Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Visits to the Schools

I've begun my visits to the majority of our educational works on the West Coast. The idea is to stay in the Brothers' communities for a few days and 1) Check in with the administration and others in the school regarding potential vocation promotion avenues or prospects, 2) Speak with the Brothers, as they wish and in the forum they wish, regarding vocation ministry, and 3) Visit surrounding college / university Campus Ministry or Newman centers in order to develop relationships, learn about vocation promotion opportunities, and distribute resources such as flyers, posters, and the like.

Last week I visited Saint Mary's College High School in Berkeley and this week I'm at Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory in San Francisco.

The visit to Berkeley included an evening meeting with the Brothers, a "Lunch with De La Salle" talk to about a dozen teachers who came over to the Brothers house during lunch for a talk about their "vocation" as teachers, and several visits to the UC Berkeley Newman Center where I met with "Fr. Charlie" - the young(er) Paulist priest who is in charge there.

Some of the items - suggestions, insights, strong opinions - picked up include the following:
  • We should concentrate on those individuals who come from strong, Catholic backgrounds, since they are already disposed with religious sensibilities and believe in the idea of a vocation.
  • Work more with, and for, Catholic families where potential vocations exist, since these would value both church and the idea of a vocation. Perhaps offer family retreats.
  • If we want to participate in World Youth Day, get our schools to send some of their kids over there.
  • Get those individuals (Brothers and others) who take groups of kids or young adults on trips to focus on the "vocation" aspect of their world, perhaps even making the challenge of a religious vocation part of the trip's focus.
At Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep, I had a number of very profitable meeting with the President, the Principal, the Development Director, the Communications Director, and a number of faculty members. The community also had a discussion about vocations on one of the evenings. And I visited the Newman club at San Francisco State University (Secular) and the "University Ministry" office at the University of San Francisco (Jesuit).

In my presentations to the communities - for those who wish to have them - I tell them about the various aspects of vocation ministry this year. These include contact / accompaniment of those who have expressed interest in the Brothers, visits to schools and colleges as described above, and the development of resources for vocation promotion. This last area is one that could be wide-reaching, but for now I'm concentrating on developing a consistent style in new brochures, information sheets, and a pop-up booth for conferences, college fairs, and so on. For that purpose, I'm working with a professional designer and several consultants from within the District (Brothers & Partners) in order to have something that will communicate well and yet be versatile enough to last a good while.

I realize that none of these efforts are sure-fire means for attracting vocations, but I have yet to see a group that has such a means. Even the US Army recruiters are having difficulties making their quotas - and they're promising lots of things to impressionable kids while downplaying the downside (compared to getting blown up or shot, poverty, chastity, and obedience are a minor concern).

Friday, October 19, 2007

Funeral of Br. John Johnston, FSC

Br. John Johnston, FSC, former Superior General of the Brothers, was buried this week in Memphis, TN. As one of the representatives from the District of San Francisco (along with Gery Short, Br. Dominic Berardelli, and Br. Ronald Gallagher) I traveled to Memphis for the services. Of course I took along my small but versatile camera so that I might take pictures to share with readers of the blog and others.

The Brothers of Memphis were excellent hosts for us. They found accommodations for all the Brothers who arrived from different parts of the country and the world for the services, either at one of the communities or at local hotels. And they made sure that transportation was provided whenever it was needed.

Most of the pictures on this page are of the Funeral Mass that was held on Thursday. Both services were well attended by Brothers, students, Lasallian Volunteers, lay Partners, affiliated members, faculty members and administrators from the Memphis region, and many others whose relationship to Br. John may be known only by him. Several drove for many hours from as far away as Minneapolis in order to attend the services and pay their respects. I'm not sure if Br. John would have been in favor of all of the efforts made on his behalf, but I'm sure that his family and the Brothers were all very appreciative of the outpouring of affection for him as he was laid to rest.
Arriving in Memphis in the mid-afternoon on Wednesday, I settled into the hotel and then at 5:30 PM joined two Brothers in a ride to the Cathedral, where about 60 Brothers and relatives had gathered already. After paying my respects at Br. John's coffin, there were many whom I greeted and spoke with, both Brothers and others from the Memphis area and beyond who knew Br. John. His three brothers, of course, were there with their families, as were Br. Alvaro, Br. Tom Johnson, Br. Robert Schieler, and a number of the Visitors from the Region. The atmosphere was respectful, but also relaxed and prayerful in a not-too-pious way. Gradually more and more people arrived. At one point, when the Christian Brothers High School band began to set up, the person with whom I was speaking remarked: "You know, if John were here, he'd notice right away that those kids were coming in and he'd be making a beeline for them to talk with them."

During the memorial service at 7:00 PM there were remembrances by a Lasallian Volunteer, a representative from the Lasallian family, a family member, and a Brother. Each had unique things to say, and all were very sincere and touching. I'm sure that their talks will be made available at some point. Some snippets: Br. John's brother, Joe, spoke about the memories he had from when they were children, when John (or "J.C." as he was known in the family for all of his life) systematically taught him how to be an altar boy, training him in how to say the Latin prayers and playing the "priest" in their practice Masses, with his other brother assisting... or how he would take him out to the field to practice catching ground-balls when Joe was trying out for the baseball team. Br. Bernard LoCoco spoke about the key image of "drinking of the cup" in Br. John's later years - how Br. John had collected all the references in Scripture related to that image and had them gathered in a ceramic chalice in his room, in order to remind him of his relationship with God's will.

