Homily

Mass for SAS Alumni Reunion and the Greater Community

By Melvin A. Jurisich, OFM

Provincial Minister,

Franciscan Province of St. Barbara.

To those of you, and there are a few of you, who had me in class, and those of you who remember when I was rector here for a while, I want to warn you that this is a long homily, so snuggle up and get comfortable, for I have a lot I want to say. And I’m going to say it, because the pulpit’s mine.

“I’m fed up” is one of the most expressive phrases of the English language. We all know the feeling of having so much of something that we’re sick of it. Our stomachs can be crammed full and we’re not satisfied. We’re still hungry. When you’re hungry, you can nibble on sweets and cakes until you’re absolutely full, but you are far from satisfied. Yet you can’t eat anymore.

Many years ago an author wrote a book with the title: Food for the Fed Up. He describes what many of us have known—a life crammed full of things but not necessarily satisfied. “It’s like trying to live on fancy cakes, little bits of God-knows-what with cherries on top, pure sensation without satisfaction, but you can’t live on it. You must have bread and butter, you must have solid food in your lives. If you try a diet of fancy cakes, you get fed up, which means that you are hungry still, but you still can’t eat.”

My friends, I think we live in a country of incredible affluence compared to most of the world. Our standard of living is beyond the wildest dreams of most people. We often fool ourselves into thinking that fulfillment and satisfaction in life comes from getting rich, or acquiring a lot of things, or having material security. Yet, how often have we reached our goals in life thinking that they would bring us satisfaction? Thinking that we would be at peace? And yet, we feel somehow cheated. It seems that the more we get, the more we want.

The screenwriter and movie producer Marty Kaplan commented on this missing dimension in our lives in the New York Times. This article appeared around the turn of the millennium. “Ninety percent of Americans say that they believe in God,” but he suspects that this is something different from faith, the experience of God. Kaplan says, “Religion may offer a source of nostalgia, a sense of community, a consoling mythology. But without faith, without the experience of God, then there’s not much, there is no protection from the crisis of Spirit as we begin the new millennium.”

This is the sadness of our lives and our culture today. No one wants to have a pointless, chaotic cosmos, but that is what our culture has created. We may yearn for the divine, but the fact is that our feet are stuck in a moral relativism of our time. AND YOU KNOW WHAT? IT FEELS AWFUL. IT REALLY FEELS AWFUL. Because the things that you want from God in life—an afterlife, comfort, peace of mind and soul and heart, reconciliation—they seem so unavailable to us. So, we find ourselves restless. We’re too stable to be seduced by cults, too secular to be born again, too pained to ignore our unease. We have become a generation of seekers, searching for something that’s transcendent to fill the hole where God was.

Dr. Viktor Frankl, the noted psychotherapist, identified this desire to fill the hole in our lives as the will to meaning. He said it’s not the desire for power, it’s not the desire for pleasure, but the deep wish for our lives to have meaning. All us have a deep desire for our lives to have meaning. Although Frankl was not a Christian, he brings us to the edge of the Church’s claim that we humans satisfy our deepest hunger in Jesus Christ, who claims, “I am the Bread of Life.” This is what the Gospel is really all about and this is what St. Anthony Seminary (SAS) has been all about since 1896. Let us look at today’s Gospel so that we can appreciate and give thanks for St. Anthony Seminary’s years.

The Gospel is the familiar story of the feeding of five thousand. This is the only miracle of Jesus that is recorded in all four Gospels. This must have been a significant miracle because it is recorded no less than seven times in the Gospels. What is important for us today is to understand the meaning of the story. John makes it clear as we read on further in the Gospel: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

What Jesus is saying here is that He is the Bread of Life who satisfies our deepest hungers as human beings. But let us not forget that this whole Bread of Life discourse is based on the miraculous feeding of the people by Jesus. We can become so intellectual and so spiritual that we miss the fact that the Eucharist—the central religious rite of our Christian faith—is an action of eating.

There is something basic and elemental about being sustained by Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life. Eating is a necessary human action in order to live. It is also pleasurable and we all enjoy good food. Therefore, sharing the Eucharist is first and foremost eating a piece of bread. It means performing a basic human action—one that is necessary, pleasurable, and fundamental. Yet sharing in the Eucharist also raises that basic human action to a new level. In this act of eating, we as a community of faith are feeding on Jesus, the Bread of Life. We are united and strengthened as a community of faith as we receive the living bread which satisfies our deepest needs and hungers as men and women.

