests and no deacons, while currently having ten seminarians. However thanks to the prays and hard work of many the numbers of seminarians in the diocese appear to be increasing.

Following Mass it was off to the Missouri river for an afternoon of tubing, water skiing and enjoying a beautiful day. The Althoff gang expanded further when Matt and his wife Kate drove down from Sioux Falls with four of the most adorable children in the world for a day of fun. (Tomorrow's Blog will be: Matt + Kate plus four: a Serious Look at My Vocation.... stay tuned)

Having known Shaunti, the oldest of the Althoff girls, for the past nine years I had always heard about the crazy and adventuresome part of her family and her father in particular. After a few hours on the river I knew exactly what she was talking about. When we first discussed heading to the river for the afternoon I made the mistake of thinking of it like a lazy river at the water park. I figured how challenging is it really to tube or water ski on a serene river? The Missouri river is not so still. In fact I was amazed at the rapid speed at which the water moved. The Missouri River itself is quite wide and moves at a rapid and mind boggling rate.

Enter Althoff Family

Why would one simply enjoy the river when it can be conquered.

For the next few hours, with utter joy and amusement, I watched as Althoff Adrenaline Junkies water skied and tubed like it was there job. Rick and Matt performed a series of fancy water skiing maneuvers, scaring a few tubers in the process. As I sat in quiet shock and nervousness, they whipped back and forth, around obstacles and dangerously close to the shore. There skills were quite impressive, they like a fear gene. I did make my go at tubing for a few rounds and resembled a whale out of water, flopping around and holding on for dear life. I will say whizzing across the water on a tube is quite fun. However, flipping over and biffing it while watching the other tandem tube with an 8 and 14 year old whiz by unharmed, is a little embarrassing.

ahhhh about to be late to prayer, will continue post when back.....
Last night I had two things to do, read and update the blog. I woke up this morning at 7:00am with the book on the bed, the lights still on, and neither task accomplished. I will hopefully have better luck when I update after lunch today. :)

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Fourth of July (Part 2 of 3)

After escaping the clowns I made my way North and crossed the Missouri River and entered the great city of Yankton, South Dakota. For two hours I drove around trying to get a good sense of the city. One enters Yankton by crossing a large, and quite strange looking I might add, bridge over the Missouri River. Once across I followed the signs to "historic downtown." Downtown Yankton itself was like something from a time machine. There were tons of quaint little shops and streets that looked like something out of the fifties, or at least what I imagined the fifties to look like. If I were running for President downtown Yankton would be a great place for a Americana photo op. After exploring downtown I visited Mount Marty College, the Dam (which is huge!) and the federal prison.

I am not sure if this is a bad thing or not, but the federal prison looked like fun. The prisoners were walking around, talking, playing boccie ball and crossing the street. Note: there is no typo there, they crossed the street. Apparently the prison is minimum security and prisoners walk about the grounds freely, with no real fences. I am told that the prison used to be a college that folded many years ago. Either way this place was a far cry from Sheriff Joe's tent city in the Arizona desert. It is a good thing people back home don't see this place or they would be tempted to commit a crime just to go there and "vacation" for a few years. Heck I was tempted just driving by. Think about it free time all day long, no responsibilities, you don't have to cook, go to bed early, lots of reading time and tv, no bills. Heck who wouldn't be tempted to go there. Although I wonder how exciting it is come January!

Yanktonians, as they are called, have more to be proud of than just the prison:

The famed expedition of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark came through the area in 1804. The explorers signed a key peace treaty nearby with the Native Indians and their name now graces Lewis and Clark Lake, a man-made, 20-mile long, 1-mile-wide body of water that's the focus of the area's primary tourist attraction.

Yankton was the first capital of Dakota Territory. Jack McCall, who murdered the famous Sherrif "Wild" Bill Hickok, was tried, convicted and hanged for the crime in Yankton.

Lawrence Welk got his first big break when his orchestra became the station band of Yankton radio station WNAX.

Former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw is a graduate of Yankton High School.

Former NFL star Lyle Alzado is Yankton College graduate and played for the team in 1968-70.
Yankton is the home of Mount Marty College.

One of the city's nicknames is ""Mother City of the Dakotas"By the way, the Yankton Chamber of Commerce site tell us that--

The name "Yankton" is derived from the name of the division of the Dakota Nation of Indians who occupied the area prior to the white settlement. The "village at the end of the line," Yankton was originally the winter camping ground for a Sioux band of Indians.

