Here is a series of posts by Bishop Rene Gracida titled "An Ordinary's Not So Ordinary Life." This appeared on Bishop Gracida's blog, "Abyssus Abyssum Invocat / Deep Calls to Deep."
His has been an extraordinary life, and even today, at the age of 91, he remains active -- especially in the pro-life cause.
His has been an extraordinary life, and even today, at the age of 91, he remains active -- especially in the pro-life cause.
Saint Louis Cathedral on Jackson Square in New Orleans where my maternal grandparents were married.
A number of my friends who are familiar with my life history have urged me from time to time to write my autobiography. I have thus far successfully resisted their urging. However, as I draw closer to the end of my life at age 91 it has occurred to me that there are aspects to my life history that shed light on the mystery of God’s love and providence and sharing some information about those aspects might have some benefit for anyone seeking to make sense out of this crazy world in which we live.
So, trusting in God’s grace to help me avoid anything that might seem like vanity I rely on the wisdom expressed in Psalm 115: Non nobis Domine, non nobis, sed nomine tuo da gloriam, not to us Lord, not to us, but to your name I give glory, and begin this series of autobiographical posts on my Abyssum.org website.
The beginning seems like a good place to begin.
I was born on June 9, 1923, ten feet below sea level, in the Lakeview section of New Orleans, Louisiana. My mother was Mathilde Marie Derbes and my father was Enrique (Henry) Joaquin Gracida.
My mother was the daughter of Josephine Saizan and Numa Joseph Derbes. The Saizan family was part of the French Acadian people who were expelled from Nova Scotia in 1775 and were deported to Louisiana where they settled in the area between Lafayette and Houma. The Derbes family came from Toulon, France in the 18th Century and were officials in the Bonaparte colony of Louisiana. After the Louisiana Purchase by President Thomas Jefferson in 1803 they became American citizens. In the Eighth Century, with the rise of the Ottoman Empire, the Derbes family had probably emigrated to Southern France from Derbe just north of Tarsus the home of Saint Paul. Saint Paul visited Derbe on his First and Second Journeys. Perhaps there is a connection in this with my spiritual life in this since I chose Saint Paul as my Confirmation saint and the Feast of his conversion, January 25, as the date for my ordination as a bishop.
My father was the son of Rafael Gracida Carrizosa and Margarita Marquez. The Gracida family emigrated from Spain in the 18th Century and settled in Oaxaca, Mexico where they became prominent land owners. The Hacienda La Soledad south of Oaxaca was the principal estate of the family. In the second decade of the 20th Century Rafael Gracida fled Oaxaca with his five sons because of religious persecution; his brother, Monsignor Carlos Gracida, was Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Oaxaca. Rafael moved first to Merida in Yucatan and then on to New Orleans with his five sons. In New Orleans, Enrique (Henry) my father, met my mother and married her in 1917. in 1918 my grandfather, Rafael, died and was buried in New Orleans. My father never spoke with us of his family in Mexico.
My sister, Carmita, was born in 1918. English and French were the languages spoken in our home since we had no contact with my father’s family. Actually I did not meet my father’s family until 1972 when I was ordained a bishop, having invited them to come to my ordination. However, my father took every opportunity to take his family to restaurants where the cuisine was Mexican and Spanish was spoken. In addition he would paint oil paintings with Aztec and Mayan elements and through questioning of him I learned much about Mexico and its culture.
My first five years were spent in New Orleans. I attended school at the Pierre Gustav Touton Beauregard Elementary School and grew to love New Orleans and my mother’s family. All of the women in my mother’s family were good cooks and so creole and cajun cooking was like ‘mother’s milk’ to me. All my life I have loved to cook and creole/cajun dishes are a special delight for me to cook.
My mother, and all her family, was very pious and faithful in the exercise of the Catholic faith; my father was less so. He had, in the periodic absence of his father who had business interests in the Yucatan and Cuba, been raised by his uncle, Monsignor Carlos Gracida Carrizosa who was something of a strict disciplinarian. Perhaps that is why my father was what one would describe as a “lax Catholic.” My father was a polymath. He was not as gifted as Leonardo da Vinci or Michaelangelo, but he mastered anything he set his mind to: oil painting, sculpture, architecture, engineering, etc. all without a university degree.
In 1928 my father was offered employment as an engineer by the Edgar Zinc Company and we moved to Saint Louis, Missouri where the headquarters of that Company was located.
I fell in love with Saint Louis. I loved visiting Forest Park and it was in its zoo that I probably developed my love of animals that has been such an important part of my life. We lived just a few blocks from Saint Louis Cathedral and it was there that I fell in love with the Church’s Liturgy. After Mass in the Cathedral we would spend the day in Forest Park. Forest Park had an amphitheatre where light opera was performed on the weekends. It was there that I got my first introduction to Texas via the musical play, Rio Rita. Here is the plot that made such an impression on this five-year-old boy.
Rio Rita is a 1927 stage musical with a book by Guy Bolton and Fred Thompson, music by Harry Tierney, lyrics by Joseph McCarthy, and produced by Florenz Ziegfeld. This musical united Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey as a comedy team and made them famous.Rio Rita may be said to be one of the last, great, “light musical comedies” or “Follies-based” type of musical. With the introduction of Show Boat, later in 1927—as well as the subsequent introduction of George Gershwin‘s musicals that year and thought the early 30’s — the American musical became much more a dramatically cohesive “musical play”. This form reached its maturity in the Rodgers and Hammerstein productions, beginning with Oklahoma! and culminating with South Pacific.The captain of the Texas Rangers, Jim Stewart, is in San Lucar Mexico on the Rio Grande, in disguise in order to catch the notorious bandit Kinkajou. While there he falls in love with Rita Ferguson, an Irish-American-Mexican girl who sings in the local hotel after being displaced from her family ranch along with her brother Roberto.General Esteban, the Governor of the San Lucar District, also loves Rita and hates all gringos. He hatches a plot to set Jim and Rita at odds by making Rita doubt both her own brother, who may be the Kinkajou, and Jim, who may be spying on her brother through her.Amid all of this intrigue, Chick Bean, a soap salesman, and Dolly, an American cabaret girl, arrive in San Lucar and get married. Unbeknownst to Dolly, Chick also went to Mexico to obtain a quick divorce from his unfaithful first wife, Katie. But then hours after Chick and Dolly are wed Ed Lovett, a lawyer of dubious reputation, informs Chick that his divorce is not recognized by the U.S. Government. Complications ensue.- Wikipedia
We only lived in Saint Louis for a year and then my father was transferred to the the Edgar Zinc Company office in Cherryvale, Kansas, located in the southeastern corner of Kansas near both Arkansas and Oklahoma. The year we lived in Cherryvale was one of the happiest years of my life. For the first time I lived in a rural setting and after living in New Orleans and Saint Louis it was wonderful. Some members of the Clements family lived in Cherryvale and so I came to know of Mark Twain and Tom Sawyer. My happiest years have been spent in rural settings as opposed to city life.
In 1930 the depression really hit hard and the Edgar Zinc Company went bankrupt and my family moved to Houston and then Texas City, Texas where my father found employment with Pan American Refining Corporation, a subsidiary of Standard Oil of Indiana. I finished my elementary and high school education in the public schools if Texas City. Texas City at that time had a population of less than 2,000 people and so I was again in a rural setting. I joined the boy scouts, became an altar boy in our mission church and began to think about becoming a priest, but by the time I graduated from Central High School in 1941 I had become too interested in girls to think about the priesthood.
As the Valedictorian of my class I was accepted as one of the 400 students matriculated at Rice University in 1942 and began my study of architectural engineering. At that time Rice taught architectural engineering with a heavy reliance on the Beaux Art system of study which consisted of a whole year of reproducing ink drawings of Greek temples. I was bored stiff. I wanted to design and build contemporary buildings, not eclectic recreation of classic Greek and Roman architectural monuments. After the war, even though I loved Rice University for its excellence, I chose to not return there to resume my architectural studies.
Since the United States was now at war I knew that I would be drafted into the infantry before long and so I chose to enlist in the U.S. Army Air Corps Reserve as a student since I hoped to be able to fly in the war. In the summer of 1943 my studies at Rice were interrupted when I was called to active duty and after processing at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio the Army sent me to the Infantry Training Camp at Mineral Wells, Texas where I barely survived 18 weeks of infantry basic training in the Texas heat of July, August and September of 1943. In the 18th week of my infantry basic training, an Army Air Corps officer ‘miraculously’ came looking for me and the mistake in my assignment to the infantry was corrected and I was transferred to the Air Base in Wichita Falls, Texas. God is good, this was the first of many interventions in my life by divine providence which gradually led me to understand that God expected something of me in return.
Eventually I ended up at the Kingman Arizona Air Base learning gunnery in B-17 bombers. From Kingman I joined my bomber crew in Florida and after some months of training there, in January 1945 we flew a brand new B-17 Bomber from Savannah, Georgia to Prestwick, Scotland by way of Maine, Newfoundland, Laborador, Greenland, and Iceland. In England we joined the Eighth Air Force 303rd Bomb Group (H) in Molesworth, 359th Squadron.
In my next post I will write about my experience in the Second World War with the Eighth Air Force.
|LSFM B-17G Thunderbird in flight with a B-52H at 2006 Defenders of Liberty Airshow at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., May 12, 2006.|
|TYPE||Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress|
|MANUFACTURER||Douglas Aircraft Company|
|IN SERVICE||November 1943 to 22 March 1945|
|FATE||Retired to the Kingman, Arizona aircraft disposal plant|
|PRESERVED AT||Currently flying with the Lone Star Flight Museum|
I flew several of my 32 combat missions over Germany with the 359th Squadron of the 303rd Bomb Group (H) of the Eighth Air Force out of our Base at Molesworth, England in this airplane. It’s tail markings are accurate, it is the insignia of the 303rd. The plane was destined to be destroyed in Arizona after the war but was rescued, rehabilitated and placed in the Lone Star Air Museum in Galveston, Texas. I actually flew again in this airplane a couple of years ago with Governor Rick Perry and his father. The Governor’s father was a tail gunner in a similar B-17 and I was a tail gunner in this very airplane for several of my missions.
The chorus of those singing the praises of the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress Bomber has existed almost from the time the airplane went into service. It soon proved itself to be indeed a flying fortress armed with ten 50 caliber heavy machine guns. When flying in tight formation the 17 planes offered enemy fighters a wall of 50 caliber fire from 270 machine guns. It is a wonder that any enemy planes were able to shoot down B-17’s but they unfortunately did. Frequently it was because a plane was unable to stay in the formation and as a plane flying alone it was an easy target.
Shortly after Christmas 1944 my crew traveled to Savannah, Georgia to the Boeing plant there and picked up a brand new B-17G (recognizable by the gun turret under the nose of the aircraft) similar to Old Thunderbird and began our flight to deliver it to the 8th Air Force in England. We flew to Bangor, Maine where bad weather forced us to spend a couple of days on the ground. Then we flew to St. John, Newfoundland where again bad weather grounded us. Then we flew to Goose Bay, Laborador where a blizzard kept us gounded for a few more days. Then on to Bluie West One on the west coast of Greenland where we refueled and took off again, barely missing an iceberg floating in the fiord at the end of the runway. Next we landed at Reykjavik, Iceland. After refueling there we flew on to Prestwick, Scotland where we left the aircraft and traveled to Wales by train for assignment to a base.
Beginning with the B-29 (the plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima) all bombers have been pressurized just like modern commercial aircraft. The B-17 was not pressurized. On the contrary, it was more like a flying sieve! The wind whistled through it. The cockpit where the pilot, co-pilot and flight engineer sat was relatively air tight but even so there were places where the air could penetrate the airplane. But the waist and the tail were like wind tunnels. We wore heavy leather flight suits lined with sheepskin, but while those suits may have saved us from freezing to death, with the outside temperature at 25,000 feet in the winter usually between 30 and 60 degrees BELOW ZERO our hands and feet would get very cold. The suits had electrical heat wiring sewn into the waist of the suit but that only meant that your stomach got toasted while the rest of you shivered. I first encountered the problem of extreme cold on the flight from Reykjavik to Prestwick when the temperature inside the B-17 measured 50 degrees below zero.
From Wales we traveled by bus to Molesworth, England in Bedfordshire just northwest of Cambridge. Here is a photo of the Molesworth Airbase as it appears today:
Most of the World War II airbases in England have been closed and demolished, but the Molesworth base was kept and modernized and is used by the RAF and the USAF as a Joint Forces intelligence center.
I must confess that I was not happy at being assigned to the 303rd Bomb Group because when the Group was formed in Boise, Idaho in 1942 they chose to nickname the group “Hell’s Angels.” I was not yet thinking again about becoming a priest, but even so, as a Catholic I did not like to be part of a group so named. Eventually I got used to seeing the name but no one of our Group ever referred to it by that name and so it became a non-issue with me. Still, in retrospect I think that it was ironic that God let me serve in a Group with that nickname; God has a weird sense of humor The Group nickname became famous when Clark Gable flew with us making promotional movies for the war effort at home.
Most of the month of January was spent in training flights over England. Those flights were really enjoyable for me for several reasons. First of all, I was an Anglophile. By the time I arrived at Rice I had read all of Shakespeare’s historical plays and I knew a lot about English history. Then, at Rice one of my classes was in Architectural History and I had learned a lot about the Gothic cathedrals of Europe. Many of those training flights in the last two weeks of January and the first two weeks of February 1945 were low level flights and I had an opportunity to study and photograph some of the great cathedrals like, Lincoln, Durham, Peterborough, Ely and York.
By the second week of February the period of training flights was over and it was time for us to fly our first combat mission. Our first mission occurred (with great irony) on Saint Valentine’s Day, February 14, 1944. There is something antiseptic about strategic bombing. Our target was the railroad station in the city of Dresden. We joined a column of 1,000 other B-17 and B -24 bombers and flew at 25,o00 feet to and back from Dresden. By the time we got to Dresden we were flying in continuous clouds formed by the engine contrails of the bombers. There was very little flak and no fighter attacks, but there were midair collisions. When 27 bombers of a squadron are flying in a tight formation of nine low aircraft, nine middle aircraft and nine upper aircraft and you were trying to hold a tight formation for protection from fighters even while flying through clouds it was inevitable that B-17’s would crash into each other. The effect on a crew when you see two planes in your formation collide is indescribable. There is usually an explosion followed by the falling bodies and wreckage of the two planes. For me midair collisions were worst than fighter attacks and flak.
The pilot-captain of our crew was Lieutenant William Beasley. Beasley had been a tank officer in the tank corps. He decided he wanted to fly and so before the war started he transferred to the Army Air Corps and began to fly. He was a great guy, a good pilot and officer. The only problem for our crew is that he flew the B-17 with the same firm control that he manuevered his tank and in formation flying that meant that he would put the wingtip of our plane practically in the waist window of the B-17 alongside of us. The prop wash from the other planes engines made for a very rough ride for us and it was very dangerous and one of the more scary aspects of aerial combat.
In the briefing before the mission the intelligence officer told us that the mission was simply to destroy the railway station in the middle of Dresden. What he did not tell us, and perhaps he did not know, was that Air Marshall Tedder of the RAF after months of trying had finally convinced the allied high command that our strategic bombing should begin to focus on German cities in order to destroy the morale of the German population. So, for four days 1,000 US bombers by day and almost as many RAF bombers by night pounded Dresden. The result was a holocaust. We never saw Dresden. The smoke was so dense over the target from the firestorm that the bombing created that we were bombing blind. Of course at the time none of us in the air knew that the total destruction of Dresden was deliberate and well planned. After the war when I saw the result of our four days of bombing Dresden I was filled with guilt and shame. The human death toll was estimated to be 300,000 persons. The immorality of the Dresden raid will be a black mark on our military history forever even though the idea for the Dresden holocaust originated with British Air Marshall Tedder. Air warfare is so impersonal that at the time one does not feel guilt, but later the reality of what was done sinks in. Truly, war is hell and strategic bombing should be directed at military targets such as industry and fortifications and not at civilian populations.
This is not the place for a long dissertation on the correctness of the Church’s teaching that there can be such a thing as a just war. Suffice it to say that there was never any doubt in my mind that the western democracies had every right and obligation to prevent the Third Reich from establishing itself throughout the whole world and the atrocities committed by the Japanese military would have justified our war against Japan.
This is a WWII photo of a German 88mm Antiaircraft gun crew in action.
After the horror (for the people of Dresden, but not for us flying at 25,000 feet above them) of the four days of bombing of Dresden they had to be followed by some bad missions for us. Indeed, on the fifth day after Dresden we flew on a mission to Langandreer, a suburb of Bochum located in the industrial and heavily-defended Ruhr Valley region of the Rhine. Langandreer was important to the Germans for its coal production and steel manufacture.
Everywhere in the Ruhr valley the German military had placed batteries of their famous 88mm antiaircraft cannons. These guns were so deadly the Germans decided to also mount them on their Panzer tanks. My crew had seen the black puffs of 88mm shells exploding in the distance but never close up, until today. As we approached our target, an oil refinery, we began to experience accurately placed flak, all of it 88mm. It is hard to describe the explosion of an 88mm shell nearby. To me, wearing a flying helmet with earphones that muffled the explosion somewhat, it sounded as I would imagine a great dane dog barking in your face would sound.
Of course, it was not just the sound of the explosions that was unnerving, it was also the concussion. 88mm shells exploding within 100 feet of the aircraft literally shook the aircraft and threw one about. I was flying as tail gunner on this mission and several of the nearby exploding 88mm shells threw me against the wall of the fuselage. One particularly close explosion sent a jagged 8 ounce piece of the steel casing of the 88mm shell crashing through the skin of the B-17 where it hit the heavy beam supporting the tail of the aircraft and dropped into my lap. If it had come into the plane a few inches lower it would have taken my head off.
Because I was facing the rear away from the rest of our B-17 I could not see the damage being done to our plane. One shell took out our No. 1 engine and another set the No. 3 engine on fire. I could sense that we were losing altitude rapidly. Then Lt. William Beasley, our pilot, announced over the intercom that he was trying to save the airplane but was not sure that he could do so and therefore we should prepare to bail out but stand by for the order. I moved back from my seat in the tail, located my chest parachute, jettisoned the door in the tail and knelt there, praying, waiting for the order to bail out.
I must tell you that I suffer from acrophobia, the fear of heights. For some unknown reason I only experience acute fear of falling from heights when I am standing on a cliff, or a place on the edge of a exposed floor high on a skyscraper. I had never felt the fear of falling from a height in an airplane, until I knelt by that open door looking at the ground some 15,000 feet below me, preparing to bail out when the order came.
I did not have to bail out, thanks be to God! After what seemed an eternity Lt. Beasley announced that he had managed to put out the fire in the No. 3 engine and even though it was inoperative and we had lost the No. 1 engine he could control the airplane and we were going to descend to tree top level and make our way across Belgium to the coast, and hopefully across the English channel to Molesworth. Lt. Beasley’s previous experience as a tank commander would serve him well in the next few hours.
We safely descended to tree-top level and proceeded, unhindered by the Germans, to fly to the coast. Along the way we scared the life out of a number of bicycle riders when we roared up on top of them on the road. Then I experienced something I had only experienced once before when I was in training in gunnery school in Kingman, Arizona; after we practiced firing at a towed target the pilot flew our B-17 down to the surface of Lake Mead and flew to Boulder Dam leaving a wake in the water from the prop blast of our four engines. It was not something I enjoyed. However it was only slightly less unenjoyable as flew across the English Channel leaving prop wake on the surface of the Channel because I realized that we had survived a really bad raid. Still, the thought of drowning in the English Channel did not appeal to me. Thanks again to the ability of William Beasley, we managed to make it safely back to our base at Molesworth.
After I had flown a dozen or so combat missions I inquired as to whether or not my engineering education at Rice might not qualify me to have my MOS (military occupation specialty) changed from tail gunner to flight engineer on the B-17. I was told I would have to take a test. I took the test and passed it with flying colors on my first try and got promoted to Flight Engineer.
Being a Flight Engineer on a B-17 was nothing like it became on a B-29 and other later and larger bombers. B-17’s did not have all the sophisticated electronic gear that later aircraft had. My job as the Flight Engineer was to be in charge of the enlisted crew under the authority of the pilot. In addition I had to check with the crew chief of the ground crew to determine the flight worthiness of the aircraft. I had to have a working knowledge of all the electrical and mechanical systems on board the aircraft and once airborne the Flight Engineer’s job was to trouble shoot and repair any malfunctioning part of the aircraft.
The flight engineer’s position in flight was on a jump seat between the pilot and the co-pilot. I had to constantly monitor all of the flight instruments looking out for any sign of a malfunction. To my great joy I now had the power to start the engines and taxi the aircraft on the ground if it needed to be moved. During combat my position changed to the top turret with its two 50 caliber machine guns and I had the duty of calling for a mike check from all the enlisted members of the crew every ten minutes.
The downside of my promotion was that I could no longer fly with the crew I had trained with in the U.S. and with whom I had flown all my combat missions up to then. Worse than that, on every new crew’s first combat mission I would replace their Flight Engineer as an additional element of safety for the crew. That is how I had one of the scariest missions of my 32 combat missions.
I became the substitute Flight Engineer for this particular crew that was going to fly its first combat mission. The target was near Munich, railroad marshaling yards. We took off and everything was normal until we began to approach the target. On a routine mike crew check the radio operator failed to respond. I tried several times to get him to respond without success so I informed the pilot of the situation. Since we were flying at 25,000 feet and on supplemental oxygen there was a danger that the radio operator had accidentally disconnected his oxygen mask and had passed out. So the pilot instructed me to go back to the radio room and see what was wrong with the radio operator.
Now you have to visualize the interior of a B-17 bomber. The interior is divided into three compartments. The first, beginning at the nose, contains the navigator-bombadier, the pilot, the co-pilot and the flight engineer. The second compartment is the bomb bay. It occupies the entire interior of the aircraft from top to bottom. There is a door between the pilot’s compartment and the bomb bay and there is another door between the bomb bay and the radio operator. The rest of the aircraft is one big compartment all the was back to the tail.
For me to check on the radio operator I would have to go through the door into the bomb bay and then walk about 15 feet on a 10 inch wide beam to reach the door to the radio operator’s compartment. When I opened the door to the bomb bay I saw that the navigator-bombadier had opened the bottom of the bomb bay and I was looking down 25,000 feet past the bombs to the ground. My first thought was to put on my chest parachute before beginning to tread my way along that narrow beam, however the beam was supported midway by two struts that tied the beam to the ceiling system and there would not be room enough for me to past between the struts wearing a parachute so I had no choice but to step into the bomb bay without a parachute. As I did so, the navigator-bombadier released the bombs and I stood there paralyzed as I watch the bombs fall away from the plan leaving me standing on the beam looking at the ground 25,000 feet below. For a moment I had the feeling that I was falling with the bombs. As I have described before, I suffer from acute acrophobia, the fear of falling from heights. How I found the courage and strength to walk the remaining ten feet or so to the door of the radio compartment, God only knows!
When I opened the door to the radio compartment I was greeted by a blizzard of chaff. Chaff is the name given to the bundles of aluminum foil strips identical to what one puts on Christmas trees. Chaff is deployed out of the bomber as it approaches its target. When deployed, the bundle of chaff bursts apart and tens of thousands of the aluminum strips float down in a cloud confusing the enemy’s radar thus making his flak more inaccurate. It is the radio operator’s job to open the cardboard box of chaff under his radio table and to feed bundles of chaff one by one out of a slot in the fuselage to his left at the level of his radio table. The radio operator evidently did not know that that was what that slot in the fuselage was for. Knowing that there was a well in the floor of his compartment in which a camera is sometimes placed by Intelligence to film the bomb strike he opened the trap door to the well and seeing that there was no camera in the well he got down into the well and tried to stuff the chaff out of the hole in the bottom of the fuselage. Big problem: the blast of air coming up through the camera hole once he removed the trap door meant that every bundle of chaff would explode in his hand and fill the compartment with millions of particles of aluminum foil.
In the course of trying to push the chaff out the camera hole the radio operator had accidentally disconnected his mike; thank God he did not disconnect his oxygen. I pulled him out of the well, closed the trap door in the floor, sat him down on his chair and reconnected his mike. I had no way of talking to him since my mike was not connected but I am sure that he read the look of disgust on my face and that said enough to him until we could get back to Molesworth.
My trip back to the forward compartment was not as bad as my trip to the radio compartment because by the time the little drama had occurred in the radio compartment the bomb bay doors had been closed and I was no longer looking down at the earth as I passed through.
That mission did not compare in danger to the mission to Langandreer, but in it own way it was the most memorable of all of my 32 combat missions over Germany.
I missed not flying with my original crew.
A RAILWAY CABOOSE
A caboose is a manned North American rail transport vehicle coupled at the end of a freight train. Cabooses provided shelter for crew at the end of a train, who were required for switching and shunting, and to keep a lookout for load shifting, damage to equipment and cargo, or overheating axles (hot boxes). Designs were originally modified box cars or flatbed cars carrying a cabin, but later became specialised vehicles, with projections above or to the sides of the car so crew could observe the train from shelter.
I flew my 32nd and final combat mission with the 359th Squadron of the 303rd Bomb Group (H) of the Eighth Air Force of the U.S. Army on April 17, 1945. The target was the railroad marshaling yard of Dresden. It seems ironic to me that my first and last combat missions should have been to Dresden, Germany. Given the guilt and shame I later felt over having participated in the Dresden Holocaust of February 14, 1945, perhaps the Lord was impressing on me the horror of war. The Group did not fly on April 18 or 19 but did fly on April 20 but I was not on that mission. The Group did not fly on April 21, 22, 23 or 24. On April 25 the Group flew its last mission to Pilsen, Czechoslovakia, bombing the Skoda munitions factory, but I was not on that mission which was the last of the War. On May 7, 1945 Germany surrendered. I had been scheduled to fly 35 combat missions but with the war ended my combat service ended also.
