This speech was delivered by Father Jim Friedel, O.S.A. at this year's Augustinian Gala, April 28, 2017
A short time ago someone asked me how I felt about being here tonight and sharing a few thoughts with you. My response was that I feel like the body at an Irish wake: the body is needed in order to have the wake but no one expects it to say very much.
I grew up in Chicago, about two blocks from Wrigley Field. In 1950 we moved to Park Forest. I graduated from St. Agnes grade school In 1951. Soon thereafter the athletic director from Rich High School called my parents about coming there to play baseball and basketball. I was thrilled, but if you have an Irish Catholic mother and a German Catholic father, you are going to go to a Catholic High School. So goodbye Rich and hello to Mendel High School. So began my four-year 30-mile trek to and from Mendel.
Our Park Forest parish was St. Irenaeus. The pastor was an odd piece of furniture. Augustinians from Mendel would help out on the weekends. My folks would occasionally invite them for breakfast. I was taken by their friendliness and willingness to chat and to engage in banter that I could understand. I remember Fr. John Seary, Fr. Jim Lyne (whom we called 'clackers" because of the sound his false teeth made), Fr Bennie McConviIIe (whom we called the "The Skull" because he looked like a skull) and Fr. Joe Henessey (whom we called "Gramps" because he looked like everyone's grandfather). Little did I know that a seed was being planted which would later help me put things in perspective.
Mendel was the former Pullman Technical High School. The Augustinians purchased it but it needed much refurbishing. The Augustinians saved some money by doing some of these tasks themselves. Day after day I would see them working around the school and grounds. I saw Fr. Pete La Morte on his tractor cutting the grass, Fr. Joe Hennessey building the dining room tables, Fr. Bill O'Rourke organizing the raffle sale. Bill was not the best of teachers but he did sell the most raffle tickets and that was all that mattered to us students since we got a day off of school.
I graduated from Mendel in 1955 as a member of the first class. Two friends and I got together and decided we would go to Loras College. Fr. Karl Shroeder was a diocesan priest from Dubuque who taught English. Karl was a tough but very good teacher. One day after class he asked if I had ever thought of the priesthood. I told him "no." Heck, I was kicked off the 8th grade altar servers for being a goof before I had the chance to serve my first Mass. He suggested I speak with one of the priests at Mendel. I said "OK" but first wanted to speak with my parents. They were most supportive. They said, "If you decide to become a priest, we would be most proud of you as we are of your sisters but we will be proud whatever you decide to do. You are always welcome here whatever you decide."
I called Fr. Jimmy Lyne, the priest we called "Clackers." He was gracious, happy and a truly holy man. Jim explained what would be expected of me if I decided to enter the Augustinian seminary.
With Jim's help I decided to enter the seminary...so off I went to Holland MI where I took a crash course in Latin, a subject I had not taken at Mendel. From Holland we went to the novitiate in Oconomowoc WI, then to Villanova near Philadelphia, then to St. Louis, and finally to the newly constructed Tolentine Center. Talk about "Join the OSA and see the USA!"
As time went on, our class grew to 15. We were ordained on February 6, 1965. It was a long journey but one I have never regretted. Along the way I have met many friends whose friendship I treasure to this day. I have also experienced the death of classmates: Nick Ritter, Dick Voigt, Dave Brecht, Mark Thedens and most difficult of all was Al Gorka with whom I was chatting five minutes before he fell to his death in St. Louis. Al was a close friend.
I have learned many valuable things along the way, among which are:
—That having a new born nephew fall asleep in your arms is the most peaceful feeling in the world.
—That sometimes all a person needs is a hand to hold and a heart that understands.
—That the easiest way for me to grow as a person is to surround myself with people who are smarter and holier than I am....or ever will be.
—That together with my two sisters, I was truly blessed to care for my parents in their final years.
—That celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation with someone for whom life has lost meaning was and is a grace-filled and life-changing experience for me as well as for that person.
—That the Eucharist is the source and summit of my life.
When I was asked to give this talk, I really wondered "Why me?", "What have I done?" "What can I add or say to these good people?" I soon realized that what I had to say was not for your benefit--that smacks of arrogance--but rather for my benefit, to remind me how blessed I have been by God. That is why it is so important for me to have Don and Anne here, as well as the rest of you who have loved us, who have befriended us, who have encouraged us and have forgiven us Augustinians--to remind us all, whether we are affiliated, vowed, ordained, or simply good friends, that we are the Body of Christ, that we are Augustinians together... and to keep this in perspective.
Speaking of perspective, allow me to conclude with a brief story I read in the Sun Times. It is a story about a father of a family. He and his wife have four children. He is a man who has a tough time keeping things in perspective. Then their oldest daughter graduated from high school and decided to go to college, but not college Chicago, a college in California. So whatever perspective he had was out the window now.
So off to California she goes...now she was not a great student, so her father began to send a trail of letters, at least one a week. At the end of the first semester the daughter decided to write her dad a letter. This is what she wrote:
Everything is going well this semester...so you can stop worrying about me. I am really, very, very happy. Dad, you would simply love Jeremy. He is a wonderful man and the first three months of our marriage have been very happy. But dad there is even more good news. The drug rehab program we are both in just told us that the twins to be born soon will not be addicted at birth.
DAD TURNS THE LETTER OVER
Now, dad, there is no Jeremy...l am not married or pregnant. I have never abused drugs...but I did get a 'C' in chemistry...so try to keep things in perspective.
Thanks for your presence here tonight...for your support and love through your friendship, prayer and financial support...and speaking for myself thanks for helping me to keep things in perspective.