By Father Lino Oropeza, S.S.E.
Last summer, when I gave a talk to a curious Theology on Tap group in Burlington, Vermont, I decided to delve into the subject of religious life. My intention was to speak from the heart of my own journey as an Edmundite priest, and to open the room up for candid discussion about what I do, and about the role of consecrated people in the Church. One question caught me off guard; I was asked if I was happy. I replied, “What is the point of living a life that does not bring you joy?”
Which illustrates the important celebration of the World Day for Consecrated Life on Feb. 2! It is also Candlemas Day. In 1997, Saint John Paul II instituted the World Day for consecrated Life on Candlemas for a special reason, his message connects Jesus’ consecration to the father and the consecration that all of us in consecrated life make to God. It is a day for all of us to celebrate our consecration to God and the gospel.
What we learn about Jesus in Luke Chapter 2 is why we celebrate Candlemas Day. It is a Holy Day commemorating the presentation of Jesus at the Temple:
"When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him." (Luke 2:39-40)
I assume the question about my happiness from the Theology on Tap crew came out of my explanation of the requirements of religious life. We, following the example of Jesus, who is the epitome of the one that is poor, chaste, and obedient, leave our homes, families, and jobs behind to dedicate our life to bring the Good News wherever we go through the example of our lives. Through our vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, we not only imitate Christ, but also free ourselves to dedicate our lives to the service of God and others.
These vows that can seem as a sacrifice are intrinsically part of our lives and are woven into the fabric of what we do. As religious, we are our vows. We free ourselves from any distraction to be available, as Pope Francis mentioned in his homily on 2016, to encounter the other.
“Consecrated men and women are called first and foremost to be men and women of encounter. Indeed, the vocation does not originate from a plan we have designed ‘on the drawing board,’ but from a grace of the Lord, which touches us, through a life-changing encounter." ~Pope Francis, 2016
Our vocation comes out of the encounter with Jesus. After meeting Jesus, our lives are transformed. As the Pope affirms, after meeting Jesus, our lives cannot continue to be the same. Once we have that encounter with Jesus, we are ready to encounter others to be witnesses of Jesus.
Traditionally, on Candlemas, candles are blessed at Mass to symbolize the Light Jesus brought to the world. Consecrated people are called to reflect the light Jesus gave us to all the world. So, as you quiet your mind and reflect on Candlemas this year, especially if you are discerning your vocation, remember that each of us has a role in the Church.
As you celebrate with us this day, it is a great opportunity to discern your role in the Church. It can be an opportunity to discover ways to bring the Light of Christ to the world. It can be an opportunity to encounter and discover your brothers and sisters.
For more information, please visit SSE.org.
The life and times of Father Richard VanderWeel
… or much ado about nothing
Life loves a tragedy and so does Father Richard VanderWeel, S.S.E., most notably King Lear. Lear’s suffering has won and enlightened some over the centuries and it is certainly tops in this Roman Catholic priest’s book. He says it’s because it lays out everything Shakespeare has to offer. “And he’s got a lot to offer,” VanderWeel said.
While he humbly states he is far from the perfect priest, he is practically perfect in every way to many. One such chap who thinks so is Saint Michael’s College Professor Nick Clary, who admits to having laughed himself into stitches a time or two (even inside of a theater) with his dear friend and colleague. “Shakespeare, and the tragedies he loves, are dense and loaded with intellectual, moral issues,” Clary said. “He is not someone waiting for the next musical to come around. He loves theater for the intellectual challenge.”
When asked what stands out as most significant about this Edmundite, Clary chuckled, “He hates turnips, prefers his potato chips folded, and he doesn’t play golf.”
In all seriousness, Clary said it’s noteworthy that his longtime associate is disarmingly funny and that students paid close attention to his humorous style. VanderWeel, 84, was a philosophy professor before retiring in 2005. At the time, in class, it may have looked like there was neither rhyme nor reason to his actions but there was indeed a method to his madness. Humor is particularly helpful in taking a break from a deep, intellectually sharp mind. “He is among one of the smartest students to come through St. Mike’s, as I understand it,” Clary said. “He was an outstanding undergraduate. He liked doing intellectual work. He was good to have on the faculty.”
VanderWeel first took vows in August of 1956. He became acquainted with The Society of Saint Edmund in his hometown of Dunkirk, NY, where the Edmundites ran Cardinal Mindszenty High School. His parents, Leonard and Edith, were Catholic and sent both of their sons to Catholic high school.
Before it turned into an all-girls school, VanderWeel attended St. Mary’s Academy “nestled on Lake Erie's shore,” he remembered. He recited their anthem, “It taught us all what’s right in life, and the things worth striving for, and when our sails turn back to you from the ports to which we roam we know St. Mary’s Academy will claim us as her own.”
