Thursday, August 3, 2023


If I hear one more Catholic crack a joke or utter a "put down" of our nuns in the past, they had better have some evidence of what they are saying or I am going to explode and give them a dressing-down they will never forget! To single out a few sad souls among the hundreds and hundreds of self-sacrificing religious women and then paint all of them with the broad brush of those few exceptions is totally and absolutely unfair!

For the last few years, I have been volunteering to celebrate the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation for our local Little Sisters of the Poor who have been serving the elderly poor of our city for a total of 130 years. Even though there are 11 of them here in Louisville today, they don't retire. Some of them are carrying on their ministry from walkers and motorized carts. You had better not criticize any of them in front of me! You'll regret it! 

These Sisters do not even include the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, the Sisters of Mercy, the Ursuline Sisters of Louisville, the Ursuline Sisters of Mount St. Joseph, the Franciscan Sisters, the Sisters of Loretto, the Dominicans Sisters, the Carmelite Sisters and probably others that I am unable to recall. They have certainly served us long and well here in the Archdiocese of Louisville. 

Personally, I was taught throughout grade school by our very own Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. I never experienced any unfair treatment from any of them. Of course, a couple of them had a bad day and lost their patience every once in a while, but what human being hasn't? I, too, had a bad day once in a while back then, but they didn't quit teaching me because of it! They taught two grades at one time, in hot black-serge habits and starched-stiff white bonnets, with no air-conditioning either in their crowded convent or in our school. They came to serve us in 1870, but didn't have running water and had to use an out-house until 1950! They were expected to pray constantly and even teach musicians, altar servers and catechists after hours. I loved them all, especially the one or two who had a bad day every now and then! Even as a child, I could sympathize with those who found themselves stressed out once in a while! I have never held any of that against any of them! In fact, I am more than grateful for, and truly amazed at, the many heroic sacrifices they made for little country kids like me. I not only respected them, I loved them --- and, yes, I felt loved by them!  

I just finished two years of researching the history of my boyhood parish. I was amazed to find out that 96 Sisters of Charity of Nazareth served my home parish of St. Theresa of Avila in Meade County, Kentucky, over 138 years (1870-2008) for little or nothing as far as pay goes. In fact, the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth had to rescue our school from closing a few times in our history by subsidizing it from their own community funds because the members of our small rural parish  could not always afford to keep it open. 

The Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, just like the many communities of religious women in the United States, opened schools, built hospitals, founded orphanages, nursed wounded soldiers, established food pantries, opened clinics, started ministries in several other countries and served in various parish ministries here at home. Only God knows how many other ministries they operated that no one even knows about or even remembers these days! They have served white, brown, black, yellow and red people (all races), Catholics and non-Catholics alike, here and abroad, long before that was widely accepted elsewhere.

Watching their first three SCN Sisters depart from the USA on a ship in 1947 to start a hospital in Makoma, India.
One of the SCNs nursing a leper in India. 
Three of them, in their veiled bonnets on the left, at Catholic Colored High School in Louisville, Ky @1930 where they served as teachers.

They opened a school in Klamath Falls, Oregon,  @1922 simply because they were asked.
(I worked one summer in Crater Lake National Park in Oregon and picked up tourists in Klamath Falls 
and took them to the Park Lodge. I had no idea the SCNs who taught me had been there too.) 
At Spalding College in Louisville, they helped Muhammed Ali (Casius Clay) get a good start in preparing for his world-famous boxing career. 
The first SCN Sisters to staff their new Memorial Hospital in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 1952 where they faced much anti-Catholic prejudice at its beginning  
SCN Sisters on each end, posing with their students, at St. Monica School in Bardstown, KY @ 1880

Sister Rosemarie, Sister Brenda and Sister Sophie working at the local Sister Visitors' Emergency Food Pantry, just one of their 120 current ministries around the world.  
Sister Roselyn Karakattu SCN recently started a "remedial study center" in a poor remote village in Mucharim, India. Until now, the area had been devoid of a nearby schooling facility - so much so that the local children were simply unable to go to school. Here is a photo of some of her students. It is yet another one of the 120 ministries in which the SCN Sisters support, both here in the USA and abroad. 

operate 120 ministries in 6 different countries

operate homes for the elderly poor in 30 different countries


Sisters of Charity of Nazareth
P.O. Box 9
Nazareth, Kentucky 40048

Little Sisters of the Poor
15 Audubon Plaza Drive
Louisville, KY 40217-1318



Tuesday, August 1, 2023



As many of my readers know, I have recently finished a major project down in Meade County at my home twined-parishes of St. Theresa of Avila in Rhodelia (1818) and St. Mary Magdalen of Pazzi in Payneville (1872) turning the old now-closed St. Theresa School and Rectory into a new St. Theresa Family Life Center and Guest House to serve both parishes and the surrounding communities. 