The prospect of remaining in England and of having the opportunity to visit continental Europe was very attractive to me. But it was not to be. On May 25 I was given orders to report to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas and it appeared to me that I was headed for the war in the Pacific. On May 27 I departed Burtonwood Airbase in England as the Flight Engineer on a B-17 and flew to Bradley Airbase in Connecticut following the same route I had followed coming to England: Iceland, Greenland, Laborador, Newfoundland, landing in Connecticut on June 2, 1945. From Bradley Airbase I went to Camp Miles Standish near Boston. On June 5 I boarded a troop train headed for San Antonio, Texas.
How can I ever forget that troop train. I am convinced that the passenger cars dated back to the Civil War. The seats were not cushioned and worse of all, the windows would not open and it was summer; hot in Boston and it was going to get hotter as we approached San Antonio. So, without even putting my bag down I started to walk back through the long train. All the cars were the same. Finally I came to the end and much to my surprise I found that the last car was a caboose. I do not know why the train had a caboose because there was no crew in evidence. I threw my bag up into the cupola where there was a bunk bed, climbed up, laid down and traveled from Boston to San Antonio riding in ‘comfort’ in my caboose. The windows in the cupola were open and I could not close them, but I did not mind since I had fresh air the whole trip. The only problem was that the locomotive pulling the train was a coal burning steam engine and so by the time I arrived in San Antonio I looked like an actor in an old-time minstrel play, I looked like Al Jolson in makeup.
I arrived at Fort Sam Houston, where my military service started, on June 8, 1945. I was immediately granted a 30-day furlough and went to Houston to be with my family. It was great to be home. My family was, of course, delighted that I had survived 32 combat missions over Germany unscathed and was home intact. The furlough went by much too fast and on July 8, 1945 I took a bus and went to Fort Sam Houston for duty. My new assignment was to Santa Ana Air Base where I was to received my final orders. I arrived at Santa Ana on July 12 and did not receive my orders until August 1.
My stay in California was very pleasant. I had a maiden great-aunt living in Hollywood and so I got a pass to go visit her. At the end of my visit with her I walked down to the street corner to catch a city bus to take me to the train station where I could catch my train back to Santa Ana. While I was waiting at the bus stop in full uniform with my decorations prominently displayed a big black limousine pulled up and the driver asked me if I needed a ride, I replied that I was on my way to the train station to catch a train to Santa Ana. The drive said, “get in, I will take you there” so I go into the passenger’s seat next to the driver. We had only gone a few blocks when a man in the back seat asked me if I would like to visit a movie studio on my way to the train station. I turned to reply and much to my amazement the man was Cary Grant. I replied that I did not have much time, but that yes I would like to see a movie studio.
We drove to the movie set where Cary Grant was making the film Night and Dayabout Cole Porter. I met Alexis Smith, Monty Wooley, Jane Wyman, Eve Arden and the Director, Michael Curtis. All of them were exceedingly gracious to this airman and expressed their admiration for what the 8th Air Force had accomplished in the war in Europe. After about a half hour the limo driver took me to the train station and I returned to Santa Ana Air Base.
On August 1, much to my surprise I was not shipped to the Pacific, but was instead sent to Amarillo AFB in Texas to begin qualification as a Flight Engineer on B-29 bombers. Up to that point I had only seen pictures of B-29 bombers. My first inspection of one was overwhelming. A B-29 made a B-17 look very small by comparison. But do not misunderstand me, the B-17 will always be no. 1 in my heart and memory.
I will not bore you with the complexities of the job of a Flight Engineer on a B-29, but if you are really interested you might enjoy watching this video in which Ronald Reagan narrates the description of the job of a B-29 Flight Engineer: https://archive.org/details/TF1-3354
On August 15 the Anola Gay B-29 delivered the atomic bomb to Hiroshima and the war with Japan came to an end. I knew that now I would be discharged in the near future and sure enough, on November 2, 1945 I was honorably discharged and returned to Houston to resume my education as an architectural engineer.
What do I have to say about my war experience? A lot!
I signed up as a member of the United States Air Corps Reserve while a Freshman at Rice University. At the time I was nineteen years old, very immature in many ways, not the least of which was physically. After my 18 weeks of infantry basic training at Mineral Wells I was beginning to become a man. Now at 20 years of age I was thrust into the bloodiest war in history and, while my experience of the war was infinitely better than that of the average GI fighting on the ground, the war completed the process of making a man out of me. There is an old Portugese proverb that says, “God writes straight with crooked lines!” While at the time I was frustrated at receiving infantry basic training, I now see that I matured physically during those 18 weeks and began to become a man physically. Ironically, when I arrived at Wichita AFB I had to undergo 8 weeks of Air Corps basic training; it was a piece of cake I may have matured physically, but I had a long way to become a man.
I had stopped practicing my faith, as happens to many college students, during my year at Rice. During my first year on active duty with the Army Air Corps I began to feel the void left in my life by the absence of a liturgical life. On Easter Sunday, while stationed at the Kearns AFB awaiting assignment to aerial gunnery school at Kingman AZ AFB I went into Salt Lake City to go to church. Because I had admired the Cathedral from a distance but had never I entered it. Now I entered it.
As the Lord would have it, I entered the Cathedral of the Madeleine as the Easter Sunday High Mass celebrated by Bishop Duane Hunt began. I occupied the last pew in the Cathedral. The Liturgy celebrated naturally in what is now called the Tridentine Rite, but at that time it was the only Latin rite, was beautiful. The music was wonderful. During the Bishop’s homily I began to cry. Without being conscious of it I had begun to experience the same awakening as the prodigal son. I realized that I had been hurting myself by having distanced myself from the Liturgy and had lost my direct contact with Jesus Christ. By the time the Mass was over I had experienced a complete conversion. I sat there in the now empty Cathedral for a long time confirming my resolution to ‘return to the Father.’
The process of conversion that began on that Easter Sunday in Salt Lake City (of all places, the Mormon capital of the world) was completed by my experience of the war. I did not experience a “fox-hole conversion” at 25,000 feet during a combat mission, I simply had the cumulative effect of becoming repulsed by the absurdity of war with its absence of any value being placed on human life. The war awakened in me the realization that life must be respected at all stages of the human person’s life.
Did the war change me? You bet it did!
THE UNIVERSITY OF HOUSTON
The Ezekiel W. Cullen Building
During my months at Amarillo AFB I had given a lot of thought as to what I would do after I was discharged from the Army Air Corps. I knew that I did not want to return to Rice University even though I loved and respected that excellent University. The fact that they had given me a full tuition-free four-year scholarship because I was the Valedictorian of my graduating class of Central High School in Texas City in 1941 meant a lot to me along with the fact that I was one of the only 400 freshman admitted to Rice each year . But, as I have written, Rice in the 40’s used the French Beaux Arts system of educating architects which relied heavily on the study of Greek and Roman classic architectural monuments with the emphasis on the ability to reproduce the elements of design for which those monuments were justly famous. I wanted to study and work in a contemporary medium.
While I was away at war my subscriptions to various architectural journals continued without interruption. When I returned home I spent a lot of time reading all of those back issues. I discovered that while I was away the University of Houston had started a new School of Architecture. I also discovered that a Houston Architect, Donald Barthelme had won an international award for his design of Saint Rose of Lima Church in Houston. The church he had designed and that was built was intended to be a temporary church for the parish until it could afford to build its permanent church. But, Barthelme’s church looked like a permanent church, so good was his choice of building materials and careful consideration of the fact that the people of Saint Rose of Lima Parish needed a sacred space in which to worship for many years until they could get their permanent church. What caught my attention the me most was that Donald Barthelme had been appointed the head of the Design Department in the new School of Architecture at the University of Houston. Intrigued by what I had discovered I contacted the School of Architecture at the University of Houston and after several visits I applied for admission and was accepted.
I was one of hundreds of thousands of GI’s across the Nation who were resuming their education after the War. Unlike those who had just finished their high school education, we who were older and more mature took our studies very seriously. I did exceptionally well in the classes in the history of architecture. History, all history, had always been a favorite area of recreational reading for me. So it came as no great surprise when, upon graduating with my Bachelor Degree in 1950 I was offered a teaching fellowship in the field of architectural history in the School of Architecture. I had just been asked by Donald Barthelme to join his architectural firm, Donald Barthelme and Associates, and I had accepted the invitation and so I asked Donald Barthelme if he had any objections to also accepting the teaching fellowship and he had none so I accepted that position also. Recalling that I had been denied a commission in the U.S.Army Air Corps because I lacked a college degree, I applied to the new United States Air Force for a commission and I was immediately commissioned a Second Lieutenant based upon my brand new degree and my Air Corps experience.
During the months between the time I returned the Houston and when I started my studies at the University of Houston, I attended several liturgical conferences held in Houston and became very interested in learning more about the Church’s Liturgy. I joined the Liturgical Arts Society and Liturgical Conference, a national organization devoted to liturgical reform. I began to participate in the liturgies of Holy Rosary Church in Houston, my mother’s parish, where I found the style of celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass by the Dominican Fathers who staffed Holy Rosary Parish to be very edifying. In a sense, I guess I was trying to make up for those years of neglect of my faith during the War.
In the school year 1950-51 a Benedictine Monk, Dom Henri Pouillon, O.S.B., a monk of Saint Andrew Abbey in Louvain, Belgium, delivered a series of lectures at Saint Thomas University in Houston. The title of the series was: “Benedictine Contributions to Western Civilization.” Being a history buff I already knew a lot about those contributions, but I was curious and so I decided to attend Don Henri’s lectures delivered in the evenings. I found what Dom Henri had to say about Benedictinism fascinating and I began to realize that my studies at the Rice and the University of Houston had been so concentrated in the field of architecture and engineering that I was lacking in my knowledge of philosophy and theology. So I made plans to take a leave and to go to the University of Fribourg in Switzerland and study these and other subjects in the humanities which I had so neglected during my studies at Rice and the University of Houston. Prior to going to the University of Fribourg I made a week-long retreat at Saint Gregory Abbey in Shawnee, Oklahoma under the direction of the Abbot, Dom Mark Braun, O.S.B.
I found in the University of Fribourg everything that I had been missing. I had an excellent professor of philosophy, Father I.M. Bochenski, O.P., and an excellent professor in homiletics, Frank Sheed, the famous street preacher in London and founder of the Sheed & Ward publishing house. I also studied Italian and French culture. Most surprising of all, across from my room in the Salesianum where I was staying while at the University, there was a Benedictine Monk from Saint Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, Father Alphonse Meier, OSB who, on learning of my interest in the Benedictine Order offered to drive me around Switzerland to visit some of the famous Benedictine Abbeys in that country. Naturally I jumped at the chance and among the abbeys we visited was Einsiedeln, a truly inspiring Abbey. With Father Alphonse as my guide I got to see not only the physical plant of a monastery but I gained an insight into the daily life, especially the daily prayer life of the monks.
The year 1950 was a Holy Year and so it would not have been proper for me to be in Switzerland and not visit Rome. So I did make a pilgrimage to Rome where I prayed at the tombs of the Apostles, Peter and Paul, and asked them to intercede with the Lord to enable me to discern if I had a genuine call to priesthood and the monastic life that was beginning to assert itself so strongly. I returned to Fribourg and then the United States with the determination to take what I now perceived as a vocation to life as a choir monk in a Benedictine Abbey.
That conviction was brought home to me with a great deal of spiritual pain one day as I sat at my drafting board in the offices of Donald Barthelme and Associates. As I looked out the window across a wooded landscaped large lot I could see a very old, frail, black woman struggling to push a grocery cart along the neighboring street. I did not know her. I had never seen her before. The sight of that poor old woman struggling to push along that grocery cart froze my attention, I could not resume my work. I felt an irresistible urge to get up, go to the old woman and help her push her cart to wherever she was going. But how could I do that without creating a sensation in the firm. Human respect and cowardice took over and I did nothing as I watched that old woman disappear from sight. To this day I am filled with shame at my failure to act, a good example of a sin of omission.
In the summer of 1951 I broke the news to Donald Barthelme, my associates at the University of Houston, my family and my friends: I had been accepted as a postulant at Saint Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe and I would be leaving Houston in the first week of September. You would have thought that I had announced that I was going to commit suicide. Everyone was shocked, puzzled, angered, opposed, you name it!
In July I developed a severe rash on my right buttock. It looked like raw hamburger. It was extremely painful. I went to my doctor and took one look and asked, “What are you worried about?” I responded, “I am worried about what is wrong with my right buttock, do I have leprosy?” He laughed and said, “No, you have a classic case of shingles, brought about by the attack of the same virus that causes chicken pox when one becomes very anxious about something.” I explained about my decision to enter a monastery and about the fierce opposition I was receiving from all sides. He told me, “Your shingles will disappear one weak after you enter the monastery.” And that is exactly what happened.
In the first week of September, 1951, I boarded a train in Houston and got off in Latrobe, Pennsylvania to begin this new chapter in my life.
During that period of time, 1945-1950, all across the United States many men who had fought in World War II joined religious orders and congregations. Among the most famous was Thomas Merton who became a Trappist Monk. His book, The Seven Story Mountain, had a great influence on many of these men who were discovering their vocation to the religious life. Certainly, his book played a part in my own discernment of my vocation. I do not believe that it possible for a man to experience participation in a world-wide war such as was World War II without being spiritually traumatized. The fundamental questions everyone has to ask themselves at some point in their lives. Who am I? Why was I born.? Why am I here? Where am I going? What is the purpose of my life? What happens to me after I die?
It would seem that many, if not most, people do not try to find the answers to those questions, presuming that they ask the questions in the first place. Especially in our sensate society sex, alcohol and drugs kill the need to ask such questions much less to aggressively pursue the answers. Truly, as Jesus Christ said, they do not see because they have made themselves blind.
My entry into the way of life laid out for his monks by Saint Benedict in the Fifth Century was not a flight from reality it was the embracing of a state of life that would hopefully help provide me some of the answers to the important questions of life.
The Archabbey Basilica
It seems to me that in order for the reader to understand why, among all the monasteries in the United States and the world, I chose Saint Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania I need to tell you something about St. Vincent Archabbey. It is unique among all of the benedictine abbeys in the world. If I had wanted to take my vocation to an abbey where the life is strictly cloistered I would have chosen the Carthusians or the Cistercians or even the Cistercians of the Strict Observance (the Trappists). Instead I chose a monastery that had already proven itself as trying to balance in the modern world the injunction of Saint Benedict to his monks: “Ora et Labora!” “Pray and Work!” That is, prayer in the great tradition of the choral recitation of the Divine Office in choir and work that can be intellectual, pastoral, evangelical, missionary, educational, spiritual, or any combination of these.
Saint Vincent Archabbey is not just an abbey, it is comprised of four distinct institutions: The Archabbey Monastery where the Benedictine monks live, the Archabbey Basilica where the Divine Office is prayed and which also serves as the parish Church for Saint Vincent Parish, Saint Vincent Seminary which is beside the Archabbey and Saint Vincent College, a liberal arts college, which has close to two thousand students.
As one approaches Saint Vincent Archabbey, the most prominent feature of the area is the Saint Vincent Archabbey Basilica, The Basilica (so designated by the Holy See in 1955 and prior to that known as the Archabbey Church, was designed by and built by the Benedictine monks at the beginning of the twentieth century. Next to the Basilica is the Saint Vincent Parish Center, which provides for the offices of the parish, conference and meeting rooms, and the Basilica Gift Shop. A statue of ArchabbotBoniface Wimmer, O.S.B., first archabbot of Saint Vincent stands in front of the Basilica.
This is the athletic field for the College. It is used by the Pittsburgh Steelers as their summer training facility every year.
Saint Vincent Abbey had its origin in the desire of Bishop O’Connor of Pittsburgh to have a minor seminary in western Pennsylvania in which young men could be educated and formed spiritually to be eventually ordained priests for the service of the Church in Pennsylvania and Ohio. In 1845 Bishop O’Connor learned about the impending arrival of Father Boniface Wimmer, O.S.B., and his band of eighteen followers to Pennsylvania. Father Boniface Wimmer, OSB would come to the United States from Metten Abbey in Bavaria with the expressed intent of transplanting the Benedictine Order from Europe to North America.
Father Wimmer would first go to Carrolltown, Pennsylvania, a town founded in 1840. Bishop O’Connor contacted Father Wimmer, had him come to Pittsburgh, and offered him properties in Westmoreland County. Furthermore, the parishioners of Saint Vincent Parish, at the suggestion of Bishop O’Connor, had also urged him to come. And so Father Wimmer arrived on October 18, 1846 at the site of the future Saint Vincent Archabbey and settled into the one room building that was known as Sportsman’s Hall and which served as the rectory of the already existing Saint Vincent Parish.
To understand the reasons why Saint Vincent Archabbey did not develop like most of the abbeys of Europe, places resembled the Cistercian abbeys as places primarily of prayer and contemplation, one must understand what Western Pennsylvania was like in the middle of the 19th Century. It was a primitive wilderness with widely scattered settlements of immigrants, mostly from Germany.
The story of Prince Demetrius Augustine Gallitizin’s heroic missionary activity in Western Pennsylvania is truly amazing. The son of the Russian Ambassador to the Hague, Gallitizin would eventually come to the United States, be ordained a priest by Archbishop Carroll of Baltimore, move to the area of Pennsylvania and undertake the pastoral care of the few immigrant families living there. Using his own money he bought thousands of acres of land and settled immigrants on homesteads. Within his lifetime the number of Catholics in Western Pennsylvania increased from a handful to more than 50,o00. Most of these immigrants were from German speaking areas of Europe. It was their need of education and pastoral care that brought Boniface Wimmer to Latrobe.
From the beginning Saint Vincent Archabbey was dedicated to the education of the sons of the immigrants; general education and the seminary education of young men for the dioceses west of the Allegheny mountains. In addition, unlike Cistercian and other monasteries, Saint Vincent responded to the pleas of bishops and sent its monks to staff parishes, not only in Pennsylvania but also in Ohio, Virginia, Kentucky and Illinois.
It was inevitable, therfore, that tensions would arise in the monastic life of the Saint Vincent community with its members being drawn in so many different directions and patterns of life. It is hard to reconcile the monastic vocation with 10 to 20 years spent as pastor of a parish hundreds of miles from Latrobe. Yet, by the grace of God many, even hundreds of monks over the years managed to do that through frequent visits to the monastery, retreats and visitations by the Archabbot.
For the monks living at the monastery life was pretty much the same as life in European monasteries. Even though drawn to duties in the College or Seminary every day, most monks were able to live a typical monastic life in the monastery. That life was a balance of private prayer, contemplation, reading, study and participation in the daily ordo or schedule of the monastery.
That schedule began with the tolling of the great bell in the bell tower in the center of the monastic complex. It would ring out every morning at 4:40 AM. After hearing that bell for ten years it became part of my very being and to this day I wake up every morning at 4:40 AM even though I am over a thousand miles away from that bell tower and cannot hear the bell. The monks then had twenty minutes to wash, get dressed in their habits, the simple habit on ordinary days or additionally the cuculla on feast days, and hasten to the monastic choir.
On reaching the choir each monk would go to his assigned choir-stall and spend some time in silent private prayer. When the whole community has assembled, the Archabbot would rap on his choir-stall, rise and begin the recitation or chanting of the Divine Office. On ordinary days the monks would recite the Office, on feasts and solemnities the monks would chant the office. With the help of a monk (a different monk was designated hebdomodarius for a week) and he would lead the choir in the recitation or chanting of the Office with the help of the Chant Master, who would keep the chant on tone, and cantors who would chant various parts of the Office.
After praying Matins, Prime and Lauds the monks would participate in the daily Conventual Mass and then go to breakfast. After breakfast each monk would go about performing their proper personal duties of private prayer or work. At noon the monks would reassemble in choir and pray Terce, Sext and Nones and then go to the refectory for lunch.
After lunch again the monks would scatter and go about their daily duties. At 4:00 PM the monks would assemble in the recreation room of the Abbey and participate in a German custom of haustis. Haustis was an hour of relaxation, conversation, socializing over a mug of beer and a sandwich. From the beginning Boniface Wimmer had extablished a monastic brewery and continued the Bavarian custom of brewing and consuming one mug of beer at haustis. In addition, the monks sold beer by the barrel to many of the German immigrant communities in Western Pennsylvania. Bishop O’Connor, Bishop of Pittsburgh, tried to stop Saint Vincent from selling its brewing and selling its beer, but the Archabbey appealed to the Holy See and won the right to continue such a long-standing German tradition.
At 5:00 PM the great bell would summon the monks back to choir where they would recite or chant vespers. Vespers was followed by dinner and dinner was followed by recreation, usually out doors if the weather allowed. At 8:00 PM the great bell would summon the monks back to choir where they would recite Compline (night prayer) receive the Archabbots blessing and retire for the night in silence. The great silence of the monastery was not as strick as in Cistercian and other monasteries, but it was observed.
For me the praying of the Divine Office in choir was the heart of monastic life. I had fallen in love with Gregorian Chant at an early age and to participate in the recitation or chanting of the Divine Office was the highlight of every day for me. Perhaps some monks used their responsibilities in the Seminary or College to justify their frequent absence from choir, but they were few in number. The great majority of the community were faithful in attendance in choir.
Every novice is given instruction in chant and every novice is tested to determine the quality of their singing voice. The best voices were then chosen to serve as cantors in the praying of the Divine Office. I had never thought of myself as having a particularly good singing voice and yet the Chant Master chose me on many occasions to be a cantor; I loved it and prayed to God that it would not be source of pride for me canceling out whatever merit I might otherwise derive from doing it. Non nobis Domine, non nobis, sed nomine tuo da gloriam!
View of Saint Vincent Archabbey and College as it appeared when I arrived there in 1951.
I arrived by train at Latrobe and was met by a monk from the Abbey. Since I was technically a postulant, one seeking admission to the community, I was taken to the Scholasticate which is the division of the Abbey where postulants live. There were about 25 postulants or “Scholastics”in the Scholaticate when I joined it. Not surprisingly I found myself, at 28 years of age, the oldest of the group. Most of the Scholastics were recent high school graduates and were 18 or 19 years of age. I had no difficulty fitting in with the group, although I felt my age when we played baseball during recreation.
I had had two years of Latin in high school, but since that would have been more than ten years ago it was decided that I should spend my one year as a postulant learning Greek and also be given intensive tutoring in Latin. Greek would be helpful when I would take classes in Sacred Scripture but it was imperative that I be proficient in Latin since all my classes in philosophy and theology would be taught in Latin and the exams would be in Latin. The requirement that classes be taught in Latin was dropped after the Second Vatican Council as was Latin generally abandoned in the Church, much to the dismay of those of us who considered Latin to be important for more than a facile knowledge of the English Language. Pope Benedict XVI later would make real efforts to restore Latin to something of its former importance in the Church, not only in the Liturgy, but also general.
Greek was a real trial for me. The English philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead, was the first person to make a big issue out of teaching foreign languages in the primary years rather than later years. I learned of his campaign when I began to study Greek at age 28. I have never been good at learning foreign languages really well but I have learned them well enough to have a working knowledge of Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Spanish, French, German and Italian. I studied German in the Monastery because even though all of the original monks who came from Bavaria had died off, German was still spoken a little in the Monastery and table reading in the Refectory was partly in German.
The Scholasticate year went by rapidly and in the summer of 1952 I was admitted to the Novitiate along with 11 other Scholastics. I was now 29 years of age, all the rest of the novice class were 19 or 20 except for one other, Paul Gavaler from Pittsburgh, who was 27. Paul had graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in chemistry and had worked in Pittsburgh as a chemist before entering the Scholasticate. Even though we were a somewhat disparate group in many ways, we soon developed a unity and a fraternal bond.
As novices we were given the Benedictine habit to wear. Here is a description of the habit:
With slight modifications of shape in some congregations, the traditional monastic habit of the Benedictines consists of a tunic, confined at the waist by a belt of leather or of cloth; a scapular, originally a work apron, the width of the shoulders, that reaches somewhere between the knees and the hem of the tunic; and a hood (men) or wimple and veil (women) to cover the head. In choir, at chapter, and at certain other ceremonial times, a full, often pleated, gown with long, wide sleeves, called a “cowl” or “cuculla,” may be worn by the finally professed over the ordinary habit. The word cuculla comes from the Greek word, koukoulion, for the great habit allowed to be worn after final profession of monastic vows. – Wikipedia
A Benedictine monk has a black hood, instead of a wimple and veil.The modern Benedictine monk’s hood is streamlined, but in past centuries it was much larger.+
Upon beginning the Novitiate it was necessary for the novices to be give a new name as a religious man. Our seniority in the novice class was determined by the date of our application for admission to the monastery. It turned out that I was not only the oldest, but last in seniority since I was the last one in the class to have applied for admission. That had an immediate effect on my choosing my religious name. Not only did I not have a choice of the names of all the more than 300 monks living but I was outranked by my classmates in the choosing of a name. I figured that since all the common names were already taken or would be taken by my classmates I would be left with Paffnutius, or Alaric or Baldric. The procedure was for each novice to submit three names, not already taken, in the order of choice, to the Archabbot and he would approve one of the names submitted. Naturally the Novice Master made certain that we did not submit secular names, like the names of movie stars, but would rather limit ourselves to saints names. I submitted RENE Goupil, one of the North American Martyrs, HILDEBRAND, who later became Pope Gregory VII and excommunicated Emperor Henry, the Holy Roman Emperor., and POLYCARP, a disciple of St. John the Evangelist and later became the Bishop of Smyrna. I was delighted when the Archabblot approved the name Rene. I was the first monk at St. Vincent ever to have he name Rene and consequently my new name was the source of a lot of kidding. Father Ralph, the Music Director, was fond of telling me, “Don’t worry, Rene, you can always ask to change your name!” Since I left the monastery there have been two more “Rene’s” so I guess I broke new ground. I formed so many new friendships as Rene Henry Gracida that after I left the monastery I kept the name. Years later I went to court and had my name changed officially to Rene Henry Gracida.