He laughed in the interview as he said, “I would sing it but I was always told in the seminary to just move my lips. So, I recite, I don’t sing.”
He attributes his longevity and humorous outlook on life to his folks. The name VanderWeel is Dutch and his mother’s parents were from Sweden, however both Leonard and Edith were born in Dunkirk, NY. “My mother would always tell my father, ‘stop making the kids laugh, they gotta eat!’ My dad was a card. My mother was funny, too. Life is easier with humor.”
As childhood anecdote of the times, VanderWeel whimsically recalled, “When I was a kid, when they evacuation of Dunkirk, France, in WW2, you remember, I thought it was happening in my hometown of Dunkirk, New York. I just thought because we didn’t live on the lake that I couldn’t see it. I was 6 years old.”
VanderWeel had a younger brother who played a starring role in his biggest life decision. Discernment led him to making an appointment with Edmundite Father Paul Morin at the Cardinal Mindszenty High School to tell him he was interested in becoming an Edmundite priest since his little brother had attended there and had so many good things to say about them. The boys were two years apart in age and attended different schools.
“I just thought it would be good to be in the Church. It appealed to me. I loved being at Church,” VanderWeel said. “Church is the great equalizer. We are all in there for one reason. It doesn’t matter what you do or who you are.”
Sports were not the agenda, but philosophy certainly was, when he enrolled at Saint Michael’s College a few days after his visit with Father Morin. He graduated in 1958. After novitiate, he headed to seminary in Burlington. He started graduate school in the summer of 1959 at Laval University in Quebec.
There were initially three universities he could have chosen from to continue his studies in philosophy back then, St. Louis, Ottawa and Laval, but they had eliminated St. Louis because it was too hot during the summer. “I studied at a French university because of the weather,” VanderWeel quipped. “The courses were in French but I could write my papers and exams in English. I got used to it. We were usually working with some text, Aristotle or something. Books were in Greek or Latin. It was a struggle but I loved it.”
He graduated in 1968 and holds a PhD in philosophy. His thesis was, Definition and Demonstration: a Study in Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics. “If you had enough money, I could sell you a copy,” he said.
Ordination into the priesthood happened in 1962 and the first class he taught at Saint Michael’s College was Latin a year later. “That is why I needed my father’s sense of humor,” he joked.
“We have greater technology, sure, but have we progressed in our love for one another? Are we better than the ancient Greeks or the early Christians? We have better machines but are we better people? It’s a real problem.” ~Father Richard VanderWeel, S.S.E.
One of his first students was Edmundite Father Marcel Rainville. It was an 8:30 a.m. Latin class. “He was a good student,” VanderWeel said of his religious brother. “Thank God for Marcel. He tolerates me. He is such a fine guy.”
Rainville reminisced back to that time in their mutual history, “I remember he taught me that living is only worth it if we are learning to delve into the mystery of awe and wonder. I have lived by that. But he was hilarious in the classroom. He was outrageous.”
Edmundite Father Richard Berube also had him as a professor at Saint Michael’s College. “He was funny but focused on the material,” he said. “He was always super prepared and could take you through a text like Aristotle or Aquinas and break it down. He really knew his stuff, there is no doubt about it.”
Berube also mentioned VanderWeel’s scholarliness and curiosity. “He indexes texts, traces reference and citations. His expertise as a scholar, his ability to really crack open a text—it is impressive.”
While VanderWeel loved teaching, taking sabbaticals in England where the Edmundites used to have a parish in West London was a delicious highpoint in his life. He even lived there, once upon a time, with Edmundite Father Dave Theroux, for a year, when he worked on research at the British Library in London. VanderWeel has been to London 16 times.
While research has its value, the theater is what kept him pining for his next trip abroad. Aside from King Lear, a favored play is Travesties by Tom Stoppard, first performed in 1974. “It began on a Monday night, and I saw it on a Tuesday,” VanderWeel said. “The play itself was a comedy fundamentally, but it was so beautifully performed. It was done by the Royal Shakespeare Company in London.”
Edmundite Father David Cray was the first person to give him a tour of London. “I got to know the city through him really,” VanderWeel said. “We had supper at a place called The Great American Disaster. They specialized in hamburgers and Schlitz beer. We saw a play that night too, it was Designed for living with Vanessa Redgrave.”
In the early 1970s, pal Nick Clary offered a summer course on Shakespeare that VanderWeel sat in on. “It was marvelous,” VanderWeel said. Clary retired a couple of years ago, but the two still diligently follow the works of their favorite playwrights.
