Throughout my time in formation, I always understood that Holy Cross was like an extended family. It was something we just picked up on. No one needed to say it. We all knew that we somehow belonged to each other’s families. Ordination weekends seemed more like family reunions, and not only for the Holy Cross Religious present. Slowly, I got to know the families of my brothers in Holy Cross. Eventually, they became part of my family. Similarly, my family became a part of Holy Cross.
I think that funerals were always important to us as a community. When someone’s family member died, the whole community always had a great outpouring of support and affection. I remember traveling to several funerals for the family members of other guys in the seminary. But this has been felt most keenly and poignantly when it was my family members. A few summers ago, my Uncle Richard passed away. The community, as always, began praying for my family, and especially my uncle. I was so touched to find that three of my brothers in the seminary made the five-hour drive out to Wisconsin to be with my family. I already knew that they were supporting me and praying for me. But now my family did too. My family knew that Holy Cross deeply cared for them. Holy Cross is their extended family and will always be there for them.
Likewise, this past summer my grandfather died in Miami, Florida, and last month, my grandmother in Wisconsin. I knew that certainly Florida would be too far to travel for most of my brothers. However, I made a retreat earlier in the summer at our residence in Cocoa Beach. It is a community for older members of Holy Cross, but still very active men in service and ministry. The priest who celebrated my grandfather’s funeral could not make it to the cemetery due to another funeral immediately following my grandfather’s. At a moment’s notice, Fr. Jim Lackenmier, C.S.C., the superior of the Cocoa Beach Community, came to be with my family, and to preside at the interment of my grandfather. I knew that Fr. Jim was my brother in Holy Cross, but again, now my family did too. He joined us for a reception at the house my grandfather built. Only family members came. And it made perfect sense to have Fr. Jim join us.
In Holy Cross, we truly are one family. I have loved getting to know the families of my classmates. I hope the families of other men in formation come out for my Ordination. I hope they get to experience that they are part of a much larger extended family. They are welcome in Holy Cross, and Holy Cross longs to be a part of their life. And in those most difficult moments, those moments of loss and grief, moments of suffering for families; it is then that Holy Cross will be most profoundly felt. They are loved by their extended family in Holy Cross. I have kept the dozens and dozens of Mass cards sent to me by priests who could not make it down to Florida for my grandfather’s funeral or to Wisconsin for my uncle’s or my grandmother’s. Some of them were from close friends who were recently ordained. Some came from acquaintances. Some I had never met. I keep them as a reminder of who Holy Cross is to my family. My parents, my brother and sister, my brother-in-law and nephew, my aunts and uncles and cousins all belong to this community. They are always welcome. Holy Cross is their family.