The purpose of a novitiate is to educate and train the novice in preparation for the novice’s insertion into the fullness of the community’s life, but to my joy, immediately after our novitiate began we began to pray the Divine Office in the Choir Chapel with the rest of the community. That was heaven to me. The chanting and/or singing of the Divine Office is central to the life of a monk. Gregorian chant has experienced something of a revival of public interest since the middle of the 20th Century and so I was very familiar with it. My novitiate would last one year. In some religious orders and congregations the novitiate can last two years or even longer. The education part of the novitiate is accomplished through classes. We had classes in the Divine Office, chant, the psalms, the Holy Rule and conferences with the Novice Master. The training took place, aside from our practices in Gregorian chant, mostly in the physical work the novices were required to do consisted mostly in washing the walls of the rooms of the monastery (they were all hard plaster) and farm work.
The wall washing was tedious and boring and I did not particularly care for it. The farm work was much more to my liking, probably because of my love of out door life. The farm work consisted, for example, in the annual potato harvest which was quite large considering that the potato harvest had to feel not only the monks but also the college and seminary students. Harvesting potatoes was accomplished by each novice walking with a five-gallon bucket down the rows in the potato field and picking up the potatoes that had been exposed by the tractor pulling a harrow-like device. It can be back-breaking work. Being the engineer that I am I persuaded my fellow novices to adapt my system for potato harvesting. Instead of each novice carrying his own five-gallon bucket, one novice would walk between the rows carrying two five-gallon buckets and two novices without buckets would pick up the potatoes and put them in the buckets. It was a faster and much more efficient system for harvesting the potatoes. There was only one problem with it: it did not meet with the approval of the Novice Master. What I had overlooked was that the purpose of harvesting potatoes was not only the gathering of the potatoes, but from the standpoint of the status of the harvesters, novices, it was an exercise in humility, patience and perseverance. So, we each got back our individual buckets and resumed picking up potatoes in the traditional manner. I had learned something I was supposed the learn as a novice, be a novice not an engineer.
Late in the novitiate year the Archabbot summoned me to his office. There he informed me that I was to use my architectural engineering experience to design a complete remodeling of the sanctuary of the Abbey Church. I was somewhat surprised by this since the novitiate year is supposed to be devoted to the purposes an practices I outlined above. But, as I was to learn again fifteen years later, one does not question the legislator in the Church. So they prepared an office for me and equipped it with everything I would need to start the project after the novitiate ended, in the meantime I began to sketch various solutions to the problems existing in the Abbey Church.
In 1955 Saint Vincent Archabbey would be celebrating the centennial of the founding of the Abbey and the golden jubilee of the completion of the construction of the abbey church and the community wanted to have a big celebration. My work was cut out for me and it was formidable considering that I would be altering the sanctuary in which all the members of the community had been professed and ordained. The implications for controversy were enormous. I wondered how this would square with the interior peace and spiritual growth that I was seeking in my monastic life?
Photo of the interior of the Archabbey Church as it appeared in 1953.
With the completion of the novitiate year in the summer of 1953 it was time for my simple profession of vows. Benedictines profess four vows, unlike most religious orders and congregations: poverty, chastity, obedience and stability. The fourth vow commits a monk to remain in the monastery where he professes his vows rather than moving from one monastery to another. Still, in cases of necessity it is possible for a monk to transfer from one abbey to another. What is required is the consent of the abbot of the monastery from which the monk is transferring, the consent of the abbot of the monastery to which he is transferring and the consent of the abbot president of the confederation of monasteries to which both monasteries belong. Simple vows remain in force for three years and at the expiration of that period of time the monk is either free to leave the monastery or to profess solemn vows which remain in effect for one’s lifetime unless dispensed by the Holy See.
And so, on July 11, 1953, I and the other 11 members of my novitiate class stood before the Archabbot in front of the main altar (shown above) of the Abbey Church and made our profession of vows. We were now called “clerics” and we moved into that area of the monastery called the Clericate. We now had private rooms whereas in the Novitiate we occupied a dormitory divided into cubicles with curtains as in a hospital.
We now became students in Saint Vincent Seminary, a part of Saint Vincent Archabbey. The majority of the students in the Seminary were diocesan seminarians from all of the dioceses of Pennsylvania plus four or five other dioceses in the United States plus a few from other abbeys and from other countries. My days now were filled with study. The first two years were devoted to the study of philosophy and the next five years would be devoted to theology. Benedictines in the middle of the 20th Century were required by Pope Pius XII to study pastoral theology in a fifth year if their abbey was engaged in pastoral ministry in parishes. As you read in the chapter on the founding of Saint Vincent, there was the specific identification of Saint Vincent Archabbey with Saint Vincent Parish from the very beginning.
Before I could make much progress in my liturgical research necessary for the remodeling of the interior of the Archabbey church the Archabbot directed me to design and construct a new monastery refectory in the space formerly occupied by the Archabbey Library which had been moved to its new free-standing building. The old library occupied a beautiful space covered by a series of curved barrel vaults. I paneled the walls with wood paneling above which I concealed flourescent lighting to illuminate the beautiful ceiling and provide indirect lighting for the refectory. I installed twelve very quiet air-handling units along the walls of the refectory and in a basement I installed a large airconditioning compressor for a chilled water system that fed the air-handling units in the refectory. The monastery now had its first airconditioned space. In the winter a heat-exchanger took heat from the steam generated in the Archabbey’s steam plant and heated the water to the air-conditioning units in the refectory. The refectory today is exactly as I left it upon completion of the project.
Now, in the time allowed by my studies and my participation in the prayer life of the monastery I began to work in earnest on the remodeling of the Archabbey church. It you examine the photograph of the church shown above you will see that the altar was attached to a very large beautiful white marble reredos. Beautiful, yes, but an architectural disaster since the reredos prevented the monks seated in their choir-stalls from being able to see the celebration of the Mass. It seems incredible that for fifty years the monastic community had not been able to see the Mass being celebrated, they could hear it but not view it.
I determined to demolish the altar and its reredos and to replace it with a freestanding altar proportionally massive to be the focal point for everyone in the church. The final design provided for a mensa 11′ x 4′ x 18″ of green marble resting on four white carrara marble bases on the faces of which would be carved in high relief four sacrifices described in the scriptures that were prototypes for the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Over the altar would be a light-weight tester to focus attention to the altar and to provide light for the surface of the mensa. I made a model of the proposed renovations and to my amazement there was only a little opposition and that came from the very old members of the community out of nostalgia while the rest of the community welcomed the changes and so the Archabbot gave me permission to proceed.
I went to New York City, stayed at Saint Malachy Church whose pastor introduced me to Bernard Staffetta who had recently completed the marble work in the church. Working with him I contracted for the altar mensa and its bases to be carved in Italy. Because the altar and its bases would weigh about five tons I set to work reinforcing the vault under the floor of the sanctuary to support the great weight of the altar and its predella. I completely replaced the floor of the sanctuary with new marble, repainted the interior of the church and installed recessed lighting in the attic that provided good illumination at the level of the choir stalls and pews. Bernard Staffetta did all of the marble work and he did a wonderful job. Here is a photograph of the interior of the church as it appears in 2014.
You will not the absence of the tester over the altar; for some reason unknown to me the tester was removed in the 1980’s and replaced by the crucifix shown in the photo.
The altar base on the right has a 10″ x 10″ x 10′ hole in its top. During the Mass of the consecration of the new altar the Archabbot had to place the relics in that cavity while the mensa was supported on hydraulic jacks; needless to say we were all holding our breath as he reached under the mensa and placed the relics bronze box in the cavity.
In 1955 the Archabbey celebrated its Jubilees in a Mass celebrated by Cardinal O’Hara, Archbishop of Philadelphia. On that occasion the Archabbey Church was elevated to the rank of a Minor Basilica.
If I may be allowed to boast a little, I am proud of the fact that with the exception of the removal of the tester above the altar, the interior of the Basilica is exactly the same as I left it is 1955. The reason that this is a boast is because the Second Vatican Council, 1962-1965, through is Decree, Sacrosanctum Concilium, initiated sweeping changes in the Church’s Liturgy which necessitated the remodeling of the sanctuaries of some churches, some of which had been remodeled just before the council. Nothing in the Archabbey Basilica which was remodeled eleven years beforeSacrosanctum Concilium had to be changed and it remains today unchanged.
Archabbot Denis O. Strittmatter, O.S.B., 1896-1971
The Rt. Rev. Denis O. Strittmatter, O.S.B., D.D., sixth Archabbot of St.
The following is taken from the published obituary of Archabbot Denis O. Strittmatter, O.S.B.:
Archabbot Strittmatter entered the Benedictine Order at St. Vincent
Archabbey in 1916 and was solemnly professed as a Benedictine monk July 1,
1920. He was ordained to the priesthood in the Archabbey church by the late
Bishop Hugh C. Boyle of Pittsburgh June 24, 1923. For the next three years
he served congregations in Youngstown, Ligonier and Wilpen, and in 1927 was
made assistant pastor of St. Mary’s Church, Pittsburgh. A year later he was
transferred to Sacred Heart Church, Jeannette.
Archabbey in 1916 and was solemnly professed as a Benedictine monk July 1,
1920. He was ordained to the priesthood in the Archabbey church by the late
Bishop Hugh C. Boyle of Pittsburgh June 24, 1923. For the next three years
he served congregations in Youngstown, Ligonier and Wilpen, and in 1927 was
made assistant pastor of St. Mary’s Church, Pittsburgh. A year later he was
transferred to Sacred Heart Church, Jeannette.
Military School Director
In 1929 when the Benedictine monks of St. Vincent Archabbey took over the
administration of St. Emma’s Military School (a school for Negro boys in
Rock Castle, Va.), Archabbot Strittmatter was appointed its assistant
director. He held this post until 1944 when he became director of the
military school. In 1947 he returned to St. Vincent to become maintenance director.
administration of St. Emma’s Military School (a school for Negro boys in
Rock Castle, Va.), Archabbot Strittmatter was appointed its assistant
director. He held this post until 1944 when he became director of the
military school. In 1947 he returned to St. Vincent to become maintenance director.
On Sept. 8, 1949, he was elected Coadjutor Archabbot of St. Vincent
Archabbey, succeeding retired Rt. Rev. Alfred Koch, O.S.B., S.T.D. His
election was confirmed by the Holy See September 14 of the same year. The
Most Rev. John F. Dearden, Pittsburgh, conferred the Abbatial Blessing upon
the new archabbot at services in the St. Vincent Archabbey Church Nov. 25,
Archabbey, succeeding retired Rt. Rev. Alfred Koch, O.S.B., S.T.D. His
election was confirmed by the Holy See September 14 of the same year. The
Most Rev. John F. Dearden, Pittsburgh, conferred the Abbatial Blessing upon
the new archabbot at services in the St. Vincent Archabbey Church Nov. 25,
In 1953, he was elected president of the American Cassinese Congregation of
the Benedictine Order for a six-year term and was re-elected in 1959. As
superior of the Benedictine monastery of St. Vincent, Archabbot Strittmatter
was instrumental in founding the American Benedictine Academy, and as
president of the American Cassinese Congregation he represented the 1,800
monks of that congregation at Vatican Council II from 1962 to 1965. From
1953 to 1963 he served as one of the four advisors to the Abbot Primate of
the Benedictine Order.
the Benedictine Order for a six-year term and was re-elected in 1959. As
superior of the Benedictine monastery of St. Vincent, Archabbot Strittmatter
was instrumental in founding the American Benedictine Academy, and as
president of the American Cassinese Congregation he represented the 1,800
monks of that congregation at Vatican Council II from 1962 to 1965. From
1953 to 1963 he served as one of the four advisors to the Abbot Primate of
the Benedictine Order.
In June of 1963 he retired as archabbot of St. Vincent.
During Archabbot Strittmatter’s administration, an extensive building
program was inaugurated at St. Vincent. Three dormitories, a classroom
building, an activities building housing a gymnasium and an auditorium, a
library, and a student center were constructed or begun before his
retirement in 1963. Shortly before relinquishing his post as administrator,
Archabbot Strittmatter began formulation of plans for the reconstruction of a
monastic and college building destroyed in a multi-million dollar fire which
struck the Benedictine Community earlier that year.
program was inaugurated at St. Vincent. Three dormitories, a classroom
building, an activities building housing a gymnasium and an auditorium, a
library, and a student center were constructed or begun before his
retirement in 1963. Shortly before relinquishing his post as administrator,
Archabbot Strittmatter began formulation of plans for the reconstruction of a
monastic and college building destroyed in a multi-million dollar fire which
struck the Benedictine Community earlier that year.
From 1953 until 1959 I had enjoyed a good relationship with Archabbot Denis. According to the Holy Rule of Saint Benedict the abbot took the place of Christ in the monastery, he was like a father to the community. I do not believe that anyone enjoyed a close relationship with Archabbot Denis, he did not have a warm personality and rarely smiled. Perhaps his rather austere and unapproachable personality had been formed, or malformed, during the period from 1929 until 1947 when he was running the military school, Saint Emma’s, for black boys. After just three years back at Saint Vincent Abbey he was elected its Archabbot. During those three years he was in charge of maintenance. I imagine that what the monks saw in him as a possible candidate for the office of Archabbot was his stern demeanor that spoke of discipline.
There is no question that both the College and the Monastery needed a building program. The College needed new dormitories and the Monastery needed a new building to accommodate the increase in the number of monks. Perhaps the community saw in Father Denis Strittmatter the talent needed for the construction of those new buildings. In any event, Archabbot Denis set about planning the new dormitories. He hired a commercial builder in Pittsburgh to design and build the dormitories.
There are two things wrong with that approach. First, the hiring of a construction firm to both design and build the buildings meant that there would be no competitive bidding for their construction. That is not good. On a project costing over a million dollars it is best to have competitive bidding in order for the owner to be sure he is paying a fair price for the construction of the project. Secondly, when the construction firm uses an ‘in-house architect’ to design the buildings there is a conflict of interest from the start. The contractor’s architect is not independent, he is subject to the pressures and orders of his employer to design the buildings using systems, elements and materials that are in the contractor’s best interest, not the owner’s. On a project of the size of the dormitories it is best for the owner to engage an independent architect, a member of the American Institute of Architects, who acts as an arbiter between the owner and the contractor during the construction of the project. During the design of the project the architect must follow, within reason, the wishes of the owner with regard to materials used in the construction of the project. I, of course was totally incapable of designing and supervising the awarding of contracts and construction of such a large project. I lacked the staff to undertake it and so the Archabbot was justified in going outside of the monastery for the dormitory project, but he should have hired an independent architect not a construction firm.
Business affairs of a monastery are conducted by the abbbot in consultation with his Little Chapter, consisting of the Prior, the Sub-Prior, and two monks elected by the General Chapter of the monastery which consists of all monks in solemn vows. There are financial limits on how much the Abbot with the Little Chapter can spend, beyond those limits the abbot must seek the approval of the General Chapter.
When it came time for Archabbot Denis to submit his plans and the contract for the construction of the college dormitories to the General Chapter, the Archabbot placed the plans for the dormitories in the chapter room of the monastery for several days in advance of the meeting of the General Chapter in order to give the monks the opportunity to study the project. Naturally, I, being a monk in solemn vows, examined the plans. I was shocked to see that the system of construction was more residential than institutional and that it would require much more maintenance and upkeep over the years to keep it in good condition. It seemed to me that it was possible the in-house architect of the contractor could have been influenced by his employer, the contractor, to use materials either that the contractor already had in his warehouse or could obtain at a favorable discount from his suppliers.
Now I was faced with a dilemna. I knew that if, as an architect, I spoke unfavorably about the project at the chapter meeting it could influence the community to vote down the project. I knew that that would infuriate Archabbot Denis and I had no idea as to how he would react. On the other hand, there were enough monks in the community with experience with building, some of them were, or had been, pastors of parishes under the care of the Archabbey and had themselves had to work with architects and contractors, and so I could hope that the monks would not need my opinion expressed in Chapter and so I resolved to ‘play it by ear.’
At the chapter meeting to vote on the dormitory project, as I had hoped, there were enough monks with experience in planning and building buildings who expressed doubts, reservations and even opposition to the Archabbot’s proposal for the construction of the college dormitories that I kept my silence. However, as the meeting was drawing to a close and we approached the time to vote on the project, one of the monks said, “Well we have not heard from Frater Rene and with his background and experience surely he has an opinion on this project, we should hear from him.”
My heart sank within me for I realized that this was a moment of truth that I could not escape. So I stood up and said basically the same things I have written above. The community listened and then remained silent. After what seemed like an eternity the Archabbot called for the vote. The motion to grant permission for the construction of the project failed. The Archabbot, red faced, adjourned the chapter meeting and left the room.
I did not sleep well that night. I knew that the dormitories project represented a considerable investment of time, money and prestige on the part of the Archabbot. It was obvious the way he ended the Chapter meeting that he was unhappy. Just how unhappy he was I would find out the next morning.
The next morning, after Matins, Prime, Lauds, conventual Mass and breakfast, the secretary of the Archabbot came to my room and said that the Archabbot wanted to see me. With dread filling all my being I went to his office, knocked and entered. The Archabbot, seated behind his desk, looked at me and said, “Frater Rene you can forget about being ordained a priest!” That was it. No preliminary words leading up to his death sentence. That was it: “You can forget about being ordained a priest.” Stunned, I must have stood there speechless for several minutes. Then I stammered, “But Father Archabbot, there is no proportionality between your dormitories project and the priesthood of Our Lord Jesus Christ. He glared at me and then said, “I repeat, Frater Rene, you can forget about being ordained a priest, that is all, you can go.” With that I left his office and went straight to the Archabbey Church to pray; I was devastated.
At the time, I and the other members of my novitiate class, having professed both simple and solemn vows and having completed five years of theology and having been ordained transitional deacons were scheduled to be ordained in a few months to the priesthood in Greensburg Cathedral. The Archabbot, lacking the power to ordain priests had to follow the canonical process of issuing dimissorial letters to Bishop Lamb, the Bishop of Greensburg authorizing and delegating him to ordain his monks. Normally the monks of Saint Vincent were ordained in the Archabbey Church in the presence of the community, however relations between Bishop Lamb and Archabbot Denis were reportedly strained and so Bishop Lamb decided that we would be ordained in his cathedral.
Saint Vincent Archabbey was scheduled later that month to have its triennial apostolic visitation by two abbots from our American Cassinese Federation of abbeys. I decided to not immediately appeal to the Holy See the Archabbot’s decision to withhold a dimisorial letter authorizing my ordination to the priesthood until after the visitation. During the visitation each monk of the monastery has the right to be interviewed by the Abbot Visitators. When my turn came I told the whole sad story of the Chapter meeting on the dormitories and the subsequent punishment inflicted on me by Archabbot Denis for exercising my canonical right to express my opinion during the meeting. The two Abbot Visitators were visibly shocked by what I told them and they explained that as a transitional deacon I had a right to be advanced to the presbyteral order in the absence of any serious moral delict or impediment. Since I had not acquired either, they said that they would speak with Archabbot Denis and tell him that he must issue the dimissorial letter.
Evidently the Abbot Visistators were successful in persuading Archabbot Denis that he had acted wrongly because in due time he issued my dimissorial letter to Bishop Lamb along with the letters for my classmates and on May 23, 1959 I was ordained a priest in Blessed Sacrament Cathedral by Bishop Hugh Lamb, the Bishop of Greensburg, Pennsylvania.
The next two years were happy years for me in many ways: I began to teach theology to freshmen in Saint Vincent College, I went on weekends to parishes in the lower Monongahela River Valley south east of Pittsburgh, principally in the little coal-mining town of Clarksville. I loved doing both. It was a joy to relate to the people of a small congregation of 150 people and I enjoyed teaching. I also was able to do architectural projects for the Archabbey, the College and some of the parishes under the care of monks from the Archabbey. What was missing in my spiritual life, however, was a good relationship with my Archabbot. He would not speak with me, he would not acknowledge that I even existed. For a Benedictine monk that is intolerable. I began to think about transferring my vows to another Benedictine abbey. I discretely inquired of the Abbot of Holy Cross Abbey in Colorado if he would accept me and he immediately indicated that he would.
In the Spring 1960 I went to Archabbot Denis and told him that I would like to transfer my vows to Holy Cross Abbey in Colorado. To effect the transfer I needed the permission of the Abbot of Holy Cross, I needed the permission of the Archabbot of Saint Vincent and I needed the permission of the President of the American Cassinese Confederation. Without hesitation Archabbot Denis replied that he would not give the necessary permission. That ended it because he was also the President of the American Cassinese Confederation so I had not recourse of appeal. I then told him that it was obvious to me that he did not want me to remain at Saint Vincent Archabbey and so I asked him what he wanted of me. He replied curtly, “Leave the Order!”
For the second time Archabbot Denis literally took my breath away, I was shocked. When I regained my composure I told him that I would have to think and pray about that.
The City of Miami, Florida as it appeared in 1960.
Full Definition of NEFARIOUS
Examples of NEFARIOUS
- a nefarious scheme to cheat people out of their money
- the chaste heroines and nefarious villains of old-time melodramas
Origin of NEFARIOUS
Latin nefarius, from nefas crime, from ne- not + fas right, divine law; perhaps akin to Greek themis law, tithenai to place — more at do
First Known Use: circa 1609
Related to NEFARIOUS
- black, dark, evil, immoral, iniquitous, bad, rotten, sinful, unethical, unlawful,unrighteous, unsavory, vicious, vile, villainous, wicked, wrong
CANON 971 (1917 Code of Canon Law) (c.1026, 1983 Code of Canon Law):
“It is NEFARIOUS, by any method, for any reason, to coerce anyone into the clerical state or to block one canonically suitable for it.”
GOD WRITES STRAIGHT WITH CROOKED LINES
A Portuguese Proverb
I have no doubt that Archabbot Denis’ telling me that it was his will that I leave the Order of Saint Benedict was a nefarious act! I had legitimately exercised my right under the Holy Rule of Saint Benedict as a monk in solemn vows to express my opinion in General Chapter. To be punished for what I said about his college dormitories plans was unfair, unjust, nefarious!
After consultations with my confessor/spiritual director I came to the conclusion that since it was the will of my superior, my Archabbot, that I should leave the Order of Saint Benedict I had an obligation under my vow of obedience to obey him and to seek a dispensation from my solemn vows and a transfer to the secular (diocesan) clergy in some diocese in the United States. The procedure was complex and yet at the same time simple. In order to have the Congregation for Religious in Rome grant me the dispensation I would have to name a specific diocese to which I would go and in which I would become a priest in its presbyterate. Once I had decided on the diocese I would inform the Archabbot and he would have the Archabbey’s canon lawyer draw up a petition for dispensation of solemn vows, the Archabbot would sign it, I would sign it and it would be sent to Rome.
The only bishop I knew was Bishop Coleman Francis Carroll, Bishop of Miami. I came to know him when he made his ordination retreat at Saint Vincent just prior to his ordination as Auxiliary Bishop of Pittsburgh. Having studied philosophy and theology at Saint Vincent Seminary before his ordination to the priesthood he chose to ‘come home’ for his retreat. The Archabbey Guest Master appointed me, fresh out of the Novitiate and now in Simple Vows, to take care of Bishop-elect Carroll during his retreat. We hit it off immediately when he discovered that we had mutual friends in Houston. I lost contact with him after his ordination as Auxiliary Bishop but I decided that I would write to him and ask him if he would accept me into his presbyterate in Miami if Rome granted me the dispensation from my solemn vows. He wrote back immediately and in his warm letter he expressed his eagerness to receive me.
I gave a copy of the letter to Archabbot Denis and he attached it to the petition and sent it off to Rome.
I had no way of knowing it at the time, but all that had transpired between me and Archabbot Denis was a classic case of God writing with crooked lines. Ten years later when I was made Auxiliary Bishop of Miami I realized that this had been God’s plan for me all along. I was too emotionally involved in my departure from the monastery to even imagine that that might be the case. There is a good lesson in this for anyone undergoing a serious trial in their life; trust in God, do the right thing and perhaps in time you will come to see that eventually God will write with straight lines in your life and undo any remaining effects of the trauma you suffered earlier when he wrote with crooked lines in your life.
In early August, 1961, the indult document arrived from Rome granting me my dispensation. The Archabbot immediately executed the decree putting it is force and I made plans to leave the monastery on August 13 and to go to Miami.
A word about the indult. In the middle ages, when most of the priests in the Church were monks, there was a problem with monks searching for and obtaining appointment as the bishop of one of the many new dioceses being created as the Church grew in Europe. To curb this abuse Rome added a canon to the Code of Canon Law which sought to penalize any monks in solemn vows who left their monastery and so Canon 642 came into being and it was under that canon of the 1917 Code that I was dispensed from my solemn vows. Here is canon 642:
Can 642 §1. Quilibet professus, ad saeculum regressus, licet valeat, ad normam can. 641, sacros ordines exercere, prohibetur tamen sine novo et speciali Sanctae Sedis indulto: 1º Quolibet beneficio in basilicis maioribus vel minoribus, et in ecclesiis cathedralibus; 2º Quolibet magisterio et officio in Seminariis maioribus et minoribus seu collegiis, in quibus clerici educantur, itemque in Universitatibus et Institutis quae privilegio apostolico gaudent conferendi gradus academicos; 3º Quocunque officio vel munere in Curiis episcopalibus et in religiosis domibus sive virorum sive mulierum, etiamsi agatur de Congregationibus dioecesanis.
