My membership in the Holy Cross Sodality warranted the second reunion. While at Holy Cross, an energetic priest from Chicago, Father John Sullivan, who later became the Archbishop of Kansas City, Kansas, spoke each and every year I was there. He was a representative of the Catholic Lay Extension which over the years sent over 2000 laymen and women, mostly women, to the mission dioceses in the country.
I had been so impressed by Father Sullivan that I joined my senior year. It was arguably the most important decision in my life because as an ELV—an Extension Lay Volunteer—I was sent to Charleston, Missouri to teach at St. Henry’s High School and coach their boys’ basketball teams. It was there I met my future wife.
I have been trying to let that reunion weekend in Deerfield, IL sink in. Unlike Holy Cross it was a quick trip in and out. They had it so well organized that we did not wear down. I was surprised that I did not know anyone there at all, save the women I had talked with over the phone. My wife knew more people than I did–one woman who had preceded me to Charleston. The two of them really hit it off so my shy little wife was fully occupied. I have no trouble meeting new people.
I was hoping to see the people from Missouri from our year—all women except for my roommate, now Father Ernie Marquart, who has suffered from Rocky Mountain Fever the last 30 years. It totally wiped out his memories of our year together. I saw him at a convent with a couple of the sisters we had worked with maybe 15-20 years ago and he did not remember me at all. I had even brought some photos from that year with me. And I AM a hard person to forget. At Holy Cross I didn’t wear a nametag once!
The old pictures Extension displayed during our reunion were fantastic! I found one of all the Missourians. It really brought back memories. Like the pictures of us in the newsletter they sent, we all looked so young, innocent and alive with the joys of the faith in 1965. I was hoping Barbara Berlsman would be there. She was a nurse, who had given me one of my favorite lines that I have used over the years—she had gone to a public school in Ohio that had nuns teaching there. I immediately quipped: so you went to a nun-Catholic school!
I had been unaware that they stopped the volunteer program in 1971—after just 10 years! Now they serve primarily as a conduit for funding to support existing volunteer programs and projects in 95 mission dioceses in the country.
During our 48 hours there I had occasion to think deeply as to why I had joined the organization. It dawned on me during one of the discussions that I had joined Extension because I was a Sodalist and they always stressed personal service. I also thought it would be a good way to get some teaching experience and serve the Church at the same time.
I also noticed that our group of about 150 had lost some of its internal spiritual and intellectual unity that was prevalent in 1965. I felt a bifurcation during some of the group’s general discussions that showed a wide variance of opinions on many different subjects.
This was to be expected, since 50 years of life experiences had intervened. Militating against the uplifting and emotive hymns of Ray Repp, we sang at our community Masses during training. The emerging spirit of Vatican II, the wonderful and joyful camaraderie, and the residual influence of Kennedy’s New Frontier had bolstered us all. In 1965 we were a Catholic vanguard that was going to make the world a better place. Reality hit us all very hard—the Vietnam War, a fury of racial unrest, urban violence, political assassinations, and just trying to find out where we belonged in this life—they all took their toll.
During one of the public forums, I stood up and said that because of the Extension Society seven new people existed that would not be around had I not gone to Chicago in 1965. I was speaking of my three children and four grandchildren.
My exploration into my past is nearly complete. My journey serves as an elaborate metaphor of our pilgrimage on earth. Poets, dramatists, authors and essayists have written about this reflective impulse for centuries. It is a universal urgency that cannot be denied, ignored or medicated out of one’s subconscious. It drives us, goads us and pursues us like British poet Francis Thompson’s Hound of Heaven. Wolfe was metaphysically incorrect! We can go home, but not to the environs of our early lives but to the place the Father has prepared for us in Heaven. Then maybe I can enjoy the reunions of a lifetime on a higher level.