Beloved joyful priest

When Steven and I first joined St. Paul the Apostle Church in Flour Bluff in 2006,  Father James Stembler was our beloved joyful priest.

What a glorious time for us!  Everyone was so thoughtful and caring that, for the first time in our lives, Steven and I felt that we truly belonged!  We were more than just parishioners; we were part of a church family, a God-given gift so immensely gratifying that we couldn’t imagine life without this intricately woven church community.

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Change

Father John Xaviour arrived at St. Paul’s in January 2007, and everyone loved him.  But, as Father Stembler likes to recall, “he was in Flour Bluff only three months before Bishop Carmody reassigned him.”  So, at Father Stembler’s gentle but insistent nudging that Steven and I return to our home parish “to assist Father Xaviour” however we could, we relented after the third attempt.

On April 27, 2008, our very strong desire to remain with our church family finally gave way to our rejoining St. Joseph Church with Father Stembler’s enthusiastic blessing.

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Our heart-wrenching departure became a heartfelt mission that called us— me in particular— to build community within God’s kingdom in ways we’d never imagined… until Father Xaviour was reassigned again, July 2013, and the door to St. Paul’s opened for us once more all on its own.

Only, by then Father Stembler had also been reassigned— twice during our absence— first as full-time vocation director for the diocese and then as pastor of St. Gertrude Parish in Kingsville where he’s happily fulfilling his call of service at the present time (South Texas Catholic, September 2011).

Church family

Yet the spirit of the St. Paul family knows no bounds!

Regardless of time apart, lack of communication, distance, and/or proactive engagement at our respective parishes, we’re forever linked within this uniquely festive body of Christ: A veritable fan base, delightful, nurturing, always present.

No matter where we’ve ended up or how we happen to come together— for a brief encounter at the HEB on Waldron Road or for a very special event within the diocese— every shared instance is a memorable occasion.

Beloved joyful priest

So, without missing a beat, the moment the collective we heard about Father Stembler’s upcoming celebration to commemorate the anniversary of his ordination (January 21, 1989), we made plans to attend.  Eagerly carpooling to St. Gertrude’s in Kingsville, the St. Paul family paid tribute to our beloved joyful priest for his twenty-five years of faithful service to God and his people!

Faithful shepherd

Father James came to me for the blessing before the homily.  I think I should’ve asked his blessing before I say what I’m going to say.

FrS12514sa-7a[Playfully slicking his hair back with his left hand, Bishop Mulvey’s antics evoked a hearty eruption of laughter.]

I think those are the last two things I told you when you left the seminary: “Don’t be snooty, and don’t think you know it all ’cause, even if you do, they’ll teach you different.”

No.  I want to thank you, Father James, for your friendship first of all, for being a priest of our diocese, and for being such a good and faithful pastor.  Wherever you’ve been and, again, the church reflects all those places and people that you have served.  And I want to thank you for that.

He was so right in saying what he said in those few little gestures, that it is true that the young priest leaves the seminary and he does think he knows it all.  And he might think that he’s a bit cut above the others.  But as Pope John XXIII used to say— soon to be saint— Pope John XXIII used to say that the people were not given to the priests.  Priests are given to the people: To walk with the people; to shepherd the people; and, as our present Holy Father puts it, “to smell like the people.”

But it takes a true act of an open heart, an expanded heart, of a sincere and noble heart to be able to accomplish that: To know that we don’t know it all, that we don’t have it all, that we’re not better than anyone else.  We’ve been called.  And you were called to be a priest of the Church, to be a good shepherd to your people.  And when we come to these moments in our life when we celebrate anniversaries, it is so wonderful and moving, I would say, to be able to look out over the flock that you have walked with and shepherded and have become one.  And that is also a tremendously humbling experience, but it is also an experience that I’m sure tonight you have joy in your heart to experience it.

And so, as Father James says, we want to thank you, people of God, who form us and form him.

We also want to thank him for his fidelity and his deep concern for the Church and his faithfulness.

FrS12514sa-8aAnd I want to say something to Wally and Virginia because we don’t just learn to be faithful.  We don’t just learn to be dedicated priests.  We learn that from where we come, from our homes, from our families.  And I’ve witnessed over the last few years your fidelity to your parents who now are not able to travel to be with us.  But you and your siblings have been so faithful to your mother and father, and that was obviously instilled in you so that you could be faithful to them and that you could also be faithful as a disciple of Jesus Christ and a disciple of the priesthood and of this particular church in the diocese.