After my tour was over I went to the supermarket, Hyvee (their motto is: "where there is a smile in every aisle"- and there was!) bought some pre-made cookie dough and watermelon and headed to the Althoff homestead. The Althoff home is next to an museum/historic house built in the late 1800's. I did find some humor in the differences between the east coast and the midwest, as a house from the 1880's would warrant little attention at all. The Althoffs themselves were still en route from their family vacation in western South Dakota, so I prepared a welcome platter of goodies for them, put my feet up and awaited their arrival.

When they finally did I arrive, I quickly went out to greet them. After initial hugs and welcomes, I was swept up into the frenzied unpacking of the family van. In fact the unpacking was not really frenzied at all as Mr. Althoff, Rick, the Rickster, was like a drill sergeant coordinating a major offensive. In fact he was so organized he kinda of reminded me of the Father from Meet the Parents. I suppose if one has a large family it is important to be organized or disaster can easily rule the day. I could not help but chuckle to myself at the different way families operate. The Althoffs were completely unpacked in less than five minutes, despite having been gone for a week. If this was a Nelson family trip we would still have the car packed days after we returned, even if we had only been away over night. In fact I still have a styrofoam cooler in my car from when I drove out to Omaha six weeks ago!

Mrs. Althoff, Mary, welcomed me like a son and really made me feel at home. She got to work quickly on preparing dinner and Isaac, Annalise & Gina assisted in getting the mail, and opening the house up again after a week away. be continued

Monday, July 6, 2009

Fourth of July: Part 1 (of 3)

Saturday Morning I got up early to make my way north to the great state of South Dakota to visit my good friend Shaunti's family for the Fourth of July weekend. They graciously invited me to spend the weekend with them and I was most excited to accept. Having heard about Yankton, South Dakota for the past nine years I was excited to make my first pilgrimage to the city. After seeking some advice, I decided to take the scenic route there which involved traversing the farmlands to the west and north of the city. Between Omaha and the South Dakota border the land was absolutely beautiful. For as far as the eye could see there were rolling hills and cornfields. Occasionally my horizon was dotted with quaint farmhouses and old windmills. In every way it reminded me of Grant Wood's paintings. Believe it or not I once wrote a ten page paper on Grant Wood, but sadly remember little of its content. It was pretty amazing however, of this I can assure you.

After getting detoured twice I was redirected to a series of small two lane roads with little if nothing along the route. The sheer beauty was amazing. As I finished my first ninety minutes of driving I began to wonder why I did not see any wildlife among the miles of fields. I kept hoping that a buffalo would run out in the road. One of course never knows when a lost buffalo herd might be hiding in a corn field. After realizing that my hopes of a buffalo were going to be dashed I pondered the possibility of encountering a herd of jackalobes. In the end I settled for a deer which leapt in front of my car causing me to test the brakes, burn some rubber and allow my heart to beat at that really high rate that one is supposed to when working out. (I wonder if it counted as a cardiac workout?)

As my initial hour became two, and then approached three, I knew I was getting close. The drive was getting exciting as well. The deer was gone but the graded road/construction zone was filled with softball size chunks of pavement which made for a great obstacle course, at sixty miles per hour. I was a little worried that I would guess wrong and launch a projectile into the undercarriage of my car. Then I remembered I was in farm country, people don't drive cars, they drive big trucks!

Nevertheless, I continued on my drive to the eternal city of Yankton, South Dakota. The anticipation was building and many years of wondering were about to be fulfilled, when my phone suddenly rang. It was Shaunti, checking on my progress and telling me I should stop at the upcoming Visitor's Center to get a "real sense of Yankton and South Dakota." She promised me that the Center would put everything into perspective and allow me to get a real sense of the state. After a glowing review I was pumped and could not wait to see South Dakota in her finest.

The GPS flashed 10 miles until final destination and I was like a small child on Christmas morning. Soon there after I came across for the visitors center. Eagerly I turned my blinker on and raced into the parking lot. Not wanting to waste anytime I leapt out of the car and made my way toward the main entrance of the building. I did notice that it was a little strange that there were so tons of children and families there. The caravan to car ratio was a little high for my comfort level, but held out faith that this stop would be everything I was promised it would be.

