Saturday, June 27, 2020


This is the twelfth in a series of periodic reflections on the "ordinary things" that many people do on a regular basis without much thought. During this pandemic, I am developing a need to "rage, rage" against hast and laziness and replace it with care and attention. My hope is to become personally more intentional about doing ordinary things with care and focused attention, while inspiring others to maybe do the same.

I have written about living alone several times during this pandemic and how comfortable I am doing it. I hope I am not overstating my case.  Recently, I came across something I wrote a few years ago that I would like to share with you.

"Getting used to living alone is not the problem, it's giving it up once you do!"
Lady Rosamund
"Downtown Abbey" 

If there is any doubt that we’re living in the age of the individual, a look at the housing data confirms it. For millennia, people have huddled together, in caves, in mud huts, in cottages and condos. But these days, 1 in every 4 American households is occupied by someone living alone; in Manhattan, the number is nearly 1 in 2.

Eric Klinenberg recently published “Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone,” which he calls “an incredible social experiment” that reveals “the human species is developing new ways to live.” 

True, the benefits of living alone are many: freedom to come and go as you please; the space and solitude to recharge in a social media world; complete control over the bed. In the seminary, we slept in single beds. As a priest, I have to have either a king or queen size bed, even though I usually use only one side!

Still, the single-occupant home can be a breeding ground for eccentricities. In a sense, living alone represents “the self let loose." In the absence of what Mr. Klinenberg calls “surveilling eyes,” the solo dweller is free to indulge his or her odder habits — what is sometimes referred to as Secret Single Behavior. Feel like standing naked in your kitchen at 2 a.m., eating peanut butter from the jar? Who’s to know? Personally, I have the habit of putting on clothes to go downstairs in the middle of the night, just in case I fall down the steps and people find my unclothed body a few weeks later!

A 28 year old schoolteacher calls it living without “social checks and balances.” The effects are noticeable, she said: “I’ve been living alone for six years, and I’ve gotten quirkier and quirkier.”

What emerges over time, for those who live alone, is an at-home self that is markedly different — in ways big and small — from the self they present to the world. We all have private selves, of course, but people who live alone spend a good deal more time exploring them. Personally, I have a two-floor condo. The upstairs, where people come in, is always clean and tidy. The downstairs, where I spend a lot more time, not so much!

I read about one man who said his living-alone indulgences center on his sleep cycle. A 40 year old record producer said he’ll go to bed at 2 a.m. one night, and then retire later and later by increments, “until I go to bed when the sun comes up.” These days, personally, I often stay up past midnight. I love to write late at night. Even after I go to bed, I sometimes get up and go downstairs to work on the computer about 2:00 am and then go back up around 3:00 am and go right back to sleep – so far without a problem.

A 70 year old woman who writes a blog on aging,, has lived alone for all but 10 or so years of her adult life. She said she has adopted a classic living-alone habit: “I never, ever close the bathroom door.” Leaving it open “is one of those little habits that makes no difference most of the time,” she said. But when guests visit her two-bedroom apartment outside Portland, Ore., she added: “I have to make huge mental efforts to remind myself to close the door.

Like many, she also talks to herself — or, rather, to her cat. “I’ll try things out on him when I’m writing,” she said. “He’ll look at me like he’s actually listening. I wouldn’t discuss what I’m writing with my cat if someone were around.” I don’t have a cat, but I do ask myself questions, out loud, when no one is around!

Other people say their greatest eccentricities emerge in the kitchen. Eating can be a personal, even self-conscious act, and in the absence of a roommate or partner, unconventional approaches to food emerge.

“I very rarely have what you would call ‘meals,’ ” said Steve Zimmer, a computer programmer in his 40s who lives by himself in a Manhattan loft. Instead of adhering to regular meals or meal times, he said, he makes “six or seven” trips an hour to the refrigerator and subsists largely on cereal. As for me, I cannot go to sleep with knives on the counter in the kitchen. They have to be out of sight so that an intruder cannot find them so easily.

The founder of the Web site, is a kind of unofficial spokeswoman and lobbyist for singletons. She has had roommates in the past but now lives alone. She said that rather than cooking a big meal for one, an unappealing prospect, she fashions dinner out of “discrete objects”: “I’m often, like, here’s a sweet potato! Let me throw that in the oven with aluminum foil and eat it.” Personally, it’s not a problem for me to eat a piece of cake followed by a salad and popcorn, if I am still hungry!

One woman noted that the longer she lives alone, the less flexible she becomes — and the less considerate of others’ needs. “If I go on vacation with a group of friends, I feel a little overwhelmed,” she said. “I’ve got to share this room with other people? We have to organize showers?” Personally, I would rather stay home than share a room with someone on a vacation – even if it were a free vacation!

