Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Party at 125

It seems that most people enjoy a party or celebration.

And, when it's 125 years, that mark merits merriment.

Here's the story:

Back in 1967, I enrolled in Saint Mary's College at Orchard Lake, a spacious, park-like campus twnty-five miles northwest of Detroit where I grew up on the east side near Lynch Road and Van Dyke.

When I wanted to study medicine over ministry, this haunting focus seemed to keep challenging my choice.

Ministry won.

Having shared a room with my older brother, Bob, I liked the idea of having my own room at Orchard Lake where there is also a high school, seminary, and a Polish Mission in Oakland County.

With Polish background in my parents' blood, I fit into the frame of mind at St. Mary's College.

In fact, the Polish thrust seemed a bit much.

I knew that the world was bigger, however, than my own ethnic background.

In 1971 I went on to a seminary in Plymouth called St. John's Provincial Seminary at Five Mile and Sheldon Roads.

Like St. Mary's, both places were far out and away from the bustling city of Detroit I grew up in and loved.

In 1975 I was ordained a deacon, and, later a Catholic priest. I savor serving as a pastor today.

Fast forward to the 125th anniversary of founding of the Orchard Lake School years.

Students were formed in the faith to lead communities as Catholic priests at worship, the sacraments, works of pastoral care, hospital visitations, someone in jail, and, even counseling one moving along the path of destruction in the world of drugs, for example.

I relished my college formation.

With an international faculty to guide us, my smaller Motown track was widened to view a bigger world perspective, especially Poland.

The Reverend Joseph Dabrowski, the priest who established the Orchard Lake Schools (OLS) as they are called, hailed from Poland, then, moved to Wisconsin and finally on to Detroit with some Felician nuns to teach and start Catholic grade schools.

They would preserve and pass on the Polish heritage, faith, and culture.

And, they did, along with outstanding leaders with names such as Filipowicz, Ziemba, Milewski, Chrobot, Ruskowski, Popielarz and more.

July 22nd, a celebration and party will be hosted on campus.

Most of the pastors who lead communities across the United States with Polish background today were formed at Orchard Lake. They're older now. Replacements are slim.

125 years is a trophy, however.

That's worthy of celebration, for sure.


And, although I am ambivalent about my Church's future, and, especially the handling of the crisis of some pathological and predatory priests, I am jubilant about the faith that grounds me 35 years after I was ordained a deacon to serve the Archdiocese of Detroit.

God guides me.

Yet, I wonder.

Why is sexuality such an issue in our culture, also among parents who abuse their children, and, among athletes, the military and more? Why do Buddhists, for example, seem to have less problems with sexuality? Why is so much energy expended?

With a shrinkng number of clergy available to serve churches, how will the faith continue? Will the sacraments be available?

Why are so few entering Catholic divinity schools today?

Are leaders doing enough to imagine, or change disciplines such as enforcing celibacy upon men who get ordained? Excluding women from among more prominent leadership roles? Supporting families? Reaching out to young adults? Moving beyond the fear factor that locks systems into postures that may not work any longer?

I worry.

Like the oil spill in the Gulf, what legacy will we hand on?

Are church leaders doing all they can to ensure a vibrant Church with leaders to bolster the broken, those seeking solace, and, those lost, for example?

I don't know.

What I do know is that I want to celebrate my Church long after this 125th anniversary of my alma mater.

And, it looks like leadership lacks the resolve to move from this sexual horror that consumes and entrenches so much time, energy and money spent in lawsuits.

I want to enjoy party and be jubilant, although I will be in Snowmass, Colorado that day at St. Benedict Monastery reflecting on what we call a renewing retreat with Trappist Thomas Keating.

With the celebration of 125 years, however, comes the challenge to do some things differently.

Living organisms have to grow, or, history shows, they die.

If they need to die, having served their purpose like many religious communities of men and women through time, then fine.

Death brings life, Catholics believe.

The Church needs to live long and well, however. It needs to give life, and give it abundantly, as Jesus advised.

People hunger for nourishment and guidance.

To whom shall they go?

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