Days of our lives

Tuesday 4 July 2017 — Port-O-Call: The little house, Cape Cod — Independence Day 

Since 1965, fans of the television series, “Days of Our Lives” have been following the ups and downs of the residents of the fictional town of Salem. You know me, dear readers. I have no interest whatsoever in soap operas. More plot twists are found in real life than could possibly be portrayed in a soap opera. Problem is, people just can’t believe some of the things that actually happen. Be that as it may, it’s important for us to pass down the stories to the next generation. Those stories define who we are.

As for priests, it’s not so much the stories of our biological families as the collective history of our priestly fraternity. Every time there’s an informal gathering of priests, you can bet the conversation will eventually turn to the “Days of the Giants” — oral accounts about those priests we have known over the years. Retelling their stories is one way we honor our brothers who have gone to their eternal reward. 

Recently, we lost our dear brother Msgr. Tom Harrington. His life and ministry are legendary. His story will be told again and again whenever priests gather. Tom would enjoy that. As a matter of fact, Tom Harrington himself was a wellspring of entertaining stories. 

This is an appropriate time to reveal a secret: Msgr. Harrington was one of my “anonymous sources.” He was the depository of more stories than the diocesan archives. If, while researching a column, I wanted to know which priests played musical instruments, or who enjoyed fishing, or who excelled at sports, I would call Tom Harrington.

The last time I encountered Msgr. Harrington was immediately following this year’s Mass of the Chrism — a celebration of our sharing together in the High Priesthood of Jesus Christ. He and I passed each other in the cathedral. We exchanged “fist bumps.” I saw him next at the cathedral when his body was received at the door to lie in state. 

Recently, 12 of us gathered, at the invitation of Father Jerry Hebert, at what he calls the “little house” here on the Cape. We were celebrating the Fourth of July. Jerry is a well-known host for gatherings of priests. 

Joining Jerry Hebert’s celebration of Independence Day were Bishop Emeritus George Coleman, former judicial vicar Msgr. Henry Munroe, former vicar general Msgr. John A. Perry, Father Dan Lacroix of New Bedford, Father Jay Maddock of Fall River, Father Arnie Medeiros of North Falmouth, Msgr. Steve Avila of East Falmouth, and Father John J. Perry of Centerville. 

“Tim, we’re not going to be reading about this gathering in The Anchor, are we?” someone asked. I get a lot of that sort of thing. “Have no fear,” I answered evasively. 

Then in walked two of our youngest priests, Fathers Jason Brilhante and Jack Schrader. The median age of those gathered dropped significantly upon their arrival, as Jason immediately pointed out. These young priests!

We old fogies already know the stories of our predecessors in the priesthood, but these young men had yet to hear them. They seemed interested. We knew what we had to do. It was our duty to pass on the oral history to the next generation. Part of the responsibility of being a priest is keeping alive the memories of the priests who have gone before us. 

You just never know whose memory is going to surface when priests gather. There can be unexpected turns. At our Independence Day gathering, we recalled the disparate life and times of Msgr. Joe Pannoni, Bishop James Connolly, Cardinal Humberto Medeiros, Fathers Paul McCarrick, “Pete” Levesque, Jim Lyons, and others. 

We also shared memories of our summers spent as seminarians at the two diocesan summer camps — St. Vincent de Paul Health Camp in Westport and Cathedral Camp in Freetown. One priest recounted how he once found himself chasing a renegade cow through the fields. The cow stopped suddenly and he ran into it. Another told of a horse that always seemed to pop up in the strangest places. And there was the story of the accidental death of poor Boris (the mule who broke his leg and had to be euthanized). 

It was at camp that seminarians had the opportunity to form life-long friendships with other seminarians and with the many priest visitors. Those were happy days that, alas, are no longer available to young priests and seminarians. We were but interns who worked eight long weeks for a stipend of only $50, but it included all the food we could eat (which is a substantial perk for young men). 

One of the priests suggested: “Tim, tell us of your camp adventures.” I passed. Sooner or later, they will read all about it in The Anchor

This Fourth of July, at least some of our collective memories were passed along to the next generation. We did our job. One day, there will be stories shared about those two young priests as well. 

These are the days of our lives.

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

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