Briefly, here is what Canon 642 says. Anyone dispensed from solemn vows who is a priest can exercise his priestly powers but he cannot, without a special new indult from the Holy See have a benefice in a major or minor basilica or a cathedral, or be a professor or official in a major or minor seminary or college in which clergy are educated and also in universities or institutes which grant Pontifical degrees or occupy an office or job in a diocesan curia or religious house, whether of men or women, even a diocesan congregation.
So you can see that under to code of canon law in force from the middle ages up until the promulgation of the New Code in 1983 by Saint Pope John Paul II, I was pretty much unable to be anything but a parish priest if I received an indult of dispensation from my solemn vows. That was alright with me. I was not motivated by clerical ambition. I now simply wanted to be a good priest in a parish, free from the temptations that clerical ambitions that can ruin a good priest; I could not even be a monsignor; from now on I would be simply, Father Rene Henry Gracida.
With money from my family I bought a Ford Fairlane automobile, packed my personnal belongings, took off the Benedictine habit, said goodbye to my confreres in the monastery and drove away from Latrobe, Pennsylvania headed for Miami, Florida with tears in my eyes and a heart filled with sadness. I loved Saint Vincent Archabbey. I loved being a Benedictine monk, and I would still be one today if I had not been forced out of the Order. I loved the life of prayer and contemplation. Above all I loved the Liturgy; I had become Assistant Master of Ceremonies and was involved in planning and executing all of the rich variety of worship that the Church’s calendar year afforded. Benedictines are rightly famous for the quality of their liturgical celebrations and I thank God that I had ten years to grow in understanding of the importance of celebrating the Liturgy of the Church with fidelity to the rubrics and tradition. After the death of Archabbot Denis I returned several times to visit with the men who had formerly been my confreres, most notably in 1984 when I returned to celebrate a Mass of thanksgiving with my classmates on the occasion of the Silver Jubilee of priestly ordination. Saint Benedict is still my patron saint. Even though I am no longer bound by my vows I have tried to live in a way that kept the spirit of those vows.
I arrived in Miami on August 15, the Feast of the Assumption, and checked in with the Chancellor, Monsignor Robert Schieffen, Pastor of Holy Family Church in North Miami at his rectory. He received me warmly and told me to move into the rectory since my first assignment in the Diocese of Miami would be as Assistant Pastor at Holy Family Church. He told me that I could go to the chancery the next day to meet with Bishop Carroll.
So began my new life as a diocesan priest (a secular priest). The irony is that when I was struggling to identify my vocation back in 1950 I had specifically rejected the idea of being a diocesan priest. Now, after ten years as a Benedictine monk I was a diocesan priest. God works in strange ways. While I had desired the priesthood as a choir monk in a Benedictine abbey and enjoyed the occasional weekend duty as a “supply priest” in the small parishes southeast of Pittsburgh, I had no idea of how spiritually powerful it is for the priest when he is engaged in the full priestly ministry of a parish priest. I had never baptized children before, I had never prepared couples for marriage and officiated at their wedding, I had never visited the sick and dying in hospitals and in their homes, I had never taught in CCD classrooms, I had never administered extreme unction (the Sacrament of the Sick), I had never done marriage counseling to couples whose marriage was on rocky groujd, I had never visited and blessed homes, etc. etc. etc. Now that the full ministry of a parish priest was opening up to me I began to realize the infinite spiritual dimensions of what it means to be a priest of Jesus Christ.
Bishop Coleman Francis Carroll, Bishop of Miami
BiographyColeman Carroll was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the second of three children of William and B. Margaret (née Hogan) Carroll. His parents were both born in Ireland, and his father, who worked as a railroadbrakeman and clerk for Carnegie Steel Company, died in 1922. His two brothers also joined the priesthood; his older brother, Howard Joseph Carroll, served asBishop of Altoona-Johnstown, and his younger brother, Walter Sharp Carroll, worked in the Vatican Secretariat of State. He attended Holy Rosary elementary and high schools in Homewood, and later graduated from Duquesne University in 1926. His theological studies were made atSt. Vincent Seminary in Latrobe.On June 15, 1930, Carroll was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Pittsburgh. He then served as a curate at the Church of the Resurrectionin Brookline, St. Scholastica Church in Aspinwall, St. Basil Church inCarrick, and Holy Cross Church on the South Side. In 1944, he earned aDoctor of Canon Law degree from the Catholic University of America inWashington, D.C. He organized St. Maurice Church in Forest Hills in 1949, serving as its founding pastor. He became pastor at Sacred Heart Church in East Liberty in 1951, and was named diocesan vicar forreligious in 1952. He was raised to the rank of Domestic Prelate in September 1952. He also headed the philosophy department at Duquesne University for four years, and taught at Mount Mercy College for ten years.On August 25, 1953, Carroll was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Pittsburgh and Titular Bishop of Pitanae by Pope Pius XII. He received hisepiscopalconsecration on the following November 10 from ArchbishopAmleto Giovanni Cicognani, with Bishops John Francis Dearden andMichael Joseph Ready serving as co-consecrators, at the Cathedral of St. Paul. His consecration was attended by over 2,000 people, including Pennsylvania’s first Catholic governor, David L. Lawrence. As an auxiliary bishop, Carroll assisted Bishop Dearden with the administrative duties of the diocese, and continued to serve as pastor of Sacred Heart Church.On August 13, 1958, Carroll was named the first Bishop of the newly erectedDiocese of Miami in Florida. His installation took place on the following October 7. At the time of his arrival, the diocese comprised sixteen counties in southern Florida with a Catholic population of 185,000. By the time of his death, the archdiocese was composed of eight counties, and included 700,000 Catholics, 127 parishes, 500 priests, and 750 nuns. A little over a year following his installation, Carroll founded St. John Vianney College Seminaryin Miami. He later opened St. Vincent de Paul Seminary at Boynton Beachin 1963. He also established a weekly diocesan newspaper called The Voice.In response to the Cuban exile, Carroll welcomed over half a million Cubanrefugees into the diocese. In 1960, he used the four-story school building ofGesu Church to establish the Centro Hispano Catolico, a welfare agency that provided medical care, child care, legal aid, employment service, food, clothing and cash for Cuban refugees in the diocese. He also helped to coordinateOperation Peter Pan, and even scolded Monsignor Bryan O. Walsh, who headed the diocesan Catholic Charities program, for not agreeing to resettle more unaccompanied children. However, Carroll was accused by some Hispanic Catholics, including a number of priests, of showing little interest in their community. They also claimed he was trying to Anglicize the diocese by limiting Spanish-language education in parochial schools and Spanish-language Masses. Carroll did, however, maintain amicable relationships with local African American and Jewish leaders. He was a frequent visitor of Camillus House, established homes for the elderly and unwed mothers, and opened rehabilitation centers for drug addicts and alcoholics.Carroll was known for his firm control over his priests and parishioners, as well as for his outspoken conservative political views and progressive social outlook. He was a vocal opponent of a local ordinance in Dade County that prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, supporting theSave Our Children campaign led by Anita Bryant. Despite his opposition to gay rights, he was an advocate for racial justice and strongly supported thecivil rights movement. On theological matters, he was described as a “hardline Roman Catholic traditionalist” known for his “vociferous opposition to liberalization of the church.” He also opposed repealing the practice ofabstaining from meat on Fridays.When the Diocese of Miami was elevated to the rank of an archdiocese byPope Paul VI on March 2, 1968, Carroll became its first Archbishop. TheDioceses of Orlando and of St. Petersburg were erected from the Archdiocese of Miami, with Carroll holding the status of a metropolitan bishop over them. Less than ten years later, Carroll took ill and Edward A. McCarthy was appointed Coadjutor Archbishop of Miami in 1976.At age 72, Carroll died from complications stemming from a vascular disease at his residence in Miami Beach. He was buried three days later in the priests’ section of Our Lady of Mercy Cemetery in Miami. – WIKIPEDIA
On Wednesday, August 16, 1961, I went the the Chancery Office of the Diocese of Miami to meet Bishop Coleman Francis Carroll. He received me and welcomed me warmly and for a brief while we reminisced about Saint Vincent, Pittsburgh, Houston and mutual friends. Then he shocked me by telling me that he was that day appointing me Chairman of the Diocesan Building Commission which had the responsibility of overseeing all building projects in the Diocese, both diocesan and parochial. I was speechless. It was something I was totally unprepared for. I immediately had visions of future conflict with him over building projects just as I had had at Saint Vincent. Had the Lord transferrred me from the ‘frying pan’ into the ‘fire?’
After I regained my composure I told him that I would be happy to serve him in any way that I was able. He quickly added that I would be a parochial vicar during the three year trial period leading to my incardination (permanent canonical relationship) in the Diocese, in addition to being Chairman of the Building Commission. Then he took me down the hall and showed me my office as Chairman of the Building Commission.
Later in the day I began to wonder how the Bishop could give me a title and an office in the Chancery in view of the restrictions placed on me in the Indult of Dispensation of Vows that I had received and a copy of which had been sent to him. Surely I thought, he is aware of the disability imposed on me by Canon 642 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law? But then I remembered that he had earned a Doctorate in Canon Law at the Catholic University of America and I decided that it would be insulting for me to raise the question with him, so I kept my questions to myself.
I loved the pastoral ministry at Holy Family Church. I did everything that a parish priest is expected to do. Monsignor Robert Schiefen, the Pastor also held a degree in Canon Law. He was a good pastor. At first I found it rather daunting to preach homilies in the Church on Sundays. The Church seated almost 1,000 people. I had, up to then, only preached in the small parishes in the lower Monongahela Valley south of Pittsburgh to congregations of 100-150 people. With smaller congregations the homilist has the advantage of feeling like he is speaking personally with each individual in the church. In larger congregations the homilist looks out at a sea of faces and it is hard to speak heart to heart in such a setting. However, my new experience at Holy Family prepared me for what was to come, in 1976 I preached to a congregation of 10,000 people in Philadelphia.
I learned something about marriage preparation that I had not learned in the seminary. I instructed a young couple for a couple of months in preparation for their marriage. In those days the banns (announcing the names couple and the impending date of the marriage) of marriage were still announced in the parish church for three Sundays prior to the wedding (I believe that banns should still be announced). After the banns were announced for the couple I had instructed, a woman came to me after the Mass and told me that if the bridegroom was the same person she knew up north, he was already married. I conducted an investigation and sure enough, he had already been married in the Church and his first marriage had never been annulled. When confronted he admitted everything. The bride-to-be was devastated. Hopefully the Extraordinary Synod on Marriage in October, 2014, will restore the practice of announcing the banns of marriage.
I wrote in an earlier chapter that I tried to keep the spirit of my vows even though I had been dispensed from them. The most difficult, obedience, I had eventually found it to be easy in although accepting it was the most difficult in my experience with Archabbot Denis. But now, it was easier and during all the years I served Bishop Carroll I never resisted or questioned him about any of the orders he gave me, even though some later would prove to be almost as difficult for me as the problem I had at Saint Vincent.
The vow of stability was now to become a cross for me. After a year at Holy Family Parish in North Miami Bishop Carroll transferred me to Saint Coleman Parish in Pompano Beach. Then after a year in Saint Coleman he transferred me to Saint Matthew Parish in Hallandale, then after a year he transferred me to Saint Ambrose Parish in Deerfield Beach and made me the Administrator of the Parish, then after four months he demoted me and transferred me to the Church of the Visitation in North Miami as parochial vicar, then after a year he transferred me to Saint Ann Parish in Naples and made me its Pastor (by then he had incardinated me in the Diocese), then after two years he transferred me as Pastor to the Church of the Nativity in Hollywood, then after one year he transferred me to Saint Mary’s Cathedral and made me its Rector, then after a year he transferred me and made me Pastor of Saint Patrick Parish on Miami Beach, then after a year he put me in residence in the Tower of Saint Patrick Parish and took away my assignment as its Pastor, then after less than a year he assigned me to live in Saint John Vianney Minor Seminary, then he appointed me Pastor of Saint Kieran Parish in Miami. All of this took place between August 15, 1961 and November 5, 1975. Most of the time I was living out of my suitcase.
It had soon become obvious to me that Bishop Carroll was both using me to solve some of his problems with problem priests and at the same time he was testing my promise (vow) of obedience. Some of the pastors I was assigned to were real problem cases, some were alcoholics, some were full-time golfers. Because I was both older in years and more mature it was easier for me to work with the Bishop in solving some of those pastoral problems than it would have been for him with younger priests as Parochial Vicar. But for me, it was a ten-year-Novitiate.
The beach at Naples, Florida
My appointment as Parochial Vicar at Holy Family Church was very short. Within a year I was transferred by Archbishop Carroll to be the Parochial Vicar at Saint Coleman Church in Pompano Beach. There was a problem at St. Coleman Parish. The Pastor was a golfer who played at least two days a week. Between playing 18 holes and having lunch and refreshments at the clubhouse that meant at least two days a week were lost to the pastoral ministry of the Parish. My orders were to organize a youth group. The Pastor was not happy about that because, as he said, “You will be transferred in a year (he was prescient) and I will be stuck with the group.” I went ahead and organized a very successful youth group. The other problem was that the Parish Secretary seemed to be in charge of the Parish. I could not fire her so I simply ignored her and did the best I could.
In May, 1963 Bishop Carroll called me to his office and shocked me by saying, “Get yourself a passport, you are going to accompany me to the Coronation Mass of Pope Paul VI at the end of June.” I was speechless. We flew together to Rome and stayed at the Grand Hotel. After the magnificent Coronation Mass we went to the papal audience room of the Apostolic Palace and Archbishop Carroll went in for a private audience with Pope Paul VI, after a while a papal attendant came out and took me in to be with the Pope and Bishop Carroll. Pope Paul VI (Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini) was known for his gentleness and warmth. On this occasion he lived up to his reputation. He was exceptionally kind to both Bishop Carroll and myself during the photo taking.
A word about the relationship of Coleman Francis Carroll and Giovanni Battista Montini. As was mentioned in the preceding Chapter, Bishop Carroll’s younger brother, Walter, was a Monsignor working in the office of the Secretary of State of the Vatican. At the same time that Walter was working in the Secretariat of State, Monsignor Montini was an Under-Secretary of State. They became close friends. Walter invited his friend Monsignor Montini to come to the United States and to stay with the Carroll family in Pittsburgh. Monsignor Montini did and Coleman would have gotten to know Monsignor Montini on that occasion. Shortly after Montini’s visit to the United States Walter died in a skiing accident in Switzerland. The bonds connecting the Pope to the Carroll family lasted for both their lifetimes.
The next day the Bishop told me that he was flying to London (he hated being in Rome in the summer time because of the heat) and that I should tour Europe looking at new churches so that I could better do my work as Chairman of the Building Commission. He checked out of the hotel and flew to London. When I checked out of the hotel I discovered that he had not paid for my room. You can well imagine what a room in the Grand Hotel in Rome costs. I was again in a state of shock. Luckily I had brought enough travelors’ checks to pay the hotel but then I was left with barely enough to see Europe on $5.00 per day. Somehow I did it. I traveled to Switzerland and Germany and visited many of the churches that had been built since World War II. I took many photographs and was able to show them to the Bishop when I returned and he was pleased I never mentioned the matter of money, nor did he. I guess he had forgotten that I had spent ten years in the monastery and therefore had no cash reserves to fall back on for a trip to Europe.
Hardly a few months had passed after my return from Europe when the Bishop transferred me to Saint Matthew Parish in Hallandale. The problem there was that the Pastor was a alcoholic. He would remain locked in his room all during the day and only come out at night. Since I had little contact with him I simply took charge unofficially and ran the Parish. Something funny happened at St. Matthew. A large percentage of the parish were “snowbirds” from Canada during the winter. Many of them did not speak English. My French was rusty but I did well until one day in the confessional I asked a woman: “Avez vous triste sincere sobre votre peche?” “Are you truly sorry for your sins?” She replied with a puzzled “Mon pere, pourquoi c’est necessaire pour moi peche? It turned out that I had asked her if she were truly sorry for her peach or fish. The word for sin was peche’ with the accent on the final “e”, it was a matter of pronunciation to distinguish between them. After that I was referred to by the Canadians as Le Pere Peche, or the “The Peachy Pere.”
It was not long before Bishop Carroll arranged for the Pastor of Saint Matthew to enter Guest House in Michigan which specialized in helping alcoholic priests. I then became the Administrator of Saint Matthew for a few months before the Bishop transferred Father Gerald Shehan to Saint Mattew as Pastor and I was transferred to Saint Ambrose in Deerfield Beach.
The Parish of Saint Ambrose had been started a few months earlier by my friend Father Sebastian Loncar. He was celebrating Mass in rented space in a strip mall. He asked me to design a school building that could serve as a temporary church. With the Bishop’s permission I designed a circular building with eight classrooms, offices, toilets and mechanical rooms around the perimeter of the circle and a large room in the center of the circle that would be the future auditorium/gymnasium for the school but would serve for some years as the sacred space in which the Parish would worship. I engaged Murray Blair Wright an architect in Miami to prepare the plans and to supervise the construction of the building. The bids came in within the budget and construction started.
Meanwhile, in Miami, at St. Michael Parish the Pastor had been acting more and more bizzarely. Lately he had been standing on his head for extended periods of time. Needless to say the parishioners were concerned for him and brought the matter to the attention of the Bishop. Bishop Carroll arranged for him to go off for psychiatric evaluational and treatment. The Bishop at the same time transferred Father Loncar from St. Ambrose to St. Michael, and transferred me from St. Matthew to St. Ambrose.
I was happy! Now I would get to finish building the school (and temporary church) that I had designed as the Administrator of Saint Ambrose Parish. But it was not to be. Four months after I arrived at Saint Ambrose I was demoted from Administrator and transferred as Parochial Vicar to the Church of the Visitation in North Miami. At the same time Father John Francis McKeown, Pastor of St. Lucie Parish in St. Lucie was transferred as Pastor of the Church of the Visitation. Father McKeown had a reputation for being something of an ogre; he had never had an assistant before. Everyone commiserated with me over my demotion and my having been appointed assistant to Father McKeown.
It was not so much the demotion or being appointed assistant to Father McKeown that disturbed me, it was the fact that I read about my transfer in the diocesan newspaper, The Voice. No one had informed me before hand that I was being demoted and transferred. I later figured that it was he ultimate test that Bishop Carroll was putting me through; he wanted to see if I would object and raise objections to the demotion and transfer and the way in which it was handled. Again, the spirit of the vow of obedience worked in me and I kept silent.
As it turned out, I was happy with Father McKeown and he was happy with me. He was the only priest in the Diocese who had been born (1903) and reared in Florida (Rockledge). Bishop Barry of Saint Augustine Diocese had sent him to Rome, to the Lateran Seminary, to study his philosophy and theology in preparation for ordination to the priesthood. He was the only American priest to ever have studied at the Lateran Seminary. The Lateran Seminary is the Seminary for the Diocese of Rome and most of its graduates are destined to be bishops and cardinals. John Francis McKeown as a Florida “Cracker” must have stuck out like a sore thumb at the Lateran. After his ordination he had a run-in with Bishop Barry’s sucessor, Bishop Joseph Patrick Hurley over the interpretation of a canon of canon law. Bishop Hurley exiled him to the parish in Perry Florida, a town dominated by the K.K.K.. For twenty years Father McKeown survived by carrying a pistol on his hip. His friendship with several classmates who were bishops and cardinals was a matter of pride for him, Cardinal Ottaviani was his prefect in the seminary.
Father McKeown gave me free reign as Parochial Vicar. I was in my glory as I taught in the school, organized a youth group and worked with the adults. Father McKeown taught me to enjoy kippers (kippered herring) at breakfast every morning; to this day I eat kippers, not every day as I did with Father McKeown, but several times a week.
It was too good to last. After almost two years the Bishop transferred me to Saint Ann Parish in Naples to replace another eccentric priest. This one, had among his eccentricities, his custom to tell people in his homilies how to mix the perfect martini. He was not an alcoholic, but he had strange tastes in food: the cupboards in the rectory were filled with cans of refried beans. The good news about this transfer is that I was given the title of “Pastor.”
My two years as Pastor of Saint Ann Parish in Naples I consider to be two of the most successful years of my life. I established a good relationship with the parishoners and the civil population of Naples. I paid off the Parish debt. We had an excellent elementary school with excellent nuns in charge, but we did not have a Catholic high school within 100 miles so the Catholic graduates of Saint Ann School had to go to the local public high school. That school needed repairs. The public school board tried to pass a bond issue to repair the school but the voters voted down the proposal. I launched a campaign in support of the next effort of the school board and the bond issue passed. I was the town hero.
The Bishop agreed with me that Marco Island to South of Naples needed to become a mission and eventually a parish so he authorized me to start the mission, and I did. Today Marco Island has a thriving independent parish.
Naples was a bit of heaven for me; it had the worlds best snook fishing.
The Church of the Nativity, Hollywood, Florida
About the time that I was appointed Pastor of Saint Ann Parish in 1966 the Pastor of the Church of the Nativity in Hollywood, Florida, applied to Bishop Carroll for permission to build a church for the Parish. Up until that time the Parish had been worshiping in the Parish school building using three classrooms. The Bishop gave permission and set the budget at $5o0,000. In 1966 $500,000 would have been the equivalent of $1,500,000 in today’s building costs in South Florida. When I learned, in my capacity as Chairman of the Diocesan Building Commission that the Pastor had engaged an architect in Boston to design the new church I went to the Bishop and objected. I told the Bishop that a Boston architect would not be familiar enough with South Florida to be able to design the church and stay within the tight budget. The Bishop told me that I was exaggerating the problem. When I insisted that there would be problems, the Bishop simply said with a wry smile, “You do not understand, the architect that the Pastor has selected is the nephew of the Apostolic Delegate (Nuncio) in Washington.” I, in turn, simply smiled and nodded my acceptance of the political reality of the situation.
Sure enough, when the bids came in for the construction of the Church of the Nativity they were way over budget; the cost of the reinforced concrete alone exceeded $600,000; the entire structure of the church, all of it’s walls, was to be of reinforced concrete. I took the bids into the Bishop and asked him if he would authorize a increase in the budget to over $1,000,000. He paused for a long time and then said, “No that is impossible for a parish that size.” So then I said, “Well, then there is no alternative but to direct the Pastor to hire a local architect and start all over.” The Bishop reluctantly said, “Yes, tell him.”
I called the Pastor to my office and explained to him that it was not possible for the budget for his church to be increased enough to enable him to build the church as designed by the Boston architect and that it would now be necessary for him to engage a local architect and start all over again from scratch staying within the budget of $500,000 that the Bishop had authorized. He stormed out of my office.
It was now the summer of 1967 and I left for a month’s vacation, driving from Naples to Houston to visit my mother. Two weeks had hardly gone by before Eddie Borrell, the Bishop’s Secretary, called me at my mother’s home and told me, “The Bishop was to see you as soon as possible.” She did not tell me why he wanted to see me. I asked her if it was so urgent that I should fly to Miami, visit with the Bishop and then fly back to Houston to resume my vacation. She told me not to do that but instead to drive back to Naples immediately and to call the Bishop as soon as I reached my rectory in Naples.
I did as she directed and when I called the Bishop he said that he would fly to Naples and that I should pick him up and bring him to my rectory for a conference. I was shocked! I knew that the Bishop would never fly in a small airplane and yet there was no way he could fly from Miami to Naples except in a small airplane. Again I offered to drive immediately to Miami. He said no, he would fly to Naples. I knew that something big, and probably not good, was about to happen and it was with anxiety and not a little fear that I met him at the small Naples airport and took him to my rectory.
No sooner had we sat down in the rectory when the Bishop told me, “The Pastor of the Church of the Nativity has resigned his pastorate and resigned from the priesthood and the Parish is in an uproar!” I was stunned. And then he immediately added, “I am hereby appointing you Pastor of the Church of the Nativity.”
The thought of leaving Naples, which I had grown to love, and going into the maelstrom of anger in that Parish in Hollywood was almost too much for me to process. For the first time since I arrived in the Diocese I objected to a decision of the Bishop. I gave him all the reasons why he should leave me in Naples, not the least of which was the fear that the people of Hollywood would lynch me since it was I who told their Pastor that he could not build the church they had sacrificed for and had waited for for so many years.
The Bishop gently told me of his experience as Auxiliary Bishop of Pittsburgh when Bishop Deardon transferred him from Saint Maurice Parish, which Bishop Carroll has started, to Sacred Heart Parish in Pittsburgh. He said that he objected emotionally to Bishop Deardon’s decision and that Bishop Deardon had gently said to Bishop Caroll, “You do not understand, Bishop, I am not asking you to go to Sacred Heart Parish, I am ordering you to go to Sacred Heart Parish.” On hearing those words from Bishop Carroll I said, ” I understand, I will go to Nativity Parish!” Again, my commitment to the spirit of my vow of obedience kicked in and killed all thought of resisting the Bishop. So, said goodby to the people of Saint Ann Parish, packed my belongings, gave my cat to the wife of my dentist and I moved into the rectory of Nativity Parish.
That cat was my constant companion. She had been run over by a car as a kitten and my friend in Miami who was a veterinarian healed her injuries and offered her to me. I had not had a cat since I was a boy and I welcomed the little Siamese kitten. She was ferocious. She attacked any male cat that came anywhere near the rectory in Naples, driving them up a tree. I would hear their crying and have to go out and bring my cat inside so that they could escape. I named her Madame Nhu after the widow of President Diem of Vietnam who had been assassinated by the C.I.A. with the permission of President John F. Kennedy. Madame Nhu moved to Paris and launched a worldwide speaking tour denouncing the United States for the death of her husband. She was like the Tiger Lady in the Steve Canyon comic strip. My cat, Madame Nhu would walk with me to close Saint Ann Church each night and would walk back with me as a dog would do. What a cat. A year later the wife of my dentist sent me a photograph of Madame Nhu with the caption, “Bishop? What bishop?” I could not take her to Nativity Parish because there I would be living with an Assistant Pastor and it would not be fair to him to have my pet also living in the rectory, he might possibly be allergic to cats. I had a priest friend who was an Assistant Pastor in another parish and he asked the Bishop for a transfer because the pastor had a German Shepherd dog that was allowed to eat at the rectory dining room table and occasionally the dog would eat my friend’s steak if he was not protective of his meal.