With those renovations now completed, I turned my attention toward producing a new shared hymn and writing a new shared prayer that will help teach and re-enforce the details of our own histories in the minds of our parishioners, as well as inspire them going forward.  

Having sung the new hymn and said the new prayer in both parishes last Sunday, today I want to share that new hymn and that new prayer with my blog followers.  The lyrics of this new hymn can be used with at least four traditional hymn tunes. The version below uses the Ode to Joy hymn tune. Hymn tunes Nettleton, Beach Spring and Beecher can also be used.  

The "Augustus Tolton" and "Martha Jane" mentioned in the second verse are part of St. Theresa's sad mid-and-late 1800s slave-owning history. "Martha Jane" was born, baptized and raised a slave at St. Theresa's until she was 17 years old. Martha Jane was then taken to Missouri by her "owner" (Ann Manning) and her new husband (Stephen Elliot) after their marriage in Meade County. While in Missouri, young Martha Jane had at least three children. After Martha Jane escaped across the Mississippi River with her three children to the free state of Illinois, one of her children named "Augustus" went on to become our country's first recognized black Catholic priest. Father Augustus Tolton, having already completed the first two steps toward canonization, is on his way to soon being declared a saint. Just to think his Catholic faith was passed on to him from my home parish through his mother, Martha Jane! 

A Prayer for the Spiritual Health of St. Theresa’s and St. Mary’s

Loving God, alive in our PAST, fill us with gratitude for those in our history who founded our parishes, built our churches and schooled our young. Prevent us from ever taking for granted the faith, courage and sacrifices they made to pass on to us the ancient faith that was passed on to them.   

Loving God, alive in our PRESENT, inspired by the drive of our early missionaries, show us today how to seek out and welcome back those who have drifted away from our parish communities and those who have been hurt by some of our leaders or some of our members. Inspire us today to strengthen our families by mentoring our young, encouraging our singles, honoring our elders, comforting our sick, heartening our lonely and accepting God’s mercy so that we can become vibrant faith communities to which new members are attracted simply because our faith is so zealously lived and willingly shared.

Loving God, alive in our FUTURE, teach us, in an unsettled world, how to build stable and welcoming parishes where our spirits are lifted and our souls find rest. Bless our renewed efforts to celebrate our sacred histories. May we pass those histories forward to yet another generation so that they too, inspired by the determination, inspiration and vision of the past, may again take the gospel to a troubled world. We ask this in faith through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

St. Theresa Church was founded by Fr. Robert Abner Abell in 1818
Fr. Augustus Tolton’s mother, Martha Jane Chisley, was born in Mooleyville in 1827
The Sisters of Charity of Nazareth arrived at St. Theresa in 1870
St. Mary Magdalen of Pazzi Church was founded by St. Theresa's pastor, Fr. Jule Pierre Raoux, in 1872

Sunday, July 30, 2023



July 30, 2023

"The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field,
which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and
sells all that he has and buys that field.”
Matthew 13:44-52

Today, Jesus compares discovering the kingdom of God to stumbling onto a buried treasure. In many cultures, divers and diggers, when they find lost treasures tend to have their findings seized by the government.

Unfortunately for me and my brother Gary, dear old Father Johnson agreed with that legal line of thought – the thought that buried treasure did not belong to the treasure hunter, but the institution who owned the treasure to begin with!

When the old St. Theresa Academy building was torn down in 1950, a lot of that junk was thrown into a ravine below the church. People were not as conscious of the environment back then, so the ravine dump became one of the most interesting places to explore, especially after the old Academy demolition.

One day, my brother and I were going through the stacks of junk dumped there when I came across a heart-shaped vigil light candle-holder from the church that Father Johnson had decided to discard. There used to be two matching ones in St. Theresa's sanctuary – one on one side of the church and one on the other. I can still remember that familiar sound of quarters and nickels sliding down the metal shoot as people came forward to light candles. I suppose that one was broken beyond repair or maybe Father Johnson thought one of them was enough. Anyway, one of them made it to the dump. The other one survived and is now in our new Family Life Center museum!