It is interesting to note that the food Jesus used to feed the multitudes was actually poor peoples’ food. The barley cakes and small fish in that boy’s backpack were standard fare for the underclass. He must have come from one of the poorest families. Yet, he offers his meager lunch to be shared with the multitudes. Usually we think it is our responsibility to provide for the poor. Here the tables are turned and God makes the poor to be the provider. There is a hymn from the Hispanic Church, “Cuando El Pobre,” which speaks of this miraculous feeding and says in translation: “When the poor ones who have nothing share with strangers, when the thirsty water gives unto us all, then we know that God still goes the road with us.”

We are often surprised by the ways God provides for our needs, feeding us with the Bread of Life. The most unlikely of persons may become channels of grace to us, as did that small boy who offered his lunch to Jesus when the hungry multitudes were on the hillside.

Having looked at the Gospel, let us now look at St. Anthony Seminary. This weekend we have come together—friars, alumni, former students, lay teachers and the Greater Community—to give thanks to God for having been given the Bread of Life in so many different ways here at SAS. We have all been fed in one way or another in these buildings: the classrooms, the dining room, the study halls and the carrels, the library, the music room, the Rector’s Lounge, the “fill-in,” the gym and, of course, this Chapel.

As the boy in the gospel with his barley cakes and small fish, SAS started out very simply and humbly at the Old Mission in 1896. The first rector was Peter Wallischeck. He and the friars of the Commissariat saw that the crowd, the people of the West Coast, were hungry for the Gospel and so they worked to feed these people, but they would need laborers. It was decided to build a seminary. The friars were poor; they had no resources. This piece of land where SAS sits was a pile of rocks in back of the Old Mission. The early friars took those rocks and, with faith and a lot of sweat, put those rocks on top of each other and built these buildings. They were great builders: Peter Wallischeck—the main building; Theolphilus Richardt—the Chapel; Herbert Patterson—the dormitories and kitchen buildings.

Once they had the buildings, then they could begin to feed, and they fed on many levels. In the classroom, some of the best teachers of the Province taught at SAS. For many years the best and brightest were sent here for their first assignment. They would come over from the Mission with their belongings in a wheel barrel, and they fed the students well:

Severin Anthony “Doc” Baumann and Alberic Smith—all the Sciences;

The great teachers of Latin, Greek and Spanish—Reginald McDonough, Celestin

Chin, Peter Krieg—(“Ite ad murum celeriter!”), Marvin Woeffer,

Manual John Vaughn;

The musicians—Richard Hodge (who conducted the first SAS band), Owen da

Silva, Warren Rouse, Forrest MacDonald;

The lovers of the English language—Brendan Mitchell, Hugh Noonan, Terence

Cronin, Ralph Weishaar, Richard Ochiltree (although he is a

Redemptorist, he should have been a friar), and Michael P. Doherty;

The historians—Francis Florian Guest and your humble servant (I would not call myself a historian, but I did teach history);

In drama and speech—Hilary Hobrecht, Xavier Harris and Fern Sayovitz

(obviously Fern is not a friar but she was at SAS for so long that she might as well be one);

Appreciation of Music and the Arts—Martial Luebke, Edilbert Disch, Gino Piccoli. In the dining room some of the most dedicated friars of the Province served at the Seminary. They literally fed bread and butter to the faculty and the students; many a day they had no more than barley cakes and some small fish; they performed miracles:

Brother Hippolytus Degenhardt—50 years;

Brother Ivo Stuewe—30 + years;

Tillie Shram and Olga Altomare (lay managers in the Kitchen);

Brother Sylvester and 4:00 lunch;

While these folks were in the kitchen, other Brothers were trying to keep the building together—Clem Wehe, Jan Honchosky, Fabian Walker;

On the athletic field were some great athletes: Terence Cronin who considered himself the best first baseman ever to attend SAS; Reginald McDonough who mowed the field by hand and was a great pitcher; Stanley Caspary who played and coached all the sports; Marvin Woeffer, a great swimmer (called “Vir” by the students); Herb Patterson, the Rector who believed that athletics turned boys into men.

In the dorms the faithful prefects and moderators who walked the dorms at night and

woke everyone up in the morning—Martial Luebke, Martin McKeon, Michael Doherty, Jeff Mcnab.

In the rector’s office we struggled to keep everyone fed—Wallescheck, Richardt, Scott, Harris, Riffel, Jurisich, Smith.

To help the later Rectors keep the administration going—Esther Garland and

Betty Makowski ran the front office and made the rectors look great.

In the early 1970’s the friars found that they could not feed the students alone. Our members were diminishing and so we invited lay teachers to join us in our mission—Fern Sayovitz, Joe Miller, Hugh and Carol Kramer, Pat and Jeannie Kudell, Mike Demkowicz, Don McCord.