To say that the people of Nativity Parish were ready to lynch me is putting it mildly. I met with the Parish Council many times and explained to them what had happened to the project for their church. It was only after I told them that I, as an architect, could promise them that I could not only build them a church but that I could also build them a parish hall, all within a budget of $500,000 that they became reconciled with me as their Pastor.
I then sketched out the design of the church you see above and with the help of Architect Murray Blair Wright built it and a large parish hall within a budget of $500,000. No sooner had I completed the construction of the church and parish hall and had them blessed by the Bishop, than he transferred me from Nativity Parish and made me Rector of Saint Mary Cathedral in Miami, again in violation of the impediments imposed on me by the terms of Canon 642 and my Indult of Dispensation from Solemn Vows. I did not question the Bishop on how he could do it because at the same time he made me Chancellor of the Diocese which was a far greater violation of the impediments.
Being Rector of the Cathedral brought with it the responsibility of being the Bishop’s Master of Ceremonies for all of his pontifical celebrations in the Cathedral. I was in my glory. I have already mentioned that I was Assistant Master of Ceremonies in Saint Vincent Archabbey Basilica, and to once again have the privilege of assisting in the celebration of pontifical ceremonies in the traditional Latin Mass of 1962 was a source of great joy. Bishop Carroll was a lover of the Church’s traditional music and had hired a distinguished musician as Director of Cathedral Music and so our liturgical celebrations were always accompanied by the best of the Church’s wealth of traditional sacred music sung by a magnificent choir. Once again the Church’s Liturgy was compensating for any frustration and disappointment I was experiencing by my frequent transfers from one assignment to another.
After I was appointed the Rector of Saint Mary Cathedral and Chancellor of the Diocese, the editor of The Miami Herald sent a reporter to interview me. The paper wanted to publish a profile of me in the paper. In talking with the reporter I said that my vocation to the priesthood did not come to me from a voice from heaven as happened to many of the prophets in Israel. When the profile was published it quoted me as saying, “My vocation to the priesthood did not come from God.” Needless to say I was very upset. I could well imagine the bafflement of Catholics who read that. I was also concerned about what Bishop Carroll might think. At the first opportunity I explained to him that I had gone on to say to the reporter that it was the Liturgy of the Catholic Church that made me think about the priesthood. I was relieved when the Bishop laughed and said in effect, “Welcome to the club” since he had been misquoted so many times in the Miami Herald. That paper was hostile to the Catholic religion and used every opportunity to put the Church in a negative light.
The Liturgy was, and still is the focal point of my spiritual life. When I became an altar boy in the fourth grade of school I studied hard to memorize the Latin responses of the Mass, I played at celebrating Mass in a makeshift altar in my bedroom at home. My love affair with the Liturgy has begun and would last all my life.
As I wrote earlier, when I returned to Houston at the end of the Second World War I became involved in liturgical conferences and workshops of the Diocese of Galveston-Houston. I joined the Liturgical Conference, a national organization dedicated to liturgical reform. The Liturgical Conference began in 1940 under the sponsorship of all the Benedictine abbots in the U.S. It became an independent organization in 1943. The purpose of the Liturgical Weeks sponsored by the Liturgical Conference was to bring together priests, religious, and lay people to worship and grow in their understanding of the Liturgy. The Weeks grew and grew in attendance and reached their zenith in attendance with 20,000 people participating. The liturgical reform focused on education to bring people to a greater understanding of what they were doing when they participated in any liturgical celebration, especially the Sunday Mass they were obligated to attend. At the same time that I joined the Liturgical Conference I joined the Liturgical Arts Society and began to think in terms of focusing my architectural practice after I graduated from the University of Houston on ecclesiastical architecture.
When the Archabbot asked me to remodel the Archabbey church I recognized that I needed to do a lot of research on the subject of the Liturgy and how it is celebrated in the great and ancient monasteries of Europe. I spent hours in the monastery library reading about the Liturgy starting with Pope Pius X and the Congres National des Oeuvres Catholiques he convened in Belgium and the writings of Dom Lambert Beauduin. I studied the writings of Abbot Ildefons Herwegen of the Abbey of Maria Laach. That abbey become the famous for the leadership it provided in the renewal of the Liturgy. Then I read the works of Pius Parsch Romano Guardini, Louis Bouyer, and of course I studied the 1947 encyclical Mediator Dei of Pope Pius XII.
I had always been struck by the cultural difference in the way different peoples participated in the Mass. I am not thinking of the way African Catholics participate in the celebration of Mass with dancing and a great deal of vocalization during the celebration. Rather, I am thinking of the relative silence that was characteristic of most American congregations as contrasted with the tradition of singing that was so common in German and even German-American parishes.
When I read about Monsignor Martin B. Hellriegel’s wonderful liturgies at his Parish, Holy Cross in Saint Louis, I was inspired to make a pilgrimage to Saint Louis and experience first hand what he was doing. It was awesome. I had never heard congregations sing like the congregation of Holy Cross parish. Monsignor Hellriegel was the composer of one of my favorite entrance hymn in those days, To Jesus Christ Our Sovereign King. In an essay he published in 1956 in Caecilia he described how he began to teach his people to sing chant:
With the exception of the Requiem our people had practically done no chant, which, in a way, was a blessing. It is easier to start from scratch than to re-build. I bought the Solesmes chant records and was determined to sing, at least with the children and choir, the Lux et Origo Mass for my first Easter at Holy Cross (1941). I told the children: “The Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays of Lent are thegreater Lenten days when the people of old fasted more strictly. Now, you don’t have to fast as yet, but how would it be, if on these days during Lent we would assemble in church from 11:15 till 11:45 to learn the Easter Mass”?They were quite enthusiastic. We supplied them with Kyriales . During the first week of Lent they merely listened to the monks, following the music in their booklets. During the second week I permitted them to hum along, but very quietly. During the third they hummed again, but with more rhythm. During the fourth they sang, but lightly. During thefifth they sang with more expression, and during the sixth they did it “without the monks”. Easter morning they sang the ” Lux et Origo ” Mass without books.
In 1960 I attended the Liturgical Week in Pittsburgh. The Week opened with a Mass celebrated outdoors in the Golden Triangle, the park at the meeting of the Ohio and Monongahela rivers. The Mass was memorable for me because the celebrant/homilist was Bishop John Wright, then Bishop of Pittsburgh and in his memorable homily Bishop Wright built on the word sperabamus (“we used to hope”)describing the dejected state of the disciples on the road to Emmaus and how the breaking of the bread by Jesus opened their eyes to see Christ. He was drawing the analogy that it would be through the Eucharist that we liturgists would gain courage to push for liturgical reform. I have preached many homilies based on thesperabamus theme.
Bishop Wright’s homily must have really hit home with me because I gathered a group of us priests who had become dispirited over the bishops’ lack of leadership in helping in the liturgical reform. We met and decided to form a national organization of representatives from the liturgical commissions of all the dioceses in the United States. Besides myself the group consisted of Fathers James Sullivan (later Bishop of Fargo), Daniel Coughlin, John Cunningham and Joseph Champlain. The organization we formed that day would become the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions. Because the FDLC was independent of the bishops of the U.S. it was able to fill the vacuum of supplying assistance in liturgical reform until the Bishops Committee on the Liturgy’s Secretariat Office was opened and began to cooperate with the F.D.L.C in 1966.
In 1966 the Liturgical Conference held its 27th National Liturgical Week in Houston. Naturally, I attended it. The keynote speaker was a Methodist minister. It struck me as strange and unacceptable that the keynote address given at a Catholic conference devoted to promoting the Catholic Liturgy would be given by a protestant minister of a church without a liturgical tradition. The ‘last straw’ for me was when, during the celebration of the Mass for the Week clowns and balloons were introduced into the celebration along with secular dance. I left, resigned from the Liturgical Conference and never attended another Week.
With the promulgation of the decree Sacrosanctum Concilium by Pope Paul VI liturgical changes began to occur rapidly in the Church, some good, some not so good and some actually bad. Because of my extensive background in Liturgical reform Bishop Carroll appointed me Chairman of the Diocesan Liturgy Commission while remaining Chairman of the Building Commission. When the revised rite of Extreme Unction, now called Sacrament of the Sick, was promulgated the Bishop asked me to prepare guidelines for the priests of the Diocese for the implementation of the new Rite. I did and submitted the guidelines to the Bishop for review. I do not believe that he ever read them, because shortly thereafter at a Clergy Conference, when I reviewed the guidelines for the priests, the Bishop, looking shocked, came to the microphone and told the priests, “I do not want you to do any of those things he just told you!” I took my seat in a state of bewilderment shared by all the assembled priests.
On another occasion, after the Holy See authorized the use of whole wheat in the manufacture of hosts for the Mass, I asked the kitchen of the Chancery to bake a couple of unleavened whole wheat hosts about 5 inches in diameter. Later I celebrated Mass with two priests in the Chancery Chapel and at the communion of the Mass I broke the hosts into bite size morsels and gave them to the two priests. Unfortunately the Chancery cook had overcooked the hosts and they were hard as rock. So, as we three stood at the altar chewing the eucharist the Bishop appeared in the back of the chapel, took one look at us and left. Later he told me that we three priests had looked to him like “three monkeys chewing on nuts” and forbade me from doing any more experimentation with the manufacture of hosts. Needless to say, I was happy to comply with his directive having felt very foolish in consuming the Eucharist at that Mass. In spite of such mishaps the Liturgy of the parishes of the Diocese was, I believe as good as one could expect in a time of upheaval and chaos in the universal Church.
There were other moments of liturgical mishaps that were both funny and not so funny. On the occasion of the elevation of the Diocese to the status of Archdiocese and the promotion of Bishop Carroll to Archbishop in 1968, I was Master of Ceremonies for the Mass in the Cathedral celebrated by the Apostolic Delegate (Nuncio) Archbishop Luigi Raimondi, who was the epitome of “Romanita”, strict observance of protocol. During the ceremony I was required to bring the Papal Bull to the throne for Archbishop Raimondi to read before leading Auxiliary Bishop John Fitzpatrick to the pulpit to read it to the conngregaton. Bishop Carroll had directed me to prepare an English translation for Bishop Fitzpatrick to read and it was the English translation that I presented to Archbishop Raimondi at the throne. He glanced at it and then asked soto voce but in a voice that could still be heard by the congregation, “Where is the Latin Bull?” I asked Bishop Fitzpatrick who was standing alongside of me, “Where is the Latin Bull?” He said, “In my briefcase!” I asked, “Where is your briefcase?” He answered, “In the Synod Hall where I and all the priests vested.” I turned to the Archbishop who had been listening to my conversation with Bishop Fitzpatrick and asked, “Can Bishop Fitzpatrick read the English translation to the congregation? The Archbishop answered in a firm voice, “Yes, but get the Latin Bull and he must read that also.” So I led Bishop Fitzpatrick to the pulpit and told him, “Read a slowly as you possibly can.” I am confident that the congregation must have thought Bishop Fitzpatrick was drunk because it took him almost ten minutes to read two typewritten pages. I ran across the street to the Synod Hall, searched among all the bags and finally found Bishop Fitzpatrick’s briefcase. I dashed back to the Cathedral, walked slowly up to Bishop Fitzpatrick who was just finishing reading the English Bull and handed him the Latin Bull which he read, which he did, to the bewilderment of the congregation. Thus is the Church’s Liturgy ever a human enterprise and at the same time a divine enterprise, filled with beauty, drama, tediousness and at the same time capable of lifting men’s souls to God in ecstasy.
Pope Pius VI with Cardinal Ottaviani on his right.
Dan Herr, the former Editor of Crisis Magazine once wrote in one of his editorials, that if the Church had the same custom as the Chinese and named each year after an animal, the year 1968 would have to be named The Year of the Louse. From different vantage points it was both the best and the worst of years. It was a watershed year in the life of the Church.
It was inevitable that society would undergo radical changes on coming out of the experience of the Second World War. Every sector of society had been affected by that war, family life and been disrupted, individuals were set adrift and the standards of conduct were not longer restraining individuals in their interaction with others and with the communities in which they were now living, having been uprooted from the place of their birth and upbringing. Advances in technology fostered by the war effort now began to impact the civilian population, e.g. television brought the world into the living room of everyone with a television set.
Man has always had to struggle to control his sexual appetite, hormonal influences have always exerted powerful forces on human behavior. But now financial interests began to exploit man’s appetite for sexual gratification. The movie industry, dominated by secular Jews came into conflict with Catholicism dominated by Irish-Catholics. In 1965 the Eli Landau film, The Pawnbroker, successfully broke the Legion of Decency morality Code by having a woman playing a black prostitute open her blouse and expose her breasts to the camera. Movies, the most powerful means of spreading propaganda now began to assault the American population with erotic subject matter portrayed in entertainment.
In 1948 Alfred Kinsey had published his first report, Sexual Behavior of the Human Male, and in 1953 the second report, Sexual Behavior of the Human Female, was published. In 1966 Masters & Johnson published the research, Human Sexual Response, which would be followed in 1970 by Human Sexual Inadequacy. These works became best sellers and had a powerful influence in starting the cultural revolution of the 20th Century which was largely a sexual revolution.
In Boston, a Catholic physician, John Rock, who had been on the faculty of Harvard Medical School, with the help of a grant from Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, undertook research in controlling birth and in 1955 produced the first birth control pill, Enovid, which received F.D.A. approval in 1957. The way was now open for man to pursue the gratification of his sexual appetite without fear of pregnancies. The spring had become a stream and then a river and was now a flood threatening western civilization. The dam was broken when the United States Supreme Court in its 1965 Griswold v Connecticut decision removed all restrictions on the availability of birth control to anyone and everyone.
It was in the face of this of this tidal wave cultural revolution that Pope John XXIII appointed a special pontifical commission consisting of five lay persons to make recommendations to him on how to address this growing problem of birth control. The Pope died before the commission could make its report. Pope Paul VI almost immediately on assuming the papal office expanded the commission twice finally ending with a huge commission 50+ persons with 16 bishops overseeing the work of the commission. In the summer of 1968 the commission gave its report, a conflicted report with the majority favoring accepting under certainl conditions artificial birth control and the minority strongly opposed to any acceptance of artificial birth control.
Faced with such conflicted advice, Pope Paul VI wrote and published on July 25, 1968 his first and only Encyclical, Humanae Vitae, On the Regulation of Birth and the Sanctity of Life. In the encyclical the Pope stressed the procreative and unitive nature of conjugal relations but he wrote definitively on all aspects of human sexuality. The firestorm of criticism and dissent that broke out immediately over the Encyclical caused Pope Paul to not write another encyclical in his entire pontificate, but instead to write 122 Apostolic Constitutions, 8 Apostolic Exhortations, 121 Apostolic Letters and innumerable homilies, letter and reflections, many of them defending his teaching in Humanae Vitae.
In Washington, Father Charles Curran, who had taught moral theology at The Catholic University of America organized a public dissent that appeared in the press. A large number of priests of the Archdiocese of Washington joined in the public dissent from the teaching of Humanae Vitae. Patrick Cardinal O’Boyle, the Archbishop of Washington disciplined canonically nineteen of the priests who had publicly dissented from the teaching of the Encyclical. Those priests appealed to the Congregation of the Clergy in Rome, and the Congregation, probably fearing that a schism was in the making, ordered Cardinal O’Boyle to lift the canonical penalties from those priests. The result was a disaster for the Church in the United States.
George Weigel, in his book, The Courage to be Catholic, called the Congregation’s action “The Truce of 1968.” I think that it could more accurately be called the Sabotaging of Authority. Here is Weigel’s appraisal:
What I [argued] in my 2002 book, The Courage to be Catholic, and what I would still argue today, is that the Truce of 1968 (exemplified by the settlement of the Washington Case) taught various lessons to…the Church in America. The Truce of 1968 taught theologians, priests and other Church professionals that dissent from authoritative teaching was, essentially, cost-free. The Truce of 1968 taught bishops inclined to defend authoritative Catholic teaching vigorously that they should think twice about doing so, if controversy were likely to follow; Rome, fearing schism, was nervous about public action against dissent. The result…was that “a generation of Catholic bishops came to think of themselves less as authoritative teachers than as moderators of an ongoing dialogue whose primary responsibility was to keep everyone in the conversation and in play.” And Catholic lay people learned… “that virtually everything in the Church was questionable: doctrine, morals, the priesthood, the episcopate, the lot.” Thus the impulse toward Cafeteria Catholicism got a decisive boost from the Truce of 1968: if the bishops and the Holy See were not going to defend seriously the Church’s teaching on this matter, then picking-and-choosing in a supermarket of doctrinal and moral possibilities seemed, not simply all right, but actually admirable—an exercise in maturity, as was often suggested at the time.
Weigel’s description of the state of the Church in the United States since 1968 did not apply to the Archdiocese of Miami. Archbishop Carroll publicly supported Cardinal O’Boyle and warned the priests of the Archdiocese of Miami that he would not tolerate public dissent in any form, not only from the teaching of Humanae Vitae, but from any magisterial teaching of the Church. The chaos that plagued so many dioceses across the United States did not happen in the Archdiocese of Miami, but the Archdiocese did not escape the backwash from the chaos elsewhere. We had serious problems even though public dissent was not one of them.
In 1970 Archbishop Carroll ordained a group of men who had received their formation and education at Saint Vincent de Paul Major Seminary in Boynton Beach, Florida. That Seminary belonged the the Congregation of The Mission (the Vincentian Fathers) not to the Archdiocese. It was the custom of the Archbishop to have the faculty of the Seminary stay for lunch in the Cathedral Rectory after the ordinations. So on this occasion I, as Rector, served lunch to eight priests including the Archbishop and myself in the Rectory dining room.
Archbishop Carroll had the odd personality quirk of singling out one person at a dining table and needling that person relentlessly. On this occasion the Archbishop selected the Vincentian priest who was the Professor of Dogmatic Theology at the Seminary for his needling. The Archbishop asked the priest all kinds of questions about his teaching of theology. Sensing a flaw in what the priest was saying in replying to the Archbishop’s needling, the Archbishop challenged the priest directly by saying, in a joking manner, “You are so heterodox that I’ll bet you do not even believe in the Nicene Creed.” To the shock of the Archbishop, myself and everyone in the room, the priest answered, “I don’t.” With that the Archbishop got up and left the table, the room and the Rectory.
Shortly after that the Archbishop called me to his office and told me that he had heard that there were liturgical irregularities occurring at the Seminary and that I, as Chancellor, would have to go to the Seminary and investigate. I went and there were the usual infractions of the rubrics by the priests that were not really all that serious. However, I did hear of a very irregular celebration of the Mass that had occurred in the room of the Spiritual Director of the Seminary, who was one of the Vincentian priests.
On investigating the rumor I discovered that the priest was in the habit of having a few seminarians join him in his room for the celebration of a Mass. The priest would not wear vestments, would use a record album on his desk as an altar and would use ordinary bread for the host. On one occasion when he passed the Eucharist around the group of seminarians one of the seminarians gave a piece of the consecrated bread to the Seminary mascot, a dog. I was shocked to learn this. When I reported the results of my visitation to the Archbishop he decided right then and there that the Vincentians would have to go. The Archbishop told me to call Bishop Borders, Bishop of Orlando and bishop of the seminarian that gave the Eucharist to the dog. I called Bishop Borders, thinking that he would be shocked and dismiss the seminarian. Instead he told me, “But Rene, there was nothing wrong with what the seminarian did because the dog was the seminary’s mascot and therefore part of the community.” I later heard that Bishop Borders ordained that seminarian to the priesthood. The tidal wave of the cultural revolution had just manifested itself.
We negotiated with the Congregation of the Mission and purchased the Seminary from them. It then became the Saint Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary serving the dioceses of Florida and elsewhere. The Seminary was now staffed with Archdiocesan priests. The Vincentian priests who had served as the faculty up to then left and we learned that five of the eight Vincentian priests left the priesthood and two of them also attempted marriage.
We had a lot of problems with the priests who studied at that Seminary and were ordained in the years 1969 and 1970. Many of them left the priesthood, but not before they scandalized the faithful of the Archdiocese. They were the victims of the cultural revolution, the sexual revolution of the last half of the 20th Century. We still suffer from that revolution and it appears to be getting worse. I blame the ease with which men can access pornography on the internet along with the pornographic content of movies and television programming for the pedophilia crisis and the general breakdown of sexual morality in our society a breakdown which the Church, including every sector of the Church, bishops, priests, religious and laity, has not be able to escape.
Ordination of Bishop Rice by Archbishop Carlson in Saint Louis Cathedral
In 1971 Bishop John J. Fitzpatrick, who had served for three years as the first and only Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Miami was transferred by Pope Paul VI to the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas. I chartered an airplane and filled it with friends of Bishop Fitzpatrick and we flew to Brownsville for his installation on May 28, 1971. Now Archbishop Carroll needed to recommend a priest to the Holy See for ordination as the next Auxiliary Bishop because the Archbishop had developed a heart condition and at times was so incapacitated that he could not perform all of the Liturgical functions the Archdiocese required of its Ordinary.
Shortly after the departure of Bishop Fitzpatrick Archbishop Carroll named me the Vicar General and Treasurer of the Archdiocese and I gave up my role as Chancellor. Naturally such an appointment coming so soon after the Archbishop had lost his Auxiliary Bishop set off wild speculation among the priests and laity as to who would be the next Auxiliary Bishop. I soon became the one most frequently named. To anyone who suggested to me that that was going to happen I would protest, “That is impossible! I acquired an impediment to promotion to the episcopacy or even to be a monsignor when I was dispensed from my solemn vows.” To which some would reply, “That won’t stop Coleman Francis Carroll!” To which I would reply, “No, but it will stop Pope Paul because Canon 642 (which imposed the impediment) is the obstacle.”
June and July went by in the summer of 1971 and there was no announcement of the appointment of the new auxiliary bishop by Pope Paul VI. Then in August Archbishop Carroll, without any word to anyone, flew to Rome. He hated Rome in the summer. The heat made him suffer. When I learned that he had gone to Rome I remembered the old saying, “Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun in Rome.” Naturally the rumors started flying around that he had gone to Rome to expedite the appointment of his next Auxiliary. He returned to Miami and there was no news. September passed, and then October and then November and still no announcement.
Then, in the first week of December, 1971, the Archbishop invited me to lunch at his residence on Sunset Island No. 1 on Miami Beach. There was nothing unusual about that, I had gone to lunches and dinners many times at his residence. They were always enjoyable because if there were other guests he engage in his usual habit of needling one of them unmercifully. I even sat through a dinner where he needled John Cardinal Deardon unmercifully even though he had been Auxiliary Bishop to Bishop John Deardon when he was Bishop of Pittsburgh. I have lived with a mystery all these years since I went to the Diocese of Miami in 1961; Coleman Francis Carroll NEVER needled me. I do not know why he did not needle me since I was fair game for him. As the years passed I kept thinking, ok now its my turn. But my turn never came. Why? Only God knows!
At the end of the lunch in the first week of December he casually said to me, “Pope Paul wishes to appoint you my Auxiliary Bishop.” That is all he said, and then he sat there waiting for my reaction. My reaction was not what he expected. I blurted out, “But that is impossible, I have an impediment imposed on me under Canon 642 when I was dispensed from solemn vows.” He rapped his ring on the table and said in an angry voice, “Who are you to question the supreme legislator of the Church?”
I apologized and said that I meant no disrespect to the Pope, but that I was confused.
The Archbishop then went on to tell me that the Apostolic Delegate, Archbishop Raimondi was in South America and that after consulting with my confessor/spiritual director I should send a telegram to the Nunciature in Washington. He said, “Of course you will say yes to the appointment. The telegram should read “Goods arrived in good condition.” and if, God forbid, you should decline the appointment, send a telegram saying “Goods damaged in shipment.” I know that this must read like something the C.I.A. would be doing, but the Church in those days placed great importance on secrecy. It still does, but not as much as then.
I met with my confessor/spiritual director and decided to accept the appointment, I went to the Western Union office and sent the required telegram. A few days later I got a call from the Nunciature telling me that Archbishop Raimondi would be passing through Miami International Airport on his way back to Washington and that I should meet him at the airport. I did and he accepted the date I chose for my ordination, the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, January 25, 1972. On December 6, 1971 in both Washington and Rome the public announcement of my appointment was made.
For months I could not understand how Pope Paul got around the prohibitions contained in the Code of Canon Law, Canon 642. Then, I received the May 31, 1972 edition of Acta Apostolicae Sedis which is for the Vatican what the Congressional Record is for the United States Congress. In that issue I read the Decree of the Sacred Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes dated February 2, 1972. The Decree stated (among other things) that the Congregation met in plenary session on September 24-25 and considered whether or not in these modern times Canon 642 which imposed penalties on religious dispensed from solemn vows should be abrogated. The Congregation decided that it should be suspended/abrogated and in an audience of the Secretary of the Congregation with Pope Paul VI on November 18, 1971 Pope Paul had approved the suspension/abrogation of Canon 642. Thirteen days later Archbishop Carroll invited me to lunch to tell me that I had been appointed his Auxiliary.
I assume that the Archbishop had submitted my name to Rome shortly after Bishop Fitzpatrick moved to Brownsville and that he got turned down in August because of my impediment under Canon 642. He then decided to go to Rome and speak with the Pope himself. You must remember the close ties the Pope had with the Carroll family because Walter Carroll was his associate in the Secretariat of State. Pope Paul probably told the Archbishop that he could not approve my appointment since it was forbidden by Canon 642. The Archbishop, who held a Doctorate in Canon Law, probably said something like, “That Canon was put in the Code in the Middle Ages to keep monks in their monasteries, this is 1971 and that Canon should be abrogated.” The Pope probably said, “Well, I will refer the matter to the Sacred Congregation for Religious, and we will see what they say.” He did, they recommended the abolition of the Canon, the Pope accepted their recommendation and the rest is history, as they say.
