Friday, August 27, 2021


I have written a lot lately about trying to control my thinking with all the bad news swirling around me. Somebody picked up on that and sent me the piece below. He thought I might want to put it on my blog. Great idea! Here it is! 


Thursday, August 26, 2021


I told him to come back soon and I would fix lunch or we could have "gin and tonics" out on the deck!  Just to think that my mother would panic when she saw our parish priest drive by the house, fearing that he would stop in on his way back! She would have really freaked if Pope Francis had stopped in! After she had calmed down, I am sure that she would have loved this Pope as much as I do!


Tuesday, August 24, 2021


1868 - 1952


Saint Theresa Academy, in my home parish of Saint Theresa of Avila near Rhodelia, Kentucky, was founded in 1868 by our pastor, Father Patrick MacNicholas. It opened as a boarding and day school operated by five  Sisters of Loretto. Their stay was short but effective. In 1870, the original six Sisters of Charity of Nazareth arrived to take over the education of eighteen boarders and forty-five day pupils. (Sister Generose O'Mealy (Superior), Sister Demetria Carey, Sister Marcelline Fleming, Sister Alma Cannon and Sister Raphaella O'Brien). Various Sisters of Charity Nazareth stayed for a total of one hundred and twenty-three years. Two Sisters of Charity of Nazareth died while missioned at the old Saint Theresa Academy and are buried in the old Saint Theresa Cemetery: Sister Hortulana Mahan (October 20, 1903) and Sister M. Loyola McNulty (January 28, 1919).  

The Sisters of Charity of Nazareth served our parish faithfully for another forty-one years even after the old Academy building was torn down and a "new" smaller Saint Theresa School and Convent were built. The Sisters of Charity finally had to leave our parish in 1993. What a tremendous loss! 

At some point in it's history some of the overflow orphans from Saint Vincent Orphanage in Louisville were sent to Saint Theresa Academy as part of the group of boys who were "boarders." Together, they were locally called the "boarder boys."  That was before my time. It was surely about the time my father was a "day student" at the Academy. 

I went to the first and second grade in the old Saint Theresa Academy. My classroom was on the ground floor on the front right side of the bottom photo above. Each Sister taught two classes at the same time. Sister Mary Ancilla taught me in the first and second grade. 

The classrooms were heated with pot-bellied coal stoves. Each classroom had a woodbox to hold kindling used to get the fires started in the mornings by a janitor. There was no running water. All of us, including the Sisters, used an outhouse. Before lunch, one bucket of water and one empty bucket would be carried into the classrooms. With a dipper, each child would wet their hands with one dipper of water and wash them with a bar of soap. Then another dipper of water would be poured over them to rinse them off. Each child would be given a half of a paper towel to dry their hands. There would be a couple of outhouse beaks each school day. Emergencies were highly discouraged because you would have to put on your coat and walk through the rain or the snow to the outhouse.  If you were a good student, you would be "rewarded" with the job of sitting on the woodbox behind the stove to cut paper towels in half with a pair of dull scissors. 

I remember the classroom had a large crucifix, a picture of a Guardian Angel and two children, a picture of the Holy Family (a favorite of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth) and of course an American flag.  There were probably more religious pictures, maybe one of Pope Pius XII, but I do not remember them. The large printed alphabet cards to help us remember how to write them lined the walls above the blackboards. 

I remember one smell in particular - alcohol! That was when Mrs. Goddard, the nurse from the County Health Department, came to give us shots for this or that disease prevention. She would set up shop in a little room right outside our classroom, so we could not only smell the alcohol, but hear the screaming of other kids in the upper grades resisting the needle! 

The Chapel was right down the hall from from our classroom (first floor, first three windows on the left, in the photo above). I can't remember going to Mass there too much. Maybe it was because I had not yet made my First Communion or maybe I was just a "little heathen" with a poor memory.

The two windows to the left of the front door was the "Sister's Parlor," a dark serious room with large paintings that one never entered unless one was in trouble - and that trouble usually involved your parents.) Inside the front door was a beautiful, highly polished, wooden staircase to God-knows-where! It must have been up to the Sisters' private quarters. I did ascend it one time, just to the top step, and the only thing I remember was a chest of drawers with a large jar of Necco Wafters! I also remember no one offering me even one wafer nor an opportunity to simply help myself since the jar was out of reach and spying eyes seemed to be everywhere. Honestly, I think we all thought that Sisters came with eyes in the back of their heads! I just couldn't seem to wrap my mind around the fact of a whole jar of Necco Wafers just sitting there un-eaten! 

