www.franciscan.org

December 20, 2018

Christmas Memories

Fr. Louis Bartko, OFM

Cincinnati, Ohio

Louis Bartko, OFMChristmas of 1947, I was 6 years old and my dad surprised me with my first Lionel Electric Train. It was there, under the tree in Toledo. Of course he bought it for me, but he played with it, too. It brought us closer together and it was something I would have for the next 20 years before I gave it up because I had other things to do. I passed it on to an uncle who knew electric trains and was able to work with them. When he got sick, he was able to sell the trains and use the money to help with his medical bills. In a sense it helped me out, and it helped my dad, and when I passed it on to my uncle, it helped him out, too.

Fr. Page Polk, OFM

Scottsdale, Ariz.

Page Polk, OFMWhen I was growing up in Dallas, we didn’t have much. But we always had real Christmas trees, and that wonderful smell! I had a brother who was very gifted artistically. He was very good with lighting. He would decorate the tree and the house with simple things, angel hair and tinsel. My mother was a great cook. She made cookies, banana nut bread, strawberry banana bread, zucchini bread and pound cakes.

At Christmas we would gather as a family and talk about what we would give those who had helped us during the year: the paper boy, the postman, the milk man. It was the idea that God gave us his Son, so in turn, out of appreciation, what should we give those who helped us? Very often it was the simple things my mother baked, given away as gifts.

Fr. Joe Hund, OFM

New Orleans, La.

Joe Hund, OFMIt was my first Christmas in a rural mission in Malawi, East Africa. That would have been 1983. There was of course no snow and it was cool, but not cold. With Christmas approaching there were absolutely no decorations in the stone church – no trees or flowers or wreaths or blinking lights, nothing at all, with the exception of a very simple crib in the church with Jesus, Mary, Joseph and a few statues.

On Christmas morning people came to Mass in simple clothes. After Mass we greeted each other; then they went home, immediately changed clothes and went off to do their farming. They had to go hoe and plant. It wasn’t, “Let’s go off and have a big meal.” They saw the importance of being at church for Christmas; they saw the importance of the crib.

It struck me that they got it right. Their lives were so difficult, they could identify with the Holy Family. They were able to keep something simple, like what Francis did [at Greccio]. The center and significance and mystery and meaning of Christmas was a simple crib in a church, and the celebration of Mass.

Br. Michael Charron, OFM

Grundy, Va.

Michael Charron, OFMOne thing I do each Christmas – and I’ve been doing for years – is watch the movie  It’s a Wonderful Life.  If it’s on at the theater, I’ll go see it there. I once saw it in Chicago at an old-timey theater with an organ. Last year I saw it at the 20th Century Theater in Oakley. They have it in color now. I’ve seen it at least 25 or 30 times; I think I’ve got most of it memorized. The meaning for me is, you don’t always know all the good things you’re doing. Sometimes at the end I think, “This is SO powerful!” – and sometimes I’m asleep by then.

Fr. David Kobak, OFM

Cincinnati, Ohio

David Kobak, OFMWhen my Mom and Dad were living, everybody would get together in Cleveland to prepare for Wigilia, a traditional Polish Christmas Eve supper. We would switch between our house and my aunt and uncle’s farm.

The preparations would start weeks before. It was all meatless, all homemade, with Polish delicacies: pierogis with potatoes and cheese; buckwheat groats; dried fruit compote; baked lima beans; Polish mushroom soup.

We’d all sit at the dining room table, and there were a lot of prayers. We would have a separate place setting in case we had an unexpected visitor. It was all centered on Eucharist and the coming of the Christ Child.

Then we’d all take off for midnight Mass. I remember as a child being in our old church in Cleveland, listening to Mass in Latin and the homily in Polish, and I always thought, this is where I belong. Then we’d have another feast after Mass, when the sausages and hams would come out, great homemade breads and Polish pastries. Another crazy tradition: We’d have a Polish pea dish, and put a little bowl of peas outside the front door to keep the wolves away.

