Monday, July 23, 2018


There are few things that make a Catholic more curious than who a new, incoming priest will be.  With Fr. Jarek, of Sacred Heart parish, going on sabbatical this year, after Easter, we knew two things.  We knew we would have substitute priests all summer and we didn’t know if Father Jarek, after 8 or 9 years, would actually be reassigned to us upon his return. It's not always easy being a Catholic parish in a southern rural community so, generally, change isn't welcomed.  It was difficult enough having to share Fr. Jarek with the church in New Madrid but having to share a potential unknown made it even more difficult.

In California, the sharing of a priest isn't at all typical.  It's not unheard of but it's definitely not typical. A higher population equals a higher number of Catholics through the state which means a higher number of priests, both homegrown and from elsewhere.  The numbers aren't nearly as high as those prior to the turbulent 60s and the winds of change 70s, but high enough that most parishes had their own priest(s). Not so in Missouri.

We Catholics, in Missouri, are either clustered in large urban centers or spread out over wide geographic areas.  It's also not unusual for a priest to cover two or more parishes.  I can think of at least one priest who covers five small parishes.  Needless to say, the man is spread thin.  But, the low number of priests in Missouri is not the topic here.  No, the topic this week is about what a Blessing they are.  In the last 12 weeks that Fr. Jarek has been absent (and YES, he is returning to us) we have been blessed with not one, not two, but three remarkable men of God.

Our first temporary priest was Fr. Samsom who was from elsewhere in Missouri via Haiti.  A man of infectious laughter and humor, his tri-lingual accent was a serious challenge to us.  But, despite his Creole French, Spanish, and English being at war with each other, in the few short eight weeks, he was with us, his English improved in leaps and bounds.  The key was getting him to slow down and certain parishioners weren't shy about showing him the way.  As a consequence, we heard stories of Haiti over many evening meals 2-3 nights a week.  We discovered Haitian history from the point of view of the Haitian people and found it quite at odds with what we might have grown up thinking.  We learned of missionary experiences in Africa and Venezuela, heard stories of language and custom encounters that were, to say the least, hair-raising.  And I'll never forget the night at Little Pizza Heaven when a woman who recognized his French-influenced accent, greeted him with a "bonjour".  Before our eyes, we watch them become temporary best friends, bound together as they were by a common language, something that none of us could offer him.

It's always a mystery who is going to be assigned when a priest goes elsewhere.  Our current priest, Fr. Dominic was another complete surprise.  Born in Nigeria and raised in St. Louis, his command of English is impeccable.  This isn't surprising since English is the national language of Nigeria.  Yes, there are many tribal languages but everyone speaks English. One very attentive 7-year-old said in Mass one Sunday, when he first heard him, that he could understand him.  Leave it to a 7-year-old to blurt it out in pure innocence and delight.  It was a sweet moment.  Though not as social a man as Fr. Samsom, Fr. Dominic is young (very young), friendly, and knows how to send a great message.  We Catholics like that.  It's important to not only hear the gospel of the day but also to hear a homily that connects the readings and gospel and shows their relevance to modern life.  We have the blessing of Fr. Dominic for a couple more weeks and I, for one, will be very tuned in to what this young man has to say.

This past weekend we were treated to our third blessing, Fr. Bill Spencer, a Franciscan missionary, both in the USA and internationally.  Anyone who might have spotted him around this weekend would have immediately recognized what he was as he wore the traditional brown robe, belt of rope, and sandals of a Franciscan Friar.  Think "Friar Tuck" - seriously - and you would have seen our man.  He grew up in NE Louisiana where, at the time, 1/10th of one percent of the population was Catholic.  Suffice it to say that growing up Catholic in northeast Louisiana at that time, was interesting.  Fr. Bill had already been scheduled to make a mission appeal at our parish so Fr. Dominic was elsewhere and we got a taste of where we fit into the role of a shepherd.  It isn't just the priests and higher-ups guiding their flocks; it is us, as well.  We are all called to be shepherds to each other and his homily from St. Paul clearly showed us the connection and the message.  It wasn't until the end that he slipped in his mission appeal and hoped we would be generous with this small opportunity to, for a moment, be a shepherd to the world.

I love it when a priest leaves us laughing.  Between sharing war stories about quitting smoking and not drinking coffee anymore, everyone acknowledged that Franciscans also make the best craft beers and ales around.  Conversation at donuts and coffee after Mass was lively and filled with laughter.  Fr. Bill fit my idea of a friar.  Not only did he remind me of Friar Tuck visually, he also reminded me of his heart - brave, true, and filled with humor - Characteristics I've always personally equated with Franciscans.

So, these past many weeks have been exciting for us.  We have been treated to stories of danger and suspense, thrills and chills, drama, history, and humorous stories of unexpected encounters and misunderstandings based on language confusion and lack of awareness of social customs.  It has been a lively and blessed time.  All that worry and fretting for nothing. Three men at bat. Three home runs  It's been a great summer but, we sure are excited to know that Fr. Jarek will be home soon.



    Enjoyed your article tremendously. You nailed it. They have all been joys but it will be nice to have Fr. J back soon. I always enjoy your articles but this one is special.

  2. I love hearing your stories about moving to the rural area of Missouri from California... You truly should write a book.

    There are so many good things about small town living ---and yet, there are some challenges for all of us... My biggest challenge right now (due to my health problems the past 6 months) is getting top-notch health care. I do like my Primary Care Doctor ---but not so much my Cardiologist.... Seems as if the 'good' doctors (unless they grew up in this area) come here ---but leave as soon as something better comes along for them and their career... Same is true of other areas/businesses/jobs, etc....

    Glad your have enjoyed your 'sub' pastors this Summer.


    1. Hi Betsy. I get it about health care. One of the two hospitals in our area closed. Now the closest other alternatives are in Blytheville, Arkansas and Poplar Bluff, MO. It's scary deciding on a doctor, too. Rural living has some serious downsides.

  3. God surely knocked it out of the park with this!! How wonderful that they were all a blessing! This is what I wish for us. Our pastor is leaving next month, leaving us with a temp until we find and agree on someone permanent. We formed a pastor search committee. Starting all over again with a new fearless leader is never easy for me.

  4. I think I would like to borrow your Friar Tuck!!!

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