The Christian Brothers High School band played various musical pieces at different times in the service. All of them were very appropriate, including a special musical reflection composed by the band's director just for this occasion in honor of Br. John. One of these pieces included a clarinet solo, which was the instrument that Br. John played when he was a member of that same band in high school. Afterwards, when I spoke with Andrew, the student who played the solo, he told me that he was both quite nervous but also found it a real honor to be able to be there and play it. The presence of those students gave the whole ceremony a wonderful quality that John would surely appreciate.

Although the memorial was probably longer than planned, one wouldn't know it from those who were there. All of the elements and talks were to the point, poignant, and appropriate. By the end of the service it was clear that the whole thing had been very well-planned and well-executed.

The Mass on the next day was equally well done and well appreciated by those who were there. The Brothers gathered outside of the cathedral for at least an hour before the 11 AM beginning. Br. Alvaro and others were there to greet and speak with the many people, lay and religious, who arrived to participate. Again, the mood was more celebratory than morose, with appreciation shown for John's life and his vocation as a Brother, friend, leader, and inspiration. Two bishops, including the bishop of Memphis, were there, and the Mass was concelebrated by about fifteen priests, with John's brother, Fr. Mike Johnston, as the principal celebrant.

The Mass begin with the CBHS band playing Aaron Copeland's "Fanfare for the Common Man." For those of you who know it, this was absolutely appropriate and an inspiring choice. I know that it moved me to hear that music coming from inside the church as the Brothers began to process in. All through the liturgy, the music and participation of the congregation was authentic and almost "natural" to the occasion. Br. Vincent Malham had received special permission from the bishop to give the homily, and he used Br. John's own words from his writings to weave a first-person narrative of who he was and what he stood for. Throughout the Mass, things just fit well, and everyone appeared "there" with the mood of the day - prayerful, appreciative, and glad/sad. At the end of the Mass, there was a reflection by another of Br. John's brothers, and Br. Alvaro had some very warm and sincere words about Br. John's character, spirituality, and influence.

Many of the talks expressed great appreciation to the Brothers in Memphis for being so supportive of Br. John during the last year. The nurse practitioner for the Brothers there, Patricia Bader, who grew particularly close to John and accompanied him on this last journey, was especially pointed out by several of the speakers.

After the funeral Mass, the bishop did the commendation service, also expressing the appreciation of the diocese for having had Br. John there - a real active presence among the religious communities in the diocese. The coffin was then brought outside of the church, with six students as the pall bearers, and was blessed with holy water by Fr. Michael Johnson, by the bishop, and by Br. Alvaro. Br. John's coffin was brought in a car procession to Calvary Cemetery where he was laid to rest, beside the other Brothers of his District.

Afterwards, everyone returned to Christian Brothers University for a fine luncheon in the Brothers house (Lambert Hall), where several tables were on display with photographs, mementoes, and personal items from Br. John's room in the community. I was particularly taken by one black-and-white photograph that showed him and his three brothers when they were quite young. John has a wonderful smile on his face as he is looking at the baby brother that he holds in his arms, while his two other brothers face the camera. The picture is below - it quietly captured something of the person that Br. John was to both of his families.

The other pictures that I took may all be seen at http://picasaweb.google.com/gvangrie/BrJohnJohnstonFuneral

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Yikes! It's Late

A month of lots of activities did not include keeping up this blog. This is sort of funny, since normally I enjoy spending a little time ruminating on the keyboard, sipping tea and going through recently taken photographs. Don't know what could be the problem (well, perhaps I do, but I'm not going to write about it here).

Current points of interest in my life include the following:

1) Things are settling in quite well at Mont La Salle. I'm still working on getting my office and room up to snuff, but that's really a long-term project. I did finally get a good, comfortable chair to sit in and read. Actually it all looks quite cozy now with the heater with lights (electric fireplace), bookshelves, small carpet I researched and bought on Ebay, keyboard, and easy chair. The chair was found at Penney's in Concord, where I happened to stop on impulse and discovered a floor clearance sale, ending up with a well-built chair that cost 25% of it's initial price. And the office is small, but cozy, if I'm to believe the nearby secretaries. For me, it suffices.

2) Vocation ministry is up and running. I'm negotiating a contract with a graphic designed for producing a new brochure, a information template, and a design palate that can be used in various forms of communication. Soon I'll be on the road to visit our Brothers communities and contact local colleges, speak in classes, and do whatever else will help get the word out about the Brothers. And conversations with interested individuals continues with some success - but no guarantees.

3) Once again I'm teaching the novices about De La Salle, using a thick book by Alfred Calcutt which is the best thing available in English. It's a bit of chore to read, but eminently worthwhile. No one has put so much material together in an accessible format. Br. Richard Orona from the Holy Family Community is on sabbatical and doing an English translation of the definitive book in Spanish on the Founder, but until that one comes out, Calcutt's my main man. When I emailed the Brothers in England to send me copies of the book, and asked if there was a study guide, it happened that Br. Alfred was in the office, and he said jokingly: "A study guide? How can you improve on perfection?" Nice guy.

