Just whistling ‘Dixie’

Tuesday 24 June 2014 — Homeport: Falmouth Harbor — National Columnists Day

I never took “The Grand Tour,” dear readers. Once I had completed my formal education and been ordained a priest, I went directly to Raynham to report for my first parish assignment. 

As far as I know, Raynham has never been a destination on anyone’s Grand Tour itinerary, but I may be wrong. Traditional Grand Tour cities were Innsbruck, Vienna, Dresden, Berlin, Potsdam, Munich, Heidelberg, Paris, Geneva, Turin, Florence, Padua, Bologna, Venice, Rome, and Naples. Back in the day (and by “back in the day,” I mean the 17th, 18th, and early 19th centuries) the Grand Tour was de rigueur for the well-heeled young gentleman. Of course, neither was I well-heeled. I used to buy my shoes in New Bedford at Mars Bargain Land, U.S.A.

At any rate, back in the day, a proper young Englishman of the upper class would make the mandatory tour of Europe at the completion of his formal education. It was a rite of passage; the introduction of the next generation of leaders. It was total immersion in European high society, culture and the arts. All one needed for a Grand Tour was tons of luggage, unlimited funds, international contacts among the upper-crust, and plenty of leisure time. You might also bring along your mentor, your valets, your butlers, your coachmen, and (if you were a finicky eater) your personal chef.

The typical Grand Tour lasted several months and sometimes even years. You were expected to return from The Grand Tour with wisdom and street-smarts. You were also expected to return with souvenirs with which to impress your snooty friends and neighbors — original paintings, sculptures, rare books, and assorted objets d’art

The rectory doorbell rang recently, the private entrance. That doorbell has been broken for years but if you put on your “listening ears” (as Judge Judy calls them) and if you’re lucky and if your visitor presses the button just right, you may hear a muffled electronic twang. 

There at the door stood Father Christopher Peschel. He was expected. He had completed some 20 years of formal education. Chris had been ordained a priest of the Diocese of Fall River less than a week. He was now taking the Grand Tour. I’m told by a reliable source who asked to remain anonymous because he is not authorized to speak (read Father Peter John Fournier. Oops. The name slipped out), that the Grand Tour is now all the rage among newly-ordained priests. Who knew? I’m no longer included in that demographic. 

Chris was taking the Grand Tour with a twist. It was more of a religious pilgrimage. He was revisiting places holding significant personal meaning on his path to priesthood. He intended to celebrate Masses of Thanksgiving at these sites. 

Chris visited his childhood parish, which is always so important in the formation of a priestly vocation. There he celebrated his first Mass.

He visited the church where the journey began — the place of his Baptism. Chris was surprised by the fact that the parish secretary knew immediately who he was. Did he still look the way he did as an infant? No. She remembered filling out a certificate of Baptism in preparation for his ordination. This I have learned over the years: secretaries know everything. 

Then Chris went to the Catholic school he had attended as a young boy. No doubt that school helped in the early formation of his priestly vocation. 

He attended the ordinations and first Masses of some of the men from other dioceses with whom he had shared the journey to priesthood.

The Grand Tour continued to two parishes where, while still a seminary student, he had been assigned for summer internships. These had given him a close-up glimpse of what actual ministry looks like. One would also be his first priestly assignment.

Being a member of the Knights of Columbus, Chris made sure that his Grand Tour included visits to some of his brother Knights who had been especially supportive of him while he was a student.

Off he went, then, to the parish in which he had been assigned as a transitional deacon. It was there that he first directly experienced ministry as one ordained. 

The doorbell rang recently at St. Patrick Rectory. There stood Father Chris Peschel. He wanted to celebrate Mass with some of the people involved in ECHO. Serving on an ECHO youth retreat weekend during his diaconal year had been an enjoyable and fruitful experience for him. 

Chris wandered into the rectory kitchen. There he happened upon Father Frank Wallace. Our youngest priest and our oldest priest met for the first time in my kitchen. They shared as brothers in the Priesthood of Jesus Christ.

The youngest priest in the diocese then left my place to continue his Grand Tour and the oldest priest in the diocese went back to reading his morning newspapers. I saw the continuity of the priesthood with my own eyes. “You are a priest forever,” sings the psalmist. He’s not just whistling “Dixie.” 

Anchor columnist Father Goldrick is pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth.

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