Saturday, December 29, 2018


Martyr of El Salvador 
(1928 – 1977)
Rutilio Grande was born into a poor family from the small town of El Paisnal. He announced his desire to become a priest at the age of twelve, and five years later entered the Jesuits. Despite his earnest piety, there was nothing in Grande’s early years to anticipate his later role as a fearless prophet of justice. He was by all accounts a rather callow seminarian, given to debilitating scrupulosity and a sense of unworthiness that plagued him right up to his ordination in 1959. It was only in the mid-1960s that Grande seemed to undergo a second conversion. In the new atmosphere following Vatican II, he acquired a different understanding of his vocation. Previously he had felt a priest was called to set an example of perfection. Now, as he came to believe, what was demanded was an example of self-sacrifice and loving service. From that time he seemed to exude a new confidence and joy in his priesthood. 
In 1965, after studies abroad, Grande returned to the seminary in San Salvador as director of social action projects. In the nine years he spent in this position he had an enormous effect on the formation of all the clergy in El Salvador. Whereas in the past priests had carried an exalted status in society, patronized by the wealthy, Grande encouraged the seminarians to spend time living among the peasants in the countryside, learning to understand their struggles and their faith. Increasingly Grande began to exemplify a new Church in El Salvador, committed to awakening in the poor a sense of their dignity and rights as children of God. This was a time when the social contradictions in El Salvador were building to a violent crisis. In this atmosphere, Grande acquired a reputation as a “radical” priest, an enemy of the system. With the bishops facing pressure to “do something” about this troublesome influence, Grande resigned from his position in the seminary and took up an assignment as pastor of Aguilares, a small town near his birthplace. There he established a vigorous pastoral ministry, training lay catechists to insert the Gospel message throughout the community. 
In base communities peasants studied the Word of God and in that light raised critical questions about the sources of their oppression. Grande’s sermons on social justice were infamous among the town’s elite, and once again the pressure mounted to have him silenced. On February 13, 1977, Grande preached a sermon on the occasion of a Mass in honor of Father Mario Bernal, a Colombian born priest who had recently been arrested and deported without charges. In his homily he denounced the sham of democracy in El Salvador, the feudal enslavement of the masses, and the hypocrisy of those who called themselves Christians while tolerating such conditions. These were dangerous words, and they did not go unnoticed. 
On March 12, while driving on the road to El Paisnal, Grande’s van was sprayed with gunfire. He was killed instantly, along with an old campesino and a teenage boy who were accompanying him. His death marked a stunning turning point for El Salvador, the first but not the last time that a priest would be exposed to violence. Among those touched by this event was the new Archbishop of San Salvador, Oscar Romero. Grande, a longtime friend, had pressed Romero to understand and speak out against the social crisis in El Salvador. It was Grande’s death that forced him to understand, and it proved the catalyst that prompted his own journey on the road to Calvary.

Taken from Robert Ellsberg, All Saints. Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets and Witnesses for Our Time, New York, The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1997, 2015, pages 113-114. R

Wednesday, December 26, 2018


Waiting for Santa at the Saint Benedict Home for Children 

All smiles once Santa arrived! 

Diocesan Christmas Fair - Downtown Kingstown





Diocesan Staff Christmas Party at the Pastoral Centre
(The renovation Second Wind did to the place looks great in these pictures!)

Some staff people literally "kissing up" to the bishop! 

Bishop County admires the new Eucharistic Monstrance that he wanted for Christmas. Catholic Second Wind was able to get it for him. 

See, Sister Nyra Anne, I told you it pays to be good all year! 

A deacon and a married priest meet at the bar out-talking each other? 

Bishop County inspecting the food - or getting a foretaste? 

Two hungry teachers waiting for lunch!

Neal (maintenance man) and Nurse Sharon, next to the Christmas tree and outside Saint James Chapel. 

Priests, Sisters and Deacons eagerly waiting for their gifts! 

Earlier Photos from the Diocesan Christmas Fair

Fergal Redmond, fellow volunteer from Ireland, was Santa Claus again this year. He helped distribute the gifts and goodies that we sent down in early November.  This was the nice poster someone designed advertising the annual Diocesan Christmas Fair. 


63 Kids Attended

"Bottom Town" is one of the most depressed areas of the city of Kingstown. We made a special effort to have a party just for the kids who live there.  

The party was held at the downtown Soup Kitchen shelter building operated by the Diocese. Here some volunteers are decorating the space where Santa gave out small gifts, treats and snacks. 