I do remember being invited into the Sisters Parlor (first window to the left of the front door in the photo above) on one special occasion in the second grade. It was a Saturday. Sister Mary Ancilla thought my "fire prevention poster" might be a "winner," so she invited me to come in and "touch it up," before she entered it in the County-wide poster contest. I thought that day would be the end of my "being honored," until a few weeks later my Dad told me that Sister Mary Ancilla had called to tell me that I had won the contest! I was presented a "Parker Pen and Pencil Set" by the County Superintendent in the lunch room in front of the whole school. That was the last time I remember being honored like that for a long, long time! 

I remember a few odd things like a classroom game of throwing corn into a hallowed out pumpkin for a prize around Halloween one year. I remember playing "baseball" in class. If you answered a question correctly, you got to move around the classroom to "bases" until you made it back to "homeplate." I am sure there was some small reward like a gold star glued to a piece of paper. Gold stars were the most traditional rewards one could earn back then. I remember all of us getting a free Coca-Cola pencil and writing tablet once a year. They brought as much joy as winning a lottery! 

I remember two events in the lunchroom when I was in the first grade. One was when I was going through the lunch line trying to balance a bowl of soup and a muffin on my tray. Sister Mary Ancilla was trying to help us manage the task  when my muffin rolled of my tray and onto the floor. She bent down to pick it up. I looked down and my bowl of soup slid off my tray and hit her in her starched bonnet. With vegetables all over it, the bonnet "melted" around her head and neck. This caused her to run out of the lunchroom and up the steps to her room to retrieve her "spare." Back then, seeing Sister's hair would have blinded a child for life - at least we thought!

The other event was the day they served liver, ground into a paste and rolled up in a ball. I couldn't stand liver then and I still detest liver today. I wasn't about to eat it, but I was too little to fight Sister over it, so I slipped it into a couple of borrowed paper napkins, put it into my pocket ever so carefully knowing that my turn to go to the outhouse was coming up immediately after lunch! Thank God for outhouses, I thought!

My last memories of my old classroom, with its pot-bellied coal stove, were the big rough sawn 2 X 10 beams they brought in to hold the ceiling and the seventh and eighth graders from crashing down on us and crushing us to death below them. The building was literally on it's last legs. 

In the 1951-1952 school year, we could watch the "new" school being built out on the lawn from our classroom. Then we could watch our old school being torn down from our classrooms in the "new" school. As young as I was at the time, I remember a great hole in the psyche of the whole community, once the majesty of the old Academy building was gone, that the "new" school could not fill.

Be sure to check out the second issue of the SAINT THERESA HERITAGE PARTNERS NEWSLETTER at the top of this webpage. 




Sunday, August 22, 2021



In retirement, there are two major things consuming my attention these days. They are connected.

First, as some of you know by now, I am involved in a new project down in my home parish, founded in 1818, named Saint Theresa Church. It’s in Rhodelia, about an hour down-river from here. I am trying to turn the grade school that I attended, closed for 28 years now, into a new Saint Theresa Family Life Center. Behind the physical renovation of the building is a desire to stop more and more young adults and young families in the community from drifting away from the church while re-energizing the faith life of our older members who are struggling to keep our 203 year old parish going.

As I research our parish history, I am realizing some of what our ancestors had to endure to pass the Catholic faith on to us. In his lifetime our first pastor, Father Elisha Durbin, rode 500,000 miles through the wilderness of Kentucky on horseback establishing and ministering to small frontier parishes like Saint Theresa in western Kentucky, north Tennessee and eastern Illinois. Under his guidance, our Saint Theresa ancestors built two log cabin churches in the early 1800s and a later pastor inspired them to build the present brick church between 1855-1856. At the end of the Civil War, they opened a three-story Saint Theresa Academy in 1868 for boarders and day students and operated an attached farm to support it. I went to the first and second grade in that old Academy building before it was torn down, as well as the much smaller 1952 school that I am trying to reopen as a family life center. They had very little money, but they did it with faith and determination, as well as their blood, sweat and tears. The Sisters of Charity served my home parish heroically and unselfishly for 123 years from 1870 – 1993. They even used an outhouse and had no running water for 82 of those 123 years!

The second thing that is consuming my attention these days is this. After all the sacrifices that our ancestors made in passing on the Catholic faith to us, I am running into their descendants, some of them family members, who have come to believe that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence and are deciding to leave the Roman Catholic Church for those greener pastures. I am being asked all the time to meet with people who are trying to decide whether to stay with us or leave with them and go after the latest best offer in one of those new churches that are springing up. I know for a fact that some of you here in the city are struggling with the same question – should we stay or should we go - and some of you are sitting here looking at me right now.

Today’s readings give me a chance to talk about what’s consuming my attention these days - the question of whether to stay or whether to leave!