I was busy for the rest of December getting ready for my ordination. I had to have a coat of arms designed and I turned to the best heraldry expert in the Country who lived in Boston and he drew my coat of arms which, instead of showing my family lineage, at my choice showed my ecclesiastical lineage: Saint Vincent Archabbey and the Archdiocese of Miami. I had to choose a motto and I chose Abyssus abyssum invocat.
I got the addresses of my father’s family in Mexico and sent invitations to the ordination to them even though I had never met them. My father’s sister and one of his brothers came, to my great surprise and delight. Of course my mother’s family was there. I was especially happy that a delegation of monks came from Saint Vincent Archabbey for the ordination. They were led by the new Archabbot, most were my classmates but also others like the Chant Master and several of my Seminary professors were there; I was able to celebrate a Mass with them the next day.
Because Archbishop Carroll had heart problems he thought it wise to ask John Cardinal Deardon to be the principal consecrator at the ordination. He accepted and came to Miami and he came to Miami for the ordination; Archbishop Carroll and Bishop Paul Tanner of Saint Augustine were the co-consecrators. After the Ordination Mass we were to leave and go the DuPont Plaza Hotel for the Ordination banquet. The Archbishop said to me, “There is not enough room in my car for the Cardinal, me and you, so you follow us in the police escort to the hotel in your car.”
Now in 1969 my Oldsmobile Cutlass had lost its transmision and I was forced to buy a new car. I bought a 1969 Ford Mustang Mach-1.
The 1969 Ford Mustang Mach-1. Mine was just like this one except mine did not have the bronze stripe but was all black. Oh, how I loved that car!
When I was not driving the car I kept it out of sight in the Cathedral garage. The Archbishop’s order to follow his car to the DuPont Plaza Hotel meant that he would now see it for the first time. Sure enough as we were driving south on Brickell Avenue I could see the Archbishop turn and look through the rear window to see if I was following him. Then I saw him talking to the Cardinal. Then I saw them both turned around looking at me in my Mustang; my heart sank for knew what was coming.
During the banquet the Cardinal, who was seated to my left, turned to me and said, “Bishop, I require all my Auxiliary Bishops to drive standard-size cars for safety reasons.”
Archbishop Carroll, who was sitting to the right of me growled, “Get rid of it!”
Draw a line from East to West starting just above Fort Lauderdale and ending just above Naples, and everything south of that line would be the territory of the Archdiocese of Miami. Since most of that area consists of the Everglades National Park, one could assume that there would be few people living in the Archdiocese. But that would be a false assumption since the Eastern Coast of Florida, the Gold Coast, is densely populated. The Archdiocese of Miami in 1970 had a total population of 2,229,030 and of that total about 25% were Catholic and there where 441 priests and 104 parishes.
The period from the day of my ordination on January 25, 1972 until the last week of May was probably the busiest time of my life. I had been relieved of duties as a pastor, but in addition to my duties as Vicar General and Treasurer in the Chancery I was assigned by Archbishop Carroll to celebrate 84 Sacraments of Confirmation and in addition celebrate Masses for all organizations and speak at all banquets and conferences. The Archbishop reserved 20 Confirmations for himself, but since he frequently was indisposed because of his heart condition it became necessary for me to substitute for him, frequently at the last minute.
In addition to my ministry inside the Archdiocese the Archbishop appointed me the Chairman of the Commission for Pro-Life Activities of the Province of Miami (the whole of the State of Florida) and Chairman of the Provincial Commission for the Charismatic Renewal. Those two chairmanships necessitated my traveling all over the state attending meetings in the other dioceses of Florida and planning statewide conferences and workshops.
The celebrations of the Sacrament of Confirmation were the hardest. Not the celebration itself, but getting to and from the parishes required a lot of driving. One night after I had celebrated the Sacrament of Confirmation in Key West, the Archbishop called me at the rectory in Key West and told me that he was unable to celebrate the Mass for a meeting the next morning in Naples and for me to do it. I had to drive practically all night to get from Key West to Naples to celebrate that Mass. In four months I preached so many times that I must have preached in my sleep.
In those days bishops almost always administered the Sacrament of Confirmation while seated on a chair. Many pastors would pick the most dignified chair in their rectory for the bishop to sit on while confirming and that chair was frequently too low, closer to the floor than an ordinary straight back chair. The rite of Confirmation called for the bishop to anoint the person being confirmed on the forehead with the Oil of Chrism and to gently tap the person on the cheek to remind him or her to always be strong in defending their faith. Older brothers and sisters liked to scare their younger siblings by telling them, “The Bishop is going to punch you in the face!” So, when I would reach out to anoint the person or to tap them on the cheek he or she would pull back and I, seated, would have to double up and lean forward in order to anoint the person on the forehead or tap them on the cheek. As a result, I compressed my stomach, not quite filled with the food I had eaten at the supper provided all the priests in the rectory an hour before the Mass, I pushed the food against my diaphragm and thus I ruptured my hiatal sphincter muscle at the bottom of my esophagus.
In the end of May, 1972 I had reached a state of physical collapse. My doctor put me in Mercy Hospital in Miami and I was diagnosed as having polyps on my vocal chords from preaching so much, diverticulosis from eating all those pre-confirmation meals and the hiatal hernia on my esophagus. My doctor kept me in the hospital for a week to make sure I got much needed rest and did not have to speak much. The polyps eventually disappeared but the diverticulosis and hiatal hernia are with me to this day.
A lot of the visitors who came to see me in the hospital told me that the solution to having to travel all over the diocese and the state on short notice was to get a helicopter. I said, “No thanks, I will not pilot anything that does not have wings since I had grown accustomed to looking out of the window of my B-17 bomber at those beautiful wings that supported the airplane.” But, given the geography of the Archdiocese and the fact that the whole Province was located on a long peninsula, flying instead of driving to all of the functions I would have to go to made a lot of sense to me as I lay in that hospital bed.
After I got out of the hospital I went to the Opa Locka Airport north of Miami and spoke with the owner of the flying school there about taking flying lessons in order to get a private pilot license. The cost seemed reasonable and so I started the ground school. I passed the written exam and started flight instructions in one of the school’s Cessna 150 aircraft. By the end of the summer of 1972 I had passed all my flight tests and had become a licensed private pilot. I started renting Cessna 172 aircraft from the Opa Locka flight school and began flying to all my liturgical celebrations in the Florida Keys, the other side of the peninsula and to Provincial meetings around the State.
Florida weather was generally favorable for flying but, with the high humidity associated with Florida weather, fog and clouds were a factor I had to contend with. So it made sense for me to get an instrument rating so that I could be a pilot capable of flying IFR (instrument flight rules) at times rather than VFR (visual flight rules). After a few more months I passed the written test and the flight check and became an IFR rated pilot. It made all the difference in the world that now I was able to make instrument landings when necessary.
After living for almost a year in the bell tower of Saint Patrick Parish on Miami Beach and in Saint John Vianney Minor Seminary (I had been relieved of my assignment as Rector of Saint Mary Cathedral when I was ordained Auxiliary Bishop and as Pastor of Saint Patrick Parish), Archbishop Carroll appointed me Pastor of Saint Kieran Parish in Miami. Saint Kieran Parish at that time did not have a church so I used the beautiful stone church (the only one in the Archdiocese) that had been given to the Religious of the Assumption by Cardinal Dougherty. The Sisters were most hospitable and we had a wonderful three years of sharing the use of their chapel.
1975 was a Holy Year and Archbishop Carroll directed me to organize a pilgrimage from Miami to Rome for the Holy Year celebrations there. I did and we managed to fill a large aircraft with over a hundred people. The Archbishop joined the pilgrimage and we all flew to Rome. On arriving in Rome we stayed at a hotel halfway between the airport and the old city. Our rooms had balconies. The Archbishop went out on his balcony and sat down. He must have dozed off because when he got up to go back into his room he forgot that there was a coffee table just inside the sliding glass door to the balcony. He tripped on it and badly bruised his leg, rupturing a blood vessel. A hematoma developed in his leg. Not wishing to be treated in an Italian hospital the Archbishop immediately returned to Miami, entered Mercy Hospital and left me in charge of the pilgrimage.
This was my third visit to Rome and this time it was very different from the others. My Assistant Pastor at Saint Kieran Parish was Father Richard Castellanos. He had had studied in Rome and had been a Cuban refugee. When Cardinal Ugo Poletti, the Vicar General of Rome and Rector of the Lateran Basilica asked Archbishop Carroll for a Spanish-speaking priest to serve as a master of ceremonies for Spanish-speaking pilgrims visiting the Lateran Basilica, I suggested Father Castellanos. The Archbishop approved and Father Castellanos was appointed. When we were in Rome Father Castellanos was able to open all kinds of doors for us.
One day as I was walking across the great Piazza of Saint Peter’s Basilica, I ran into the Apostolic Delegate to the United States, Archbishop Jean Jadot. He told me that he had been looking for me and he told me that Cardinal Gantin, the Prefect of the Sacred Congregation of Bishops wanted to see me. I went to the offices of the Congregation and met with Cardinal Gantin. He told me that Pope Paul VI wished to transfer me from Auxiliary Bishop of Miami to Bishop of the new Diocese of Pennsacola-Tallahassee. I had participated in meetings of the Province where we had discussed the creation of a new diocese, but we had never discussed who might be its first Bishop and I had no idea that I would be picked to be its Bishop.
On returning to Miami, I found that Archbishop Carroll and Archbishop Jadot had decided that the new Diocese would be erected on November 6, 1975 and that I would be installed as Bishop in Pensacola on that day. The next two months were frantically spent in preparing for the move. I knew that I would be traveling back and forth between Pensacola and Miami a lot and to make the trip by car very often was crazy and yet to fly from Pensacola to Miami one had to fly first to Atlanta, change planes and then fly to Miami and do the reverse on returning to Pensacola. That also was crazy. So I decided that I needed to buy my own little single engine airplane for those frequent trips and also to use it to make the frequent trips I would have to make between Pensacola and Tallahassee. The distance between the two cities is 200 miles and the driving time is 3 hours. So, with my savings plus gifts that the people of the Archdiocese were giving me in appreciation for my eleven years of service in the Archdiocese, I made a down payment on a Cessna 182 Skylane. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.
Sacred Heart Cathedral in Pensacola
Saint Thomas More Co-Cathedral in Tallahassee
November 6, 1975 was the day of my installation as Bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee in the Civic Center in Pensacola (Sacred Heart Cathedral was too small for the ceremony) on November 6 and the following day, November 7, I was installed in Saint Thomas More Co-Cathedral in Tallahassee.
Northwest Florida, “The Panhandle,” is rich in history. Pensacola was settled in 1559, 48 years before Jamestown, making it the first city in the United States. Saint Augustine in Florida (founded in 1565) rightfully claims to be the oldest city in the United States in continuous existence since Pensacola was destroyed by a hurricane and not rebuilt for several years. Up until the creation of the Diocese of P-T on November 6 the counties west of the Apalachicola River were part of the Diocese of Mobile and those East of the River were part of the Diocese of Saint Augustine. The culture of the Western part was that of Mobile/New Orleans and the Eastern part was “Bible Belt Georgia.” There were only 25,000 Catholics in the new Diocese, and most of them were in the Western part.
I moved into an abandoned rectory (St. Stephen Church) and made it both my residence and the Chancery.
I saw my challenge as the first Bishop was to undertake the evangelization of all the people of the Diocese. The Diocese could not afford a newspaper so I took advantage of the existence of about a dozen local weekly newspapers in the Diocese. Every Saturday the Diocese took over a full page in each newspaper and filled it with news about the Diocese, the Church in the U.S. and the Church Universal along with sacred scripture and its interpretation and my homilies. The effort proved successful. One day as I was driving from Tallahassee to Pensacola I stopped in Bonifay, Florida for gasoline. Bonifay was notorius as a center of K.K.K. activity. When a priest tried to celebrate Mass there in a dance studio owned by a Catholic woman, the K.K.K. burned the studio down. As the gas station attendant washed the windshield of my car he kept his eyes fixed on me. When he came to collect for the gasoline he asked, “Are you that preacher who has a full page in our newspaper every Saturday?” I said, “I am.” He said, “I want you to know how much I enjoy reading it each week.” I was thrilled!
We had no money with which to start the Diocese. Cardinal Cody, President of the Extension Society, gave me $25,000 to purchase a rectory. Since I had a bedroom in the old St. Stephen Rectory I decided that I needed a place to stay in Tallahassee, the Co-Cathedral of Saint Thomas More was also the Student Center for Florida State University and I could have an office there I could not live there. I purchased a home ten miles East of Tallahassee in a beautiful wooded area (Tallahassee is famous for its oak trees with Spanish Moss profusely hanging down) that had been built by a retied Navy Captain who enjoyed swimming laps in a pool so he built a lap-pool at the house. It proved very helpful in enabling me to get much needed exercise.
The house in Tallahassee had a large garden and a very large dog-run. I planted a vegetable garden every year and I raised chickens, ducks, pheasants and guinea fowl. A large female great horned owl that nested nearby started killing my poultry one by one every night and so I had to cover the pen with chicken wire to save them. I had a few goats. One nanny refused to nurse her male kid and so I had to take the kid to the office at Saint Thomas More each day and several times a day I would give it a bottle of milk. I successfully raised the kid, had him scent glands removed and gave him to one of the altar-boys at the Co-Cathedral.
The Diocese was dominated by the military. In addition to the Pensacola Naval Air Station, the diocese contained three very large U.S. Air Force Bases. The pastoral challenge of quick marriage followed by divorce common to military and naval personnel prompted me to ask Cardinal Krol for a canonist to be my Judicial Vicar and to establish the Diocesan Marriage Tribunal. It had its work cut out for it. Years later when I made my Ad Limina visit to Pope John Paul he asked me why my report showed so many marriage annulments. I explained, to his satisfaction, the unique military nature of the population of the Diocese.
Because I had slowly been acquiring a national reputation for being a socially progressive/theologically conservative Bishop I began to attract vocations to the priesthood from within the Diocese as well as from outside. The Diocese started with six seminarians and as these seminarians told other seminarians about their new bishop and the new diocese other seminarians wanted to ‘get in on the exciting action.’ Soon the Diocese had twenty-six seminarians. Part of the explanation for the movement to the Diocese of P-T was the fact that in many northern dioceses it took fifteen or twenty years before a priest could expect to become a pastor while in the south with the rapidly expanding general population after the Second World War a priest could expect to become a pastor in three to five years.
Shortly after I had been ordained a bishop Bishop Robert Tracy, Bishop of Baton Rouge who was also the National Episcopal Promoter of the Apostleship of the Sea, invited me to become the Assistant Promoter. I accepted. Then, within a few months Bishop Tracy was forced into early retirement by the Holy See because of a drinking problem and I became the Promoter. The Apostleship of the Sea was not under the jurisdiction of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops but was rather directly under the Pontifical Commission for Migration and Tourism in Rome. I was responsible for fostering the pastoral care of seafaring people in the United States for seventeen years, until the N.C.C.B. brought the Apostleship of the Sea under its jurisdiction whereupon I resigned rather than have to deal with the bureaucracy of the N.C.C.B.
At the same time the President of the N.C.C.B. appointed me Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee on Migration and Tourism and so now I had responsibility for overseeing the work of the large Migration and Refugee Services Department of the N.C.C.B. Since it was an Ad Hoc Committee it was not subject to the three-year rule for its chairmen and so I remained in that position for fourteen years.
In 1972 the United States Supreme Court ruled in Furman v George that the imposition of the death penalty as a mandatory punishment in murder cases was unconstitutional; there resulted a four year moratorium on the imposition of the death penalty in the United States until the Court in Gregg v George again allowed it. But because of ongoing litigation there was not another involuntary execution in the United States for murder until 1979.
In 1976 John Spenkelink was accused of murdering Joseph Szymankiewicz in Tallahassee. There was not much doubt that he had committed the murder, but there was doubt that he was guillty of a First Degree Murder. He was tried in Tallahasse and convicted of First Degree murder and Governor Reuben Askew signed his death warrant. Because of appeals he was not executed for three years and then Governor Bob Graham in 1979 signed a second death warrant. Because of the doubt about whether the murder was a First or Second degree murder, and because there had been no executions for murder in the United States since 1972’s Furman v Georgia, pressure began to build nationally for Governor Graham to commute Spenkelink’s sentence from death to life imprisonment. I issued a pastoral Letter suggesting that since our system of justice was so flawed that our courts should not inflict the death penalty. My letter was one of the first pastoral letter of a Catholic bishop to draw national attention to the moral aspects of our practice of executing murderers In spite of the efforts of many people, the State of Florida executed John Spenkelink on May 25, 1979. At the next meeting of the NCCB, I, along with Archbishop John May, made a strong appeal to the bishops to make a statement against capital punishment and we succeeded in having the Conference make that statement, its first ever statement on the death penalty.
My Vicar General was Monsignor William Kerr. He was also Rector of Saint Thomas More Co-Cathedral and Director of the Student Center for Florida State University. He had a great interest in the history of the Church in North Florida and he researched the Franciscan missions that had been located in the Tallahassee area in the 16th and 17th Centuries. I have always been a history buff and so, encouraged by Monsignor Kerr, I learned a lot about the successful Spanish missionary activity in North Florida. That missionary activity spanned over 100 years and through the heroic activity of the Franciscan missionaries hundreds of thousands of native Americans were converted. Of course the process of converting the natives was accompanied by bloodshed on both sides and many Catholic converts were martyred by hostile natives along with Franciscan friars. But what appalled me most in studying the history was the extermination of the Catholic missions by English soldiers from South Carolina. The hatred of Catholic in England spread to its colonies to the New World and that hatred combined with the need of the plantation owners in South Carolina for native American slaves to work their plantations, combined with the fear of England that Spain’s colonies in the Southeast of America was imperiling its own colonies was the impetus for the massacre of the inhabitants of the Apalachee nation in North Florida In 1704 the former Governor of the English colony in the Carolinas, James Moore, determined to end Spanish colonies in North Florida. He succeeded all too well and the number of martyrs was too great to count.Monsignor Kerr proposed that the Diocese build a shrine church near Tallahassee to memorialize those Florida martyrs. I agreed and purchased land that had been determined to have been the site of one of the main Apalachee towns. Since then interest has grown and the process for the beatification of the Florida martyrs is progressing well. I continue to support the cause.
Aerial view of Kansas City International Airport
How does one become convinced that God has a plan for us. I am not sure when I first became convinced that God had a mission for me in life and that God was protecting me from serious harm. That realization has sustained me through thick and thin in all of my relations with people and institutions throughout all my adult life. Perhaps that realization began to assert itself in my consciousness when a large piece of shrapnel from the German 88mm antiaircraft shell that exploded just outside my window in the tail of the B-17 on my fourth mission over Germany and struck the beam supporting the tail inches above my head and fell on me; if it had hit just a few inches lower it would have taken off my head.
I have been involved in three automobile accidents in two of which the vehicle was totally demolished. In one case after being forced off a narrow road by an oncoming car at night my car hit a concrete culvert, the air bag failed, the seat belt failed and my head tried to go through the windshield. My only injury was the rupturing of the S-1 disc at the base of my spine which left me with sciatica. In an earlier accident my Ford Bronco rolled off of a hill in Wyoming and was totally demolished. My only injury was a cut on the little finger of my left hand.
I have had encounters with grizzly bears in Montana and sharks and barracuda in the Florida keys and have come away unscathed. I have been caught in violent squalls while sailing a small sailboat in the Atlantic and I have had a 16 foot motor boat lose its engine in the middle of the Gulf Stream off Florida in 10-12 foot seas. In my outdoor activities all my life I have narrowly escaped death many times.
But is was in flying that I came to realize that God is truly my “Co-pilot!” One cannot fly by Instrument Flight Rules all over the United States in all kinds of weather without at one time or another coming close to death. I will only recount three of my experiences which, added to all the others, have convinced me that God has kept me alive in order to do his will. It is my hope that my writing this autobiography is part of what God has kept me alive to do.
The first was when I was in the monastery. in the winter of 1958-1959 I had a severe case of bronchitis. The doctor had prescribed codine to control the coughing. I was on top of a mountain in a cabin during Christmas break. I got chilled. Another monk gave me a small glass of wine to take the chill away. There was a synergistic effect of the wine on the codine and I stopped breathing. I started turning blue. Someone drove down the mountain and called for an ambulance. While we waited for the ambulance I had a near-death experience in which I looked down on myself dying. The ambulance arrived and drove me 30 miles to the hospital in Latrobe. On the way I drained the oxygen tank in the ambulance and survived.
On May 15, 1976 I was scheduled to give a speech to the annual meeting of the Provincial Council of Catholic Women which was being held in a hotel on the beach of Hollywood, Florida. That morning I went to the Flight Service Station of the Federal Aviation Administration at the Tallahassee Airport and got my weather briefing. The told me that an occluded stationary front was located across the peninsula from Fort Myers to Melbourne. They said the front was very broken and that I should have no trouble passing through it on my flight to Miami. What they did not tell me was that on the southern side of the front the lifting index for moisture was very high; that meant that clouds, big clouds, thunderstorms would build up as the day progressed. Not knowing this I filed my flight plan to fly solo at 9,000 feet from Tallahassee to Miami.
All went well until I passed Orlando, then I began to fly continuously on instruments in clouds. Before too long I encountered severe turbulence which indicated to me that I had entered a cumulus nimbus cloud that had become a rain storm. A little while later I entered the first real thunder storm. I knew that it was a thunderstorm because I was surrounded continuously by blinding lighting flashes and very heavy rain (I learned that you do not hear thunder in the middle of a thunder storm, you only hear it when you are on the ground.) I became worried that lighting might strike the plane although I knew that that rarely happens but the rain was a greater source of worry because I realized that the water might plug up the air intake for the carburetor and the engine would die.
I called air traffic control and asked them to give me a deviation around the thunder storm. They replied that their radar was painting solid thunderstorms in my area and that there was nowhere they could deviate my flight path that take me out of the storm. After a few minutes I flew into a bigger cell and this time I began to experience the violent updrafts and downdrafts that are characteristic of a major thunderstorm. The velocity of those air drafts can reach over 200 miles per hour. the plane was being tossed about like a feather. On the radio I could hear commercial airline pilots flying at 25,000 feet altitude above me asking for deviation and being told by the air traffic controller the same thing I had been told.
After a few minutes, after what seemed like an eternity, I exited that cell only a few minutes later to enter an even larger cell. The Cessna Skylane 182 does not have an autopilot, it does however have a “wing-leveler” device which, when engaged, keeps the wings level but it does not control pitch and so the pilot has to keep the nose level. In this major cell my plane was either dropping 1000+ feet one minute or rising 1000+ feet a minute. The G-Forces were tremendous; one minute I was squeezed down into my seat and the next minute my head was hitting the ceiling of the airplane even with my seat belt fastened. I blacked out, I lost consciousness! I do not know how long I was unconscious. When I came to I was still in the middle of the thunder storm cell. I immediately checked my instrument panel to see if I was spinning and falling. To my utter astonishment I was flying straight and level but had lost two thousand feet of altitude. I put the plane into a slow climb and regained my assigned altitude of 9,000 feet. A few minutes later another blackout was repeated and when I recovered again I was straight and level but over 2,000 feet lower. Shortly thereafter I exited that major thunderstorm and from then on only encountered turbulence as I passed through rain showers.
I landed at Opa Locka Airport exited the airplane, secured it to the ramp and walked to the general aviation terminal. It was then that my legs started to buckle under me and I experienced disabling fatigue. I called the hotel where I was to speak and asked the desk clerk to get word to the ladies that I was sick. I checked into the nearest motel and collapsed in bed. I woke up the next morning and flew back to Tallahassee VFR in clear skies. Shortly after takeoff I engaged the wing-leveler only to have the plane make a sharp right turn. After several more failed attempts I flew completely by manual control all the way back to Tallahassee. When landed I had my mechanic check what was wrong with the wing-leveler. He told me later that the shear pin in the mechanism of the wing leveler had been sheared in two. If the shear pin had fully sheared in the thunderstorm I would have crashed. It only partially sheared in the storm and finally sheared in two only the next day as I was flying back to Tallahassee. God was truly my Co-pilot on that trip!
The second near-death experience was when I was flying from an Apostleship of the Sea Conference in Oakland, California to Washington for another Conference. On the way I flew from Cheyenne, Wyoming to Kansas City, Missouri. When I approached Kansas City the air traffic controller told me that the airport in Kansas City was closed because of weather. I explained that I was running low on fuel and I needed the nearest airport at which I could land. He said that the recently opened Kansas City International Airport about 50 miles north of Kansas City was still open but would probably close soon because of the lack of visibility.
I flew to Kansas City International Airport and made an instrument landing in constantly shifting crosswinds. I never saw the runway. I dimly saw runway lights when I was guess I was about twenty-five feet above the ground, I turned slowly and slowly descended on what I hoped would be the runway. It was. The control tower, after a few minutes, thinking I may have crashed started calling me. I answered. He asked if I was ok. I said I was. He asked where I was. I said, “I don’t know where I am” He said, “Are you on the runway?” I replied, “Yes, my landing lights are shining on asphalt.” He said, “Taxi to your left until you come to a lighted sign with a letter indicated which taxiway you are at.” I did as he told and I called back after a few minutes and told him, “I am at intersection “D.” He said, turn left and I will guide you to the terminal. I did, he did and I arrived at the terminal in 0/0 visibility. I did not see the terminal until I was about a hundred feet from its lights.