"Father Ron! You sent sets of little cars in packs of four's, but 
because 63 kids had to be catered for in Bottom Town, we split the packs 
and distributed the cars individually. While some kids will wake up on 
Christmas morning perhaps a little disappointed with what Santa brought, 
the boy in photo was genuinely happy with his little green car - 
I have no doubt that this is the only toy he will receive this 
Christmas. Why am I telling you this? Because you deserve to know that 
the "thank you" he expressed was meant for you!"

Patiently waiting her turn in awe of what Santa might have for her! 

Lining up to meet Santa. 

This photo motivated me to buy a whole case of Tootsie Roll Pops to send down in our upcoming February container shipment!  Just look at how much satisfaction one sucker can bring to a kid when it is something he doesn't get every day!

Santa looks a little worn down for some reason! Maybe it's from wearing that hot suit in a tropical climate? Maybe it's because he has nothing left to give out? 

However, an alternative has been firmly voted down! 


Tuesday, December 25, 2018


Dear friends,
It's hard for me to believe that it is Christmas again, but here it is! I want to take this opportunity to wish you all the blessings that come with this sacred season.  
As I think back over all the past Christmases that come to mind this year, I am reminded of a few in particular.  
The first Christmas that I can remember is one from around 1948 or 1949. I have no idea what I got for Christmas that year, but I do remember how I felt. We didn't get much in the way of toys, but I can remember waking up that year literally shaking with excitement.  
What I remember most about Christmases growing up was not the gifts, but  going to midnight Mass, hearing the choir sing "O Holy Night," coming home to open presents and eating country ham sandwiches with all the traditional compliments.  
Christmases, when I was in the home missions, were pretty lonely times. I lived in a windowless basement apartment under the church,  There was only one Mass in Wayne County and one in McCreary County (an hour's drive away) on Christmas Day, so Christmas Eve was a time when I was pretty much alone in my basement bunker. I would watch Midnight Mass from the Rome, maybe cook myself a little dinner and go to bed early rather than sink into a depression.  
Cathedral of the Assumption Christmases were the most memorable. At midnight, the church was packed, the choir and organ were spectacular and Archbishop Kelly always invited me to preach. That Mass was usually televised. Old friends often visited and former parishioners were home for the holidays. It was always a deeply spiritual experience.  
The "Blue Christmas Masses" for the grieving that I sponsored at Bellarmine University from 2011 - 2016 also stand out. They might been the things that I am most proud of in those days because they seemed to have met an obvious "unmet need." We were always packed into that small chapel.  
This year, for the third year in a row, I have enjoyed buying toys and helping meet some of the needs of the orphans, school kids and the diocesan staff in the poor country of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. With the help of many generous friends, I buy things all year "on sale," pack them up in early November and send them down in time for Christmas. Christmas. (My wonderful Aunt Margaret and I have already started shopping for bargains for next year's Christmas.) I have been told that Christmas is not as big down there as it is here. Maybe it's because of the poverty. When you don't have much to spend on gift-giving, shopping and decorating, making a big deal out of Christmas doesn't seem to make much sense. From here, it makes me very happy to help make a bunch of kids and some good friends down there a little happier, even though I won't be there in person to see their smiling faces. 
The highlight of this Christmas will, without doubt, be the 6:00 pm "Blue Christmas Mass" on Christmas Eve at Holy Family Church on Poplar Level Road. After a two year hiatus, some friends and I have "revived" the tradition of having a special Mass for the grieving. We are all looking forward to it. We feel we are "doing a little something" to relieve some of the pain that many people feel during the holidays.  
For me, Christmas has seldom been about receiving gifts, but more about giving them - whether that means trying hard to write a good Christmas homily, offering a special Mass to the grieving or gathering up toys, school supplies, medical equipment and church furnishing for the good people of the poor Diocese of Kingstown in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. I can't thank those enough who partner with me to do these things. I think we all realize that "giving is better than receiving" is not just a pious thought, it's the truth! 
A happy Christmas to all of you from me - a priest who feels very blessed! Thank you for all the joy you bring into my life, not only at Christmas, but all year long! Stay in touch! Coming up, we have another year of opportunities to do good for others! 

