Fr. Gould’s Letters to the Parish
Sunday, May 31st
Good morning, Good morning,
Though this is my final Parish Letter it does not signal the end of my weekly Dear Folks Letters. Let us pray that this marks the beginning of the end of the current coronavirus pandemic. And may it be the last pandemic to ever strike the world. Let us pray for one another.
Fr. Heisler has provided two film clicks of our great absence due to the pandemic. Of, we are not out of the woods yet… excuse the pun. We still have encroaching creatures to be aware of, a wolf across the road from the rectory, and some rather large wild turkeys from across the road.
View of the church in the early morning. vimeo.com/402146637
View of the church in the evening. vimeo.com/402576696
The days of the Lockdown were a paradox to all of our sensitivities and sensibilities. It was hard for most and blessing for even more. Lovely parishioners, you did well and deserve the many accolades. Let us pray for one another.
Many thanks to the maintenance crew: Antonio, Jerry, and Maria. They never stopped their great work in the parish buildings.
Bill and Beth Ann Mc Roberts, with son Seth, restored the benches around the walkways.
The folks of the offices worked from home or came in at various odd hours to avoid folks who might have the virus. Amy Harrison, Leslie Sheldon, Janice Rees, Kim Livaudais, Emily Glass, and Michael Galdo have been great models of strength for the priests and seminarians. Many thanks also goes out for our dear deacon, Larry Hammell. He has been a wonderful gift to all of us in his prayers and encouragement. We miss having him around but can understand how dangerous the virus is for he and his wife. God bless them all.
Many thanks to many of you who continued to send in your weekly envelopes or joined on line to help pay the bills around here. May your kindness and generosity be repaid a hundredfold. And may the Blessed Mother guide you. I was able to sleep at night because of your kindness. God bless you.
Many thanks to the many many folks who came to Confession during the pandemic. God bless one and all of them. May the graces of God protect and guide them in their vocations in life.
Rex at Confession.
And finally God bless the Rectory-mates that kept the world sane with their wit, wisdom, devotions, and sometimes…humility.
Now, where to go from here?
1.Next Sunday, June 7th, before the 10:30 AM Mass we will dedicate the new Angel Statue for Children. (The remainder of the nametags will be placed this week).
2. The following Sunday, June 14th, before the 8:30 AM Mass, we will dedicate the new Divine Mercy painting to replace the current poster, in the Divine Mercy Shrine.
3. On Sunday June 21st, before the 10:30 AM Mass, we will dedicate the new Confessionals.
4. On Monday June 22nd Fr. Heisler will order the new flag pole and flags in gratitude to, and in honor of, the First Responders in Purcellville and the sons and daughters of St. Francis serving in the military. Well done. www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jy6AOGRsR80
Welcome Home….. Let us pray for one another in the coming new year.
Parish Letter May 30th
Good morning, Good morning,
Often when I speak of priests I have known they are from my distant past. Rarely have I mentioned the ones I have been stationed with. Today is the day. This letter is dedicated to my early pastors.
Msgr. James McMurtrie. One of the great stories on Msgr. James McMurtrie comes from his early priesthood when he was stationed at St. Joseph’s Parish, in Petersburg, Virginia during the race riots of the 1960’s. He would get out from the rectory and walk the streets and walk up on the porches of the black families on his block. No one knew what to make of him. But the black’s honored him and loved him for sitting on their porches. Those were stressful days.
One winter the local TV station allowed all the church pastors in Petersburg a chance to do the sign-off prayer and reflection at the end of each broadcasting day… Midnight was the time. Well they gave Fr. McMurtrie the Christmas Eve slot, which meant he couldn’t be home for the Midnight Mass. That was mean. He started his prayer with a reflection on how the presence of “Child” changed the entire town. Blacks would respect Whites and Whites would respect Blacks, all because of a “Child.” In-laws would speak well of each other, all because of a “Child.” Neighbors would wave at each other across the yard, all because of “Child.” Strangers would hold the doors at the groceries, all because of “Child.” “That ‘Child’ was welcome in every home in town… except the Petersburg Country Club because they don’t accept Jews. God Bless. Merry Christmas.” Oh my heavens! They never again allowed his shadow to fall on the hollowed links of Petersburg. And each Christmas the Jews remember him.