Not wanting to be slowed down by packs of children making there way along the sidewalk, I walked quickly across the grass and into the building. No one was going to slow me down, after all I had waited nine years for this moment. So I put my head down to avoid eye contact from the searing eyes of those I had passed and I walked into the center. Suddenly I heard the squeals of happy children. I saw balloons everywhere. Then without warning someone grabbed my shoulder. Without warning they pressed their face close to mine, smiled and grabbed their nose. It squeaked. I was standing in a sea of Clowns, that is right clowns. There were balloon animals and water squirting flowers everywhere and I realized I was not in Nebraska anymore (although I actually still was). I have always heard that Midwesterners are really really nice. Well, picture a Midwesterner clown.

When a normal person meets you for the first time and you back away from them, they accept your body language to indicate that the conversation is over. They then politely leave you alone and go their separate way. When you slink away from a clown, they interpret it to mean "follow me." Then, in awkward exchange, they continue to follow you. They desperately pursue you in hopes of getting you to smile. You try to escape but they keep popping up like a Whack-a-Mole game, except you don't have the mallet. Sometimes you just don't want to hang out with clown.
Bozo clearly did not care and did not get my body language. However, the children standing near the door did and they parted as I swiftly sought my escape path. The clown tried to catch me, but I think his big feet slowed him down.

My fourth of July adventure blog posting will continue tomorrow after I have a chance to sleep......(the next blog postings: meet the Althoffs, fireworks Yankton style, South Dakota-Good Faith, Good Families, my vocation journey-a chance to reflect, etc...)

Side Note: I am currently accepting bids from the Obama Administration on the solar energy radiating from the tops of my feet and my knees. One great thing about being Irish is that you always know where you forgot to put sunscreen on.

Friday, July 3, 2009

A Fun Friday Night

I just came back from an amazing evening out with some incredible people. For the last five hours my friend Nick and myself have been celebrating Independence Day with the residents of a local elderly housing complex. We both decided that we would surprise them at their summer bbq/party. Well we did and they could not be happier. In particular we visited with residents with whom we have been partnered up with the entire summer. It was great to be able to spend so much time with them and to allow them to celebrate the holiday. Most of the residents their had family members visiting with them, but ours didn't, which made it all the more special. They enjoyed showing off their young guests and sharing important moments together. It was so wonderful to be able to share love and to see some who were forgotten feel their true value and worth once again. It was truly a special evening I will forever cherish.

The Last Paragraph of my Paper

A wise spiritual director once said to me “you don’t need to look for God in the great churches of the world, or in the most prolific libraries. You don’t need to listen for His voice atop great mountains or in the ancient prayers of the past, for he speaks loudest in the whispers of your heart.” As I have struggled this summer with some of the presenters and the approaches of the class, I have lost sight of what is most important, that God speaks to each of our hearts in different ways. As I stand perplexed at the over-complication of the subject matter at hand, I realize that God whispers in the simplicity of my heart, the depths of which continue to grow each day and reach levels of love that extend far beyond my own comprehension. Father John Horn, SJ is always reminding us to be attentive to the stirrings of our hearts; this paper is intended to be just that. I have avoided summarizing the course and instead chosen to summarize my heart. Like the Apostle Andrew who let down his nets to follow Jesus, I too must follow; I too must give all so that I can come to know Him and to serve His people.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Let the Break to Begin!

Let the break begin! I just officially completed my final paper for the second part of our three part summer program. Following 10:30am Mass tomorrow we are off until Sunday evening, and everyone is preparing to head off to exciting places. For my part I will be staying put until Saturday morning when I head north to Yankton, South Dakota to visit the Althoff family. Shaunti Althoff and I taught together in Biloxi, Mississippi for two years and have shared many great adventures. She is a great friend and has an equally adventerous and amazing family. I can't wait to share Independance Day with them all.

This evening a fellow seminarian and myself made Choclate Chip Cookie Sundaes for our entire floor in celebration of the papers being completed. It was great fun and a nice opportunity to hang out with a large and diverse group of guys. Then again who am I kidding any excuse to celebrate, and eat sweet foods is good enough for me.

p.s. Tomorrow I will be sure to post on a powerful and amazing homily we heard recently from an excorcist.

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Please note this blog will begin being regularly updated after August 21st (when I arrive in Baltimore).