Golden memories: It was a fun thing as a child experiencing that holiday. I pray for all the different families that they enjoy their traditions, and if they don’t have a tradition, they start one of their own.

Br. Raphael Ozoude, OFM

Santa Barbara, Calif.

Raphael Ozoude, OFMMy favorite Christmas memory was seven years ago in Lagos, Nigeria, right after I had graduated from high school. Christmas time there is the dry season; it gets cool at night and early in the morning, and hot during the day. On Christmas Eve we would go to the vigil Mass at St. Charles Borromeo Church, and the Mass of the day on Christmas.

We had a family tradition of going to a hotel for dinner on Christmas Eve. We usually ate regular delicacies from the culture: poultry or beef or goat meat; a lot of rice; native egusi (melon) soup, and pounded yams.

That one year after dinner my Dad surprised me and my two younger brothers; he took us out and bought us video games. We played them all night. And he bought me a cell phone, the first one I had that was especially for me.

Now I usually call home at Christmas. I phone some of my family and they gather around the computer for a video chat. We talk and laugh and share stories. Christmas evokes thoughts of times with them – and thoughts of food!

Fr. Dennet Jung, OFM

Berkley, Mich.

Dennet Jung, OFMMy father died in 1997, and my mother died within a year, in 1998.  Since I was ordained (1963) I had not been able to be with my family members at Christmas.

Then in 1999, because I was not assigned to a parish ministry at the time, I was able to spend Christmas with my sister and her family.  It seemed so strange to me to be “at home” for these special days, even though I had many enjoyable and memorable Christmas celebrations in my years at the parishes I served.

What was strange was that I was not used to being with family other than the family of my parish communities, and as a consequence felt somewhat out of place, yet at the same time overjoyed to be in that place.  Being with my sister and with her children and grandchildren brought back the many presences and absences of former Christmas holidays, and I felt grateful to God not only for the present moment but for the many Christmases past with which God had gifted me.

With God, family is in every place you find yourself.

Happiness is a new playground

 

BY TONI CASHNELLI

Want to bring some joy to the world? Give a child a place to play. Then stand back and watch in wonder.

Dec. 13, a year after giving St. Francis Seraph School a check for playground equipment, a team from JACK Casino and other donors saw the finished product.  They also saw the response from the kids: They went wild.

What started as a drive for school supplies turned into a major project when the casino’s Myra McCool drove by an expanse of concrete with a lonely basketball hoop that served as a playground. Donating $10,000, JACK recruited suppliers to contribute labor and materials to help them build a multi-purpose activity center outside the school in Over-the-Rhine.

It all came together last Thursday as, class by class, kids marched outside to behold and enjoy their new playset. Also on hand was Santa, dispensing candy canes and absorbing some of the unbridled enthusiasm. “Lord-a-mercy!” said a laughing Tim Sucher as the children gleefully swarmed the brightly colored slides and climbers. With cameras from Channel 5 rolling, Principal Halsey Mabry lined the kids up for a noisy and heartfelt “THANK YOU!” to the donors.

Myra and others were misty-eyed. Aside from the free-for-all fun this gift will provide, she said, “We’re excited to do something meaningful.”

(Video from the dedication is posted at: New-playground )

