Oakland Catholic girls raise nearly $4,000 at Cathedral Masses on the first Sunday of Advent. Those are facts but not the story. We see Grace McHale grinning at a plastic bag,
the contents of which are cash wrapped in paper towels. Fr. Michael Roche is smiling on the scene as are Emma Anselmo and Julia Forester. This is a fitting photo, 60% of the senior leadership of the OC Guatemala Mission group, 100% of the senior leadership at the Cathedral Masses and 3/5 of the Fab Five, girls who will spend one month this summer as San Bernardino teachers. As I recall contributions totaled a bit more than $3,920.
$3,920 is important. Media beccas (half scholarships) at San Bernardino are $50 each so this could be just what it takes to give a year of top quality education to 78 children who might otherwise spend the year working the broccoli fields or making and selling tortillas tres tiempos por día. $3,920 could be the tipping point to help Danielson with his hearing or help Alex gain use of his arms or finally put Kevin into a motorized wheelchair. That $3,920 would go a long way toward building one of the new, second story classrooms at San Bernardino or it could feed the Franciscan’s 250 elderly poor for months.
Cathedral collections are important because something good animated a group of girls to joyfully, and I emphasize joyfully, put aside thoughts of self and throw themselves into raising money to help people who really do need help. In the way that people can do these things, our girls are making the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, feeding the hungry and giving hope to those who might easily live in dark hopelessness. As luck would have it we see this in today’s Gospel reading, Mt. 15: 29-37, where Jesus does these exact same things the way that only the one true God of all things visible and invisible can do it. Please understand that the OC girls are doing what Jesus would do. Please understand that what animates to joyful selflessness is the Holy Spirit bursting forth from them into the world. Grab onto it. If you do it doesn’t last just a lifetime. It is eternal.
Grace, Julia, Emma, Kayla, Caroline, Abbie, Laurel, Maddie, Melissa, Riley and Summer were all present and all helped. Here is what happened.
Fr. Michael had arranged with Cathedral Rector, Fr. Stubna, for the girls to collect at the 5 Sunday Masses plus Vigil Mass the night before. I rolled into the Cathedral about 5:40 Saturday evening and took my place in a pew close to the sanctuary. Julia had written the remarks that all would deliver and Emma was the first speaker. Emma was surprised when I said, “Get rid of half the words.” Fr. Michael had let me know that the Rector’s only expressed concern was that remarks be kept short. Fr. Michael presided at Vigil Mass and made it easy for us. He called Emma to the ambo just prior to dismissal. Emma was, as I take it Emma usually is, wonderful. She was self assured, sincere, infectious with enthusiasm and she did mange to get rid of half the words. Fr. Michael added his own testimony at the conclusion of Emma’s speech. There were enough girls that every exit was staffed by a smiling, uniform clad OC girl with poster board of Guatemala pictures and collection basket in hand. We counted money at Fr. Michael’s office. Giving seemed heavy for the modest turn out. An usher called Cheech, who was particularly helpful, bantered with Emma about being Italian. I bantered with Laurel about Guatemala City which was the city of her birth. So passed the first Mass.
Fr. Steven Palsa presided at 6:30 AM Sunday Mass. I introduced myself and told him that Caroline would surely arrive soon. Fr. Steven was the first to bring the speaker up to the sanctuary, lowering the probability of the priest forgetting to announce us. Caroline did arrive before Mass but only just. She began editing Julia’s essay as Mass started. She confessed to me that public speaking makes her nervous and, as a matter of fact, she was tense in the extreme. I tried to be calm and reassuring. I was calm. Maybe I was reassuring. Caroline headed to her seat in the sanctuary from the end of the communion line as I made my way to the narthex for a collection basket. Caroline and I were alone at the front of the church and I was thinking about covering 5 doors with two people one of whom was up front and about to speak. OC reinforcements were waiting in the side chapel off the narthex and I was relieved. Caroline, despite her internal turmoil, spoke well. Her words were clear, her pace was excellent and her deletions from the original text were well chosen. Each door was equipped with a ferociously cute OC girl. We counted money at Fr. Michaels’s rectory office again. Caroline mentioned that my use of Spanish in Mass responses threw her off. Sorry but I made a commitment to Patzún two decades ago and this is part of how I remember, honor and reflect.
Speakers at the Masses, starting with Vigil Mass were Emma, Caroline, Kayla, Grace, Grace and Emma, unless I am wrong which is possible. I joked that Emma only performs at night, leaving an unspoken wisecrack about vampires. Speakers were all good to great. Some even earned a full Don Felipe hug, complete with kiss on cheek – usually reserved for veterans of mission trips with me. The biggest problem with the presentations seemed to be my edits which, though improving the text, were tough to read. Fr. Stubna, the Rector and formerly head of Catholic education for the Diocese, was especially kind in his remarks both privately to me, and publically at Mass.
Some things really stood out. One was Maddie next to me at Mass. It was clear that this was not her first rodeo, as she belted out the new Missal versions of the responses. Every homily noted the Advent preparation for both baby Jesus and God’s yet to be realized second entry into history. Caroline, taken with lighting the Advent candle, parted from the group planning to introduce that tradition into her home. Julia came to early Mass with her hair down. I’d never seen it that way. It, and she, were both beautiful. Julia also pointed out the commitment that the younger members of the Mission Group are showing, not even stopping to think that her passion is surely one of the reasons. Fr. Josh of the Oratory at 6 PM Sunday Mass asked me about the mission and opined that it might be a good one for him and University of Pittsburgh students. He knows Dorrie. I recall Melissa telling us about growing up in Indonesia, being reserved and radiant – putting me in mind of the Blessed Mother, really. Summer and I chatted about selling Guatemalan crafts in the businesses that her parents have around town. That will be a blessing. Riley’s name made me recall that I lived on Riley Ave. when I was a very little boy. I recall that Abbie is Abbie and not Abigail. Judy Regengeil popped in at a couple Masses and seemed satisfied that I was doing no permanent harm to the OC girls. Grace stood out and is clearly shouldering the burden of leadership. Somebody got into Grace’s face and told her to tell Dr. Marsteller that the girls need longer skirts. I was really glad that person wasn’t in the narthex when one of our girls decided it was time to take off her skirt altogether. (I don’t recall who that might have been so don’t ask.) There was sadness too. Danielle, Olivia and Kelly are gone from the group and it is likely that I will not see them again. I missed the smiling face and tender heart of Maria. I was really sorry that Lelah didn’t come. Meghan Goyal, your Miss Friday, is sequestered in DC. Allison, Alora and Mo are all in college. It isn’t the same. It never is.
Once the money was counted and the girls left Fr. Michael and I chatted that Sunday night. He wondered how it all started, clearly pleased that it had. Megan Goyal, Spanish teacher at Oakland Catholic was looking for a Spanish-speaking mission. She told Fr. Michael and he said, “I have somebody that you need to meet.” He was speaking of Don Felipe. That Sunday night, after 6 weekend Masses I told him how it started. I had prayed and reflected and prayed for years that I would be able to introduce young women to the missions, to the orphans and to the Franciscans. Every Oakland Catholic mission girl is an answer to my prayer. So are Meghan and Dorrie. Then I talked about what God may have in store for me now that I have retired from Carnegie Mellon, 65 years old and still wondering what I will do with my life. It was a time to share confidences, enjoy the warmth of hope, and make ready for the coming of our Lord and Savior.