So I am also very grateful and very joyful tonight to be with you and to share this moment with you.  And, as you continue this journey of faith, this journey of being a good shepherd, we learn more and more of the heart of this shepherd, Jesus Christ.  God bless you (Bishop Michael Mulvey; January 25, 2014; transcribed audio recording).

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Acknowledgments

Well, um.  You won’t believe this, but I don’t know what to say.  [Everyone burst into laughter.]

One thing I do want to acknowledge.  One of my assignments was to be the secretary to Bishop Gracida for five years, and I learned in those five years that being a secretary is a very important role, a very important function.  So I want to acknowledge the secretaries that I’ve worked with over the years.

Jeanette Vela at Our Lady of Perpetual Help.  She was a parishioner at
St. Paul’s, too.  There was Anna de Leon Ramos.  She was not able to be here this evening.  For three years we worked with Bishop Gracida in the various responsibilities.  I want to acknowledge— she’s not able to be here; she lives close to her daughter now— Bertha Bedellin who worked at St. Elizabeth’s, a wonderful person.  Carol Wondolowski right here, the secretary at St. Paul’s.  And Kathy— you’re back there, aren’t you?  Yes. Kathy Taylor, who’s the secretary here at St. Gertrude’s.

I thank you all very much for helping me along and all of that.  I do believe the statement that says, “Do you want to talk to the boss? Or do you want to talk to the one who knows what’s going on?”  They know what’s going on.

Well, there are a lot of people waiting to be thanked tonight.  I want to thank the choir. Rachael [Bustamante] for the music and the musicians up there [in the choir loft].

I want to thank the Knights of Columbus for falling out this evening.  This is a wonderful attendance of the fourth-degree Knights.  I worked with the Knights of Columbus in parishes over the years.  It’s always been a very good association.  It’s very good here at St. Gertrude’s, so you Knights keep up the good work.

I want to thank the ladies from the National Council of Catholic Women.  I know they’re back there.  It was one of you, Delma Guerrera, who urged me to continue with the NCCW.  And I have.  It’s been a wonderful association.  It took me all the way up to now a national office.  It’s been wonderful working with all for twenty-three years, so thank you for your friendship.  You all are wonderful people, and it’s good to get together.  It’s good to support the Christian presence in the Holy Land.  Something we need to do through prayer and through financial support, too, huh?

It’s wonderful work that you all are engaged in.  Certainly, it’s been a pleasure to be with the Knights and the ladies….

Then there’s my older brother.  I’m the youngest in the family— can’t you tell?  Paul and his wife, Mary are here.  This is warm weather to them, so that’s why they’re in short sleeves.  It’s great to have you with us this evening.

I mentioned all the priests and all the deacons earlier.

Thanks to the servers for serving.  To Benencio— where are you?  Back there somewhere.  Benencio is the housekeeper.  He does a good job.  Thank you for your presence here this evening.  It’s so great to see all of you from these past twenty-five years.  It’s truly a great joy, as the bishop said.

We’ll see what God has in store for the next twenty-five years.  But, if it’s been like the first twenty-five years, it’s going to be wonderful as well.

Thanks for everything (Father James Stembler; transcribed audio recording).

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Thanks to our dear friend, Sam Apiado, for his photos in the “faithful shepherd” and “acknowledgments” sections.  The pictorial, “Relic of Our Lady of Guadalupe,” in the introduction is a much appreciated gift from the Legion of Mary (through Luz P. Garcia; October 23, 2007).  And the photo of Bishop Mulvey and Steven?  Our whimsical Alice Olaes (¡Olé!) asked that I keep her three photos to myself, but how could I resist using just one?  (Alice in blue is pictured next to Father Stembler, above center, by the way.)  Thanks to our beloved church family for making the evening extra memorable for us!!! 

More memories

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Prayers from St. Gertrude

Eternal Father, I offer you the most precious blood of your divine son, Jesus, in union with the Masses said throughout the world today for all the holy souls in purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the universal church [including] those in my own home and within my family.  Amen.

Now I offer you my heart as a morning sacrifice: I place it in your most tender Heart and entrust it to your keeping; deign to pour into it your divine inspiration and to enkindle it with your holy love.  Amen.

To have a joyful soul…  Lord, there are so many who suffer in today’s world and so few who know to forget their sorrow.

I want to be light eflecting your lamp and good leaven to raise up souls.

I thank you, Lord, because you have risen from the dead.  And you put to death in my soul the anguish of sin.

If you ask my life, I want to give it to you content.  If you don’t want me to die, I want to live smiling.