Seek to do the will of God in your life, no matter what the circumstances. Even though you may tempt God by reckless and foolish choices and decisions you make as you live your life, if you truly, consciously seek to do his will you will be pleasing to God and he will get you out of the mess you occasionally get yourself into. Trust God to use you as Jesus used the spittle and dirt to make the mud that he applied to the eyes of the man born blind. We are after all clay in his hands to which he has miraculously given the power or intellect and free will which makes us be God-like. Be living mud in his hands.
Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski and Cardinal Karol Wojtyla
My work as Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee on Migration involved many different groups of people. One group was the large number of priests from Poland who were entering the United States on tourist visas and who would remain uninvited by any bishop or diocese. During the Communist regime in Poland after the Second World War a large number of polish people emigrated from Poland to Latin America, Australia, the United States and other countries. Polish priests obtained permission from the Communist regime to go for a five year period to minister to those Polish emigres wherever they were. After the five years were up they were to return to Poland but some of the Polish priests decided to come to the United States on tourist visas. Their purpose was not tourism but to find work in some diocese in the United States. In canon law they were called vagi, wanderers. Canon law frowns on a priest being a vagus he must belong to a diocese either by incardination or by contract.
Some bishops who were short of priests welcomed them and followed canonical procedures to incorporate them in their dioceses. But frequently the priests had difficulties because the administration of the Church in the United States is highly centralized in the chancery office; most dioceses in the world do not have chancery offices, the bishop simply runs the diocese from his residence. Some of these polish priests were not able to easily adapt to the strong centralization of American dioceses.
I conceived the idea of offering these priests an opportunity to take a short course in American pastoral procedures at The Catholic University of America and thus minimize the possibility of conflict. I contacted the University officials and they were eager to devise such a program that would run for just a couple of months. I took the plan to the General Meeting of the USCCB in November, 1977 and presented it to the bishops for approval; they approved it.
The minutes of the General Meeting were routinely sent to Rome and there someone must have called the attention of the Polish Episcopal Conference to our plan. In May, 1978 I received a letter from Poland signed by both Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski, Archbishop of Warsaw, Primate of Poland and President of the Polish Episcopal Conference and Karol Cardinal Wojtyla, Archbishop of Krakow and Chairman of the Polish Episcopal Conference Committee on Migration.
By pure coincidence the Pontifical Commission for Migration and People on the Move, to which I had been appointed a Consultor on March 10, 1978, had called for an international conference to be held in Berlin in the first two weeks of September 1978 to study the problem of the Turkish guest workers in Germany and the President of the Congregation nominated me to attend the conference. I wrote back to the two cardinals in Poland and told them that I would be happy to visit Poland after the conference in Berlin. They agreed to the timing of my visit.
On September 19 I flew to Warsaw from Berlin and was met by a priest from the office of Cardinal Wyszynski and was taken to stay at the Nuntiature of the Holy See which was vacant because the Holy See and the Communist government of Poland did not have diplomatic relations, however there were some nuns there who were the housekeepers for the Nunciature. The next day I began a series of meetings with Cardinal Wyszynski and his staff. These continued for a week combined with some sightseeing in Warsaw guided by a priest from the Polish Episcopal Conference.
On September 26 the priest drove me to the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa where we spent the night in the monastery of the Pauline Fathers.
On the morning of September 28 I celebrated Mass at the altar of the image of Our Lady of Czestochowa. After the Mass I was in the sacristy taking off my vestments when a Pauline father who had been stationed at the Shrine of Our Lady in Doylestown, Pennsylvania came up to me in a state of agitation and said in broken English, “Bishop, isn’t it terrible, Our Holy Father is dead!” I was puzzled because I had been to the funeral of Pope Paul VI twenty-eight days earlier and my first thought was, news travels slowly in Poland. I said to the priest, “Yes, father, I know, I was at his funeral.” He replied, “No, Bishop I am not talking about Pope Paul VI, I am talking about Pope John Paul I, he died this morning!”
Shocked, I proceeded to have breakfast and leave with my priest-driver for Krakow. We arrived at Krakow a couple of hours later and a nun opened the door of the Cardinal’s residence and told me that I was expected. She showed me into the parlor and a few minutes later the Cardinal came in and I shook his hand and said, “Your Eminence, I am in a state of shock over the death of our Holy Father.” He replied, “Welcome Bishop Gracida, yes, it is a great loss to the Church.” Little did I know that I had just spoken with the man who in 18 more days would become Pope John Paul II and in 2014 would be proclaimed a Saint by Pope Francis.
I remained with the Cardinal for two days. We talked about the Polish priests in the United States and the program I had devised for their introduction in the pastoral administration of parishes. At meals he wanted to talk a lot about my experiences in World War II. He inquired about which cities I had bombed. I was happy to be able to tell him that I had not dropped any bombs on Poland. He was fascinated by the fact that I was now a private pilot with my own little airplane. Since he had visted the United States several times, he wanted to know where I flew it in the United States. Present at the table for all of the meals was Father Stanislaw Dziwisz who would later himself become the Cardinal Archbishop of Krakow.
My stay with the Cardinal was cut short by the realization that we both had to go to Rome. I had to go to a Plenary meeting of the Pontifical Commission for Migration and People on the Move and the Cardinal had to go for the funeral of Pope John Paul I and stay for the Conclave. We flew separately to Rome. When I arrived in Rome I discovered that the meeting of the Commission had been canceled so I decided to stay for the funeral which was to be held on October 4. Before we left Krakow the Cardinal had inquired as to where I would be staying in Rome. I told him that I always stayed at the Casa Internationale del Clero close to the Pantheon. The next day after we arrived in Rome a Polish priest called me and said that the Cardinal was inviting me to come to lunch at the Polish Seminary where we could continue our discussions that had been interrupted in Krakow. I went to the Seminary and met with the Cardinal. I had lunch with the Cardinal in the Seminary Refectory where the Cardinal introduced me to everyone as “The Pilot Bishop from the United States.” After the funeral I flew back to Tallahassee.
On October 16 I had a luncheon meeting of the priests in the Tallahassee Deanery outside my home on the terrace by the swimming pool, During the lunch, one of my pastors, Father Edward Dzsinkiewiz told a Polish joke and everyone laughed. In mock seriousness I rapped my bishop’s ring on the table and said, “There will be no more telling of Polish jokes, Father Ed, because as far as we know the next Pope may be Polish!” At that moment Monsignor Kerr, my Vicar General, came out on the terrace and heard what I had just said. He had been listening to his car radio as he drove to my residence and so he said, “But Bishop, the new Pope is Polish I just heard the news on my car radio.” I thought he was joking and so I said to him, “No, Monsignor, don’t encourage priests to tell Polish jokes.” He said, “But Bishop, it is true.” In disbelief I asked what was the new pope’s name. He stuttered as he tried to pronounce the name Wojtyla. I was stunned! I had not expected, along with the rest of the world, that the Cardinal of Krakow would become Pope John Paul II.
In 1978 the Federal Aviation Administration banned the use of leaded gasoline as fuel in the aviation industry. My Cessna Skyland 182 had a Continental engine that was built to burn leaded gasoline. I began to learn about pilots being killed when their Continental engines burned a cylinder in flight and they crashed. I decided to trade my Cessna in on a new 182 with a new engine that would run on unleaded fuel. I scanned the ads and decided to investigate an offer of a 182 in Raleigh, North Carolina. I flew to Raleigh and was just about to trade in my Cessna 182 on a new 182 when dealer said, ” I can sell you that Mooney 231 over there for the same price.”
I said, “No way!” He said, “Really, it is brand new and I can let you have it for the same price you would pay me for the new Cessna 182.” He added, “Come on I will give you a test flight in it.” So we took off in the Mooney and I fell in love with the plane. I spent the next day being checked out as a pilot on the Mooney and then I bought it and few back to Tallahassee. My Mooney 231AZ was like a Porsch to me. It was one hot little airplane. I loved it even though I knew that if I had flow in the Mooney through those thunder storms I would not have survived; there is a huge difference between a low wing airplane and a high wing airplane in terms of safety.
Corpus Christi Cathedral, Corpus Christi, Texas
The telephone call came like a lightning bolt from the sky. In the last week of May, 1983 Archbishop Pio Laghi, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States called me in Pensacola and told me that Pope John Paul II was transferring me from the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee to the Diocese of Corpus Christi in Texas. I was filled with misgivings. I loved the little Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee which I had founded and which was growing nicely under my shepherding. I had read about law suits in Corpus Christi involving the Diocese and I had no desire to become involved in them. But, the spirit of my Vow of Obedience kicked in and after only a brief hesitation I told Archbishop Laghi that I would accept the transfer.
On May 28, 1983 I flew to Corpus Christi and the next day we had a press conference at the Cathedral announcing my appointment. The press conference and announcement was overshadowed by the decision of the former Bishop, Thomas Drury, to absent himself from the city and the press conference; he had flown to Ireland. It is customary for the outgoing Bishop to introduce the incoming Bishop; I had to introduce myself. There were a few individuals who were unhappy with my appointment, they were expecting the Chancellor to succeed Bishop Drury and I was told that Bishop Drury had proposed such a succession to the Holy See, but it was not to be and I was welcomed by the vast majority of priests and people. After consultation with Archbishop Laghi I chose July 11, 1983, the Feast of Saint Benedict, as the date of my installation as the Fifth Bishop of Corpus Christi. The Installation was a great success.
All during the fourteen years I would spend as the Bishop of Corpus Christi I would be preoccupied with the John G. and Marie Stella Memorial Foundation. The Foundation was controlled by five persons who were the Members of the Foundation. At the time of my installation they were: Mrs. Elena Seuss Kenedy (the widow of John Kenedy, the brother of Sarita Kenedy East who had established the Foundation in her will), Judge Lee Lytton (the County Judge of Kenedy County and nephew of Sarita Kenedy East), Bruno Goldapp (President of the Alice National Bank which held all liquid assets of the Foundation), Kenneth Oden (attorney for the Alice National Bank and attorney for Mrs. Elena Seuss Kenedy) and the Bishop of the Diocese of Corpus Christi (who held his membership ex officio as Bishop of the Diocese).
Withing a month of my installation as Bishop, Bruno Goldapp died. That meant the members would have to meet and elect a successor to Bruno Goldapp. I learned that the liquid assets of the Foundation consisted in $20,000,000.00 of U.S. Treasury Notes and Bills held in a account at the Alice bank and that the Bank charged the Foundation a significant fee for holding those securities. The principal source of income for the foundation came from oil and gas production on the Kenedy Ranch (235,000 acres in Kenedy County) and the bank would collect those royalties and put the money into Treasury obligations. It was obvious to me that tremendous conflicts of interest existed in the Membership of the Foundation. Mrs. Elena Kenedy was over 90 years old and almost blind. She would give her proxy at meetings of the Members to Kenneth Oden and so she, Oden and Goldapp ran the Foundation and Judge Lytton and the Bishop were always out voted at meetings of the Foundation.
I was soon contacted by Kenneth Odin who suggested that we, the Members, should meet in September and elect a successor to Bruno Goldapp. He proposed that we elect the former Governor of Texas, Dolph Briscoe. I sensed immediately that he was trying to keep and consolidate his control of the Foundation. I told him I would have to think about it. I kept putting him off holding a meeting of the Members until February 13, 1984 when a judge in Austin, at my initiative, ruled that Oden could not serve as a Member. With the consent of Mrs. Elena Kenedy and the help of Judge Lytton we elected Sister Agnes Marie Borgmeyer, IHM and Doctor Ben Groner Members and a new era for the Foundation began. The story of the battles for the control of the Foundation from its beginnings in 1963 until 1984, and afterward, has been told accurately by Stephen Michaud and Hugh Aynesworth in their book, If You Love Me You Will Do My Will, and there is no need for me to retell it here.
Shortly after the new Members took control of the Foundation I called a meeting of the twelve priests who served as the Consultors of the Diocese. I told them that I wanted each of them to list on a sheet of paper in the order of importance needs of the Diocese that we could begin to meet with grants from the Foundation. In the twenty years that the Alice National Bank had controlled the Foundation the Foundation had never made any grants. Now the Internal Revenue Service ordered the Foundation to begin making grants. The consultors chose the construction of religious education facilities as the top priority for the Diocese and so we began to build such facilities and within five years every parish and mission had a building in which religious education classes could be taught in a proper environment.
One of the first things I learned about Corpus Christi was that the local newspaper, The Corpus Christi Caller-Times, like the papers I left behind in Miami and Pensacola, was hostile to the Catholic Church. The wife of the publisher, Janet Harte, was reportedly the founder of both the local chapter of Planned Parenthood and FAIR (The Federation for Immigration Reform). Planned Parenthood International was founded by Margaret Sanger to reduce the number of blacks in the United States and FAIR was founded to prevent anymore “brown-skinned Catholics” from coming to the United States from Mexico. It did not take long for me to clash with Janet Harte and the paper.
Corpus Christi had two abortion clinics and a doctor who performed abortions in his office. With the help of a recent Catholic convert, Rex Moses, and a lot of dedicated people we organized The Body of Christ Rescue and began demonstrations in front of all three locations. Eventually, after the directors of the two clinics and the doctor (all of whom professed to be practicing Catholics) publicly proclaimed their dissent from the teaching of the Church about the immorality of abortion and after months of trying to persuade them to renounce their support of abortion, I issued decrees announcing that they had incurred automatic excommunication by their performing abortions. Eventually the clinics and the doctor’s office were closed. Corpus Christi, named after the Body of Christ, is now abortion free.
Shortly after the excommunications I attended a meeting of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Pro-Life Activities of which I was a member.
The Committee consisted of its Chairman, John Cardinal O’Connor, and seven bishops among whom there was Bernard Cardinal Law and Roger Cardinal Mahoney. At the end of the meeting I asked Cardinal O’Connor if I could speak about the three excommunications in Corpus Christi. He granted me permission and for about ten minutes I told the whole story about the abortion clinics and the excommunications. At the end I said that I would be happy to answer any questions. After what seemed an eternity of silence in which not a single member of the Committee asked any questions or made any comment, Cardinal O’Connor declared the meeting ended. I was stunned! I can only attribute the silence of those cardinals and bishops to their embarrassment because they surely had abortion clinics in their own dioceses and what I had done in Corpus Christi showed them up for their failure to stand up for the sanctity of innocent human life.
When I became Bishop of the Diocese of Corpus Christi Laredo and the surrounding counties were part of the Diocese of Corpus Christi. The people of Laredo wanted to be a separate diocese and so I created the Vicariate of Laredo and appointed a priest its Episcopal Vicar. After years of planning and pushing the creation of the Diocese of Laredo it was finally approved by Rome and we installed the same priest who had been the Episcopal Vicar, who had in the meantime become an Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of Galveston-Houston, as its first Bishop. At the celebration erecting the new Diocese everyone publicly praised Archbishop Flores of San Antonio for the creation of the new Diocese when in reality he had opposed its creation; no mention was made of my work of several years in bringing it into existence. Such is life!
Because I no longer had to fly frequently up and down the Florida peninsula, I no longer had need of my Mooney 231 airplane. Besides, Corpus Christi did not have private hangers like Tallahassee for small planes and my airplane was sitting out on the ramp in the salt air. I knew that it would just be a matter of time before it began to have corrosion problems so I sold it. I sold it for a nice profit. But I miss it very much. From my retirement home on Corpus Christi Bay I can watch the Navy pilots fly their trainers on their final approach past my residence to the Corpus Christi Naval Air Station. I watch with envy, especially at night; I loved night flying.
Telecommunications Director Marty Wind at the control panel of Station KLUX
Lawsuits were a daily preoccupation for me as Bishop of Corpus Christi. Some of the big ones were connected with the Kenedy Foundation but the majority of them involved slips and falls, workman’s compensation and the like. When I was Bishop in Florida, Catholics never sued the Church. Now in Texas it seemed that a lot of people, perhaps influenced by all the publicity about the great wealth of the Kenedy Foundation, decided to get rich at the Church’s expense. The only problem was that the wealth of the Kenedy Foundation was not the wealth of the Diocese; while the Diocese benefited from grants from the Foundation along with most of the other Dioceses of Texas, a successful lawsuit against the Diocese would hurt the Diocese and not affect the Foundation in any way.
In the fourteen years I was Bishop of Corpus Christi I only had to contend with one accusation of pedophilia against a priest. The parents of a boy accused Father Jesus Garcia of having sodomized their son. Immediately after the parents made their complaint in my office I launched an investigation. Father Garcia vehemently denied the charge; the boy testified that Father never touched him, the District Attorney refused to prosecute. Because of the months of bad publicity fostered by the Corpus Christi Caller-Times and the TV stations, I told Father Garcia that he would no longer be effective as a pastor in the Diocese and I suggested that he return to his native Spain. I wrote a letter of recommendation for him and he returned to Spain where the Archbishop of Madrid appointed him pastor of a Madrid parish where he still ministers to this day.
In addition to all the grief lawsuits caused me in 1991 I became estranged from the majority of the my fellow bishops in Texas over a moral question. Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza, Bishop of Galveston-Houston, invited the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Boston to establish a branch office in Houston. The branch office was opened and Father Albert S. Moraczewski, O.P. (the founding President of the NCBC) was appointed its director. He probably suggested to Archbishop Fiorenza that the Office should make a big splash in the news in order to announce its creation. Accordingly he set to work writing a statement on the withdrawal of nutrition and hydration from comatose patients. I had acquired a reputation as being theologically conservative among the bishops of Texas by that time. I received in the mail, from the Archbishop’s office, a document identified as “Draft No. 8″ of the Statement of the Bishops of Texas on the Withdrawal of Nutrition and Hydration From Comatose Patients.” I had not received any of the preceding seven drafts. I read the Statement and was angry, not only because I had been kept out of the loop as the Statement was being developed, but because of the heterodox nature of the moral reasoning behind the Statement. The Statement called for the withdrawal of of nutrition and hydration, not just from terminally ill or dying patients but from all PVS patients, i.e. from all patients in a permanent vegetative state. The problem was that there have been too many cases where a ‘permanent” vegetative state proved to be a temporary vegetative state and if nutrition and hydration had been pulled from those patients it would have killed them.
I wrote a strong critique of Draft No. 8 and sent it to all the bishops of Texas. No one replied to my critique. Shortly after that we had a meeting of the Province and Draft No. 8 was adopted as a Statement of the Bishops of Texas, but not by all the bishops of Texas, Bishop Bernard Ganter and I voted against the adoption of the Statement. Shortly after that the newspaper of the Diocese of Dallas, the editor of which I had fired as the editor of the newspaper of the Diocese of Corpus Christi because of his extreme liberal editing of the paper, published a big expose of me as having dissented from a teaching of the Bishops of Texas, no mention was made of Bishop Ganter’s vote against the adoption of the Statement. The Dallas Diocesan papers story was picked up by NC News Service and spread all across the United States and I acquired a reputation as a dissenter. I did not want people to think of me in the same way they thought of the dissenters from Humanae Vitae, so I wrote a detailed dissent from the Statement and published it in my own Diocesan paper. Naturally, my published dissent was ignored by the media.
Shortly thereafter I attended a meeting of the NCCB Prolife Activities Committee, of which I was one of seven bishop members, and I moved that the Committee should issue a statement contradicting the stand taken by the bishops of Texas. The Committee approved my motion and Cardinal O’Connor appointed me and Bishop Donald L. Trautman of Eirie, Pennsylvania to write the statement. We did and submitted it at the next meeting of the Committee. Cardinal O’Connor felt that we should consult with the Holy See before issuing the statement so he sent it to Cardinal Ratzinger at the CDF in Rome. Cardinal Ratzinger wrote back that we should publish the statement but that we could not say that he approved it since the Holy See had not yet formally studied the subject. We published it. The bishops of Pennsylvnia and the Bishops of Florida soon issued their own statements that mirrored what I had written and fourteen years later, in 2004, Pope John Paul II in an address to the Pontifical Commission of Life said basically the same thing that I had said in my dissent from the Statement of the bishops of Texas. It was a Pyrrhic victory for me however; my relations with most of the bishops of Texas plummeted. The bishops of Texas have never retracted their Statement and I doubt that they will ever forgive me for my dissent. My relations with them only got worse as the 1990’s progressed, as you will see!
On a positive note. If I may be allowed to boast, I will boast about a legal victory. This time as President of the Kenedy Foundation. In 1985 Gary Mauro, the Land Commissioner of the State of Texas awarded petroleum leases on 35,000 acres of land belonging to the Kenedy Foundation. Those acres bordered the inter-coastal canal and had been subject to flooding during hurricanes. Mauro claimed that they were tidal flats and belonged to the State of Texas. The Kenedy Foundation filed suit to prevent him from collecting royalties from the oil companies and denying his claim that the land was tidal. The lawsuit dragged on for six years through the district court, the apellate court and on to the Texas Supreme Court. All the courts upheld Mauro’s claim even though we showed that the tides in the Laguna Madre were less than 12 inches, not enough to cover the land. If Mauro’s victory in the courts had been allowed to stand the property rights of all owners of coastal property from Brownsville to the Louisiana border would have been in jeopardy. We appealed to the Texas Supreme Court for a rehearing of the case and we won; the Court said that the decision of the Court in 1954 in the Case of Humble Oil v Texas (the Gardner decision) was decisive and the land belonged to the Foundation. The foundation collected over $5,000,000 in royalties that had been held in escrow by the courts.
Bishop Drury had applied to the Federal Communications Commission for a permit for the Diocese to own and operatea low-power FM station in Corpus Christi. He retired before the FCC acted on his application. The permit was granted after I became Bishop of Corpus Christi and I built a telecommunications center to house the FM station which I named KLUX, incorporating the Latin word lux which means “light”; I wanted the station to be Christ’s light on the world. We also created TV production facilities and began to tape programs to be shown on public television and commercial stations. I applied for another permit to build a low-power FM station in Laredo while Laredo was still part of the Diocese. I named the station in Laredo KHOY, hoy being the Spanish word for “today.” We also built a TV production facility in Laredo equal to the one in Corpus Christi. Both stations have become powerful means of evangelization in South Texas and, in the case of KHOY in Mexico. KLUX has been linked to the world on the intenet and now can be listened to any place on earth.
John Cardinal O’Connor, Archbishop of New York
My becoming persona non grata with my brother bishops in Texas was to get even worse, it that were possible. The Board of Directors of the John G. and Marie Stella Memorial Foundation was made up of seven individuals with myself as President and Chairman, the Board was elected by the Members of the Foundation who were also members of the Board of Directors. The three other individuals of the Board reflected the same religious affiliations as the Members of the Foundation. The Court decision in 1963 that settled Brother Leo’s first lawsuit against the Foundation stipulated that from then on the group of Members of the Foundation would be 2/3 Catholic and 1/3 non-catholic, i.e. four Catholics and two non-catholics. The Board of Directors had the same religious proportions.
The Board of Directors made all the decisions about the operations of the Foundation. I was elected President of the Foundation and Chairman of the Board of Directors from 1984 until 1997. The Board of Directors was made up professional people, doctors, lawyers, engineers, bankers, hospital administrators and government officials. While I provided leadership for the Board of Directors the Directors were not my puppets. They frequently rejected my ideas for the activities on the ranch that might provide additional income for the Foundation other than oil and gas. I never voted on the awarding of grants; I would speak in favor or against but I would never vote.
The Foundation gave away tens of millions of dollars in grants. Fifteen per cent of the grants had to be to non-religious entities by order of the Court in its 1963 decision. The Foundation gave millions of dollars in grants to all the dioceses of Texas with the exception of the two largest, richest dioceses, Dallas and Houston. It was inevitable that, human nature being what it is, some of the bishops felt that they should receive more. That may have motivated some to launch an attack on me or some of their motivation may have stemmed from their anger over the nutrition and hydration scandal; only God knows! Here is what happened.
In 1992 Bishop Leroy Matthieson, Bishop of Amarillo gave an interview to the Diocesan newspaper of the Diocese of Tyler. In the interview he accused me of abusing my power as President of the Foundation. In short order Bishop Joseph Delaney of Fort Worth and Bishop John McCarthy jumped on Bishop Mattieson’s bandwagon and began to make public statements that were quoted in the media accusing me of abusing my authority as President of the Foundation. They persuaded Archbishop Flores to visit the Attorney General of Texas and to convey their concerns. Archbishop visited the Attorney General, Dan Morales, and he filed suit in the District Court in Travis County that had jurisdiction over charitable foundations asking the court to remove me from the Board of the Kenedy Foundation and to reorganize the Foundation’s governance.
The appearance of an attorney from the Attorney General’s office at the office of the Foundation demanding that all of the files of the Foundation be turned over to the Attorney General sent shock waves through the staff and Board of the Foundation. In addition to our Foundation attorney the Board retained the services of former Judge Jorge Rangel to defend the Board and the battle was joined.
The three bishops I named above continued to slander me in the media. Concerned about my good name and reputation and also conscious of the scandal they were giving to the Catholics of the United States I asked John Cardinal O’Connor to help by getting Rome to stop the three bishops from making their slanderous remarks about me in the media. It was the biggest mistake I ever made in my life!
I had know John O’Connor ever since I was Auxiliary Bishop in Miami and he was Chief of Chaplains to the United States Military. We met in 1972 when I celebrated a confirmation in Key West and again at Homestead Air Force Base. We hit it off since I was ex-military myself. Then over the years we worked together on committees of the N.C.C.B. We had served together on a special committee consisting of himself as Chairman and Cardinals James Hickey and Joseph Bernardin with Bishop Sean O’Malley and myself, charged by the President of the N.C.C.B with visiting Nicaragua, Guatamala, Honduras and El Salvador to gather information of the Church’s struggle with revolutionary forces. I had worked closely with him on the N.C.C.B. Committee for Prolife Activities. I counted on our friendship to persuade him to do as I asked.
