Thirty-four years ago today, I walked out of the North American College (NAC) in Rome to head back to the United States. The vice-rector of the college, Fr. Charles Kelly along with Msgr John Strynkowsi accompanied me to Fiumicino airport where I boarded a plane with Msgr. Strynkowski for the long flight to New York.
I recall it all as if it were yesterday.
That morning was Gaudete Sunday and we celebrated Mass in the main chapel at NAC. I had told a few of my friends there that I was leaving, but most had no idea. One of my friends of the time, Bob Deahl from Milwaukee smiled at me in the chapel and nodded his silent good bye. I had spoken to my diocesans, Tim Reker and Joe Hoppa so they were aware of what was to come. I had no idea what a life changing event that day was to become.
The flight home was uneventful. Landing in New York, I had a connecting flight to catch to Minneapolis, but I had some time to spare so I had expected Msgr. Strynkowski to hang around a short while to say a final good bye, but I watched as he was greeted by a group of people and whisked away. He didn’t turn around to say, or even gesture, a short farewell to me. I was stunned. I within a few days realized that this was how it would be for many of the men with whom I had developed friendships in seminary. Good byes were something they hadn’t been trained to do. Instead, there was silence. Frankly, it was painful. I have often likened it to what people go through in divorce.
Several men did though maintain contact. There was Fr. Bob Everard, a year ahead of me, who wrote and visited on occasion. There was Jay Jackson from down in Memphis who remembered and spoke. It eased the sense of disconnect that permeated a lot of life at first.
What has been so interesting is how now, after so many years, some of these men who were rendered silent by my departure are now re-presenting themselve is some way or another. There is Tim, Chuck, John P., Tony, Peter, Steve, Bob, John D., Bob D., Steve, Scott, and several others who, because of the age of the internet have made new contacts and renewed acquaintances. The lessons of life post-seminary have matured us and given us the tools to say hello and good bye, to rebridge gaps that were created by circumstances and decisions made years ago. We all are a lot more forgiving and tolerant nowadays than back in the 70s.
I thank God for the wonderful ways he works in lives, the mysterious manner in which he works his will. I have no doubt that his wisdom was operative on that day in 1978, and in his wisdom he continues to make himself known, even though at the moment, he may seem obscured.
I also thank this day the men of 1978 with whom I had a bond that I have learned remained unearthed for so many years. Though it seemed ruptured at the time, it was in fact simply maturing.