  • Top, the Christmas crèche; right, the cookies drew raves; left, it was like being with family.“It was a lovely evening full of prayerful insights and fun together,” Henry Beck says of Monday’s Franciscan Christmas Mini-Retreat at St. Francis Retreat House in Easton, Pa. Almost 70 guests came for what they say felt like a family get-together, with supper cooked by chef Roslyn Garzillo and associate Keren Donato. “After the meal, we met for a contemplative hour with reflections and meditative music and poems on the persons and figures of the Christmas crèche,” with background on the introduction of the crèche in Greccio in 1223. After a cookies-and-cider break, Henry says, “We re-gathered for the singing of Christmas carols together and watching two short Charlie Brown Christmas videos, along with a lovely video and the singing of O Holy Night by Josh Groban.”  The crèche they assembled around was given to the retreat house by friars at Valparaiso, Ind., when they closed that friary. “One faithful member of our Sunday Community offered that this ‘was her Church family Christmas celebration.’” The SFRH Retreat Committee (Henry, Jeannie Panella, Carol Herman and Diane Rice) planned the evening and prepared the reflections.
  • Follow-up to the note about the new documentary on St. Francis: Fred Link says the Holy Trinity Region of SFOs and SJB Province will cosponsor a showing of Sign of Contradiction on Sunday afternoon, March 17, 2019, in the Roger Bacon High School Fine Arts Center. Stay tuned for more information. “We hope to spread the good news about the showing throughout the Tristate region,” Fred says.
  • The imposing St. Francis“In a season full of wonky Washington cocktail parties, the Franciscans aim instead for a more modest and spiritually meaningful way to mark the birth of Jesus,” writer Rhina Guidos said after seeing how the birth of Christ is commemorated in the Bethlehem Grotto at the Monastery of the Holy Land in Washington, D.C. “The monastery, high on one of the few hills in the nation’s capital, is a perfect place for those who can’t make it to the Holy Land to witness the real thing,” she wrote in a Dec. 16 story for Catholic News Service.  Read more at: Christmas-holy-land
  • Transfiguration Parish in Southfield, Mich., is now the proud possessor of a 6-foot-tall, 400-pound statue of St. Francis that once sat in the back yard of local sculptor/artist Don Greening. After Greening passed away, “A friend in charge of his estate wanted to find a home for it,” says Pastor Jeff Scheeler. “His friend heard that Transfiguration was a Franciscan parish, and offered it to us.” This week, with help from St. Onge Masonry, Jeff and Phil Wilhelm hauled the massive Francis away. “We will find a good location for it in the spring. He now hibernates for the winter in a garage!”

“In switching on the light of the Nativity scene, we wish for the light of Christ to be in us. A Christmas without light is not Christmas. Let there be light in the soul, in the heart; let there be forgiveness to others; let there be no hostilities, which are dark. Let there be the beautiful light of Jesus. This is my wish for all of you, when you turn on the light of the crib.”

Faith, family, and the search for Santa

BY FR. MARK SOEHNER, OFM

The Soehner kids (Mark, second from right) at ChristmasWhen the air gets cold and the winter clouds hang low and purple overhead, my memories go to the expectation that we felt as kids regarding Christmas.  My father had a way of heightening this expectation on Christmas Eve.  That evening involved a simple dinner, some easy-to-make spaghetti and meatballs, certain to be consumed by kids.

Then we were layered with warm clothing, boots, and our winter coats and hats.  All the children would pile into the station wagon on our annual hunt.  We were going to look for Santa!  My father would tell us that there had been sightings in the area.  My mother would encourage us to go along with Dad.  But she was always too tired to go, or dishes still needed to be washed.  She never accompanied us.

Once this magical hunt began, we looked in the obvious places.  My father would point out Christmas displays gleaming in the cold winter night with starry lights.  He might suggest, as we slowly rolled around neighborhood after neighborhood, that he heard sleigh bells.  Or perhaps he saw a shadow move around the corner of a house.  Of course we looked at every roof for telltale signs of the sled, or even reindeer tracks.  Nose prints and hand smudges would appear on the car windows.

Visions of GI Joe and Pop-O-Matic Trouble games danced in our heads.  We drove through quite a few neighborhoods, looking at the light displays, but always ended at our local church.  There we’d reluctantly trudge out into the cold to see the baby Jesus tucked into his manger crib.  My Dad would kneel down, bow his head and pray.  We were restless.  Didn’t he know that we shouldn’t be wasting time like this!  We had a Santa to catch.

