Hummingbirds sipped nectar from the pink plumerias that bloomed at the sculpted feet of Saint Anne who humbly stood in front of the chapel, named in her honor, on Isle La Motte on June 13. Edmundite Father Brian Cummings had just begun his homily after a reading of the gospel of Mark.
The scripture was fitting for the day. It read, “To what shall we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable can we use for it? It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth. But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade (Mark 4:30-32.)”
It was the celebration of three Edmundite ordination anniversaries—Fathers Marcel Rainville and Richard Myhalyk for their half century of service, and Father Brian Cummings' 25th year. The packed pews pulsed with laughter as Father Cummings poked fun at himself. He erroneously added up these significant years of service that he and his brothers amassed, and then pointed out that while his mind might not be as sharp as it once was, he still had all of his hair.
Levity among the religious and lay folks at this special outdoor Mass and barbecue on the shores of Lake Champlain was a true comfort, and the timing was ideal. Edmundites in attendance received abundant condolences as this was the first Sunday without their beloved brother Father Ray Doherty who passed in his sleep at the age of 91.
Father Cummings was the first to speak in this three-part homily. Father Marcel Rainville followed. He spoke highly of Buff Lindau’s new book, The House That Holds. “I believe that happiness is born of taking seriously the people God has put on our path of life, and who have helped us to be who we are,” Father Rainville said. “Buff dedicates a big part of her book to her sons and grandson. The poems are to me a form of prayer, and the gift that I discovered in them is what it means to be a mother, or a parent.”
He went on to say that he felt blessed to have come from a big family, and that it played an important role in choosing his vocation so many years ago. He was drawn to the Edmundites because of the family he saw in them, and because of them he was able to know and love the wider family of humankind. “I would not have known and loved the people of Venezuela, gotten to appreciate our roots in France, or have known so many truly wonderful people, like yourselves, if not for the sense of family that I perceived in the Edmundites,” he said.
Father Richard Myhalyk reflected similarly. He recalled some of the many deceased Edmundites whose words and lives were like seeds that have grown to be a part of him. He spoke of Father Francis Casey, who not only founded Edmundite Missions in Alabama, but also was deeply involved with St. Anne’s Shrine. Father Casey taught, “Do the best you can, with what little you have, to do the most good.”
Father Bill Lepage was also mentioned by Father Myhalyk. This Edmundite started the “blessing of the fishing fleet” around Mobile Bay in Alabama. He once reminded Father Myhalyk that “when things go well, realize God made it happen, and when things aren’t going well, be patient and realize God has to work with and through human beings.”
Father Myhalyk said he is conscious that we are influenced not only by Christ, our divine model, but by our human family, friends, and even enemies. “As I look back on the past fifty years, I thought about two questions you might ponder regarding your own life. What are the seeds God planted in you to bring forth his kingdom? And who shaped and formed you?”
In closing, Society of Saint Edmund Superior General Father David Cray remarked that these Jubilarians were his near contemporaries. Father Charles Ranges and Father Cray were ordained to the priesthood one year later, but were ordained as deacons in the same ceremony. He met Father Cummings in 1989 at Enders Island when he was still in a process of vocational discernment. All three of these men are exemplary members of the Society of Saint Edmund, he said.
“We are one community, for sure, but we are blessed to be a community of strong individuals and blessed personalities, each with a variety of different gifts,” Father Cray said. “We see that in these men’s varied apostolic achievements.”
As Saint Paul said of the Church, of members of the Body of Christ, “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone (1 Cor 12:4-6).”
Father Cray said this diversity has enabled the Edmundites to be, as Saint Paul said of himself—and as a microcosm of the Church—"all things to all people (1 Cor 9:22).” In fact, when Father Ray Doherty was Vocation Director in the 1960’s, one of his mottoes in his Train-A-Priest newsletter was “all things to all men.”
“We are grateful for their fidelity to the ‘greatest’ gifts: the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity,” Father Cray said. “We are grateful for their fidelity to their religious vows, and to their ordination promises, and to the Society of Saint Edmund.”
Saint Anne's Shrine on June 13, 2021. Photos by Lynn Monty