ALUMNI DAY HOMILY - 2010
by Rev. Jerrold F. Kennedy, R'60
Teilhard de Chardin once said “Growing old is like being increasingly penalized for a crime you haven’t committed”. The reason why I am the homilist today reminds me a little too much of that remark. Rather than being penalized, though, it is an honor to be here.
Many years ago, Father Lyman Fenn labeled St. Joseph’s College “The Little City of God”. More recently, perhaps influenced by the writings of Henri Nouwin, a vocations flier spoke of St. Joseph’s College as: “preparing healers for a wounded world”. This year, one of my classmates described the college in different words. He said that the college was a place to pray, to play, to prepare and to rebel. Whatever description we use, we all remember the college in our own ways.
For us, it began on September 8, 1954. Fifty six “sixth latiners” arrived that day. We were a band of boys with noble dreams, armed with brooms, dust-mops and laundry properly numbered for The Little Sisters of the Holy Family.
The new president, Father Jim (Beansie) Campbell was there to welcome us with one of the Rhets, Vic Schmensky, at his side. I was impressed.
I had the good fortune of having my brother Bill to show me the ropes. We decided to go for a swim. It was a good idea, --- until Father Chuck Dillon swam over to us to advise “the brothers Kennedy” that we should not spend too much time together. I was not impressed.
By the way, my brother Bill and I were one of 22 sets of brothers in the student body at that time. Bill and I shared a double room on the fourth floor around the corner from Father Jack Olivier and down the hall from Fathers Paul Purta and Gene Strain.
In second High, the new wing and chapel opened allowing the student body to swell to over four hundred.
I remember that after the new mosaics finally arrived for the chapel, we looked up each day at the words: “Deus providebit sibi victimam.” We did not know what the future would bring, but it was encouraging to be reminded that “God will provide.”
For the next six years, we saw our youthful dreams refashioned and honed, shaped and reshaped and sometimes shattered, until they were transformed into maturing personal convictions about life, the world and the church.
Indian lore speaks of dreams as messages from the spiritual world. Dream catchers were to filter out bad dreams and allow good ones to flourish. The seminary faculty made it their task to be our “Dream Catchers” as they helped fashion and reshape our maturing dreams.
Our spiritual lives were well regulated and all embracing. Days were speckled with reminders of who we were and what we were about. Morning meditations, multiple Masses, silent meals, and martyrologies were meant to make us men of prayer.
Academics were all-important and challenging, but also inspiring with teachers like Father William O’Connor, Pop Rock, Joe Ferrario, Fathers Martin, Gregoire, Cronin, Dillon, Riddlemoser, Strain, Olivier, Taylor, Canfield, Doyle, and Krumpleman among others.
I can’t remember but I think Joe Harrington, Larry Jacobs and Tom Barrett were awarded a fair share of the academic premiums, but others were spread among the bunch of us, including Father Taylor’s favorite writer, Kevin Starr. I do know that later Jim Purcell and Rich Laveroni were selected for Rome.
Ramblers, Indians, Bears and Trojans were given a welcome and prominent place in our lives as energetic, competitive and confined students.
Those years of prayer, studies and sports became the foundation for the deep friendships which have lasted over the past 56 years.
Our class was small and seen as “independent, down to earth, unassuming, bright, friendly and hard-working.” I have watched my classmates over the years. They have moved in different directions. They have built lives of integrity. They have caught hold of their dreams. They have followed their convictions. They have found personal and unique ways to be healers for a wounded world.
Having spent twelve years in the seminary, fifteen years as a Vocation Director and five years as a faculty member at St. Patrick’s, I can say that over the years I have seen so many of you do the same thing. I personally am very, very proud to be numbered among you.
On Alumni Day this year, we returned on the weekend the Church celebrates Good Shepherd Sunday and The World Day of Prayer for Vocations. On this weekend, God’s word challenges us to be a community of men and women who follow the example of Jesus, the Good Shepherd.
Father Frank Norris wrote the following in “GOD’S OWN PEOPLE”:
“The early Christians, as we learn from the catacombs, loved to portray our Savior as a beardless and handsome young man carrying a lamb upon his shoulder. It was, in fact, their favorite way of picturing Him. The title of Good Shepherd – one that Christ gave to Himself – suggests tenderness and compassion, strength and dependability. It evokes all that attracts us most to the personality of our Lord. But the similitude of the Good Shepherd also teaches us something about the nature of the community that Jesus came to establish.”
Frank went on to say that it is only when we realize that Christ is appropriating to himself an image used in the Old Testament (from the prophet Ezekiel) to describe the relation between God and Israel that we feel the impact of what He is saying. Christ’s words were unmistakably intended to recall to His hearers the passage describing God himself as the Shepherd of Israel.
As a priest and as a member of today’s church with all its faults and all its failings, I must admit that parts of Ezekiel’s Chapter 34 still scare me!
As the Jerusalem Bible translation puts it, “Shepherds, the Lord Yahweh says this: disaster is in store for you. Well fed and dressed in wool, you did not feed and protect the flock... You failed to make weak sheep strong or to care for the sick ones, or to bandage the injured ones. You have failed to bring back strays or look for the lost.”
I sometimes use that chapter from Ezekiel as an examination of conscience. It always makes me remember that being a priest and being a Christian is a privilege, but it is also a serious responsibility.
A good shepherd was needed most when days were bleak and stormy, on winter days which tested the shepherd’s courage, compassion and concern.
The Irish theologian, John O’Donohue, once compared the experience of bleakness to the winter before Spring comes. He said: “Bleakness is never as bleak as it first appears to be. And Spring doesn’t just happen. Spring is the long work of winter which produces that beautiful new life.”
As a church, we are enduring a long winter of disappointments. Hopefully, God will provide us with the honesty, the courage, the transparency, and the changes needed to become a healthier community of believers.
Whatever abilities you have for leadership and service, please continue to use them. The church needs men and women who can be perceptive leaders and humble servants.
What you are capable of doing do cannot be measured. Your efforts are needed. They make a difference, especially when they embody the tenderness, compassion, dependability and strength of the Good Shepherd.
That’s the good news for the alumni and friends of St. Joseph’s College and good news for the church.
We came to the college in our youth with dreams and visions of a future church. May those dreams carry us on as we gather around the table of the Eucharist. Here the Good Shepherd himself nourishes us with courage for change and with the gift of healing for a wounded world.
Please remember to whisper a prayer for a new springtime, for vocations, and for the Church.