Msgr. Thomas Cassidy. Former pastor of St. Francis De Sales. I was assigned as deacon to St. Mark’s parish in Vienna, Virginia. It was one of the foremost “progressive” parishes of the diocese. Folks thought Father Tom and I would be as different as night and day, and maybe we were. But, few were aware that my deacon assignment in Philadelphia was his mother’s parish. And… she loved me. We had a great time and I never missed a chance to say hello to her. The poor woman suffered a terrible fear. Agoraphobia, it’s not so much suffering the absence from the house as it was the panic attacks caused by the absence. It was real and it was traumatic for the lovely lady. She could not stand to be away from her home after dark. When she would come for a visit to see her son in Virginia her daughter would pick her up at sunrise, drive three hours to St. Mark’s and leave after lunch. There was no greater love offered than Mrs. Cassidy’s
On my first homily at St. Mark’s I called all the children up to the altar steps. Most unexpected from a deacon trained in Philadelphia. I told the kids I was new and many of their parents didn’t have a clue what to call me… “Father, Deacon, Brother, Jim, Mr. Gould” I mentioned to the kids that they were my favorite group in the whole parish and they alone could call me a special name. They were excited for that option. I told them they had to say it really loud, so their grandparents could hear them all the way down in Arlington. I told them they could call me, “Monsignor.” Well that brought the house down and the kids didn’t know why. They had never had a monsignor at St. Mark’s. Well I had them repeat after me… several times and louder each time. They were great. Forty years later some of the folks in Vienna still talk about my first homily.
After my First Mass, at St. Mark’s, a number of the younger priests told me St. Mark’s was really a good experience for me. But, Monsignor Cassidy told me I was really good for the parish. I told him if he ever needed anything from me he would never have to ask twice. He was a great pastor.
Msgr. Richard Burke. My first pastor at Holy Spirit Parish, Annandale. His first admonition to me, on my first day on the job was, “Don’t make your problems my problems.” Ah, then came the Sunday morning when he had a heart attack in the rectory, not my fault, and didn’t want me to call for the ambulance. I took him to Fairfax Hospital, running down the Beltway at 85 miles an hour, talking about the girls basketball team… to keep him calm.
I rolled right up to the entrance of the Emergency Room and ran in to tell the nurse at the desk there was a man outside in my car with “Pest Chains.” She looked at me funny and I repeated the same twice more. Taking a deep breath I said “There is man out in my car with Chest Pains.” That set off all the alarms.
They got him in post haste while I parked the car. I brought my oils to anoint him. And without noticing I was surrounded by all the doctors and nurses in the Emergency Room watching the young priest anoint the old priest. It was quite moving. Weeks later on his return to the parish I reminded him… “Don’t make your problems my problems.” Ha! Ha! Ha!
Msgr. Frank Mahler. My second assignment was at St. John’s parish in McLean. Young Frankie Mahler, from Amityville, Long Island. Claimed he was the Amityville Horror. Traumatized by the early and quite unexpected death of his father his temper was deeply affected. And since he graduated from the public school he was never accepted to the diocesan seminary. There were too many candidates from the Catholic high schools. His early seminary days were in Wellington, Ontario. He was later accepted to the Diocese of Richmond and sent to the illustrious St. Mary’s seminary in Baltimore.
If something was bothering the good pastor, which was often the case, he would pace back and forth in his room up to as late as two or three in the morning. (The priest downstairs also has a fierce temper.) And in the 6:30 AM Mass he on rare occasion he would slam the tabernacle door closed after Communion. There were folks at Mass who anticipated a lightning strike for the priest.
Well, when I arrived to the assignment I would take the pastor for a walk around the neighborhood each night. A mile walk. Half way around he would explode, calm down, and upon returning to the rectory would go straight to bed. After a while the priest downstairs commented how quiet the rectory had become. I explained the walk and he became the third walker each night. After a while the staff commented the deportment of the two priests had changed and again I explained the walk. Bishop Keating received letters on the change in the rectory and asked me about it. He understood when I mentioned the nightly trek. The good bishop was also a good walker who lived in a world of stress.