“Some of my very best students were tutored by VanderWeel,” Clary said. “He is a very private person except for when he does a homily or goes on retreat.”
Retreats at Saint Anne’s Shrine with Saint Michael’s College students, specifically LEAP retreats, and making hospital visits, rank highest in VanderWeel’s list of favorite things to do in his vocation. “I realize the glory, if that is what you want to call it, of being a priest where you could talk to someone you admired more than yourself and yet you had something to offer,” he said.
When he is not on the telephone with his favorite niece and her family, he spends his mornings and afternoons “trying to read philosophy,” he said. In the evenings, he watches the news. “Did you know, it wasn’t just the German Nazis who killed Jews in WWII?” he asked. “There was a small city in Poland, and the folks there, regular folks, not soldiers, killed their Jewish neighbors. So much anti-Semitism had been stirred up that people had taken it into their own hands. The racist remarks and anti-Jewish sentiments we see today are disconcerting.”
He continued, “Have we progressed? We have greater technology, sure, but have we progressed in our love for one another? Are we better than the ancient Greeks or the early Christians? We have better machines but are we better people? It’s a real problem.”
Back in the classroom, he would attempt to cut the sting of sober realities like this by pretending to smoke chalk. It seems VanderWeel tried to make his courses as merry as they were long. Playful antics were the spoon full of sugar needed to help the medicine go down. Father Rainville said, “He’s a brilliant man. His quacky-ness masks the serious intellectual man that he is. He laughs often. Students love him. A good sense of humor is important because it is sometimes hard to stay awake in class.”
What Fr. VanderWeel is reading right now:
St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa
Andrew Roberts, Masters and Commanders
Michelle Obama, Becoming
Daneroy Lawrence belted out Psalm 90:12 to a packed chapel Monday night just before speakers stepped up to inspire convocation-goers to promote love and justice. Lawrence sang, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” as he set the mood with his conga drums.
This 28th Annual Saint Michael’s College Martin Luther King Jr. Society Convocation theme was, “We are what we watch, hear, and learn: Overcoming the impact of unconscious and conscious bias in classrooms and college campuses.” This launched a week of speakers, film, poetry and panel discussions designed to help unearth the hidden bias, prejudice and racism in each of our lives.
Before keynote speaker Clifton Clarke spoke, College President Lorraine Sterritt reminded the crowd of the school’s founders, the Edmundites, who have always been on the right side of justice. These religious men were boots on the ground on Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama. She introduced Associate Dean of Students Moise St. Louis who followed up with a deeply personal story about how he, himself, has participated in the narrative of oppression.
We are all taught to see white people as heroes and everyone else as villains through the books we read, songs we sing, and in the movies we see, St. Louis said. The dehumanization of people of color is learned in our churches, classrooms and in our homes. This cleverly designed, maintained narrative needs to be recognized and unlearned, he said.
Student Kayla Erb took the stage next like she had done it a thousand times before. She drew the audience in with her bold confidence and by speaking from the heart about her heritage and struggles she and her loved ones endure. “It’s hard to be grateful when so little is right,” she said when speaking of her mother’s resignation from the fight.
Her mother once told her, “There is no sense being angry at a system we will never escape.” Erb is finding her way out and is dedicated to her Saint Michael’s Community and its plight to help everyone rise above such systems.
Keynote speaker Dr. Clifton Clarke is a global scholar, pastor, educator, missionary, community leader, and professor of religion and intercultural studies. He said that when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at the March on Washington so many years ago, he spoke of the “fierce urgency of now.”
He said urgency is vital in this still divided nation and there is a need to dismantle the machine of racism, starting with new sight. Stereotypes and pre-judgement of our neighbors are “blinding us from seeing the image of God in each other,” he said.
Clarke said growing up in the U.K. left him feeling as though he lived in a world that had already determined he did not belong. He spent his whole life trying to penetrate that veil. It was when he relocated to Ghana that he had an awakening, as he called it. In Ghana, being black was normal. There were black bank managers, black airline pilots, and his soul began to breath, he said. “I found being black was beautiful,” he said.
Like St. Louis and Erb, he spoke about the process of unlearning internalized, false narratives. He told the crowd to question everything they are taking in around them, to be suspicious, but to also maintain a position of love in the face of this great unrest. He said we are all called to disrupt the structure that is causing exclusion and embrace the love and justice that Jesus taught.
“Let’s not be divided. Choose love,” Clarke said.
For more on this week’s MLK events check out: https://www.smcvt.edu/about-smc/news/2020/january/scholar-clarke-headlines-mlk-week/
In his fourth apostolic exhortation, Pope Francis wrote a letter to young people (ages 16-30). It was his reflection after the October 2018 synod on "youth, faith, and vocational discernment."