I want to laugh, I want to dream, I want to give to everyone the joy of loving (St. Alberto Hurtado).

May 18, 2015

“A pure, simple, and stable heart is not bogged down by a multitude of tasks because it does all for the honor of God; and, since it is not self-seeking, it is not eager to follow its own will” (Thomas à Kempis).

June 19, 2015

“Love consists not in feeling great things, but in having great detachment and in suffering for the beloved” (St. John of the Cross).

November 16, 2015

O sacred heart of Jesus, fountain of eternal life, your heart is a glowing furnace of love.  You are my refuge and my sanctuary (St. Gertrude the Great).

January 7, 2017

If we wish to follow Christ closely, we cannot choose an easy, quiet life.  It will be a demanding life, but full of joy (Pope Francis).

January 28, 2017

“No one truly has joy unless he lives in love” (St. Thomas Aquinas).

March 9, 2017

“The triangle is upside-down and it is the faithful who are on top; and the leaders, whether it is the bishops or the bishop of Rome, are at the bottom” (Sr. Carmen Sammut in the National Catholic Reporter).

March 26, 2017

Since love grows within you, so beauty grows.  For love is the beauty of the soul (St. Augustine).

April 28, 2017

Joy goes beyond happiness.  Joy is the happiness that does not depend on what happens.  It springs from gratefulness.  When we begin to take things for granted, we get sucked into boredom.  Boredom is deadly.  Yet, everything within us longs for life in fullness.  The key to life in fullness is gratefulness (Brother David Steindl-Rast in The Way of Silence: Engaging the Sacred in Daily Life).

May 30, 2017

The more generously the priest and the faithful offer themselves to God in the Mass, the more will grace flow into their souls and draw them into close union with God.  So, when we go to Mass, let our offering come from the heart (Fr. Killian J. Healy, O. Carm in Awakening Your Soul to the Presence of God).

July 12, 2017

Our outer world and its inner significance must come together for there to be any wholeness— and holiness.  The result is both deep joy and a resounding sense of coherent beauty.  What was personified in the body of Jesus was a manifestation of this one universal truth: Matter is, and has always been, the hiding place for Spirit, forever offering itself to be discovered anew.

Francis and Clare carried this mystery to its full and lovely conclusions.  Or, more rightly, they were fully carried by it.  They somehow knew that the beyond was not really beyond, but in the depths of here (Richard Rohr in Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi).

August 25, 2017

“Like a farmer tending a sound tree untouched by ax or fire because of its fruit, I want not only to serve you good people in the body, but also to give my life for your well-being” (St. Eusebius of Vercelli).

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Links of interest…  Bishop installs seven new pastors…  Bringing the joy of Christ to others…  Catholic, Baptist churches unite for Christmas pageant…  Chaplet of St. Gertrude…  Cheerfulness helps cultivate charity...  Diocesan Council of Catholic Women (prayer / vision & faith)…  Don’t be afraid of joyput priests on a pedestal…  Edel Quinn: An unlikely missionary…  Good Shepherd & our vocation story...  Is it possible that you’re refusing joy (acedia)…  Monks’ flash mob shows faith, joy, & unity (video)…  National Council of Catholic Women: article / spiritual chair (Father James Stembler: search results)…  Padre Hurtado’s prayer for a joyful soul…  Parish shopping: Should I stay or should I go…  Six ways to live a joyful life…  South Texas Catholic…  St. Gertrude Parish: Catholic directory / website…  St. Paul the Apostle Church: facebook / parishes online / website…  Thomas à Kempis: about (more) / biographyhumility firstImitation of Christ (book – chapter links – free ebook – more) / monkprayer / quotes…  What being a parishioner really means…  Would you leave your parish because of the priest

WP posts…  Call of service…  Christ’s sacred heart…  Connected tangents…  Familiar yet new…  Holy relics…  Lenten reflections…  Marian devotions…  My Franciscan Crown…  Vattmann Thanksgiving…  Venerable Julia Navarrete

9 Responses

  1. WOW! Thanks a bunch for such a wonderful reminiscence of this part of your life with us, your church family. 

    Blessings, Ning

    • We are forever family. Sam was very generous with his photos, for which I’m grateful. I especially appreciate the two of Bishop Mulvey since mine were fuzzy. Imagine that. Hahaha. I got a sweet email from Alice ¡Olé! as well. Very thoughtful. Y’all rock!

  2. Your church is one booming church! Such interesting people and a devoted flock!

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