4) Just today a very providential thing happened vis-a-vis the movie about De La Salle, called "Who Are My Own", that Br. Leo Burkhart had placed in my trust about a year ago. While attending a local showing of "Bella" for the Catholic community, I met several people from Ignatius Press who live in the area. They directed me to someone in their organization who deals with videos, dvds, an the like. For some time, I'd been trying to figure out a way to turn the original 35mm reels of the movie into a good DVD for popular use. Having emailed the person in charge, and simply asking for some advice, I received an email saying that they might be interested in helping me transfer it to DVD and then distributing it as part of their catalogue. I hope that something can be worked out. The movie might be a bit sappy or cheesy according to some, but it's still the only thing out there on De La Salle when it comes to movies.

5) Tomorrow the RCCB begins to arrive at Mont La Salle for one of its yearly meetings. That means that all the Visitors (Provincials) of the US Region will be here, along with several Brothers from Rome. Unfortunately, it just started raining here today, so their experience will be wet. But from what I hear they've got so much material to cover that they may not even be able to go outside at all. It's like when Gery Short went to Rome for some meetings and people told him: "Oh, you're going to Rome? That's be great!" And he said: "I'm not going to Rome. I'm going to a building in Rome." This is indeed what happened - to the building in Rome and back to the airport. We'll try to see that the RCCB members have a chance to see a bit more of the area than simply a building in the Napa Valley.

Lots more I could write, but I won't do so now. Just wanted to let people know that I'm still here and kicking. Maybe with more thoughts pestering me in the next few days, I'll put in another entry sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Catching Up - Again

Okay, so it's not every week. Amazing how time flies. Before you know it, two or three weeks are gone. How do those "blog" folks do it? They must have all kinds of time on their hands, or they stay up half the night staring at screens and munching candy. Perhaps I will try some regularity, such as posting something every Saturday morning.

Today is Wednesday, but pretend it's Saturday.

The major events of the last couple of weeks occurred last weekend. We had three of our Brothers make their Final Profession Vows at Saint Mary's College. And the following day we were at Mont La Salle in Napa to witness the "Habit Taking" of one of the three novices at our Novitiate there.

The Final Profession Mass was a big deal. One of the Brothers involved, Br. David Caretti, did a very thorough job in planning, preparing, overseeing, and participating in the ceremony. The music was well-chosen; the pacing was very smooth, and the whole thing really was a celebration.

The main celebrant was Fr. Kenan Osborne, OFM, who many of the Brothers already knew and appreciated. He's the former head of the Gradurate Theological Union in Berkeley, author of some 23 books (many on Christology), and has a gracious, engaging sense of presiding at Liturgy. His homily was the best I've heard yet at such an occasion. Kenan knew exactly what to say when and how to both grab his audience and hold onto them - leaving them with something to think about. It had to do with the fact that religious life is essentially a lay movement, starting in the 3rd and 4th century of the church, and it touched on many of the elements that make our religious charism unique in the church. At one point, I noticed how the whole church was absolutely quiet, paying careful attention to what he said, and moving right with him as he moved from point to point.

The "main event" of course was the vow ceremony itself. Each Brother approached the altar with his sponsor (chosen by him) and they knelt down in front of the altar. The sponsor went to light the vow candle, which the Brother then held as he pronounced the same vows (or 95% of the same vow formula) as those pronounced in the late 17th century. One Vietnamese Brother said them in Vietnamese.

Wisely, the "speeches" were made after Communion. They were short expressions of appreciation by each of the three Brothers making the vows. Then it was off to another location on campus for a reception and a luncheon. All in all, a very fine affair.

After that ceremony, for the first time in the history of the San Francisco District, we had no one who was in any of the stages of "initial formation" (novitiate, studies, temporary vows). The next day, however, that was remedied with the habit-taking of Chris Patino. He is the San Francisco District's participant in the regional novitiate at Mont La Salle. Two other novices from the Baltimore District were already robed, so we included them within the ceremony in another way. The habit-taking is the first time that a Brother received the Brother's robe and is able to be called "Brother."

The ceremony was simply, outside of the context of Mass, and included readings, chants, and the giving of a variety of Lasallian symbols associated with our life (e.g., Rule, New Testament, cross, rosary). There were a good number of Brothers in attendance. Afterwards, there was a reception and dinner in the Novitiate courtyard. Yet another enjoyable experience.

Those two events together made for a healthy "shot in the arm" for the Brothers of the District, since we hadn't had such events for some years. And, of course, the next time that we might even have another final vows is when Chris finishes his novitiate, goes out into community for at least five years, and decided to make final vows. So it was sort of like a rare grouping of planets in the sky. We're likely to not see it again for quite a while.

It also puts a little pressure on me, of course, to "bring in" more candidates for the Brothers, but that's another blog.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Catching Up

It's been almost 2.5 months since my last confession. And frankly I don't quite know how all of that time passed so quickly. When I got to the end of the Chapter I was happy to forego the nightly stint to feed the blog beast. However, since then not only have I kinda missed the regular ruminations of recent events, but - surprisingly to me, at least - a number of folks have asked me what happened and why I wasn't keeping it up.

So, okay, I'll move ahead with it and we'll see what happens. But it will likely be once or twice a week and not every day. Keeping a daily blog means that either you don't really have a life, or that you're so disassociated from real people that you need to "relate" to those accessible through a screen, or you're doing something so interesting that it's a way to share the experience and process it for yourself. Two of those are not too good. I'll try to maintain the third option, within reason.

