Reflection by Anthony Lauinger
Father Prevost, Father Scianna, Father Sotak, Reverend Clergy, Friends:
It was a Sunday afternoon in the fall when I walked through the woods and across the rickety old bridge over the creek to see my first Cascia football game. That was more than 60 years ago.
I feel greatly blessed to have been very close to the Augustinians through the six decades since: as little brother of Cascia students, Cascia student myself, Cascia alumnus, Cascia coach, Cascia parent. And through one other relationship with the Augustinians that I treasure even more than these…
Cascia’s priests had a tremendous influence on me during those fleeting, formative years when we were students. They taught, guided, and inspired us – not just by what they said, not just by what they did, but by the totality of their lives. They were, and are, living examples of sacrifice, service, and self-denial – men whose very lives are dedicated to God.
This chapel has always been very special to me. On a spring morning fifty-five years ago this May, Father Porreca pulled me out of class to help prepare the chapel for its dedication the following day; four short years later, our graduation was here. Less than eight years after that, a prayer service was held here for a young alumnus who was killed in Vietnam. Joe was only 24. Today, Phyllis helps care for this beautiful chapel as a member of Saint Rita’s Guild.
Father Porreca was the first person to ask whether I’d ever thought about being a priest. Father Labadie, our eighth-grade football coach, inspired us to do things we didn’t know we were capable of doing. Father Sinnott drilled us in English grammar to an extent that I still appreciate to this day, and Father Sinnott taught us apologetics in what was unquestionably the best, and most important, course I ever had.
Father Spielmann taught us, and coached us, with his unique blend of wisdom, humility, and humor. By chance, he had known some of Phyllis’s family back in the ‘30’s, and he returned to New York in 1971 to concelebrate Phyllis and my wedding Mass. He always had a special nickname for Phyllis because of her New York birthplace. He called her “Bronxie.”
And there was the influence of Father McCall, Father Nash, Father O’Neill, Father Glynn, and so many others.
As parents, Phyllis and I have had the wonderful gift of our children’s learning from Father Tack, Father Brecht, Father Bernie, Father Sotak, Father Philip, Father Perez, Father Marty Laird…
When Monte Cassino High School closed, I urged that Cascia remain an all-boys school – so beneficial had been my experience here. But that’s a debate I’m glad I lost, because today, four of Phyllis and my daughters are Cascia Hall alumnae.
There is one Augustinian present today who was here at Cascia when I was in school. Father Bill Hamill, a layman then, was our teacher, and coach. Years later, Phyllis and my older children also had the benefit of his teaching, and our three sons played football on Father William A. Hamill Field.
Playing football for Father Hamill 50-plus years ago strengthened in me what has been a lifelong love for coaching. Some of the young men I’ve coached are here today, including, from the first team I coached, David McBride, and from the last, our youngest son Johnny. Johnny is in law school at OU, and today he is also standing in for his seven older brothers and sisters who are spread across the country in seven different states. Jack and Beverly Kauth’s son Tom, whose Cascia middle-school basketball team I coached 40 years ago, also lives out of state and is unable to be here, although Jack and Beverly’s daughter Anne and son David are here.
There’s another Augustinian still here in Tulsa who was at Cascia when I was a student: Father John Gaffney. Father, unfortunately, isn’t able to be here today. Father Gaffney taught us – and later generations of Cascia students – how to write, and speak, and think. But I was privileged to have had an additional, very special, relationship with Father Gaffney, in what has been my most cherished bond with the Augustinians: I spent a year in the Augustinian seminary after graduating from Cascia, and it was Father Gaffney who was our novice master that year at Saint Monica’s Novitiate in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. No one could have been a better example to us that year of a humble and holy priest than Father Gaffney.
The novitiate was a wonderful blessing, a year of prayer, meditation, and discernment that allowed me to come to know with clarity God’s will for my life – the vocation of marriage. Phyllis has made these past 41 years happier and more fulfilling than I could ever have imagined, and she has been a more magnificent mother to our eight children than I would have believed possible.
As we well know, regardless of what our specific vocation or calling may be, our mission in life is the same. Jesus gave us that mission when He taught us to pray to His Father: “Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” It’s clear that it is through us that the Good Lord intends that His will – and His work – be done on this earth.
Protecting the youngest members of the human family has been the special passion of Phyllis’s and mine during these 40 years since the Roe v. Wade abortion decision – a ruling whose death toll of 55 million unborn children increases each day by 3,000 more babies created in the image and likeness of God.
It is especially heartwarming to have with us today the officers of the student pro-life group at Saint Gregory’s University – Gabriela, who sang so beautifully, and Erin, and Rebecca. I have great admiration and appreciation for these young pro-life leaders for their prophetic witness to their generation in defending the sanctity of human life.
Phyllis’s medical training has been a great help in the pro-life effort, and has been invaluable in the work that she and Dr. Jack Kauth have done together these past dozen years in bringing medical care to those who otherwise would have none. Jack Kauth’s medical knowledge, skill, and selfless spirit of service have been absolutely indispensable to the effective functioning of Xavier Medical Clinic from its very beginning.
In years past, at Scholastic Night, Father Hamill used to challenge our children and their classmates to dare to be exceptional. Quoting the poignant words of Robert Frost’s haunting poem, “The Road Not Taken,” Father would encourage our young people each year to take the road “less traveled by.” And though it was for the students that his message was intended, hearing those words invariably caused my thoughts to turn to these men here in the sanctuary – and to the men who preceded them through these past 87 years in the monastery across the way. For it is these Augustinians who have taken the road “less traveled by.”
Poverty, chastity, obedience: those are the vows these men take. They have given up wife, family, home, possessions, personal freedom. They have forsaken all that to serve God, and to help us. They have given the ultimate assent to Jesus’s call, “Come, follow Me.” What a compelling symbol of faith, selflessness, and service is the Cascia Hall monastery – right here in our very midst.
The path that each of us takes through life intersects the paths of countless others. We are influenced by those we meet along the way. How profoundly richly blessed are we who have had the great good fortune of encountering on our journey members of the Order of Saint Augustine.
As it was a very great privilege to have been an Augustinian novice 50 years ago, so, too, is it a very humbling and cherished honor today for Phyllis and me – as I know it is, also, for Jack and Beverly Kauth – to become Affiliates of the Augustinian Order. Thank you all, very much.