16 January 2015 — Homeport: Falmouth Harbor — Second Annual Vianney Awards 

And now, dear readers, it’s time once again to present the Vianneys. This year, our annual Vianney Awards are dedicated to the category of Youth Retreats: Lifetime Achievement.

Priests affiliated with ECHO over the years come to mind. It’s reported to be the oldest continuously-operating youth retreat in the country. I see in my mind’s eye the many priests who have served as Spiritual Directors. There must be 50 of them. Some are no longer among us, given the fact that we are considering a significant period of time, but others are alive and well (mostly) and living among us. 

The task of a Spiritual Director on an ECHO weekend is ministry above and beyond the call of duty. It’s inspiring for the priest personally to see the tangible effect of the Holy Spirit stirring souls, especially those of young people. It gives us Spiritual Directors the rare opportunity to see immediately the fruits of our ministry. This strengthens one’s priestly vocation.

ECHO retreats are also demanding and exhausting. We leave our rectories for a time (making sure that everything is well-covered — no easy task these days) and go to the young people. We spend quality time listening to their faith stories, offering Spiritual guidance, explaining the teachings of the Catholic Church, praying, crying, laughing (some even dancing) and celebrating the Sacraments and other worship services with particular depth and fervor. There are many hours spent in the Sacrament of Penance as the young people experience a sudden growth-spurt in their relationship with the Lord Jesus. For many (including priests) it’s a life-changing experience. 

Here on Cape Cod, it all begins with a series of team meetings held months before the actual weekend. One of these meetings is succinctly called “All-Day.” It’s the longest and most productive in retreat team-building. If a priest must be absent from one or more of the preparatory meetings, this is not the one to miss.

Then comes the weekend itself. Back in the day, there were three Spiritual Directors on any given ECHO. Now we are fortunate if we can find just one priest who can remain present for the entire retreat without having to rush off to some other commitment. It’s not easy being in two places at the same time, but ECHO priests have proven it’s possible. Here are some of the names and faces that come to mind as candidates for the Vianney Awards. It’s not possible to visualize them all, even with my photographic memory. The envelope, please.

I remember ECHO priests who have now gone home to the Father. First and foremost is the late Father Frank Connors who continued to serve as Spiritual Director even after a series of catastrophic strokes. He was an inspiration to us all. Another on many ECHO weekends was the late Father James Clark.

If I were to name the priests who have been on the most ECHO weekends, I would have to acknowledge that as their life and ministry changes, Spiritual Directors tend to cycle through the ECHO program.

From the early days of ECHO on Cape Cod, the highest award would have to go to Father Jack Andrews. Father Andrews is now retired from active ministry, but he has been on at least 25 ECHO retreats. Another retired priest needs to be acknowledged as well — Father Jim McClellan, now residing in the Medeiros Residence.

In this generation of priests, the prize for the most weekends would have to go to Father Thomas Frechette. I lost track of how many ECHO’s he has been on as a priest, but I do know that he first experienced the program as a high school student before he even entered the seminary. 

Another priest who was on ECHO as a young man was Father Bob Mosher. He went on to be ordained for the Columban Fathers and has been off in the missions ever since.

Among priests still active as pastors in the diocese, a tip of the hat goes to Fathers Dick Roy, John Murray, Bruce Neylon, and David Frederici. Then there’s Father Bill Penderghest of the Sacred Heart Order, now ministering in Texas.

Thanks be to God, the latest crop of “rookie priests” have also recognized the evangelical potential of ECHO. Not only are they already serving as Spiritual Directors, but they are more than willing to come in and lend a helping hand hearing Confessions. This is a good thing, since us old geezers tend to fall asleep after 9 p.m. and ECHO Penance services can go much later than that. 

ECHO of Cape Cod, now in its 45th year, will be celebrating No. 300 weekend in March. Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V. plans to join us as well as many ECHO priests, past and present. 

By the way, there is only one priest who has served on ECHO weekends from the beginning, through 45 years, and into the present. ECHO just can’t seem to get rid of him. It is he whose name must not be spoken (out of humility, of course). 

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

© 2018 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing   †   Fall River, Massachusetts