The main job upon my return was to move myself from Sacrament to Napa. Instead of living at the high school, I'll be living at our Provincialate office in Napa (Mont La Salle). An idyllic painting of the place is shown here. I commissioned it about 10 years ago when I was living there, but it's not far off the mark. It certainly is a contrast from the busy, loud, economically challenged neighborhood that Christian Brothers High School is in. Here the loudest think you hear at night are some birds that haven't gone to sleep yet, or the occasional cow in the attached farm. I spent the first couple of nights at Mont La Salle listening for the comforting sounds of a fire engine or some distant gun shots - typical noises from the area around the school.

After eight years in one place, it's amazing how much "stuff" accumulates. I found a set of boxes that I hadn't opened in all that time. The Director convinced me to just leave them there, unopened (they were pretty much books) and he would go through them for me, giving away what he could and saving what he thought I might want. I took him up on it. God knows there was enough other junk to go through. It made me think that simplicity really is a virtue, and that the more things we have, the more those things potentially have us. God save us from stuff.

There were movers that came and packed the things I hadn't yet packed, took the several items of small furniture, etc. that I've dragged with me from place to place, and deposited it all in my new room in Napa. Subsequent days were spent going through the boxes, saying "Oh, yeah." and putting it in a new pile in the room. Now I'm about 75% settled in. I still need to go through everything in detail and really decide where it should live.

Of course my responsibilities continued - contacting folks interested in the Brothers, exploring new avenues for vocation promotion, attending lots of meetings, etc. In the middle of the summer I traveled to Philadelphia for a meeting of all the vocation directors in the U.S. for the purpose of developing collaborative strategies, etc. A worthwhile meeting, actually, with some good results. I took the opportunity to go on to Washington, D.C., to pursue some vocation contacts there (didn't really pan out) and took a day to do the sights, meeting up with Sam Stefanki - former student body president at CBHS and now legislative assistant to Congresswomen Doris Matsui - who showed me lots of wonderful places. This included the Library of Congress, where I found out that anyone over the age of 18 could be member. Next thing I knew, I was walking down underground tunnels in pursuit of a membership card, which I eventually received. I thought I'd try it out and went to the music library - a real rabbit-warren of libraries make up the Library of Congress - where I sat down with some nifty folios from Alexander Gretchaninov that I'd been interested in for years.

When it came time to leave Washington, I'd arranged to take the train to NYC and then on to Chicago and Sacramento - a little vacation of sorts. However, through my own stupidity (lingered at a museum longer than I should have), I missed the train out of Washington by all of 2 minutes, caught a subsequent train (which was delayed en route) and missed the NYC train also by just 3 minutes. No more room in subsequent trains for a couple of days. So I ended up sitting on the floor of Penn station, surrounded by the rushing crowds, trying to figure out how to get back to California. Thankfully, I had my laptop computer, got online, found a $238 flight the next day to SFO, booked it from the cold floor, and had an adventure trying to get out to the airport. Lesson learned was: don't assume that you can catch a train by showing up 5 minutes before it leaves. Get there 30 minutes ahead of time. (I know, common sense.)

Other noteworthy things that I'll write about if the occasion presents itself:

1) Attended a Tridentine Wedding Mass and Reception (non-Tridentine) at the Sacramento Cathedral for Abigail Hesser (and Jonathan Burke). Brought back a flood of Latin memories.

2) Had my over-50 "procedure" - enough said. Spent a whole day indoors watching all of the Lord of the Rings movies; the uncut versions.

3) Spent a couple of days at the family cabin in Jackson, fixing things, visiting around, enjoying the time with my relatives.

4) Took my niece and a friend of hers to see Joshua Bell play with the Russian National Symphony right here in Yountville. Decided that life was too short for bad tickets, and so we sat close enough to really appreciate the experience. Passionate stuff, the violin.

5) Joined the board at La Salle High School in Milwaukie, OR, for a day of "bonding" (my word) through playing golf in the morning (made a hole-in-one, much to my surprise), lunch, and an afternoon of work at Medical Teams International's warehouse, sorting medical supplies. It's surprising how much "business" can get done in a casual setting - what someone else has called "parking lot conversations."

6) Went to a pool party at my brother's place in Manteca. They have a great lap-pool next to the house: the only way to go. All the family was there, and then some. A great time for everyone.

7) Did a couple of presentations / discussions at Saint Mary's College, at the invitation of Dr. Carole Swain. Two with the Lasallian Scholars Practicum of the Buttimer Institute, and one with the MA program participants in Lasallian Studies.

8) Spent a couple of days at our camp at Lake Huntington, joining a group of Brothers there for a short vacation. It's a gorgeous area, where we've had a lodge and cabins since 1954. Mostly used by others, but they keep a couple of weeks open for just the Brothers.

9) Did a Day of Reflection for the faculty and staff at Christian Brothers High School, Sacramento. Lots of great friends and acquaintances, and a find morning of interaction.

10) Joined my new community of Brothers for a series of meetings during which we set goals, principles, etc. for the upcoming year. It was held at Sea Ranch - kind of remote, but beautiful, near the ocean, with an interesting little non-denominational chapel (see picture) that's along the side of the road.

So, you see, it's not as if I've not been doing anything during the past few months. Naturally, the things that stand out for me are the "fun" things. But rest assured that there was lots of other work in between.

