Today is Priesthood Sunday in the United States. Catholics around the country are offering thanks and recognition to those men who have answered God’s call to serve. I had never heard of Priesthood Sunday until this year (it was only started a few years ago). But I’ll tell you, it’s opened my eyes, and made me realize how grateful I am for the priests in my life.
The first priest that I remember from a very young age was Fr. Gary Crevier. Yep, same last name as me. He’s my dad’s younger brother. I always found it interesting and somewhat cool to have a priest for an uncle. But, more importantly, it made me realize that priests are just regular guys. They have families, brothers, sisters, and even parents.
When I was young, I would go deer hunting with my dad, Fr. Gary and their other brothers. We’d spend the weekend before Thanksgiving every year at the hunting cabin up in Marinette County. I really enjoyed Saturday evening, after the sun had set and our guns were put away for the night. Fr. Gary would take out his Mass kit, we would push aside the beer, soda and snacks, the playing cards and the chips, and have Mass right there in the cabin. No changing clothes. No combing our hair. It was just us guys, and God. These Masses were the first experiences in my life where I realized that God is truly with me everywhere, no matter where I go, no matter what I do. And he was there, making a difference, actually transforming me.
I used to see Fr. Gary often back in the 1970s. He was the caretaker for a while at Holy Name Retreat House on Chambers Island. Then, in 1978, he accepted a 10-year assignment to work in Elías Piña, Dominican Republic. In 1985, I moved out to California and we just didn’t see each other at all for a long time. I regret not keeping in touch all those years.
Today, Uncle Gary is no longer a priest. He and his wife Helen live nearby and I’m able to see them from time to time. It is so special to see the love that he and Aunt Helen share. And I still look forward to our evenings at the hunting cabin every November. The Bible that I read from was a gift to Tricia and me from Fr. Gary for our wedding back in 1987. It’s even more special now, because I’m taking a class at St. Norbert College on the Bible, so I read it often, and I think about Fr. Gary often.
I’ve known many other priests over the years. I was an alter boy at St. Jude Parish in Green Bay from age 10 to 14. This was back in the early 1970s, when Fr. Anthony Baier was pastor there. I used to like him because even though he was old (at least to me he was), he still had a way of communicating with us kids.
When I was in 7th and 8th grade, I used to go to daily Mass at St. Jude. I would ride my bike there (or walk in the winter) before school. To my friends, this was somewhat unusual, non of my friends went with me, they just thought I was nuts. I just went alone. And I did it because I liked listening to Fr. Baier, and I liked the music.
One day a week, the Mass was offered by one of the grades in the school. So for that one day, there were always many other kids in church. But I still always sat alone (unless it was my class who organized the Mass). It was just my way of being “alone” with God. When Fr. Baier would talk to us kids, he always referred to us as “kiddos”. “So kiddos, you matter too in the eyes of God…”
Now, as a 44-year-old father, I’ve been calling my three daughters “kiddo” for years, and I don’t think they know that I got that from Fr. Baier.
After graduating from the 8th grade at St. Jude School, I went to Premontre High School (now Notre Dame Academy) for my freshman year. This was an all-boys Catholic high school, where I had the chance to know a number of Norbertine priests.
While there, I had a couple of priests for teachers, but I really got to know them best because I worked in the priory where they lived. I’ll never forget my first week of school there. Fr. Ed Sdano called me down to the office. My Mom had requested financial assistance, so they allowed me to work in the priory (where all the priests lived) to earn my tuition. I would walk over there after school every day (right next door), and wash their dirty dishes that had accumulated throughout the day. I would clean their living room and set the dinner table, while a cook prepared their meal. I would then put on my little white coat and serve their dinner. After dinner, I would clean up the table and wash dishes again. I was usually home by 7:30 every night.
There really weren’t any priests there who made a major impact on me. I remember Fr. Kenin Virlee, mostly because he was the assistant principal and he is my dad’s first cousin. Fr. Thomas DeWayne was the principal, always a very kind man, and always good for a smile with meaning. You know, the thing I remember most about these priests was how they were all such a bunch of slobs. After all, the priory was just a dorm where men lived, what would you expect?
I’ve known a number of priests since those days in high school. I started working at St. Norbert College in 2004, a job that has allowed me to re-connect with some Norbertine priests who I haven’t seen in many years, and to also meet many new ones.
I do want to mention one more priest. Fr. Tim Shillcox is the pastor at Our Lady of Lourdes parish, just a block from where I’m sitting right now. Fr. Tim, a Norbertine priest, has been our pastor since September 2004. Actually, he was Mr. Shillcox, an art teacher at Premontre when I was in high school there. I didn’t take art, so I didn’t have him as a teacher, but I do remember him.
The best way to describe what Fr. Tim does for me is that when he speaks, his words touch my heart. Every time. God has given Fr. Tim a gift, one that allows him to preach from his heart and make every Gospel message relevant to my life. And I’m grateful that he has chosen to share that gift with us.
Fr. Tim will be the first to tell you that his sermons are long. I hope he knows that not everyone thinks that’s a bad thing. I get a bit upset when fellow parishioners tell me how he needs to shorten his Mass and not talk so much. What do these folks have going on in their life that is so important, that they cannot give an extra 10 minutes to spend with God on Sunday, especially when you have the opportunity to share the Eucharist with a great preacher? I’ve gone on a couple of retreats with Fr. Tim, we’ve had a number of interesting conversations in the three years that I’ve known him, and I look forward to hearing his message at Mass every weekend.
So, it’s Priesthood Sunday. I read that the Worldwide Marriage Encounter also calls today World Priest Day. Whatever you call it, it’s a good day to remember the priests that have made a difference in our lives. I’m grateful.