God bless you!  
Father Ron  

Monday, December 24, 2018



The angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said,
"Joseph, son of David,
do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.
For it is through the Holy Spirit
that this child has been conceived in her.
Matthew 1:18-25

“The angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream.” This is one of four times that Joseph gets instructions from God “in a dream.” God also used dreams and visions to communicate with Joseph (son of Jacob), Solomon, Jacob, Peter, John, and Paul. Many of us, no doubt, remember times when we found solutions to our problems or gained new insights in a dream.

One of the biggest breakthroughs in my own spiritual life was communicated to me in a dream sometime around 1976. I have told the story many times and some of you could probably tell it for me. 

It was during my years at Saint Peter Mission Church in Monticello that I had a significant Saint Paul conversion experience. It happened in a dream, a very vivid, memorable and life-changing dream. In the dream I was on top of a small mountain. It had no trees or bushes or rocks. It had only very short green grass like a golf green. I was sitting in a folding lawn chair and God was sitting in one next to me. We were sitting side-by-side facing the setting sun without speaking. We were both smoking cheap King Edward cigars! I knew it was God, but I was afraid to look over. We just puffed on our cigars and watched the sun set on the horizon. Finally, God leaned over and whispered in my ear, “Ron, isn’t this wonderful!” I woke from the dream at that point and the world looked forever different to me, including the way perceived God. All of the emotional chains of guilt and unworthiness that were holding me back had melted away. I felt a lightness in my heart that I had never felt before. For the first time in my life, I felt that it was OK to be me. I fully understood that day what it meant to be “created in the image and likeness of God.”

As I get into this homily and talk about Joseph's dream, I want to recognize the pain and grief that so many of you are going through or have been through tonight: everything from suicides, a dreadful diagnosis, automobile wrecks, untimely deaths, drug addiction and job losses. To give you an example of just how much some of you have been through, here is part of just one of the e-mails I got last week. I have eliminated the names for privacy. 

My aunt is coming. She had three boys, the youngest, was five years old in 1975 and died 11 days after a terrible garage fire. The oldest, was shot in 1980 by a neighbor. I think he was 17 years old. The middle son, died just 11 years ago by being thrown by a garbage truck and it landing on him. He was 43. A couple of years later, the father of her sons, died by a tractor flipping over on him. My other aunt by marriage is also coming. A tornado hit their house the year they were married and her husband died from blunt force trauma. My aunt was pregnant at the time and lost the baby. 

For some the pain is fresh and raw and tender. For others it is perennial, is still unhealed only to be reopened again every holiday. It has been a year of loss for me personally. I lost my youngest sister to a brain tumor. I lost a beloved brother-in-law last week from a rare aggressive infection of the abdominal aorta. He was fine last Saturday but died a day and a half later. I lost a man who was practically an adopted father. I lost a cousin to cancer. I lost four long-time very close friends. All that happened this year! 

It was for people like you and me that I started this Blue Christmas Mass back in 2011. It ended in 2016 because I was retiring from Bellarmine University’s Our Lady of the Woods Chapel where I served in campus ministry with Melanie Prejean Sullivan for fourteen years. After a two-year hiatus, she and my friends Jim Patterson II, Elaine Winebrenner and Deacon Pat Wright, who are here tonight, have generously helped me revive this tradition this year. It is for you that we have revived this special Christmas Mass because we heard from so many of you that you missed it and so many more of you find yourselves in situations now where you need it.

Each year, during those first five years, I tried to find something in the readings that I thought might help you to cope and help ease a small bit of your pain and grief. At this year’s Blue Christmas Mass, I want to focus on Saint Joseph to see if we can all learn something from him about how to handle disappointment, confusion, loss and grief. 

The Gospel of Matthew tells us of four dreams in which Joseph, the legal father of Jesus, is visited by an angel of the Lord to receive specific instructions and warnings of impending danger. All four dreams come from the period around the nativity of Jesus and his early life, between the onset of Mary's pregnancy and the family's return from Egypt to Nazareth.

Like many of you tonight, Saint Joseph, in each of his dreams, is a man with a heavy heart and a burdened mind. He does not know where to turn or what to do next, but in each dream God tells him where to take his next step and the way forward.

The birth of Jesus was, for Saint Joseph, one disaster after the other. All his life he dreamed of marrying some day and having a family. He had been matched from his youth to a young virgin from Nazareth. He had gone through the first two steps that would lead up to marriage, only to find out his spouse-to-be was pregnant and he knew it was not his! I am sure he tossed and turned many nights wondering what to do – bouncing between anger, disappointment and fear. He knew that Mary was in danger of being stoned to death if that news got out. Being an upright man, he decided to quietly end their marriage plans. That is when he has his first dream, a dream in which an angel instructs him to proceed to marriage because the mysterious child was “of God,” not “of man.”

