Christmas decorations, nativity scenes, and trees delicately lit adorned every bit of the Oblate Madonna Residence on December 23, 2011, our first visit there. I was so glad to finally be there that I hadn’t even thought to call ahead to make sure Father Sheehan would want (or have time) to share space with us that day. After all, we hadn’t seen each other in almost seven-and-a-half years, not since I’d driven from Brownsville to Roma to meet Father at Our Lady of Refuge before going to dinner at Dairy Queen.
Even though Father Sheehan had been one of three priests assigned to Immaculate Conception Cathedral and its missions, Sacred Heart and St. Thomas, for a number of years, I, as a parishioner, hadn’t interacted with Father other than having participated in the Masses he’d celebrated.
God’s master plan
“They’re both unavailable,” the secretary told me, “but Father Sheehan is here. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind your dropping by to see him. Would you like for me to let him know you’re on the way?”
I didn’t respond right away. I was comfortable with Father Moran, since he was our priest at Sacred Heart, and I’d gone to confession with Father Lanese; but I’d never dealt with Father Sheehan before. Yet, I was desperate to sit and talk about a personal crisis from the day before.
“Yes, please,” I finally said. “I should be there in about fifteen minutes.”
Driving to the cathedral, I didn’t know which would be worse, sharing my dilemma with Father Sheehan or— dread of all dreads— being chastised when I really needed patience and understanding.
All the way there, I thought back to the two times (in 1970 and in 1990) that I’d sought assistance from a priest. Neither had gone well, so my mind teetered between feeling apprehensive and needing peace of mind. Having matured since then, however, I knew better than to back away. Besides, I’d already committed to showing up.
I parked adjacent to my old school, across the street from the office. No turning back now.
I’d been to the office a few times, namely, when I’d registered and when I’d turned in raffle ticket money; but, so unlike the cathedral itself, the place seemed unfamiliar and lacked personality. Nevertheless, the secretary was gracious and kind.
“You’re here to see Father Sheehan?” she asked smilingly.
“Follow me, please.”
Father Sheehan’s office was across from the reception area. The top half of its door was glass; everything else around it, shades of yellow. I didn’t have much time to think ’cause the door opened right away.
Friend in need
Much taller up close than from the fifth pew in church, Father greeted me with a warm, boyish smile. He was so down to earth that I felt I’d known him all my life.
Father’s office had three or four chairs around a small table with magazines, so we sat to converse within that circle as friends, not as a priest and a stranger seated with a desk-barrier in between.
Of course, I didn’t know how or where to start. So Father said,
By the time people come into my office, they’ve already gone through a lot. A lot of grief. A lot of worry. A lot of penance. They’ve been harder on themselves than either I or God would ever be. My job isn’t to scold or to punish. My role as a priest is to listen, accept, and understand. We all make mistakes, and we suffer dearly for them. By the time people come in, they’re at the end of their rope; so I’m not going to make things worse. Just tell me what’s on your mind, and we’ll take it from there.
For almost two months I visited daily. Sometimes we talked about books we’d read; other times, about work. We’d both suffered recent losses: Father, his mother and his sister; me, someone I’d thought was a lifelong friend.
“We’ll commiserate,” he’d tease.
Certainly, we did our share of laughing and crying to the point that Father Lanese would pass by, look in on us through the door’s window, and shake his head.
We learned about each other’s family, too, which Father really enjoyed. He told the best stories.
We became forever friends in a short span of time so that, even when Father was transferred to Roma, which might as well have been the other side of the world, we began our correspondence. Plus, I drove there a couple of times with Acacia-Darling, my one and only grandchild then, to visit a few hours and enjoy a meal at Dairy Queen, since both Father and Acacia loved chicken fingers with mashed potatoes, gravy, and Texas toast.
Of course, my life got busier and busier. I taught school, did paperwork and more at home, and continued with my graduate studies; so I didn’t have time for visits anymore. Then, as time passed, I corresponded less and less.
Not Father, though. He sent cards regularly even though I was on another planet altogether.
Still, if we could’ve communicated telepathically, he would’ve known that I always vividly recalled our talks, the stories, the laughter, and the tears.
Over the years, I’ve treasured Father not only for his greeting cards, but especially for his being my forever friend— caring, loving, supportive— no matter how infrequently I’ve corresponded. To this day, too, Father Sheehan is synonymous with Immaculate Conception Cathedral, my heart of hearts since age five when I attended first grade in the building across the street. So how could I ever possibly forget when the memories are so entwined?
For this reason, I’d always wanted to visit Father Sheehan again. So, when we finally had the chance on December 23, 2011, I wasn’t going to give up just because Father didn’t remember me.
As I later wrote in a letter to Father Bob, whom Steven and I met as we were leaving the Oblate Madonna Residence that afternoon,
Our visit was truly memorable. I only wish we lived closer, so we could surprise Father more often. But, having had such a great time, we’ll simply have to drive to San Antonio more than once every four or five years if we want to enjoy his sense of humor and, perhaps, your smiling face should you happen to be in at the time.
To me, there’s no one as kind, as attentive, or as real as Father. When I was most in need of someone, he welcomed me into his office and made me feel that everything was going to be just fine. And it was.
I’m sooo blessed to know him!
January 13, 2013
Steven and I had a fantabulous time as usual visiting Father Sheehan again.
WP posts… Angels keeping watch… Beautiful sacred space… Building community… Call of service… Connected tangents… Father’s guided tour… Gifts… Heart of hearts… Home again… Marian devotions… Memory lane… Our Lady… Promise of hope… A real church… Soulful… Sweet Jesus… Two angels
Filed under: Advent, call of service, spiritual gifts, thanksgiving and praise | Tagged: building community, God's master plan, Immaculate Conception Cathedral-Brownsville TX, Oblate Madonna Residence-San Antonio TX, overcoming adversity |