Enough for now. More later. Life moves on and we'd better be paying attention.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

June 6 - Traveling Home

It's best to pack the night before leaving somewhere. I've learned this by experience - at least, by my experience. It also makes for a more restful sleep the night before a journey.

I was well and truly packed, except for the things I'd wear and take along on the place, by around midnight and had a good rest. In the morning, being awakened by the morning sun and the view of the Main Chapel put me in the right disposition for the day. Before Mass at 7 AM, I took my bags downstairs to the basment so that they could be loaded right onto the van going to the airport. One of the bags weighed at least 70 lbs. and I hoped that it wouldn't cause problems at check-in. But since I'd emptied out my mileage account to get upgraded to Business, it shouldn't be a problem.

Right after Mass there was just time for a quick breakfast before taking off. I said my goodbyes to the Brothers in the dining room and we packed up the van. One of the Brothers at the Motherhouse, Br. Steven Touhy, had volunteered to drive us. The group consisted of myself and Paul Wolfing, traveling together on the same plane, Roch (going to London for a week with the Brothers there), and Br. Tim Coldwell, who was just appointed as the Visitor of the New Orleans - Santa Fe District and would therefore have to end his job at the Motherhouse as Secretary for Formation, having only spent some 10 months at it. A number of Brothers were there to see us off, including Lorenzo, which was a nice thing for them to do. I'm sure that they see folks coming and going all of the time. Perhaps that's why they know that a gesture like that gives an appreciative ending to an experience like this.

We left the house around 8:15 AM and I arrived at the house in Sacramento at 10 PM. Given the time difference, that makes for about 23 hours of traveling time all-told. The experience airport at Fiumucino was an appropriate end to my Italian journey, since it was as chaotic as some of the traffic patterns in Rome. Once you got inside, you had to figure out which line to get into. "Oh, it's that long, 100-yard line, five people wide, moving slowly through two lanes where airport personnel are checking passports and tickets prior to letting you through to the lines for the counters. Thirty minutes later, now we stand in line for the United counter server and checking our bags. Twenty minutes later, now we stand in line for having our carry-on bags checked through the radar. Twenty minutes later, my Ovieto wine bottle was confiscated and disposed of. And then there's the line for passport control out of the country. Finally, finally you're in the shopping area prior to standing in line for the tram to the terminal where the planes are. And then there's the line to get onto the plane itself.

The plane ride was long and tiring. It's sort of exciting to get onto the plane to begin with, but that soon wears thin and by the end of the 9 hours you can't wait to get off. In Washington, since we were transferring, we had to walk at least 200 yards down this tiny corridar skirting the departure areas, separated from those in the boarding areas by a wall of windows (I felt like an ant in one ofthose ant farms where the ants scurry down long plastic tubes) and then to a very small passport control area. More lines. First a long line for US citizens to have their passport stamped. Then out to a baggage area crammed with people, baggage taken off the carousels to make room for more bags strewn around the floor - one with a puddle of wine around it where a bottle inside had obviously broke. Another line to turn in your US Customs card after you've picked up your bags. Another line to drop off your bags to be re-checked in for your domestic destination. And a final line just to make sure that you did the the first lines correctly. From there it was into the terminal for the wait for the Sacramento plane, with the appropriate lines of course. Travel is no longer fun.

In Sacramento, Paul's girlfriend, sister, and CB friend Will were there to welcome him, and Br. Donald was there to pick me up. We had to wait a while for the luggage, but thankfully everything arrived without obvious problems. Then it was a short ride back to the house, where I spent a little time filling Donald in on some of the Chapter's highlights before gratefully turning in on a familiar bed in a familiar room (that will change soon).

So that's the final final end to this particular journey. I must say that it's been one of the more significant experiences in my life as a Brother. The privilege of meeting the Brothers attending the General Chapter, of interacting with them, of helping them celebrate the liturgies, of being part of conversations regarding the significant aspects of our life as Brothers - even with all of the time and the work and the worry - made it very much worthwhile. It gave me new appreciation for our vocation and for our significant impact, albeit it largely unrecognized and unadorned, in the educational apostolate of the Church. There are some great things happening out there in the Lasallian world, and there are some great people involved in it. I guess that I knew that already, but it's nice to have it confirmed by way of an experience such as this. It makes me proud to be a Brother and grateful for my vocation with the Brothers.

For those who have followed this blog, thanks for your comments and encouragements. I would likely have dropped it at some point over the last six weeks, simply through the need for sleep, if I hadn't received the positive feedback and emails. For now, I'm going to stop doing this everyday thing, but I will likely do a weekly post if you care to check in.

But first I have to unpack my bags. Why am I coming back with more stuff than when I left? Well, the "good stuff" that I came back with isn't in the bags and will remain with me much longer than anything else that I might have brought. And that's a good thing.
More pictures from today at http://picasaweb.google.com/gvangrie/ItalyJune6

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

June 5 - Last Day in Rome

All good things (and bad things) must come to an end. Today was that day for me. Although I've enjoyed my time here tremendously, I'm ready to return to California and the various things awaiting my attention there.

This morning was the first day of having the community Mass in the Main Chapel. It was a bit of contrast to find the "red chairs" from the JPII Chapel now distributed around the main altar of the Main Chapel - this is the "regular" setup here. The group was smaller than usual, owing to the fact that various members of the community had gone elsewhere for a break or were simply sleeping in. In any case, all the evidence from the 44th General Chapter ("tent" effects, banner, music stands, keyboard, flowers, etc.) were gone and it was back to the normal routine, apparently.