When the time came for the birth of Jesus, the young couple had to take on a donkey-back government-mandated trip to Bethlehem because of a census. Out of town, with no place to stay, they end up in a barn-delivery mess! If that was not bad enough, a crazy king sets out to kill their new-born son. When he went to sleep one night a short time later, in a dream, an angel warns him to run for their lives, to get out of town now – not only out of town, but out of the country - to a foreign country, to Egypt, for God’s sake!

After some time in Egypt, when the coast was clear and the crazy child-killer king was dead, Joseph has his third dream in which he is instructed that it was now safe head back home!

In his fourth and final dream, Joseph is told not to go to Judea, but to Galilee! I am sure Joseph wondered when his life would ever settle down again! 

My friends, know this! The first Christmas was certainly not cutesy and sentimental like some Hallmark card! No, it was hell! It was one disaster after other! Those of you who are hurting have more in common with the first Christmas than all those who get to enjoy warm, fuzzy and sentimental feelings tonight!

Friends, I know you are hurting. I am sure you can appreciate some of the problems and pains that Saint Joseph faced. I know I can’t fix everything for you! I know I can’t make your pain go away! I know I can’t stop your grieving, but I am going to do what I can! I am going to introduce you to one of Pope Francis’s favorite devotions – his devotion to the Sleeping Saint Joseph. Here is what Pope Francis said about his devotion to the Sleeping Saint Joseph on November 25, 2016.

“If there’s a problem, I write a note to St. Joseph and put it under a statue that I have in my room. It is the statue of St. Joseph sleeping.”

To those who asked him what the secret is of his “serenity,” the Pope replied jokingly: “I do not take tranquilizers!” I have had a very special experience of profound peace since I was elected. It does not abandon me. I live in peace. I cannot explain” If there is a problem, I write a note to St. Joseph and put it under a statue that I have in my room. It is a statue of St. Joseph sleeping. And now he sleeps on a mattress of notes! That’s why I sleep well: it is the grace of God.”

As I said, I cannot fix all your pain, but tonight each family will be given a Sleeping Saint Joseph figurine. When every family has one, we can see if we have some left to give to a few individuals who could not here tonight, but who can benefit from having one personally. We will wait until each family has one to see how many we have left. You can meet me after Mass and take one to them if we have some left. 

Friends, whatever loss you are feeling this Christmas, write it down and put it under your statue of the sleeping Saint Joseph. Ask him to help remove the pain from your heart! After you have turned your grief over to Saint Joseph in this way, then go to bed each night and sleep in peace while you wait for guidance from an angel of God! Maybe relief will come to you “in a dream” too! 

God bless all of you as Saint Joseph watches over you, while he takes over your grief for a while so that you can “sleep in heavenly peace” as the hymn Silent Night puts it!

The official count was over 350. This was the distribution of the Sleeping Saint Joseph figurines. 

"All I know from my own experience is that the
more loss we feel the more grateful we
should be for whatever it was we had to lose.
It means that we had something worth grieving for.
The ones I'm sorry for are the ones that
go through life not knowing what grief is." 
Frank O' Connor

Sunday, December 23, 2018



"Blessed are you among women! 
Blessed are you who believed!”
Luke 1:39-45

In 1792 this city was part of the Diocese of Baltimore, Maryland. That year, a newly ordained French immigrant by the name of Benedict Joseph Flaget volunteered his priestly services to the only American bishop, John Carroll. Flaget was hoping to teach in Carroll's seminary in Baltimore. Instead, he was sent to a mission church in far-off Vincennes. Indiana.

En route to Vincennes, the young Flaget stopped in our little river town of Louisville. While he was here, he ran into two other priests who were passing through. Taking advantage of the situation, he went to confession. Legend has it that he knelt under a tree on a farm at the coner of Tenth and Main. After three years in Vincennes, he was called back to Baltimore to teach in the seminary. A few years later, he was deeply troubled to find out that he had been named bishop of the new diocese of Bardstown, Kentucky, over his own very vocal objections. This “honor” gave him the privilege of riding horseback in all kinds of weather for 42 years over an area which covered the present states of Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and parts of Minnesota. Swallowing his dismay, be threw himself into his work. His tired bones are resting peacefully in a leather-bound casket inside a rounded brick vault downstairs in this very cathedral close to where I am standing.