“Christ is alive! He is our hope, and in a wonderful way, he brings youth to our world. The very first words, then, that I would like to say to every young Christian are these: Christ is alive and he wants you to be alive!
He is in you, he is with you and he never abandons you. However far you may wander, he is always there, the Risen One. He calls you and he waits for you to return to him and start over again. When you feel you are growing old out of sorrow, resentment or fear, doubt or failure, he will always be there to restore your strength and your hope.
READ MORE HERE: https://nrvc.net/article/download/19176/christus-vivit.pdf?view=true
The Society of Saint Edmund will be conducting a 5-Day Directed Retreat in the Ignatian tradition from Sunday June 21 to Friday June 26, 2020 at St. Anne’s Shrine in Isle La Motte.
Using principles from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, retreatants are invited to contemplate scripture passages in a silent environment, celebrate daily Eucharist and meet with a Spiritual Director each day. Spiritual Directors are specifically trained for this type of retreat and will serve as companions and co-discerners of the Spirit during the retreat.
Applicants should be comfortable maintaining an atmosphere of silence and be able to share their prayer experience with a Spiritual Director in a daily meeting of about forty-five minutes.
The retreat begins at 7:00 p.m. on Sunday, June 21 and concludes with lunch on Friday, June 26. The cost is $525 per person which includes private room and all meals. A $250 non-refundable deposit is due with application which can be obtained by calling Nancy Dulude at (802) 928-3362 or via email at email@example.com.
Space is limited due to private bedroom accommodations and married couples will likely be assigned to separate cabins unless space availability permits otherwise.
As we pray for vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life, let us remember that Jesus said “to beg the master of the harvest to send laborers into the vineyard” (Matthew 9:38). If we want more priests, sisters and brothers, we need to ask. So we are asking! What is your vocation?
Vocations need to be discussed regularly if a “vocation culture” is to take root in parishes and homes. This means, first and foremost, people need to hear about vocations from priests through homilies, prayers of the faithful, and discussions in the home. Vocations kept out of sight are out of mind!
Fellow brothers and sisters, are we teaching the people around us (the tall and the small) how to pray and find comfort in solitude? This is paramount when discerning a vocation. It’s in the quiet times that we often hear God calling us into a deeper relationship with Him. Let the seekers around you know that any vocation, whether it’s celibate single, married, consecrated life, or the priesthood, it’s a call to be united to Christ in a unique way. Lead by example!
Top tips on how to discern a vocation:
-Practice the faith. We all need to be reminded that the whole point of our lives is to grow in a deep, intimate and loving relationship with God. This is the first step for any young person desiring to discern any call in life.
-Enter into silence. Silence is key to sanity and wholeness. We can only “hear” the voice of God if we are quiet. Take out the ear buds of your iPhone, iPod, and iTunes and listen to God, the great I AM. Young people should try to spend 15 minutes of quiet prayer each day – this is where you can begin to receive clear direction in your lives.
-Ask God. Ask God what He wants for your life and know He only wants what is good for you. If, in fact, you are called to the priesthood or consecrated life, it will be the path to great joy and contentment.
-“Just do it!” As the immortal words of a famous sneaker manufacturer says. If you feel that God is inviting you to “try it out,” apply to the seminary or religious order. Remember, the seminary or convent is a place of discernment. You will not be ordained or asked to profess vows for many years, providing ample opportunity to explore the possibility of a call to priesthood or religious life.