After breakfast, I began to organize my "stuff" for taking it back home with me tomorrow. But I had arranged with Gerard Rummery to do some sight-seeing, and by 10 AM we were walking in Piazza de Populo, with him giving me an complete and fascinating history of the place, followed by a visit to the two Caravaggio paintings nearby - in the Augustinian church where Martin Luther stayed when he came to Rome. From there it was on to other churches where there were Caravaggio paintings, and to the Dominican church where there was a sculpture of Christ holding his cross, and to the Pantheon, and so on. Along the way, Gerard gave me some wonderful insights into the architecture and history of the area. By about noontime, my feet were dog-tired and I was ready for a break. So we took the bus back to the Motherhouse where I took a merciful nap and then was up and about for the main meal at 1 PM. At that meal, there was cake, champagne, and speeches to honor those from the house community who were leaving (five of the Councillors plus several other Brothers). They each also received a nice gift from the community.

After lunch, I became serious about organizing myself for tomorrow's departure, packing up my suitcases and sending about three boxes of acquired material down to the basement with Abram, who would package it all up and send it to me in Napa with all possible dispatch. It may get there in a few months. I also checked on some clothing that I had placed in the washer (I think it was the washer) yesterday. There was still water standing in it, and I couldn't open it with the jerry-rigged piece of rope that someone had tied to the broken handle unit. So I twiddled with the knob some more (It's all in Italina and I can't figure out what's what) and it began to make noise again, so I left it to its own devices. When I went back later, it was at yet another cycle. If I can't open it tonight, then I'll just leave it here and the first person who can figure out how to open the darn thing can have the clothes.

Finally completing that work around 3:30 PM, I called Gerard for phase two of the day. We again set out and this time wandered around the Florentine area of Rome, where Michaelangelo lives and worked and where there are still plenty of artisans to be found. Again, the history was fascinating and the small streets quite captivating. We ended up walking to Santa Maria de Trastevere (something that I had requested) to end our tour with that magnificent interior of early mosaics. In a sense, it's where I started my Roman journey (remember the Byzantine Mass that I attended here on my first Sunday in Rome) and it's a good place to end my visit to the city.

Then it was back to the Motherhouse via the tram and the bus, and then a brief respite before going out to dinner with Gerard, Leonardo, and Roch. We went to a favorite restaurant of Gerard's - one that he had been going to during his many years in Rome. While there, he told me that the maitre de (who looked to be about 35) was a small boy when he had first gone to this restaurant. The food was good, the company was excellent, and the conversation was captivating. It was yet another good way to end our time here.

Then it was back to the Motherhouse to finish this blog and then get to bed in preparation for tomorrow morning 8 AM departure for the airport (flight is at 11:15 AM). All good things must come to an end, and this end is darn close.
More pictures from today at http://picasaweb.google.com/gvangrie/ItalyJune5

Monday, June 4, 2007

June 4 - Well and Truly Done

There were clear indications today that the 44th General Chapter is well and truly done. After Mass in the JPII Chapel and a bit of breakfast, the focus shifted to moving things about so that offices became offices again, libraries became libraries, and things were put back to where they belonged before the Chapter began. For example, the area where the translators did their work had all of their computers removed as the area became reading tables again. Even the primary chapel for the community changed today from the "winter chapel" (the JPII room) to the "summer chapel" (the main chapel). And so the chairs were carted off to the main chapel while everyone else was trying to move things as well. Carts of various types were in high demand.

It's good that I moved rooms also, since I had to move everything from the "office" to my bedroom in preparation for my flight back on Wednesday. I'm not sure it would have all fit into the tiny room that I'd had before. As it is, it looks as if I'll have to have some things sent home to me. The former Councillors also were moving out of their offices and rooms in order to let the new crew move in within the next few months. So it was a lot of running around for most of the morning.

Around 10 AM I joined Leonardo for his trip to the Vatican. I'd decided to dress in my robe because I figured that this was my only chance to wear it in a country where it was an "expected" dress rather than an oddity. As a result, as was pointed out by Leonardo, the Swiss guards and Vatican police would often salute us as we passed. Kind of cool.

Leonardo and I first went to the Department of State, but security was very tight and we couldn't proceed beyond the doorway without an appointment. We did, however, run into a friend of Leonardo's who works in the Vatican, Rafaelo Ottavianno. He gave Leonardo his commissary card so that we could buy things at the Vatican store with a 30% savings. Several errands later, we did go to that store where I bought a couple of relatively small items, and indeed the prices were very good with that card. There were different "departments" inside of the large former train station, from the out-of-the-way and smaller-tighter room with liquor and cigarettes to the larger areas for electronics, clothing of all typies (mostly fancy and expensive), ladies purses (a little more expensive than the ones sold illegally on the streets of Rome, but very familiar to me now in their style), jewelry and watches, and even a linen / bedding / towels section. When I was looking at the shirts, the man in charge of that section came over and after a few sentences determined that I was a "43" - something that he probably does all of the time with folks dressed up in various religious garbs. Then he tried to sell me a black shirt with a clerical collar. Of course we had to tell him that that wouldn't apply in this case. When I did find a shirt I liked, he didn't blink an eye when I took off the top part of the robe at his request to get an accurate measurement. I am, indeed, a "43." Once decided on, any purchase in the store is not simply taken to the cash register out front. Instead, they give you a piece of paper with a number written on it, and you go to the cash register to pay for your goods and pick them up there. Here we are, at one of focal points of the Catholic Church, frequented only by "official" Vatican people and their guests, all of them undoubtedly Catholic and including quite a number of priests, bishops, cardinals, perhaps even the pope himself, and they don't trust you enough to take an article to the cash register and pay for it. Perhaps it's an application of the principle of not placing yourself in situations of temptation - if there's no chance of anyone even thinking about stealing something, then that's good for both the person selling the item and for the person buying the item. Morality in action.