A computer programmer said he is also conscious of becoming too set in his ways, especially where sleeping is concerned. “I just do not sleep as well with someone else,” he said. “A lot of homes have double master bedrooms. I can really see the value of that.” Personally, I cannot imagine sleeping with someone else in the bed with me! No way!

My “single habits” are many. I clean my house before the cleaning lady comes every couple of months. I cannot go to sleep unless my car keys are next to my bed “in case of an emergency” during the night. I have to turn off the water and check the stove before I leave the house overnight. Before I go to sleep, I have been known to check the front door several times in a row “to be sure I locked it!”

It is aggravating sometimes to have to “do it all” when you live by yourself, but I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Thursday, June 25, 2020



Ever since I grew my first beard during the summer of 1972, while on a backpacking trip to Taize in France, I have made it a practice to change my beard to celebrate significant milestones. Here is my updated short history of my facial hair during times of transition. 

This could be my First Communion picture?

Pre-beard on ordination day. 
May 16, 1970

Pre-bead and sideburns at 27 years old - a year and a half ordained. 
Saint Mildred Church - Somerset, Kentucky
September 21, 1971

In the summer of 1972 I grew my beard on a back-packing trip to Europe. The photo below was taken in Belgium during that first trip. When I came home, I did not show anyone in the parish until I walked down the isle for Sunday Mass. You could hear audible gasps. After Mass, I heard two old ladies talking about the beard. One of them came to my defense, saying, "Well, Saint Francis had a beard!" The other one, shot back, "Yes, but he isn't Saint Francis!" 

The photo below was taken in Monticello, Kentucky, at Saint Peter Church, @ 1977

The photo below was taken about the time I became Pastor of the Cathedral in 1983.

The photo above was taken @1990

To celebrate my 25th anniversary as a priest, in the photo below, I cut off part of my beard in 1995.

This was my beard during the years when I worked at Saint Meinrad Seminary. @2010. I was there between 2001 and 2015. 

In the photo above, I celebrated my retirement in 2015 by cutting off my beard altogether because it had turned white when I quit dyeing it. and because someone said I looked like Colonial Sanders. 

It's baaaaaaaaaaack! 
Five weeks into the pandemic. 
April 28, 2020, on my 76th birthday. 

Eight weeks into the pandemic and it's still growing!

Eleven weeks into the pandemic and still growing!

It could come to this in a year or two! If so, have me committed! 

Tuesday, June 23, 2020


This is the eleventh in a series of periodic reflections on the "ordinary things" that many people do on a regular basis without much thought. During this pandemic, I am developing a need to "rage, rage" against hast and laziness and replace it with care and attention. My hope is to become personally more intentional about doing ordinary things with care and focused attention, while inspiring others to maybe do the same. 


There’s a good chance the coronavirus will never go away completely. Even after a vaccine is discovered and deployed, the coronavirus will likely remain for decades to come, circulating among the world’s population. Experts call such diseases "endemic" — stubbornly resisting efforts to stamp them out. Think measles, HIV and chickenpox! 

With so much else uncertain, the persistence of the novel virus is one of the few things we can count on about the future. That doesn’t mean the situation will always be as dire. There are already four endemic coronaviruses that circulate continuously, causing the common cold. And many experts think this virus will become the fifth — its effects growing milder as immunity spreads and our bodies adapt to it over time.

“This virus is here to stay,” said Sarah Cobey, an epidemiologist and evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago. “The question is, how do we live with it safely?” Americans have only started to wrap their heads around the idea, polls show.

One of the hardest things to wrap my head around is that the way I have been living my life has taken another turn and it is up to me whether I give up or get up! I learned a long time ago that you can be pitiful or you can be powerful, but not at the same time!

When I arrived at the Cathedral of the Assumption in 1983 to begin a time of great transition for me personally, not to mention the people I was called to lead. I had been given the task of "revitalizing" a dying congregation before it was too late. It had had a glorious past. The years of 1890 - 1910 were referred to as the "golden age." One of the questions I tried to answer for myself and get the congregation (what was left of it) was this, "Who said you only get one golden age?" I repeated it to myself and to them, over and over again until we believed it. Once we believed it, we ended up seeing it! We experienced a "second golden age."

When I left there after fourteen glorious years, the thing I had to fight most in my own mind was the belief that I only get one "golden age." In the years to follow, by embracing the future with hope and positive energy, rather than wallowing in what was over and done with, I worked toward experiencing a second personal "golden age." I developed a nationally well-known ongoing formation program for priests with a $2,000,000 grant from the Lilly Endowment. Besides running my newly created Institute for Priests and Presbyterates at Saint Meinrad Seminary, I traveled the United States, England, Ireland, Wales, Canada and the Caribbean as a motivational speaker on the subject. I did Parish Missions, served as a university campus minister and published several more books. In those fourteen years, I experienced my second personal "golden age," but I did not want to spend my remaining years boring people with stories about my past ministries.