Some of this content is courtesy of United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
For more information visit https://www.sse.org/vocation.html
From the shale-laden shores of Lake Champlain, Vermont, to the sweltering streets of Selma, Alabama, The Society of Saint Edmund served in myriad ways in 2019. Edmundites have always been busy, but now through the use of digital technology, alumni, parishioners and seekers alike are able to follow them into their unique ministries to learn and grow in Christ straight from their handheld devices. Some even powered off long enough to join in meaningful ways. Look inside a year-in-the-life of our Eddies:
Just when the much-loved St. Anne’s Shrine was experiencing some extreme flooding, Rice High School and St. Michael’s College students joined together to share memories of good times at the 9th Annual Spring Social at the Pomerleau Alumni Center at St. Michael’s College in May. This sacred place is near and dear to many hearts. Read what they had to say here: https://www.sse.org/blog/st-annes-shrine-leaves-lasting-impact-on-smc-graduating-seniors
An ecumenical group of seekers united at The Shrine’s summertime reflection series that began in June. Brother Frank Hagerty, S.S.E. reflected on St. Ignatius of Loyola and the Ascension of Jesus: Bringing About the Kingdom of God. Read more and see a video from the day here: https://www.sse.org/blog/day-by-day-with-brother-frank-hagerty
Saint Anne’s Shrine Site Administrator Sandy Kinney retired after 47 years of service in July. She has rolled with the changes and witnessed substantial growth, she said fondly of her tenure. Read more about Kinney’s departure here: https://www.sse.org/blog/sandy-kinney-retires-after-serving-a-half-century-at-st-annes-shrine
Wherever there is an Edmundite, the whole Edmundite community is present in that work, Father Tom Hoar, S.S.E. said in an interview at Enders Island in July. His labor of love lies mostly in addiction recovery efforts that take place there on the 11-acre island in Mystic, Connecticut. Read more about his ministry here: https://www.sse.org/blog/on-retreat-and-road-of-recovery-with-father-tom-hoar-sse
Vocation Director Father Lino Oropeza, S.S.E., gave a talk (among many) about vocations at Theology on Tap with the Burlington Catholic Young Adults group at Church Street Tavern in August. Theology on Tap is an international program that usually involves discussions on religious matters paired with local craft brews at a Catholic-owned establishment. Read more here: https://www.sse.org/blog/father-lino-oropeza-sse-on-vocations-at-theology-on-tap
Father Ray Doherty, S.S.E. received the Saint Edmund’s Medal of Honor at Enders Island in Mystic, Connecticut in October. Doherty, 89, is a Newton, Massachusetts native, and a former Staff Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps. He is an admired presence on the Saint Michael’s College campus. Read more about what he had to say here: https://www.sse.org/blog/father-ray-doherty-sse-to-be-celebrated-with-medal-of-honor
The Society of Saint Edmund blessed the new $3.2 million Edmundite Missions’ Dr. Michael and Catherine Bullock Community and Recreation Center in Selma, Alabama, in November at the building dedication. The Edmundites have served the poor in the area for more than 80 years. Read more about this new development here: https://www.sse.org/blog/new-selma-community-center-is-a-symbol-of-hope
And there were many more Edmundite stories of love and unity in 2019! Please read and share the links on your social channels and via email. Thanks again for your support! Read more: https://www.sse.org/blog
By the force of inertia if nothing else, it is time for my 2019 movie list. In my very humble opinion, 2019 was not at all a good year for film. It also was not a good year for me, meaning that I wasn't able to make time for movies as much as I would have liked. That being said, whereas 2018 saw the release of several films that I continue to think about and that continue to capture my immediate attention and imagination, providing me all the visceral wonder that film at its best can provide, only the top two of my list this year really had a similar effect. As a matter of fact, I'm not even submitting a top ten list. There just wasn't enough for me. We'll call it a top five, and then I even feel compelled to list some disappointments ... movies that had potential or that I thought I should enjoy that just ... did not connect.
1. Little Women (Greta Gerwig)
2. Climax (Gaspar Noe)
3. Uncut Gems (Josh and Benny Safdie)
4. Midsommar (Ari Aster)
5. Hustlers (Lorene Scafaria)
3. Joker (Todd Phillips). Joaquin Phoenix is probably the best actor working, and his performance in this movie is justly admired, but the film itself is overlong and self-serious with severe pacing problems. I'm not as critical of whatever the "message" may or not be (a point of contention for many) as I am of the fact that I walked out of the theater feeling empty, and not in the way I like.
2. The Lighthouse (Robert Eggers). Despite much to admire in the mise-en-scene and sound design of this film, which powerfully captures internal and external claustrophobia, I never bought the acting and felt it devolved into bloated self-parody at the end (in front of and behind the camera). A shame, because the director's previous film The Witch is among the best of the past decade. Were I to rewatch it now, I think I would like it less as I've seen all the director's tricks laid bare. Ghosts are always scarier away from the light.
1. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino). The nadir of my film-going experience this year is summed up by the conversation I had with a friend in a Boston theater as the lights went up. Nudging her awake I sheepishly said "I'm so sorry, I wanted to ask you if we could leave after like 30 minutes, I was so bored". Her eyes widened as she exclaimed "Oh my God I wanted to do the same thing!" I love Old Hollywood, and I love the cinema, attitude and music of the late 1960's, but nothing connected for me in this interminable slog that felt really and truly as if it would never, ever end.
The heart of the Society of Saint Edmund’s mission is serving where the need is greatest, a credo that has led us to four core ministries: Social Justice, Education, Spiritual Renewal and Pastoral Ministry. It is through these core ministries that we live out a faith-based life of service and make a real difference in people’s lives by bringing them closer to God.