Walking around Vatican City, it was interesting to note the differences from the world in the rest of Rome. There is absolutely no graffiti, of course, and the place is very clean no matter where you go. There are young policement everywhere, directing traffic, asking questions to those getting into various buildings, and working mostly in pairs. There are bright red cars with the Vatican City logo on it (I think they were police cars), and other utility cars or trucks with the same logo. People are dressed very nicely wherever you go and invariably courteous. And the place just seems to hum with effiency and purpose. I must be missing something. Pope John XXIII was famous for having said in response to the question "How many people work at the Vatican?" with the phrase, "About half." If that's even remotely the case, perhaps our new German pope has thrown in a good measure of organization and accountability.

On the way there, most of the traffic in the Vatican was stopped by the police. We didn't realize why until we say a cortege of cars fly by into the back of the Vatican, obviously looking very official. Later on we found out that it was the President of Mexico coming to pay a visit to the pope. This would be reason why all of the Italian police were around with guns showing and the Swiss guards were edgy about anyone who didn't have an appointment. After our trip to the store, we went to Rafaelo's office to return the card and ended up seeing a bit of the building that's right behind St. Peter's in Vatican city. It's the "municipal" building and has a very nice little chapel attached to it, which we visited. The central area on the ground floor, where we waited to Rafaelo, it's beautifully decorated with inlaid marble and large original paintings. There's a good one of Pope Benedict and another very nice one of the Sermon on the Mount. Rafaelo pointed out the marbel seal on the floor, which is Benedict's seal and which was done by the best marble artist in Rome. It showed.

Besides the Vatican store, we also went to the official Vatican photography office. There I asked to see the photos from September 17, 1987, because that's when John Paull II was in San Francisco and when I was less than 3 feet away from him as he passed by (I had been closer, but at the last second three little nuns magically materialized in front of me, all atither and excited, and I couldn't get any closer). I thought that perhaps they might have a photo of that encounter. They brought out an archival box full of proof sheets from those dates and I went through them with a magnifying glass, never finding any likeness of myself in the pictures taken in the SF Cathedral. However, I did find a couple of shots with Brothers in them and put in an order for them. Although I didn't recognize them, perhaps when we have a larger version I will, and then I could send them to those Brothers.

Meanwhile, Leonardo had been looking at the pictures taken at our audience with the pope the previous Wednesday, and he had me come over to look at them. There were lots of photos, and a couple of good ones with Br. Alvaro - which we also ordered. More interesting still were some pictures showing Roch and myself clearly in the background. We might not have met Benedict XVI, but now we at least might have some pictures with us "pretty close" in the background. All these will be ready on Saturday, so Leonardo will have to send them to me. Maybe that will be an occasion for another quick blog entry. We'll see.

By now it was lunch time, and so we found a nice little walk-in pizzeria and ate it on the sidewalk, sitting on the stoops of nearby businesses. Good pizza and good environment; people watching. Leonardo had to go home after lunch, but I decided to do a little more exploring, walking around the Vatican area and going into and out of various stores. Some of them featured some very substantial religious articles, not just souvenier stuff. One store also included an extensive religious book section, with books in all of the languages. One magazine that I was tempted to get - I resisted - was called "Inside the Vatican." It leans decidedly to the right, but the stories and pictures aren't bad and it comes out every month. It certainly would be one way to stay up with what's happening in Rome.

By the time, my feet were sore and legs were tired. As I entered the plaza in front of St. Peter's, I noticed an empty chair at the end of the collonade and grabbed it. Sitting there for the next 40 minutes was one of the nicest things I did all day. There was a wonderful little breeze blowing, people were walking by speaking all sorts of languages (3 Cunard Line groups, for some reason), the weather was overcast but warm, and the chair was comfortable, with a direct view towards the papal apartments. It was one of those "moments" that I'll remember from this trip.

Finally, it was time to go home and so I grabbed the next 46 to come along and proceeded back to the Motherhouse for a short nap and then dinner, after a brief social in The Den with a couple of other Brothers. After dinner, Leonardo asked if I'd like to see Rome in the evening and we made plans to meet at 9 PM. Michael Avila also joined us, as did Br. Luis (Visitor) from the District of North Mexico. Leonardo drove us to several places with some terrific night-time views and pointed out various landmarks in parts of Rome that I'd never visited. We ended our nocturnal tour at a gelateria opposite the Victor Emmanuel monument (the same one Roch and I went to when I was here for the Preparatory Commission meeting in February). A good end to a good day.

Now I just have to worry about packing everything up tomorrow and hope that it will all fit.
More pictures from today at http://picasaweb.google.com/gvangrie/ItalyJune4

Sunday, June 3, 2007

June 3 - First Day of "No Chapter"

Okay, it's kind of strange now. After the daily maelstorm of deadlines, preparations, "what's next" events, meetings, serious discussions, serious fun, and 100-plus Brothers trying to get something done, it's really different to not have that.