When I retired, I thanked God for those two personal "golden ages," but I asked for a third "golden age" in my old age. I began implementing what I came to call the "Catholic Second Wind Guild," a retirment program for myself and other clergy and lay professionals who wished to volunteer in the Caribbean missions. After five years, this third "golden age" was materializing quite quickly.  Then, boom, came the COVID-19 pandemic, which has thrown a monkey wrench in many parts of my plans. I can't travel to the islands until who knows when! I have been "laid off" from the Cathedral until the pandemic passes. Invitations to speak at big gathering of priests are drying up. No one is scheduling Parish Missions. I can't even celebrate my 50th anniversary of priesthood. I feel like I knew who I was and where I was going four months ago, but now I don't know who I am or where I am going.

Even though I have been able to continue some of my Caribbean ministry and priest lectures by using "social distancing" and the internet, I know in my gut that going forward will not be something I get to decide, but it will be something revealed to me.  I know from experience that when I come to an unexpected fork in the road like this one, the game is not necessarily over. It just means that I am facing another "breakdown that will lead to yet another a breakthrough." I know, in my heart of hearts, that if I surrender to God's plan, and not clutch to my own,  things will be good. As I said earlier, it will probably not be something I get to decide. Rather, it will be something revealed to me! Therefore, I am trying to wait in joyful hope for God to reveal my fourth "golden age!" If it is half as good as the last three, I will be more than satisfied! I will again be "simply amazed and forever grateful!" 

A sign of hope outside my door today. 

Monday, June 22, 2020


Recently, a friend visited my hometown of Rhodelia and sent me a couple of the photos below. They brought back many fond memories - some of those memories I have shared before on this blog. My hometown is so small that I believe you can actually see the Rhodelia signs at both ends of town at the same time. 

In my time, Rhodelia was very much like the setting for the Walton series on television. In my teenage years, I was a little embarrassed by my humble background. It was because I was a seminarian in the big city of Louisville and many of the city guys called people like me "hillbillies" and "hicks." When people asked me where I was from, I would simply say "Meade County." If they pressed the issue, I would say "near Brandenburg."

I remember one time, when I was about to address 1,000 Chicago priests, the Cardinal and 6 auxiliary bishops, I  found myself becoming terrified and feeling very insecure. As I walked up the steps of the platform to face the TV cameras and that huge audience, I remember whispering to myself, "They don't know I am from Rhodelia! They don't know I am from Rhodelia!" I have spoken to so many such groups that I now laugh at the thought of facing such an audience! I am not nervous, or insecure, at all! 

Today, even though not much of it is left, I am proud of my place of birth and my hometown until I reached fourteen when I left for the seminary. I certainly do not want to be buried up here in the city. I want to "go back home" and "be with my people." I want to "go home" to my beloved Rhodelia! 

I was born (April 28, 1944) in the house (above) with the dormer, in the back, on the right. Believe it or not, it had been the Rhodelia Hotel at one time. The building in front of it (Owensboro Wagons) had been torn off by the time I was born. Horse drawn wagons were on their way out by the time I was born. I do remember my grandfather using mules to pull logs out of the woods after trees were cut down. I also remember one older woman coming to town in a horse drawn buggy. Our old house was finally torn down a few years ago, about 60 years after we moved to a new house.  

I was delivered in that old house (above) by my grandmother on my dad's side. Her name was Lily Mills Knott.  She was a country midwife in the early 1900s.. In danger of death, she baptized me a few minutes after birth. I spent a lot of time with her when I was a child. She taught me a lot of things like planting and raising a garden and even churning butter.  Thankfully, she was able to attend my First Mass. 

Close to our house in Rhodelia, was the home of Ms. Georgia Vessels (above). There are three things I remember about this old house. 1. It served as a Post Office for a short time. The door where the two section are joined in the middle of the building was where you could pick up your mail. 2. My uncle Bob and aunt Mary Catherine lived in the right hand end of the house when they were first married. I might have been four or five when I was caught sneaking into the kitchen (far right) and stealing a muffin from the cabinet. 3. My only First Communion photo was taken in front of that house. I have no idea why, except that they might have been the only people in town with a camera at that time. The house is still standing, barely! The reason, I have been told, is that it has been designated a "historic landmark." Who knew? 

My only First Communion photo was taken in front of the old house above. I am standing  in front of the right hand corner where the large shrub can be seen today in the color photo above. Today, the porches and sidewalk stones are gone. 

I went to first and second grade (bottom four windows on the right) in the old Saint Theresa Academy building. Operated by the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, it had been a boarding school, day school and an overflow home for Louisville orphans at one time. It was torn down when I was eight years old. 

Sister Mary Ancilla (second from the left, top row) taught me in the first and second grade in the old Academy building above. In this photo, the pastor (Father Johnson) and the Mother General of the Sisters of Charity (Mother Bertand) examine the plans for the new, four-classroom, school that was about to replace the old Academy building right before it was torn down.