When I saw that discarded old heart-shaped candle holder in the dump, I picked up a small stick of wood and gave it a whack. I am not sure why I did that, but I did! When I hit it, the money chamber exploded like a slot machine at a casino! Nickels, dimes and quarters rolled out of it for what seemed forever. It amounted to a little over $25 in change – a huge amount of money in those days. It was so full of change that it didn’t rattle, which caused Father Johnson to send it to the dump without even checking it.

Gary and I picked up the money and put it in a cigar box, took it home and hid it in our garage while we tried to figure out what to do with it. Such a moral dilemma, especially when you are a country kid with no money, takes time to think through!

The big question was: “Should we keep it and give it back?” We knew that in a small town like ours, if we showed up at Harold Vessels’s store every day with money in hand to buy candy and soft drinks, it would have set off alarm bells big time! We knew ourselves enough to know that we could not resist holding back from spending it for long, so we rejected the “keeping it” option.

We knew that Father Johnson would not have thrown it away if he knew it was filled with money, so our little consciences got the best of us. We knew we had to take it back with our fingers crossed, hoping against hope that he would say, “Finders keepers! Losers weepers!” Bad idea! He took our treasure chest of found money and gave us one quarter each as a reward! I left there that day thinking to myself, “Crime may not pay, but neither does honesty!” It was a hard lesson in morality to learn when we were only 5 and 6 years old!

Traditional Jewish law, at the time of Jesus, in regard to hidden treasure was quite clear. I only wish Father Johnson knew about it! The law at the time said, “What is found belongs to the finder. If a man finds scattered fruit or scattered money, these belong to the finder.” It’s too bad Gary and I did not live in Israel at the time of Jesus or Father Johnson would certainly have been out of luck!

When I was 33 years old, I had an even better experience of stumbling onto a buried treasure - not money, gold nuggets or jewels, but a new understanding of what God is really like! I had an experience that opened my mind to a new way of understanding the Scriptures. Until then, I was a regular Sunday Mass attender. I had listened to Scripture readings in school and every Sunday at church throughout my life. In seminary, I had heard Scripture being read many times a day, had listened to hundreds of homilies and had taken several Scripture classes. After seminary, I had been preaching for eight years as a deacon and priest at the time I had my mind-blowing spiritual experience. Until then, I thought I was beginning to understand the scriptures pretty well. I knew I had learned some things about Jesus, but the day of the experience that I want to share with you, I came to realize that I had learned a lot of facts about Jesus, but I really did not know Jesus all that well!

My mind was opened to understanding the scriptures in a new way during a vivid life-changing dream forty-six years ago – a dream that I have mentioned several times in my preaching. In that dream I was on top of a small mountain. It had no trees or bushes or rocks. It had only very short green grass - very much like a golf green. I was sitting in a folding lawn chair and God was sitting in another one next to me. We were sitting side-by-side, in silence, facing the setting sun. Oddly enough. we were both smoking cheap King Edward cigars! I knew it was God, but I was afraid to look over. We just silently puffed on our cigars and watched the sun go down 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 with my world looking forever different to me. After that dream, all of the spiritual and psychological chains that had been holding me back melted away. I began to feel a lightness in my heart that I had never felt before. For the first time, I began to feel that it was OK to be me - just as I was! I began to fully understand what it meant to be “created in the image and likeness of God.” After that dream, instead of always obsessing about all those “sin" messages in the Bible, I started noticing all the “unconditional love" messages. I started to feel that I was that lost sheep that Jesus embraced and carried on his shoulders and that I was that prodigal son who made it home to an unexpected warm welcome. For the first time in my life, I started feeling that I was good enough for God just the way I was! From that day forward, I quit beating myself up spiritually for not being better than I was!

That experience was also the beginning of a new way of preaching. I began to preach about the “unconditional love” that God has for every one of us! Instead of always looking for sins to condemn in myself and others, I started looking for goodness to affirm in myself and others. I believe that the years following that dream prepared me to offer a clear message of “God’s unconditional love” that appealed to so many alienated Catholics which led to the rapid and consistent growth of the Cathedral parish when I was its pastor during the 1980s and 90s’s. That’s why my old column in The Record and my present blog have both been called “An Encouraging Word.”

My friends, the bottom line of this homily is simply this: God loves me and you, all of us, without condition - no ands, ifs or buts about it! As the gospel of last week put it, "Let those with ears to hear, hear it!" After we hear it with our ears, we are invited again today to let it sink into our hearts!

And to think that all this new awareness started with a dream about me and God smoking cheap cigars, sitting in folding lawn chairs on a mountaintop! That dream, even after forty-six years, still leaves me “simply amazed and forever grateful!”