Going Home Again

“You can’t go home again,” as the saying goes. This past year, I got to test this claim out for myself. After fourteen years as a professor at the University of Portland (UP), the last six of which I also served as the community’s local superior, the University and the Province granted me permission for a sabbatical year at Notre Dame. (I pursued research in my academic field of mathematical logic and studied other social issues of particular concern for the Church in America, especially in higher ed.) After some conversation about various possibilities for my residence, Fr. Jim Gallagher, the new rector at Moreau Seminary, invited me to live there as a finally professed member of the community. Except for some prior visits during celebrations or summers, I hadn’t stayed for an extended time at Moreau since I had finished my own initial formation in 2008; for the first time in a long time, I was “moving back home.”

In some ways, it was easy to slip right back into life at Moreau. Although we chant very little of the Office at UP, most of Moreau Seminary’s usual chant settings for the Benedictus, the Magnificat, and our beloved Thursday Lucernarium came right back to me, as if I had never left. Quite a few familiar faces from the kitchen staff greeted me when I moved back, and it was wonderful to re-connect with them after these many years. 

However, as one might expect, some of even Moreau’s most basic rhythms had changed in the last fifteen years. The seminarian 6:30 AM morning Mass had not been part of the schedule during my years of initial formation, and that took a little getting used to, especially since at UP I had lived in the dorms and usually went to bed after midnight. I was really inspired to see that Eucharistic Adoration had now become a more regular feature of the Seminary’s common prayer. 

Amidst all that felt familiar and all that felt new upon my return home, of course, the most striking development was that I had changed. Since I had ministered at UP for nearly my entire life as a Holy Cross priest, and since, when I left for my sabbatical, I was still one of the youngest religious in this local community, it took me a short while to realize that, within the Moreau Seminary community, I was old!  

After the brief shock to my vanity, this revelation became a source of enormous freedom and joy. One of the realities of religious life is that, like all brothers, we frequently can feel a sense of rivalry and competition among ourselves; we sometimes can wonder where and how we fit in, or if we measure up. But at Moreau, the seminarians and I were in such different places in our lives and our religious life, that all of these dynamics simply did not apply. We did not attend the same classes (but I enjoyed hearing what they were studying), consume the same media (although I was glad when they invited me to their movie nights), or face each other on the basketball court (since I had the good sense not to lace up my old high tops when they played).

They looked to me not to be smart, but prudent; not funny, but kind; not skilled in athletics, but healthy in my habits. When my turn came up in the 6:30 AM rotation, they expected me to pray Mass reverently (and expeditiously), and if I preached well, probably most of them were awake enough to appreciate that as a bonus. When they came to me as a Confessor, they hoped I would embody God’s mercy and offer good counsel. When they organized a Moreau Seminary Spring Musical, they were a little disappointed that, due to an out-of-town conflict, I couldn’t take on a brief role; but they were happier that I made the effort to attend their final dress rehearsal before I caught my plane.

By the end of my year at Moreau, I regarded these seminarians with holy pride and gratitude, for God clearly has blessed Holy Cross with a new generation of good and gifted men who love him. And he blessed me with an entire year to experience myself as a Father to my younger brothers.

Published on November 15, 2023

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