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By Dan Valenti (Jan 29, 2009)
When hope is flat as a pancake and the mixing bowl of life runs out of batter, what does one do? Why, you whip more batter, heat the griddle, and pour creamy circles. In the pancake pan of life, the only surefire way to restore hope is to rely, in trust, on God's mercy.
Three Marian seminarians took this to heart recently on a missionary visit to stormy, wintry Kenosha, Wisc. There, Deacon Andy Davy, MIC, and Brs. Jim McCormack, MIC, and Angelo Casimiro, MIC, braved sub-zero temperatures and mounds of snow to bring the serotonin of hope to the frozen, Midwest hinterlands.
'The Three Marianteers'
The Marians of the Immaculate Conception run the parish of St. Peter's in Kenosha, and the seminarians were invited there to assist Fr. Bill Hayward, MIC, and Fr. Michael Callea, MIC. The two Marian priests are pastor and assistant pastor of St. Peter's, respectively. The seminarians also were there to experience a cleric's life outside of the insular world of the seminary and monastery. What better place to do this than at a thriving parish, full of Christian hope but also home to ordinary people burdened with the tensions brought by troubled times?
Don't misunderstand: hope at St. Peter's isn't "flat as a pancake." The "mixing bowl" hasn't "run out of batter." In fact, St. Peter's houses a dynamic faith community. It's just that everyone needs a little boost now and then. "The Three Marianteers" took their cue and made their entrance, arriving at Milwaukee Airport on Friday night, Jan. 16, to undertake "Operation Pancake."
View a photo gallery of their trip.
After assisting at Mass Saturday morning, the intrepid seminarians helped set up the church cafeteria for a pancake fund-raiser the following day. Saturday night, they greeted parishioners at the 5 p.m. vigil Mass, where Deacon Andy delivered his first homily in a parish church. In the life of a priest, that "first" is looked back upon the way a major league ballplayer might remember his first hit or the way an adult might wistfully recall a first love. Unforgettable.
On pancake day, three breakfasts were served after each of the morning's Masses: 8 a.m., 9:30 a.m., and 11 a.m. At the 8, Deacon Andy gave his second parish homily. He didn't miss a beat. With a griddle-pan delivery, he began: "I'm here to talk pancakes."
The words might not ever be chiseled into stone on a cathedral wall or cited in Bartlett's Book of Quotations, but they did get the parishioners' attention. Deacon Andy mentioned that the Marians have been blessed with 10 seminarians and six novices. He said it would take money to train these future priests. He also pointed out that the pancake fundraiser would be an enjoyable way to help with the seminarian fund and also provide a chance to meet some of the young men. At the end of the other two Masses, Bros. Jim and Angelo spoke.
[Read some "quotable quotes" from the Marian seminarians on their trip to Kenosha.]
After each Mass, pancakes were served. The seminarians waited on tables, while the Serra Club and the Women's League helped with the cooking and cleaning. The Marian trio met many parishioners. They were suitably impressed.
"They were warm, friendly, and eager to get to know us," said Br. Jim. "The parishioners chipped in to help in many ways and not just at the pancake breakfast. Every Sunday, they set up a gift shop in the vestibule and they have many ushers who greet parishioners as they enter and leave the church. There was an eagerness and desire to help the seminarians not only with money but also with their time in order to make this fund-raiser successful. Marlene Schlecht [a Marian helper and long-time St. Peter's parishioner] helped to organize this event. She does a lot for the parish and also for the Marians."
"The people there were pious but in a good, simple, and powerful way," said Deacon Andy. "The young people have a good impression of the priests. There was openness, and it was easy to connect with them. I think their good impression comes from how Fr. Bill and Fr. Michael are so approachable."
For Br. Angelo, "the piety and devotion at the parish" stood out. "There are a lot of warm, caring and generous people there," he said. "The parish only has a thousand families, but I can tell they do a lot together as a community. The people there absolutely love the Marians, who have been serving St. Peter's for 85 years."
Brother Angelo says he was "constantly asked about how other Marians who had been there were doing, people like Fr. Anthony Gramlich, MIC, and Fr. Bob Vennetti, MIC. I could also get a sense that they wanted to see me, Deacon Andy, and Br. Jim return to the parish some day to serve as priests. I feel awed by that, and I could see the great responsibility of the priesthood."
Making their way back to their studies, the three seminarians could chalk one up to good experience. They learned some things no class can cover and to which no book can do justice. Pancakes, however, can.
Please help us educate the Marian priests of tomorrow.
Dan Valenti writes for numerous publications of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception, both in print and online. He is author of "Dan Valenti's Journal" at thedivinemercy.org. He wishes to thank Br. Angelo Casimiro for acting as "point man" in gathering information for this article.