We are not only fed by the Bread of Life, but we are called to share it with others. In 1968, when the Theology School at the Old Mission moved to Berkeley, Fr. Xavier Harris and the friars opened the seminary chapel doors to the laity and these great people became known as the Greater Community.

These good people not only were fed spiritually here, but they in turn fed the friars and students; they opened their homes and hearts to us; they shared their financial resources; they gave their sweat and blood to keep the seminary’s doors open.

Throughout its history, the friars, lay teachers and Greater Community taught the students well because they learned to feed one another. The students came together as strangers and over the years they became brothers. You learned to watch over each other, look out for each other, care for each other. Even upon graduation and going your separate ways, that same brotherhood has remained which is the foundation of the Alumni Association. Fr. Finbar Kenneally and Alberic Smith saw that so well. What draws you back to this place are these people who have become your brothers because they fed you and filled you with Jesus Christ.

All of these feedings—bringing together the faculty, students and Greater Community—found their center here in the Chapel. Here we all came together to be nourished regularly by the Bread of Life, by the Word of God, by prayer and by silence with our God. Here in the Chapel, community was formed and blessed. Here in this Chapel, reconciliation took place and we were all made right again with one another and with God.

It is, therefore, fitting that it be in this Chapel that we also recognize and acknowledge our failure to feed our students as we should have. Not everyone had a positive experience here; not everyone received the Bread of Life here: there were misunderstandings and hurts; there were rigid rules and rigid people; some were asked to leave unjustly and uncharitably.

The darkest moment, however, has been the sexual abuse scandal that struck these buildings, this community, the friars and all of our former students. We friars failed you—those who were abused by our brothers. We failed to feed you. We promised your parents that we would protect you, educate you, give you a safe place to grow, mature—and we failed, we failed miserably.

The friars of the Province, especially those of us who taught here, we are sorry for our failure to feed and protect you. Believe me, we carry that burden each day of our lives. The friars of the Province have tried to make a firm purpose of amendment. We have done a number of things to look at our own lives. We know we have more to do and with God’s grace and your understanding we will. We know we don’t deserve the right to forgiveness from you but we humbly ask you for it in the Spirit of reconciliation and healing; and we beg you for it in this Chapel, where we have all been fed and where we have all been touched with God’s mercy.

We friars also failed your parents, spouses, children, brothers, sisters and your friends. They have had your cross thrust upon them and they walked with you as you carried yours. It has not been easy times for them and we friars acknowledge our failures to them. We beg their forgiveness for the cross we thrust upon them.

We friars have also failed you, the Greater Community. Our brothers’ actions caused you hurt and discouragement. We are supposed to be men of faith and our actions caused you to doubt your faith. Again, we have no right to your forgiveness, but we humbly ask you for it.

We ask for forgiveness from all of you, not so that we can forget what has happened and move on. We ask for your forgiveness so that we can have the strength and determination to continue the work of reconciliation and healing that still needs to take place.

This is the history of this historic place, both with its great successes and great failures. We bring all of it and all of us to the table so that we can be fed again with the Bread of Life.

In conclusion, let me say, the Spanish philosopher and writer Umamuro, tells us of a Roman aqueduct in Segovia which was built in 109 AD and brought water from the mountains to a thirsty city for more than 1800 years. One day it was decided to give the old aqueduct a well-deserved rest. The city constructed a modern pipeline to carry the water to the people. Soon the aqueduct began to fall apart. The sun cracked the mortar and made it crumble. For hundreds of years the aqueduct had held together but now it began to disintegrate. What generations of service could not destroy, idleness disintegrated. Our Christian lives are like that. If they fall into disuse and are left idle, they soon fall apart and disintegrate. That is why Bread is such a wonderful gift, given by Jesus. Just as our physical bodies have regular nourishment, so our relationship with God needs to be nourished and expressed each day.

As the friars prepare to take leave of these building and place, there is a certain amount of sadness, but let us not fall into the trap of accepting that all is over. What will always continue will be what we were all fed here: we need to be, each day, the channel of God’s love and mercy toward each other. That daily feeding is far more important than any set of buildings. D.T. Niles, the great Christian leader from Sri Lanka, once said: “The Christian mission is not one person, with an abundance of bread, condescendingly doling it out to those who are less fortunate. The Christian mission is rather one beggar standing alongside another beggar, pointing to the Source of Food.”

My dear friars, alumni, Greater Community and friends of SAS—we are all fellow beggars, equally in need of the Bread of Life. May God continue to feed us lavishly and may we gratefully point others to that Living Bread. If we can do that, then the Spirit of St. Anthony Seminary will always have a home!

Christ the King Chapel

St. Anthony’s Seminary

Santa Barbara, California

July 26, 2003