After what seemed like an eternity, we completed the slow roll back home.  By then, we were chomping at the bit to see whether he had been to our house yet.  For some reason Dad rang the doorbell to our own home!  Strange.  And when we got in, it was clear that we had, in fact, missed Santa.  Arranged under a tree that sparkled more brightly were packages, bows, huge boxes, or a couple of times, a bike!  Mom could be found in the kitchen, finishing up.  We would run in to persuade her to come into the living room.  Did she see Santa?  Did she hear anything?  She would frequently say, “Well, I did hear some rustling around.”  Once, she said she heard sleigh bells.

It took years in my own faith to eventually see that the real present was of my own Dad’s faith, his simple way of expressing it, his hope that we would catch on.  I had parents who encouraged me to be vigilant for God hidden in unlikely places.  Mom’s complicity in the mysterious magic pointed even more to the shimmering Presence that underlies everything.

Archives at bottom

Send comments or questions to: sjbfco@franciscan.org

ARCHIVES

Christmas Memories

Fr. Louis Bartko, OFM

Cincinnati, Ohio

Louis Bartko, OFMChristmas of 1947, I was 6 years old and my dad surprised me with my first Lionel Electric Train. It was there, under the tree in Toledo. Of course he bought it for me, but he played with it, too. It brought us closer together and it was something I would have for the next 20 years before I gave it up because I had other things to do. I passed it on to an uncle who knew electric trains and was able to work with them. When he got sick, he was able to sell the trains and use the money to help with his medical bills. In a sense it helped me out, and it helped my dad, and when I passed it on to my uncle, it helped him out, too.

Fr. Page Polk, OFM

Scottsdale, Ariz.

Page Polk, OFMWhen I was growing up in Dallas, we didn’t have much. But we always had real Christmas trees, and that wonderful smell! I had a brother who was very gifted artistically. He was very good with lighting. He would decorate the tree and the house with simple things, angel hair and tinsel. My mother was a great cook. She made cookies, banana nut bread, strawberry banana bread, zucchini bread and pound cakes.

At Christmas we would gather as a family and talk about what we would give those who had helped us during the year: the paper boy, the postman, the milk man. It was the idea that God gave us his Son, so in turn, out of appreciation, what should we give those who helped us? Very often it was the simple things my mother baked, given away as gifts.

Fr. Joe Hund, OFM

New Orleans, La.

Joe Hund, OFMIt was my first Christmas in a rural mission in Malawi, East Africa. That would have been 1983. There was of course no snow and it was cool, but not cold. With Christmas approaching there were absolutely no decorations in the stone church – no trees or flowers or wreaths or blinking lights, nothing at all, with the exception of a very simple crib in the church with Jesus, Mary, Joseph and a few statues.

On Christmas morning people came to Mass in simple clothes. After Mass we greeted each other; then they went home, immediately changed clothes and went off to do their farming. They had to go hoe and plant. It wasn’t, “Let’s go off and have a big meal.” They saw the importance of being at church for Christmas; they saw the importance of the crib.

It struck me that they got it right. Their lives were so difficult, they could identify with the Holy Family. They were able to keep something simple, like what Francis did [at Greccio]. The center and significance and mystery and meaning of Christmas was a simple crib in a church, and the celebration of Mass.

Br. Michael Charron, OFM

Grundy, Va.

Michael Charron, OFMOne thing I do each Christmas – and I’ve been doing for years – is watch the movie  It’s a Wonderful Life.  If it’s on at the theater, I’ll go see it there. I once saw it in Chicago at an old-timey theater with an organ. Last year I saw it at the 20th Century Theater in Oakley. They have it in color now. I’ve seen it at least 25 or 30 times; I think I’ve got most of it memorized. The meaning for me is, you don’t always know all the good things you’re doing. Sometimes at the end I think, “This is SO powerful!” – and sometimes I’m asleep by then.

Fr. David Kobak, OFM

Cincinnati, Ohio

David Kobak, OFMWhen my Mom and Dad were living, everybody would get together in Cleveland to prepare for Wigilia, a traditional Polish Christmas Eve supper. We would switch between our house and my aunt and uncle’s farm.