It was a mistake because I forgot that during the decades when Brother Leo and Peter Grace had tried to gain control of the Foundation they had appealed for help, first to Cardinal Spellman and later to Cardinal Krol. Both Cardinals, far from trying to help Brother Leo and Peter Grace tried to gain control of the Foundation themselves. I should have remembered that. The love of money and the power that it gains was too much for Cardinal O’Connor to resist. He asked the Congregation of Bishops to appoint a special commission to investigate the Kenedy Foundation and Cardinal Gantin, Prefect of the Congregation of Bishops appointed Cardinal O’Connor chairman of the Special Commission with Cardinal Bernard Law, Archbishop of Boston and Bishop Raymond Burke, Bishop of La Crosse.
When the Attorney General of Texas, Dan Morales, filled suit against me and the Board of Directors of the Kenedy Foundation I recognized that anything could happen and I did not want the Diocese of Corpus Christi to be vacant for any period of time after I retired since that meant that there would not be a Bishop of Corpus Christi as a member of the Foundation and a member of its Board of Directors. So I decided that I would ask Rome for a Coadjutor Bishop to assist me in the last few years until I turned 75 and had to send my resignation to the Pope. Coadjutor Bishops usually do not have any power in the diocese until the Ordinary dies or retires. They only have the right to succeed the Ordinary and become Ordinary in his place. Until the Ordinary dies or retires the Coadjutor functions in the same way an Auxiliary Bishop would function.
So now I made the second biggest mistake of my life. I approached the Apostolic Nuncio and told him of my desire to have a Coadjutor with right of succession in place when I retired so that the Diocese Foundation relationship would not be jeopardized. He asked me if I had anyone in mind. I told him that while I was Chairman of the Hispanic Affairs Committee of the N.C.C.B. I was impressed with the Auxiliary Bishop of Boston, Bishop Roberto Gonzalez. The Nuncio told me to speak with Cardinal Law and see if he was willing to let Bishop Roberto go from Boston. I did, he agreed and I informed the Nuncio; Bishop Roberto was appoint my Coadjutor shortly thereafter without any special powers, only the right to succeed me. I say that the appointment of Bishop Roberto was a mistake because after Cardinal Gantin appointed the Commission Cardinal Law and Cardinal O’Connor had, in Bishop Roberto, an agent in my Chancery and he did betray my trust.
Cardinal O’Connor called a meeting of all the bishops of Texas to be held at the Marriott Hotel at DFW Airport. We all went. The Cardinal O’Connor, Cardinal Law and Bishop Burke listened as each bishop in turn expressed his opinion. Then Cardinal O’Connor adjourned the meeting and everyone departed. Some weeks later Cardinal O’Connor sent a letter to me and to the Board of Directors in which he proposed that the Board be replaced by a new Board made up of the Bishops of Texas. The Reaction of the Board was immediate and very negative.
Sarita Kenedy East had created a Foundation to be run by laity. The only cleric she named to be on her Foundation was her Bishop, Bishop Garriga of Corpus Christi. All her life, up until she came under the evil influence of Brother Leo, she bestowed her generous giving on people and institutions in South Texas, primarily Catholic but occasionally non-catholic. Under Brother Leo’s influence she gave generously to the Trappist Order, but never to Dioceses other than the Diocese of Corpus Christi. Cardinal O’Connor’s proposal was so foreign to the desires of Sarita that I told him he was violating a fundamental rule in the Church that the wishes of a donor were to be respected. He replied, “No one knows what she thought” which was absurd because we had documentary evidence of what she thought.
To my disgust my new Coadjutor, Bishop Roberto Gonzalez began to actively conspire with his mentor, Cardinal Law and Cardinal O’Connor. Years later in speaking with Cardinal Raymond Burke I learned from him that after the meeting in the Marriott Hotel at DFW Airport, Cardinal O’Connor never consulted him about the Diocese of Corpus Christi/Kenedy Foundation case. O’Connor was acting just as Spellman and Krol had acted years before in trying to gain control of the foundation.
My plan for the reorganization of the Foundation Board to meet the criticisms of the bishops of Texas was for the Board to be expanded to thirteen members. It would be composed of nine members who were laity from South Texas, plus the Bishop of Corpus Christi, and one other Bishop selected by the bishops at the provincial meeting and finally two other lay persons from elsewhere in the State of Texas. The Board of Directors voted approval of my plan and so I instructed our attorney, Jorge Rangel to begin negotiations with the Attorney General for the acceptance of our plan.
While Jorge Rangel was negotiating with the Attorney General’s office, Cardinal O’Connor send me a fax which read, “I am on my way to JFK Airport to fly to Rome to meet with Cardinal Gantin, Prefect of the Congregation of Bishops, you must fax a letter to me immediately so that I get it before my flight leaves telling me that you accept my plan for the reorganization of the Foundation.” I was furious! I immediately faxed a letter to him at his Chancery office knowing that they would read it to him at the Airport over the telephone; I wrote to the Cardinal, “How dare you order me about like a servant. I am a successor of the Apostles just as you are! I will never accept your plan.” My anger at him was mitigated months later when I learned that he was suffering from a brain tumor which caused his death. No bishop in his right mind have sent that fax to me.
The Foundation was saved by the United States Justice Department launching an investigation into the conduct of Attorney General Dan Morales. He was indicted and convicted of accepting bribes and was sentenced to a prison term in a Federal Penitentiary. With Dan Morales, the tool of Bishops McCarthy, Delaney and Mathieson, in prison our attorney Jorge Rangel had no difficulty in persuading the Deputy Attorney General to accept the Board’s plan of reorganization. The Office of the Attorney General dropped the lawsuit that had been filed in Austin.
So ended the drama started by Bishops Mathieson, McCarthy and Delaney. But my troubles with the bishops of Texas did not end, they would never end. We, they, had crossed the Rubicon.
Braunvieh Bull similar to my bulls, Cornerstone Amigo and Ambassador
Dan Morales’ lawsuit was settled but my troubles were not over. I had a Coadjutor Bishop, Bishop Roberto Gonzalez, who did not understand that he was no different from an auxiliary bishop except that he had the right to succeed me when I retired. He was constantly trying to usurp my authority. For example, when I went on vacation he fired several of the chancery employees. He did not have the power to hire or fire anyone and when I returned from vacation I had to rehire the people he had fired. I began to worry about what he would do to the Diocese after I retired and he succeeded me, my worries proved to be well founded
I had bought some land in the Hill Country and created Camp Corpus Christi as a place for young Catholics with or without their families could go for a vacation. Some of the poorer families never took vacations because they could not afford to do so. Every summer we had a week at the Camp devoted to all the altar boys in the Diocese. I would go to the Camp and spend the week with the altar boys. It was a great experience for me and it was a valuable means of promoting vocations to the priesthood.
In the first summer Bishop Roberto was in the Diocese I suggested to him that he should go spend the week with the altar boys at Camp Corpus Christi. He agreed to do so. When he came back after the week I asked him, “How was the week?” He replied, “It was the worst week of my life!”
I was close to celebrating my 74th birthday and I realized that in just one more year I would be 75 years old and on my 75th Birthday I would be required to submit to the Pope a letter of resignation. The more I thought about it the more I questioned why I should wait a year to do it. I was mentally and physically exhausted from the Kenedy lawsuit, the attacks by the bishops, other ‘slip and fall’ lawsuits and now the daily problems created for me by my Coadjutor. I decided that I would ask the Pope to let me retire a year early. I wrote to Pope John Paul II and asked him for permission to retire. He granted me permission and so on April Fools Day, April 1, 1997, I retired.
My worst fears about Bishop Roberto were soon realized. He closed Camp Corpus Christi and began closing different chancery offices such as the Office of Evangelization, the Office of Pro-life Activities and others. It was a disaster. Many of the programs that I had started that were successful were now shut down. Some people were comparing him to Attila the Hun laying waste the countryside. Thank God the Diocese of Corpus Christi was spared further damage when, after just two years as Ordinary, Pope John Paul II promoted Bishop Roberto to be the Archbishop of San Juan, Puerto Rico. This is not the place to recount all that happened in San Juan after he became its Archbishop. Suffice it to say that he has been the subject of an Apostolic Visitation and has been asked by the Holy See to resign.
I had moved out of the big house occupied by the bishops of Corpus Christi and had moved in 1992 into the little frame house across the street on the bayshore built by Bishop Drury for his retirement. The house was on Diocesan property and belonged to the Diocese. There I was relatively isolated from the chaos that was taking place in the Diocese but even being that close, across the street from the bishop’s house, was too close.
I had been thinking all along about what I might do after I retired. I looked around at all of the bishops who had retired ahead of me andd realized that many of them were vegetating, i.e. they were rapidly declining mentally and physically because they did not have enough mental challenges or physical activity to keep them in shape. In reflecting on my own situation I decided that since during the fourteen years I had served as President of the Kenedy Foundation I had had to review the operations of the Foundation’s cattle tenant on the 235,000 acre Kenedy Ranch I had been exposed to a lot of the workings of a cattle ranch. Our tenant ran 10,000 head of cattle on the ranch. It was important for me to visit the ranch frequently to help our ranch manager make important decisions affecting our tenant. Therefore, I decided I would start a little ranch of my own.
Since I had been exposed to the actual workings of a cattle ranch but had little scientific knowledge about ranching, as soon as I retired I enrolled as a student at Texas A & M University in College Station, Texas, in the Beef Science Program. After having spent 32 years from 1927 to 1959 sitting behind a desk (except for the war years) in a classroom this would not be a new experience for me. By the end of the summer of 1997 I graduated with a Certificate in Beef Management Science and was ready to start my ranch.
I bought 80 acres just east of Mathis, Texas, just forty-five minutes by car from my house in Corpus Christi to the ranch. I named the ranch Rancho Milagro because I felt it was sort of a miracle that at my age I was able to even think about being a rancher. I bought a mobile home and put it on the ranch. I bought six cows and a bull. Over the next fourteen years I increased the acreage of the ranch to 240 acres, ran 100 cattle, 100 sheep, 25 chickens, 3 geese, 8 guinea fowl, 10 goats, four dogs and a cat. I bought a very large tractor, cultivated my hayfield, hired a neighbor to cut and bale my hay and then I moved and stacked 150 large round bales of hay weighing 1,000 pounds each summer. I vaccinated my animals, fed them, nursed them when they got sick and hauled them to the auction barn when they were ready to be sold.
I loved the rural life, the life of a rancher. I loved the animals and most of all I loved the solitude. I guess that that was one thing I missed very much after I left Saint Vincent Archabbey. I could go out on my deck at night and sit and pray and count the stars. Being out in the country one can see stars one never knew existed because on the ranch there were no city lights to interfere with viewing the heavens.
I did not retreat from my responsibilities as a bishop, now no longer an ordinary, to minister to God’s people. I accepted every invitation to speak, to celebrate Liturgies and to minister anyway I could. I had satellite internet servvice and I began to blog and soon had a large number of people corresponding with me with some asking for spiritual direction. In addition, I began to become involved in pro-life activities that did not involve the Diocese. For example, in 2005 Texas Right to Life asked me to host a Symposium on Brain Death at a hotel in Corpus Christi. I did and it resulted in a ‘conversion,’ not of faith but of a change of focus in my fight to protect innocent human life. From 1971 until 2005 all my energy in fighting for greater respect for the sanctity of innocent human life was focused on the unborn child, now my focus would also be on end-of-life issues.
The Roe v Wade decision gave impetus to my work as Chairman of the Commission for Pro-life Activities of the Province of Miami. My experience in the Province of Miami and in the Diocese of Pennsacola-Tallahassee, my participation in the Annual March for Life in Washington, my deep friendship with Nellie Gray, the founder of the National March for Life who was from Corpus Christi, all this fighting of abortion paid off when I became Bishop of Corpus Christi. As I have written, by organizing The Body of Christ Rescue and excommunicating the three abortionists the City of Corpus Christi has become abortion-free.
I had followed with great interest the cases of Nancy Quilan, Terri Schiavo and Nancy Cruzan and I was shocked by the public support that Bishop Robert Lynch of Saint Petersburg, Florida gave to the efforts of the husband of XXXX to obtain a court order that was the direct cause of her death. Terry was reported to have been insured for $250,000 and her death probably enriched someone. I was learning that the assault on the human lives of critically ill people can be traced in many instances to human greed. That the love of money is the root of all evil was being proved to be involved in more and more end-of-life cases. I began to become very active in end-of-life issues, not because I was approaching the end of my own life, which I look forward to with joyful expectation, but rather because when innocent human life is attacked, whether through abortion, infanticide, murder, unjust administration of the death penalty, passive or active euthanasia, the issue is still the same: the unjust taking of innocent human life.
I owe my education in understanding end-of-life issues to a number of holy, intelligent, brave men and women who patiently led me to understand all the factors that produced and continue to promote the “Third Path” of euthanasia. Here are the principle individuals: Dr. Paul Byrne, Neurosurgeon, Elizabeth Graham of Texas Right to Life, Kassi Dee Marks an Appellate Attorney, Elizabeth Wickham, Publisher of LifeTree.org, Julie Grimstad, blogger, Ione Whitlock Publisher of BelburyReview.com, Francette Meaney, Founder of Birthright of Corpus Christi, Sister Anne Sophie, Foundress of The Society of the Body of Christ and Judy Brown, President of the American Life League.
My retirement activity was now to shift from ranching to fighting the forces of the “Third Path” and my fighting would once again bring me into conflict with the bishops of Texas.
My Fair Lady has always been one of my favorite movies. I thought of it in 2011 when the drought which had already afflicted South Texas for three years was about to enter its fourth year. I remembered Eliza Doolittle’s explanation of her aunt’s illness, “She were near done in by gin!” I thought I am about to be ‘done in’ as a rancher by this terrible drought. Over the years I had had several inquiries from realtors asking if I were interested in selling the ranch. I called the one who was most persistent and gave the listing. By the end of the year the ranch was sold and I had until February 28 to move all the animals off the ranch. Some I sold and some I gave away to friends. When we closed the sale on February 28, 2012 I returned to the house owned by the Diocese on Ocean Drive in Corpus Christi that I had kept while I worked the ranch.
Now most of my time was devoted to helping reform the current Texas Advance Directive Law, most recently fighting the passage of Senate Bill 303 in the Texas Legislature. For several decades the State has had a law in effect that regulated the use of advance directives in cases of critically or terminally ill patients in hospitals. It is a badly defective law. It gave to ethics committees in hospitals the right to terminate care and it only gave the surrogates of a patient ten days to find another health care facility or the hospital would “pull the plug” on the patient. Most hospitals in Texas belong to the Texas Hospital Association. At times it functions like a “gentleman’s club” in which there is a tacit agreement that one hospital will not embarrass another hospital. Consequently it was difficult, if not impossible to transfer a patient from one hospital to another in ten days. The pro-life activists in the State pushed for a revision of the advance directives statute that would increase the time allotted to transfer the patient to another hospital, among other patient protections.
As often happens, the liberal Representatives and Senators in the Texas Legislature proposed SB303 according to their own liberal agenda in an attempt to reform current law, but not in positive steps forward.. The pro-life activists in the State immediately rallied in opposition to SB303. Much to their (and my) amazement, the bishops of Texas speaking through The Texas Catholic Conference supported the passage of SB303 as introduced. The battle was joined.
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, many years ago had written that national episcopal conferences are dangerous. He wrote that sometimes the bureaucracy or staff of a conference would come to have too much influence over the bishops and the bishops, like sheep, would be led to their slaughter. What the Cardinal wrote about national episcopal conferences was true also of the Texas Catholic Conference. The staff of the Conference had always been liberal. The first Executive Director of the Texas Catholic Conference was Monsignor John McCarthy, later Bishop of Austin. There is probably not a more liberal bishop in Texas than Bishop John McCarthy. The Conference was connected for years to Saint Edwards University in Austin, a very liberal University in the most liberal city in the State of Texas.
During all my years as a member of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference I had ample opportunity to see Cardinal Ratzinger’s observation validated. Also, in the Texas Catholic Conference I had ample opportunity to observe that it is only on rare occasions that the body of bishops will reject a proposal or opinion of the Conference’s staff. I doubt very much that any bishop-member of the TCC had actually read SB303, despite many Catholic patient advocates, legislators, and pro-life activists writing to them about the specific dangers of the nuanced language in SB303. I had plowed through it and Kassi Dee Marks, and appellate attorney did a detailed analysis of SB303 which she shared with me. I suspect that following the usual procedure the bishops would have received and accepted the analysis of SB303 prepared by the staff of The Texas Catholic Conference. Perhaps that reliance on staff would be acceptable in many matters, but not in the matters of life or death.
I along with other pro-life activists had a good working relationship with Governor Rick Perry. We explained to him in clear legal and moral theology terms the dangerous provisions in SB303. He listened, did his own analysis consulted with his staff, and expressed his opposition to key legislators who were instrumental in stopping the legislation in the House. SB303 passed the State Senate and was set for a hearing in the House late in the 2013 Legislative Session. During this saga, the Bishop of Austin, speaking for the bishops of Texas visited the Governor and asked him not to veto the bill. Governor Perry, knowing that I was totally opposed to the bill asked Bishop Vasquez, “Are all the bishops of Texas in favor of SB303?” Bishop Vasquez replied, “All except one old retired guy.” This old, retired guy is grateful to Governor Perry for help in stopping the passage of SB303. The next session of the Texas Legislature will be in the Spring of 2015 and “this old retired guy” will again join with the pro-life activists (if I am still alive) in opposing the revived version of that anti-life, anti-patient bad legislation.
I suspect that part of the problem of the liberalism of the staff of The Texas Catholic Conference lies in its proximity to the Capitol of Texas. There is much that is positive in that proximity and much that is negative. One of the negatives is that the staff of the Texas Catholic Conference, especially its Executive Director, is subject to lobbying by special moneyed interests such as The Texas Hospital Association, The Texas Medical Association, big pharma and others who have a financial interest in the outcome of legislative battles over specific legislative proposals. Proposals that sometimes verge on being immoral.
The other area of interest that has kept me busy in my retirement is fighting the growing transplantation of human organs industry. The Church is in favor of transplanting human organs under certain conditions. Most compassionate people would agree that it is good to save one person’s life if the organs of another person who has died can be salvaged and transplanted. The problem lies in determining the death of the donor.
It is well established that after Dr. Christiaan Barnard had successfully made the first transplantation of a human heart from one man to another in 1966 there was a rush by the medical profession to make the transplantation of human organs, even the human heart, commonplace. The problem was and is that the human organ being transplanted must be alive, i.e. it must come from a human body in which the process of necrosis, deterioration, has not begun.
In 1967 a conference was called at Harvard University to study the problem: how could human organs be taken from a human body that was not yet dead by the standard definition of death as cessation of heart and lung activity. The solution arrived at in the Harvard Conference was, well lets change the definition of death to the cessation of brain activity and that way we can keep the heart and lungs functioning while we remove the organs from the donor. Brain death became the standard definition of death and the medical profession succeeded in getting all the state legislatures to accept in in their statutes.
The problem with brain death I learned in the Conference I hosted in Corpus Christi in 2005, according to one of the participants who is a neurosurgeon, who for a long time had engaged in the transplantation of human organs, was that he finally came to realize that the donors of the organs were not really dead, he was killing the donor by removing the donor’s vital organs. This neurosurgeon stopped participating in organ transplantation where the patient was declared “brain dead.”
The human organ transplantation industry has grown and grown and is now a monster. The money to be made by doctors and hospitals runs now in the trillions of dollars worldwide. It is a monster that seems impossible to control. A heart transplant alone can cost up to $1,000,000.00. When that kind of money is involved, morality and ethics lose their importance, they are no longer considered part of the medical care equation.
I was particularly concerned about the case of Marlise Munoz, a comatose pregnant woman in Fort Worth, who was euthanized over the protest of pro-life activists who argued that that she should be allowed to live until her child was born. Doctors in Germany did a survey and documented 21 cases where pregnant women in a PVS state were successfully delivered of their child. In Marlise’s case concern for her suffering caused people to be unconcerned about the suffering of the unborn child in her womb when she was euthanized.
In whatever time God allows me on this earth I have made the commitment to stay in the fight. I ask Our Lord Jesus Christ, and his Blessed Mother to assist me.
Jesus Healing the Man Born Blind by El Greco, 1570
It is time to wind down this autobiography. There is so much more that I could have written, but in medio stat virtus according to Aristotle and Saint Thomas Aquinas. I would have had great difficulty making this autobiography be 100 pages but I could easily have made it be 1,000 pages long. The virtuous thing for me to do is to find a moderate position between the two extremes. The leitmotif running through this book has been my constant struggle to learn what God wants me to do with my life and then, to the best of my ability, with God’s grace, to do it; as you can well imagine, that was a daily struggle.
When Saint Joan of Arc was being interrogated by her prosecutor, Bishop Cauchon of Beauvais, he asked her, trying to trip her up so that he could accuse her of pride, “Joan, are you in the state of grace?” To which question Joan replied, “If I am, I thank God, if I am not, I pray that God will soon enable me to be.” I am not a saint. I am not even sure to what extent I am securely in the state of grace. All I know is that without formally seeking to be holy I have tried throughout my life to meet the Church’s definition of holiness.
Saints were canonized in the first centuries of the Church, and even later at times, by public acclamation of the holiness of an individual. When the Church began the formal process that leads to the Rite of Beatification or Canonization of a person the Church found it necessary to establish a uniform canonical definition of holiness. There can be, and there have been many definitions of holiness offered by spiritual writers and theologians down through the centuries, but here is the definition the Church has used to establish the degree of sanctity that must be possessed by a person being considered for Beatification and Canonization: Sanctity consists in the heroic performance of the duties and responsibilities attached to one’s state of life. That definition is so short that it does not seem to be a valid definition, but do not let its brevity fool you. It is profound.
Everyone at anytime in one’s life has and is in a state of life: son, daughter, student, husband, wife, father, mother, teacher, religious, priest, bishop, etc. Most people go through several or even many states of life in their lifetime, as I have done. The question the definition of sanctity frequently poses for each of us as we pass through life is, “Am I heroically performing the duties and responsibilities of my present state of life with all its difficulties and challenges ?” The following is something that has helped me throughout my life; I offer it to you in the hope that it will help you.
Early in my life I was given a beautiful insight into the story of Our Lord’s healing of the man born blind as recounted in the Gospel of Saint John (John 9:1-12). You know the story: Jesus was walking along and a man called out to him asking to be healed. Jesus, after a little dialog with the man, spat on the ground, mixed the spittle with the dust of the road, made a little mud paste and applied it to the man’s blind eyes and told the man to go wash in the pool of Siloam. The man did and his blindness was healed.
The insight I was given by the Holy Spirit was this: we are made from the dust of the earth, we are mud, and just as Jesus used the mud to heal the man born blind, Jesus can use us, who are made from the dust of the earth, to heal the blindness of others if we let the light of Christ really shine forth from who we are: in what we say, in what we do, in how we relate to others, etc. Given the rejection and opposition we receive from others as we go through life it is difficult to do that, sometimes it is very difficult to do that. And that is where heroism comes in. It is easy to go through life going through the motions of being a good son, daughter, student, husband, wife, father, mother, teacher, religious, priest, bishop, etc. But doing it with heroic virtue, out of love of God and love of the other person, that is not easy, and if we do in spite of the difficulties, that is heroic.
All my life I have sought to do God’s will. Some people say that it is impossible to know God’s will. I say that they are tragically wrong. One can discover God’s will for oneself by prayerful examination of the external factors that are imposed on oneself by life. I did not choose to go to school; my parents made that decision and I was forced to become a student. Without formally realizing it I recognized my duty and responsibility to be a good student; I was the Valedictorian of my High School graduating class.
I did not choose to go to war in 1943. The Federal Government required me to serve my Country, which I gladly did, and I tried to the best of my ability to perform the duties and responsibilities of a tail gunner and a flight engineer on a B-17 bomber.
The pressure of common sense told me that I should use my intelligence to get a college degree; to study architecture at Rice University and the University of Houston. I did so to the best of my ability and when I graduated the University of Houston made me a Teaching Fellow in the School of Architecture.
As I told the reporter of the Miami Herald, “God did not audibly call me to be a priest,” but he did leave me no mental or spiritual peace until I recognized that he was calling me and then I decided to enter Saint Vincent Archabbey. Only God knows if I performed the duties and responsiblities of my state of life as a monk heroically, but I know that I tried to do so even though it was painful and difficult at times.
I did not choose to be a bishop, on the contrary I was free from clerical ambition because of the impediments I received when I was dispensed from my solemn vows. But I evidently performed my duties and responsibilities as a priest so well that I was made a bishop. I have tried to perform the duties and responsibiilities of my office as a successor of the apostles, a bishop, as best I could, at times in the face of great oppositon from laity (lawyers, politicians, journalists, etc.) , religious, priests, bishops and cardinals as you discovered as you read my autobiography.
Now I look forward to the judgment of God. I know that I may have to spend some time in Purgatory because of my sins and the demands of justice, but that’s alright, I know that God is not only just but, above all, he is a loving God. I trust in his love to bring me eventually to the end for which he created me: perfect union with him.
It is my hope and prayer that reading my autobiography has inspired you to have courage in the face of the challenges of the present time that confront you. The Church is in crisis, our Nation is in crisis, the world is in crisis. It takes courage and reliance on God’s grace to perform the duties and responsibilities of your present state of life heroically in these times.
Keep in mind the motto which I chose to be the guiding plan for my life as a bishop: Abyssus Abyssum Invocat, “Deep Calls to Deep.” Call out to God in prayer from the depth of your need to perform the duties and responsibilities of your state of life heroically, call out to the depth of his love and grace to help you. Then, keep in mind what Our Blessed Mother said to the servants at Cana, “Do whatever he tells you!”
That in All Things God may be Glorified