Back in the latter half of the 90's I had the privilege of being a part of the vibrant community of Our Lady of Lourdes for nearly six years -- working together with the pastor, Father Conrad J. Kratz, O. Praem. -- as I served the parish as its first associate pastor. When Bishop Banks -- with the recommendation of Abbot Thomas DeWane -- appointed me as associate pastor, it was a dream come true! I had served at New Saint Joe's for quite a stint of time after returning to DePere from Chicago as a brand-new, freshly anointed 'baby' priest; as such, I had come to know many of the people who would make up the new congregation of Lourdes. And as icing on the cake, I learned that I would be serving in parochial ministry with Father Conrad Kratz, one of my closest friends in the Order -- a person whom I truly admire.
For several years, Father Conrad and I would alternate Masses with a rather lofty weekend Mass schedule -- ranging from 4:00 PM and 5:15 PM on Saturday evening and then adding 7:30 AM, 8:30 AM, 9:30 AM and 10:30 AM on Sunday mornings. On some occasions when one of us would be away, only one priest would handle the entire weekend schedule -- no opportunity for long homilies: "those were the days," many of you are thinking, I suspect!!!
As I ventured out to the construction site each day and took part in the building meetings each week, I realized that I was becoming much more familiar and comfortable with building, masonry, carpentry and architecture. At the same time, I noticed that our contractors were also becoming much more spiritual -- in fact, even pastoral -- as building OLOL would become for them a true labor of love.
Through the grace of God, the project was completed on time. I remember Bishop Banks coming out the day before the dedication as he inspected the space he would dedicate on the following day together with Abbot DeWane and the faithful of Lourdes. His excitement about the project was a great boost for all others who were so tired after so much work. It was also an energizing moment and an honor to the contractors to learn that their business cards would be signed and placed within the altar where the altar stone and relics would be housed. Thus, at each Mass when we consider Christ as our firm foundation, we also remember the workers and the benefactors who have also become a cherished part of our foundation.
After the church was dedicated, I was able to remain at Lourdes for one additional year. Quite appropriately, I was able to celebrate an entire year of liturgical milestones in our beautiful church at the corner of Lourdes Avenue and Suburban Drive. Along with the solemnities, feasts and memorials that each year offers, I have extraordinary memories of the baptisms, funerals, confirmations, weddings and anointings of the sick that have taken place in that church. While I have many pictures to remind me of many of these events, the images are also inscribed in my mind and heart of a beautiful church -- a beautiful Church, indeed.
When I learned that I would be leaving Lourdes, I made a conscious yet difficult decision to keep a bit of a distance from OLOL after my departure. You see, when I was appointed to Lourdes, I did not 'replace' anyone. I was one of two priests assigned to a new parish. I am very grateful that the congregation welcomed me to the very hospitable extent to which they did. However, as a new priest was being appointed to succeed me, it was necessary that he would have a similar chance to be as welcomed and accepted as was I.
Father Tim Shillcox, O. Praem. has served at Our Lady of Lourdes for three years now; he was appointed to Lourdes just as I was appointed to Old Saint Joe's. He is an excellent pastor and one of the best priests our Order has. I am grateful that he has been so welcoming of me and my ministry at Lourdes -- whether it is to fill in for him when he's away or to assist at Advent and Lenten Reconciliation services. When I am there I am amazed at how much the kids have grown -- perhaps they are equally amazed at how much I have aged also! It's always wonderful to see how the church has changed and all that remains constant as well.
And to offer you a little secret, I often find my eyes peering upon one of the last stones to be placed on that back wall behind the altar. Hein Construction allowed me to be a mason for a day -- or at least for just one stone! I actually signed, dated and then placed the beautiful stone I was allowed to choose myself! While that stone will always catch my attention amidst the thousands of Fond du Lac limestone that grace the church, I think also of the "living stones" that were a part of the congregation back during those beautiful six years of ministry and those who continue to make Lourdes their home. I then remember the beautiful Mass of Dedication on 21 March 1999 wherein we all prayer together:
Father, all powerful and ever-living God,
we do well always and everywhere to give you thanks.
We thank you now for this house of prayer
in which you bless your family
as we come to you on pilgrimage.
Here you reveal your presence
by sacramental signs,
and make us one with you
through the unseen bond of grace.
Here you build your temple of living stones,
and bring the Church to its full stature
as the Body of Christ throughout the world.
to reach its perfection at last
in the heavenly city of Jerusalem
which is the vision of your peace.
In communion with all the angels and saints
we bless and praise your greatness
in the temple of your glory:
... ...Feel free to continue your own prayer right here, right now!
A Blessed Ascension to One and All!
Father James Baraniak, O. Praem.