The preparations would start weeks before. It was all meatless, all homemade, with Polish delicacies: pierogis with potatoes and cheese; buckwheat groats; dried fruit compote; baked lima beans; Polish mushroom soup.

We’d all sit at the dining room table, and there were a lot of prayers. We would have a separate place setting in case we had an unexpected visitor. It was all centered on Eucharist and the coming of the Christ Child.

Then we’d all take off for midnight Mass. I remember as a child being in our old church in Cleveland, listening to Mass in Latin and the homily in Polish, and I always thought, this is where I belong. Then we’d have another feast after Mass, when the sausages and hams would come out, great homemade breads and Polish pastries. Another crazy tradition: We’d have a Polish pea dish, and put a little bowl of peas outside the front door to keep the wolves away.

Golden memories: It was a fun thing as a child experiencing that holiday. I pray for all the different families that they enjoy their traditions, and if they don’t have a tradition, they start one of their own.

Br. Raphael Ozoude, OFM

Santa Barbara, Calif.

Raphael Ozoude, OFMMy favorite Christmas memory was seven years ago in Lagos, Nigeria, right after I had graduated from high school. Christmas time there is the dry season; it gets cool at night and early in the morning, and hot during the day. On Christmas Eve we would go to the vigil Mass at St. Charles Borromeo Church, and the Mass of the day on Christmas.

We had a family tradition of going to a hotel for dinner on Christmas Eve. We usually ate regular delicacies from the culture: poultry or beef or goat meat; a lot of rice; native egusi (melon) soup, and pounded yams.

That one year after dinner my Dad surprised me and my two younger brothers; he took us out and bought us video games. We played them all night. And he bought me a cell phone, the first one I had that was especially for me.

Now I usually call home at Christmas. I phone some of my family and they gather around the computer for a video chat. We talk and laugh and share stories. Christmas evokes thoughts of times with them – and thoughts of food!

Fr. Dennet Jung, OFM

Berkley, Mich.

Dennet Jung, OFMMy father died in 1997, and my mother died within a year, in 1998.  Since I was ordained (1963) I had not been able to be with my family members at Christmas.

Then in 1999, because I was not assigned to a parish ministry at the time, I was able to spend Christmas with my sister and her family.  It seemed so strange to me to be “at home” for these special days, even though I had many enjoyable and memorable Christmas celebrations in my years at the parishes I served.

What was strange was that I was not used to being with family other than the family of my parish communities, and as a consequence felt somewhat out of place, yet at the same time overjoyed to be in that place.  Being with my sister and with her children and grandchildren brought back the many presences and absences of former Christmas holidays, and I felt grateful to God not only for the present moment but for the many Christmases past with which God had gifted me.

With God, family is in every place you find yourself.

Happiness is a new playground

 

  • Top, the Christmas crèche; right, the cookies drew raves; left, it was like being with family.“It was a lovely evening full of prayerful insights and fun together,” Henry Beck says of Monday’s Franciscan Christmas Mini-Retreat at St. Francis Retreat House in Easton, Pa. Almost 70 guests came for what they say felt like a family get-together, with supper cooked by chef Roslyn Garzillo and associate Keren Donato. “After the meal, we met for a contemplative hour with reflections and meditative music and poems on the persons and figures of the Christmas crèche,” with background on the introduction of the crèche in Greccio in 1223. After a cookies-and-cider break, Henry says, “We re-gathered for the singing of Christmas carols together and watching two short Charlie Brown Christmas videos, along with a lovely video and the singing of O Holy Night by Josh Groban.”  The crèche they assembled around was given to the retreat house by friars at Valparaiso, Ind., when they closed that friary. “One faithful member of our Sunday Community offered that this ‘was her Church family Christmas celebration.’” The SFRH Retreat Committee (Henry, Jeannie Panella, Carol Herman and Diane Rice) planned the evening and prepared the reflections.