In 1970, almost two hundred years later, this twenty-six-year-old, newly ordained, priest from a small Meade County town, who had his heart set on being an associate pastor of a nice suburban city parish, received a call from Archbishop McDonough's personnel board that I had been "specially selected" to go to the Southern Kentucky Missions to be part of a new "team ministry" project. Like Bishop Flaget, I cried. I protested. I went. This “honor” gave me the privilege, among other things, of living in a church basement without windows for five years, of pastoring a two-county parish of fewer than 15 adult members and the opportunity to go begging to raise the funds for my own salary. It turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me. Because I went there, I got to come here.

Over 2,000 years ago, a young virgin of Nazareth was going about her business, dreaming about her future marriage to the man she was matched with from childhood. His name was Joseph. An angel, by the name of Gabriel, was sent to her by God with this message, “Rejoice, O highly favored daughter!” Mary was “deeply troubled” by these words and “wondered what his words meant.” Mary obviously knew enough about God to smell a rat! She had every reason to be “deeply troubled.” Before her baby was born, she would have to endure a long and weary journey to Bethlehem because some foreign despot wanted a census. It was in Bethlehem that she went into labor and delivered her child in a barn. Not too long after his birth, she became a refugee in Egypt because Herod sought to kill her son. After returning to her own country, she raised her child in the obscurity and poverty of Nazareth, only to see him crucified before her eyes amidst a jeering crowd. “Blessed are you among women?” “Blessed?” Really!

We use the word "spirituality" a lot these days, but what is it? Spirituality is about “waking up,” not only to ourselves and to each other, but to the activity of God in our lives. Most, probably, go through life unconscious of God's activity, but others experience it and let it break through into consciousness. Mary experienced it in stages, like so many others have over the ages in so many different ways. Just as in Bishop Flaget’s case, God's “favor” often comes to us, first of all, as something that “deeply troubles” us, that deeply upsets the status quo. The second stage is marked by perplexity; “How can this be?” This stage is marked with the question, “How can little old me possibly do that?” Thirdly, one comes to accept the task, trusting that the strength and resources will be there when it is needed. St. Theresa hit the nail on the head when she wrote, “Anyone who realizes that he or she is favored by God will have the courage necessary for doing great things!” It is God who calls. It is the same God who strengthens us to do the thing we think we cannot do.

Spirituality, then, is about “waking up” to the presence of God in our lives, calling us to some purpose or mission. When opportunity knocks, that knock seldom come from the lips of angels. For Bishop Flaget, that knock came from the Pope. For me, it came from Archbishop McDonough. When such knocks come, they are usually “deeply troubling.” We become overwhelmed with doubts and fears. “How can this be?” The answer, of course, as Mary learned, “Nothing is impossible with God.”

When God comes knocking, it is only the saying of “no” that spells spiritual suicide. Can you imagine where we might be if Flaget had been a coward and said “no” instead of “yes”? I would not be standing here today if I had said “no” instead of “yes” to the Southern Kentucky Missions. It was there I learned what I needed to be able to do what I did here! Can you imagine where we might be if Mary had been a coward and said “no” instead of “yes”? Fear has never been a valid reason to turn God down!

What about you? Are you aware of God's guiding hand in your life ? Have you been in situations that you found “deeply troubling”? Many mistake such situations as the absence of God, when, in fact, they are often the most valid signs that God is indeed on the move! Maybe there were times when you felt overwhelmed with fear and doubt, wondering how you could possibly cope, only to look. back and know that God was indeed there with you all the time! Maybe it was an unexpected pregnancy, a job loss, a serious illness, an unexpected opportunity or a confusing choice. It probably did not look like a “favor from God” at the time, but as time has gone by, you can't imagine how life would be if it had not happened! Maybe you even said “yes” because you felt you had no other alternative, only to find out that God had helped you to say that “yes!”

Claiming to be religious and actually putting oneself in the hands of God are two different things. It is hard to put oneself in the hands of God, but when we know in the depths of our souls that God has called us to some new commitment, then what alternatives do we have? Only people who are already awake to themselves and to other people will be awake enough to take that plunge!

My friends, it's not a matter of whether God is awake to us, but whether we are awake to God. “Nothing is impossible” for those who know that a bit of shaking and moving in their souls and that some suffering is necessary and constructive for those who dare to wake up and respond to God’s activity in their lives!