Recently, numerous individuals have said they could identify very closely to an article that I had written about five years ago. It is entitled: Fearing Failure. The article is still available on our abbey website under the vocations button.
Because of the feedback that I am getting, I thought perhaps it would be advantageous to do more articles of this nature.
In this little article, I would like to take a very different approach. I would like to tell my own personal story about why I made the choices that I did and why I continue to stay where I am.
My story goes back to the day when I was born, January 23, 1949. Although I was just a baby, the winter I was born – 1948-49, was a winter to behold. I have seen lots and lots of photos of the blizzards of that year, particularly the huge snow drifts. Nebraskans experienced a winter in 1948-49, which Nebraskans these days have no idea of. The latest issue of Nebraska Life(January/February, 2009) has a great article about the winter of 1948-49 and will verify that my story here is not a tall-tale. There are also some great photos of the amounts of snow that winter in this magazine.
I am from a small rural area – Albion, Nebraska. In 1949, there was no hospital there in Albion. The two older siblings above me were born in Norfolk, Nebraska, approximately an hour’s drive from Albion. The plan was for me to be born in Norfolk as well. That did not happen.
The day I was born, another winter storm was in progress. My Dad packed Mom up to get her to the hospital, but the weather prevented them from reaching their destination. As it took longer and longer to get to their destination, Mom became more and more agitated and uncomfortable and I kept wanting to be born. Dad explained that the windshield wipers could not keep up with the heavy snow, so he kept his window rolled down and had to keep his head partly outside to make sure he was actually on the road. Mom feared the worst-- that I would be born in the car and that they would get stuck in a snow drift and we would all freeze to death. (Obviously, this did not happen.)
So Mom prayed. She prayed earnestly. Like women so often do. Dad arrived at a small town, just before Norfolk. Tilden is its name. There was clinic of sorts there and that is where I was born—very soon after they got there. I was born safely and healthily.
Mom’s prayer was one of those conditional prayers that we sometimes send to God. Yes, it had a very pleading tone and was conditional. “Please God, if everything is ok with this birth, I promise this child to you.”
Mom promised me to God, shortly before I was born. I don’t know if she said this aloud, and Dad heard it as well, but Mom told me this story when I was very, very young. And Dad never stopped her, never disagreed with her, at least on this issue. So from the moment Mom told me this, I wanted to be a priest.
The problem with this is: was it my vocation or my Mom’s vocation?
The timing of the Catholic Education system in Albion at St. Michael’s Parish was significant in my vocation. St. Michael’s Parish opened a new elementary school the year I began the first grade. My class was the first class to go through all eight grades of the school. At that time St. Michael’s was graced to have religious women operating and teaching in the school – Benedictines from Sacred Heart Monastery in Yankton, South Dakota. Indeed, these Benedictines influenced me and nurtured my desire for religious life. However, I was not interested in becoming a Benedictine.
My mother was born and raised for most of her childhood in the Lindsay—St. Bernard area of Nebraska – Platte County. This area was Franciscan territory. There were numerous Franciscans in Mom’s family. I must admit that I was enamored by a great uncle, my maternal grandfather’s brother—Br. Adrian Borer. He was a very simple man who seemed to be very happy with simplicity and humbleness. I wanted to be a Franciscan.
As I continued in elementary school and maybe even before I was in elementary school, I played priest. I had vestments and an altar. My siblings and I would play mass. We used the basement stairwell for pews – this is where my siblings were (on the steps) and I would be on the bottom behind the cardboard altar. I used sliced pickles for altar breads—bread and butter pickles. (For the longest time, I always thought the real altar breads had to be in some kind of juice, just because I had pickles in juice.) But when I got to the 7th and 8th grades, things became more serious. Where would I go to high school?
I still wanted to be a Franciscan and so Br. Adrian wanted me to go to Quincy, Illinois to the Friary there. I was ready to do that. But then the parish priest intervened. His name was Fr. Daniel Brick, a very matter of fact sort of man and priest. He very aptly stated that he thought going that far away from home would present a great problem for me. He noticed how close I was to my family and knew that I would get homesick. He was right. I got very homesick, even being only two hours-distance from my home and family.
Fr. Brick suggested St. John’s Seminary in the Omaha Archdiocese at Mount Michael Abbey. Offering to drive me there for a tour and visit was the beginning of the rest of my life as a religious person. I don’t know if I was just being naïve or stubborn when I was questioned by the administration of the seminary, but I did not declare a diocese. I was always an independent student. I think in the back of my mind, I still dreamt of religious life as a Franciscan. But as time passed in high school, I was really drawn to the monks of Mount Michael Abbey. I would also say some of the monks took full advantage of the fact that I did not declare a diocese. Perhaps a little recruiting was taking place among them.
Many wonderful things were happening in those days of the 1960’s. It was a good time for me for lots of reasons. Mount Michael was really growing in those days. I did not totally understand what was happening to me, but I began to realize that monks of Mount Michael were a large reason for making me the person I was becoming. I really began to feel indebted to them. I was very drawn to their way of life – a combination of academics and manual labor. I was from a rural area and had to work hard and I loved the thought of being able to continue to do that sort of thing and still being involved in matters academic and religious. I was so impressed that I just wanted to do for others what these wonderful monks had done for me.
The rest of the story is pretty much history. I came to Mount Michael when I was fourteen years old in 1963. I am now sixty years old – 2009. I have been here forty-six years. Perhaps time will now allow me to deal with the ups and downs of those forty-six years and create content for future articles. To be continued in one way or another!!!