I had planned to sleep as long as I wanted, but nevertheless I awoke at 6:30 AM with the "what's first" question in my head. Even after I'd figured out that that no longer applied, I could only sleep for another 15 minutes before deciding that it wasn't any good to simply lie there in bed. So I got up, put myself together, and mozied over to the "office" to begin cleaning things up. On the way there, I met some Brothers who asked where they could get copies of the Liturgy Resource book to take home with them. Yesterday, after the Closing Mass, I'd noticed Br. Lorenzo wheeling the cart of Liturgy Resource books to the storage room near his office - my guess is that he figured to use them for future events. But I had also put a small note at the end of the Mass program inviting participants to take a copy with them. Those who hadn't done so right after the Mass were now looking for a copy. And so I showed them where they were stored; they were welcome to take a copy with them (even with the mistakes in the book that I'd noticed already).

When I went over to the Hotel La Salle side of the complex (B Complex), lots of Brothers were there waiting for their rides to the airport. I stayed around that area for a while, talking to the Brothers and saying my goodbyes as they left to their own parts of the world. The atmosphere was quite collegial and familiar, since we'd gotten to know most of the other participants during the course of the last five weeks.

After breakfast with those who remained (about 30 or so at breakfast anyway), I began to put things away in the Main Chapel and the CIL Chapel (guitars, guitar stands, keyboard, candle stands, etc.). I also decided to take up the offer to make rooms in A Block available for participants who were staying on a few days after the Chapter (showers that work!!!). So now I'm in another room on the third floor of the Generalate, with a great big window looking out onto the chapel area. The room is right next to Br. Lorenzo's room and I trust that he's a quiet sleeper. In any case, it's only for three nights and then I'm off to California. It took three trips to get all of my stuff from one room to the other. It's amazing how man oy things one can accumulate in such a short time. I'll have to have them send some of it to me in boxes, especially all those gifts of books that were left at our places in the Aula Magna by various Districts. I would say, however, that the most appreciated gift was the 1 Gigabyte thumb-drive from ARLEP with the LA SALLE logo on it. Everyone using one of those drives for the rest of the Chapter, for translations, prayer programs, and everything in between.

After the noon meal, I went on a walk with Brs. Frank Burns, Robert Berger, and Lawrence Humphrey. We decided to go the Castel Sant' Angelo, taking the Metro stop to the Vatican and walking from there along the wall / passageway to the Castle. There's a direct line from the Vatican to the fortification because in the 15th (?) century it was used as an escape route for the pope and the Swiss guards when the Vatican was under attack. The wall with its battlements and connecting tunnel still stands. The place itself, or parts of it anyway, dates from the 2nd century.

I thought that we would see only a bunch of armory and lots of historical displays. Instead, there were some great paintings, including two by Carravagio, some sculptures, and a whole suits of rooms for the pope, one of them painted by Raphael. There was even a papal bathroom, complete with frescoes all around the shell-shaped bathtub. One thing was clear, beyond the artwork; these guys were tiny. Many of the doorways were made for folks under five feet tall. I don't know how tall the popes were but it's clear that the human population has grown taller since that time.

We walked and walked and went up and down steps all over the place. I got lost among all of the hallways and tunnels and corners and steps. But Frank pretty much knew where we were and led us to all of the main sights. From the top of the building, you got a terrific view of the panorama of Rome from a central location. The rain that fell intermittently didn't dampen our spirits a bit. We just pulled out our umbrellas when needed and enjoyed the experience.

After our visit to Castel Sant' Angelo we walked towards the Vatican, stopping in the various shops along the main road up St. Peter's. Even from a distance, we could see that a canonization had happened today - four new saints. Back at the Motherhouse for lunch, we had seen a large contingent from Malta (bishops, priests, and others) having dinner in the dining room that the Chapter had been using - we were given a smaller dining room for our smaller group - and found out about the canonization that happened today. The large banners for the saints hung from the balconies on the facade of St. Peter's, and the line to get into the church, even hours after the ceremony itself, went entirely around the piazza.

By the time we returned to the Motherhouse, it was 6:30 PM and there was just enough time to relax a bit before dinner was served. At dinner, I sat at the table with Michael Sanderl and his mother, who's just arrived to join him for some traveling in Italy. After dinner, Br. Alvaro and the "old" Councillors all came into the dining room to say goodbye to those who would be leaving tomorrow morning - a very nice gesture on their part. People at the table remarked on how Br. Alvaro especially has an acute sensitivity to others around him and does a great job of making them feel special and important (probably a good quality for a Superior General). Add that to the other qualities that he possesses and one could say that the Chapter made a wise choice.

After dinner, the decision was made to go to the gelato place next to McDonald's, just down the road. And so the evening came to a typical and good typically Italian conclusion. I also found the perfect combination of tastes in hazelnut and amaretto.

Now all I've got to do is get myself organized for the trip on Wednesday. But there's time so I'm not too worried. Tomorrow, I'll go with Br. Leonardo to the Vatican later in the morning in order to tag along while he does some errands and to also to go to the photography office to see if I can track down the photos taken on September 17, 1987, at 7 PM. I'll let you know why later.
More photos from today at http://picasaweb.google.com/gvangrie/ItalyJune3