Well there were fractures in Shangri-La at St. John’s on occasion. On one occasion Fr. Mahler gave the order to fire all the altar boys. Every blessed one of them. In response I set him up with six personal servers he could depend on. And we called them the A-Team. Young Brendan Coleman, who showed up for practice a year early, was like a little psychologist to the pastor. Fr. Mahler would enter the sacristy in some rage and the kid would ask him how he was doing and he would explain to Brendan what was going on and then calm down. I never saw anything like it. Brendan’s father, owner of the Irish Pub, Dubliner, in DC always laughed at the kid who was trusted by all. He now works on Fifth Avenue in New York… but is not a psychologist. John Milligan, All Metro Field Goal kicker, from O’Connell High School would check on Fr. Mahler every month for the rest of his life. When older John and his wife would take him out to dinner. Shawn Leonard also kept tabs on the priest. In his death Monsignor Mahler had the simplest casket of all the priest funerals I had ever been a part of but was wealthy in his friendship with the A-Team.
Monsignor John O’Connell, Pastor of the Cathedral. I was resident, working in the Vocations Office. Another New Yorker who missed out in an application to the seminary in Dunwoody because he was away in World War II as a medic/ambulance driver… in the war zones. I believe he also studied at the same seminary in Western Ontario as Monsignor Mahler, before joining Richmond. He was a serious diabetic and rarely left the rectory. In all my travels across the diocese he always wanted to hear what was going on in the assignments and he then would fill me with stories on the nuns, priests, and lay people within those same parishes of the diocese. He was a genuinely holy man who didn’t want people to notice.
Msgr. John Cilinski
Monsignor John Cilinski. Pastor of St. Ann’s in Arlington. I was resident, working in the Vocations Office. Fr. John Cilinski, hailed from Alexandria, Virginia. He was a tough pastor but he was also the hardest working priest I had ever known. He visited the sick every day of the year… including Christmas and Easter. In one assignment he was so hard on his assoicates that one after another resigned. Eight in eight years. His sister asked me how I could stand him and I told her how much easier it is to be stationed with a priest who really worked for a living and how hard it was to live with one who doesn’t. She told him that. And I never had a bad day with him at that rectory.
Two years later Monsignor O’Connell succumbed to his diabetic condition and the Cathedral was in need of a new rector. When passing by his office, Bishop Keating asked for a suggestion for a new rector and I suggested Cilinski. I suggested the folks at the Cathedral needed a pastor who was a father figure rather than administrator. And Fr. Cilinski got the call.
When departing from St. Ann’s Fr. Cilinski and I stood alone by the garage door. He, a former boxer in his younger days, squared off in front of me, eye to eye, and said he figured I had something to do with the assignment change. I shrugged and said wherever I was on his retirement I would have a room for him. And through the years that followed we would pass in various retreats, convocations, and meetings. I would simply nod at him and remind him I would have a room for him. And when he retired he joined as at St. Agnes… visiting the sick every day of the year. He never stopped until he was too sick to leave his bed. I did one last favor for him… I preached his funeral. The toughest pastor had the biggest funeral we ever had.
I know this is a long letter but there is one final Cilinski story. Back in the 40’s some of the Richmond priests were assigned to the mission band in the Shenandoah Valley. A trailer would be hooked up to their car, carrying an altar, vestments, hymnals, and chairs. At assigned times and places the trailer would stop for people to come to Mass. One day, parked along the fence of Fort Lee, the local barber, in his private plane, tried to disrupt the set up for Mass by flying over and dropping a stick of dynamite from the plane.
What the mean-spirited barber didn’t plan on was the wind carrying the stick of dynamite over the fence where it exploded on the military installation. Yes, little Virginia, a full-fledged attack on a military installation inside the United States. They were waiting for the barber at the airfield. He was lucky they didn’t shoot him down.
Anyway the barber got hauled into court and the judge asked him, “Henry did you really mean to do that?” A shake of the head was the response. “Henry, next year when these “Boys” come back you will buy them a tank of gas won’t you?” He assented and the trial was over. Lesson learned for Henry, the only barber in town.
As we are coming out of the Lockdown… tomorrow will be my final letter. Let us pray for one another.
Click on links for Fr. Gould’s previous emails to the parish