In my last post, I mentioned that I was scheduled to attend ordinations on three consecutive Saturdays in late May and early June. The last of three took place this past Saturday in Milwaukee, where I attended the priestly ordination of my Jesuit confrere Vincent Strand, an old friend and a housemate from my years in philosophy studies at Fordham University in New York. Vince's ordination has attracted some attention from the media due to the unusual fact that his two brothers Luke and Jacob are also priests; the shared calling of the Strand brothers has drawn the notice of international news outlets like the Daily Mail as well as the Catholic press and local TV stations. The day after his ordination, Vince celebrated his first Mass at his family's home parish in Dousman, Wisconsin, a small town forty-five minutes west of Milwaukee. I was happy to be there and to concelebrate with Vince and around two dozen other Jesuits and a few diocesan priests.
Yesterday, I heard that Vince's first Mass was the fourth Mass of Thanksgiving of a newly-ordained priest to take place at St. Bruno Church in the last seven years, meaning that the three Strand brothers are not alone among recent priestly vocations coming from the parish. Apparently a fifth St. Bruno's parishioner is expected to be ordained for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee in the next couple of years, so there are clearly good things happening in this parish.
At the end of Mass, the new Father Strand offered a few words to a congregation which included his extended family, lifelong friends and neighbors from Dousman, former students he taught as a regent at Creighton Prep in Omaha, and many Jesuits and fellow priests. Hearing him speak, I naturally recalled my own experience offering Masses of Thanksgiving in familiar places after my ordination last year.
In accordance with a venerable Catholic tradition, many of the faithful present at a priest's first Mass will seek the blessing of the newly-ordained priest. In fact, the special blessing of the newly-ordained may be given for up to a year after one's ordination to the priesthood; I gave many in the first couple of weeks after my ordination, with another big burst of requests in August when I visited Austria, where the Primizsegen is held very dear. At different times over the past year, I have given the blessing in English, Latin, French, and German - and I can still remember the traditional formula I memorized in each of the four languages. In the photo seen above, Father Strand imparts the blessing of a newly-ordained priest to Father Chris Cullen, S.J., who taught me and Vince philosophy at Fordham.
The prayer card distributed at Vince Strand's ordination and first Mass is illustrated with this striking image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which was etched into the wall of a cell at Auschwitz by a Polish prisoner named Stefan Jasieński as he awaited execution. The cell where Jasieński carved this image is near that of St. Maximilian Kolbe, though it should be noted that Jasieński arrived at Auschwitz a couple of years after Kolbe's death and probably wasn't aware that the priest had preceded him there. Some readers may also recognize this image as the one that graces the cover of the English edition of Hans Urs von Balthasar's superb little book Love Alone Is Credible. As it happens, Vince Strand introduced me to Love Alone Is Credible (and, by extension, to the work of Balthasar) when he lent me his copy of the book during the time we lived together at Fordham, so this card inevitably reminds me of old times.
On the back of the prayer card, one finds a quotation from Pope Benedict XVI which comes from a homily given at World Youth Day in Sydney in 2008: "We know that in the end – as Saint Ignatius of Loyola saw so clearly – the only real 'standard' against which all human reality can be measured is the Cross and its message of an unmerited love which triumphs over evil, sin and death, creating new life and unfading joy. The Cross reveals that we find ourselves only by giving our lives away, receiving God's love as an unmerited gift and working to draw all men and women into the beauty of that love and the light of the truth which alone brings salvation to the world."
A couple of miles down the road from the current home of St. Bruno's, one finds the parish cemetery and the former parish church, dating from 1887. The old church building was locked when I visited, but photos visible online depict an impressively well-preserved interior. I'm told that Mass is still celebrated here from time to time, ensuring that this monument to the faith and hard work of the German immigrants who founded the parish remains a living place of worship.
The old parish cemetery includes a number of graves like this one with inscriptions in German, offering another reminder of the community's roots. The American Midwest is dotted with rural communities that remained predominantly German-speaking until the time of the First World War, when the inexorable forces of assimilation were boosted by ugly and short-sighted nativism to stamp out what had once been a vibrant extension of the deutsche Sprachraum in the New World. I can't help but feel a bit sad about that, but such is life. More broadly, I am grateful for the opportunity to have visited Dousman to celebrate the joy of a new priest. May God grant Father Vince Strand many happy years of service, and may the people of Dousman rejoice in a native son's gift to the Church. AMDG.