In our first reading, Joshua succeeded Moses is leading the people of God into the Promised Land after a long arduous journey through the desert from Egypt. After all they had been through, he notices them looking around at all the new religions around them. Many were tempted to give up their old-time religion and embrace one of those new religions they see around them. Joshua tells them that they need to make a decision and tells them of his own decision.

Decide today whom you will serve,
the god of your fathers or the gods of the country you are now dwelling.
As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”

Joshua 24

In the second reading, Paul also challenges the believers of Ephesus to choose – to choose fidelity to their marriage partners over the latest best offer. He asks them to be faithful to their partners, through thick and thin, just as Christ was faithful to his bride, the church!

In the gospel, Jesus also asks his disciples to choose – to choose between staying and leaving. He had just taught them that he himself was the Bread of Life that they were invited to “feed on.” The crowds started to murmur because his teaching on that subject was hard to accept. Here is what it says:

As a result of his teaching about being the Bread of Life,
many of his disciples returned to their former way of life
and no longer accompanied him. Jesus then asks the Twelve, “Do you want to leave too?”

John 6

My brothers and sisters, Jesus asks us the same question today that he asked his apostles: “Will you stay or will you leave?” So many of our fellow Catholics “no longer accompany us.” Some just drifted away all together and went nowhere. Others have walked away to join some other church.

I do not condemn them. They are still our brothers and sisters in the faith. They have much to offer. In fact, I got the job of being pastor of the parish because I was a graduate of a Presbyterian Seminary Doctor of Ministry degree program in parish revitalization. I even preached for the United Church of Christ one summer in Crater Lake National Park in Oregon when I was a seminarian at Saint Meinrad. In fact, I believe that when people leave us, their leaving is sometimes partly our fault. Many have told me that, while they were with us, they felt that they were not being fed spiritually. Their biggest gripe was our poor preaching and our depressing and uninspiring music – whether it be painfully archaic or tediously trivial.

It may shock you, but I mostly agree with them. There have been times, when I have had the opportunity to sit on your side of the pulpit, that I have found myself wanting to scream over the music and the preaching and run to my car!

So why do I stay? I stay because of the Eucharist – the very thing that divided the followers of Jesus in today’s gospel. I am not about to go off and leave that, no matter how boring the homily or how tedious the music! I know there are churches with highly paid preachers, big orchestras and huge choirs, but they don’t have the Eucharist! As boring and tedious as our services can be on occasion, Christ, the Bread of Life, is still being made present on our altars at our celebrations of the Eucharist! For that reason, I won’t leave for the latest best offer!

I am not about to leave a church that assembled the New Testament as we know it – whether that New Testament be a Catholic or Protestant translation! I am not about to leave a church with a mile-long list of martyrs like the 26 Japanese Catholics who were crucified in 1587 or Father Stanley Rother of Oklahoma who was assassinated in 1981, saints like Saint Francis of Italy, Saint John Paul II of Poland and Mother Theresa of India. I am not about to leave a church that is gathering in every part of the world this morning for one that started up somewhere in the US a few years ago, no matter how popular their services might be for some people! I am not going to leave a church that my mother went to as a girl, wrapped in a blanket with her sisters and brothers, bouncing around in the back of a horse drawn farm wagon for 10 miles each way, to get to Mass while fasting from midnight! I cannot leave our church once I became aware of eight of my hometown pastors buried in Saint Louis Cemetery here in Louisville behind my condo – priests who said Mass for my ancestors, huddled together with their parishioners in freezing log cabins and who went out to anoint and pray with the sick and dying after riding on horseback through snow, sleet and rain for 100 plus miles at a pop! I am not going to leave a church connected through St. Mark to the 20 young men who had their throats slit, all at the same time, on a beach in Libya in 2018, rather than renounce their faith. I am not going to leave a church where priests and bishops in Hitler’s prison camps risked their lives to clandestinely say Mass with a precious pinch of bread and a secret thimble of wine! I am not going to leave a church that is world-wide, made up of people who are very poor and very rich, well-educated and illiterate, people who are black, yellow. red, white people and every shade in-between, people from every nation on earth. With all that variety under our tent, surely I can forgive our church for being a mess sometime!

Yes, we can be messy, boring and tedious sometimes. Yes, we might fight, argue over silly differences and find ourselves disappointed with our cowardly leadership sometimes, but I choose to stay in spite of all that! I stay, not because we are “relevant,” “trendy” and “popular,” but because I believe that we are part of that messy “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church” that has been handed down to us in an unbroken line across generations of believers!

And so, I leave you with the same challenge that Joshua and Jesus gave us in today’s readings.

“Do you want to leave too?”

“Decide today whom you will serve.”