Fr. Rick Gantert Memorial

In Memory of Fr. Rick Gantert, April 28, 1949 - April 19, 2006

This page is a memorial to Fr. Rick Gantert, who pastored St. Paul from 2000 to 2006. Click on the items below to navigate.

============

Image Gallery

Click on any of the image "thumbnails" below to "pop" open a larger image.


Download the Powerpoint Slide Show, created by Tom Gantert. (Be patient -- it's a very large file: 66MB!)
(back to top)

Fr. Rick's Obituary

The following was written by Fr. Rick's sister, Mary, with the help of other family members, and appeared in the Commercial Appeal on April 23, 2006.

Father Rick Gantert lived and loved and laughed with a unique sense of wonder, a keen respect for reality, and an honest appreciation for the unique beauty and potential in every person and every situation. He died Wednesday April 19 at Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore. With the support of his devoted family, friends and doctors, Father Rick struggled bravely with leukemia for the past two years. He has touched the hearts of countless people and will be forever a part of our lives.

Born in Minneapolis on April 28, 1949, the son of the late Tom and Bee Gantert, Father Rickís family moved to Memphis during his childhood. He attended St. Therese the Little Flower School in Memphis, and was a graduate of Catholic High in 1967. Father Rick attended St. Ambrose College in Davenport, Iowa graduating in 1971. In September of the same year he entered Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, and was ordained a priest on May 24, 1975 at St. Therese the Little Flower Church. Father Rick served as Associate Pastor at the Cathedral, then St. Louis Church and later at Holy Spirit Church. He served as pastor of St. Mary Church in Camden, TN from 1981-1987 . . . pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows Church, Memphis from 1987-2000 . . . and was made pastor of St. Paul Church, Memphis in 2000.

Father Rick also served in several Diocesan roles. He did prison ministry for a number of years, was the Secretary of Catholic Schools for the Diocese, served on the Presbyteral Council, the Diocesan Finance Council and was a member of the College of Consultors. He was also a member of the Tennessee Public Policy Commission, the public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Tennessee.

Father Rick marveled at the beauty of scripture, the Baptism of a new baby niece, the abundance of an early morning market in Jerusalem, a perfect putt at the 18th hole, a nephewís burst of insight, a Grizzlies game. He had the highest hopes for those Tigers! He brought humor and joy to each of our lives while holding us to the highest expectations. He listened to our needs and our hearts. He encouraged us to become the change we hoped to see in the world while reminding us that God does not expect us to be perfect.

Most Reverend J. Terry Steib, SVD, Bishop of the Memphis Diocese said of Father Rick Gantert: ďIíve known Father Gantert since I first arrived in Memphis. He was a thoughtful, caring priest. He was also a friend and I will miss his wise counsel and straight forward awareness of the people around him to whom he ministered. Rick was a friend of the poor and a careful advocate for justice. He recognized his illness for what it was and fought it valiantly. But there is consolation for his fellow priests and me in knowing that God has called him home at this Easter season. As St. Paul puts it: ĎIn life and in death we are the Lordís.í I extend my sympathy and prayers to Father Gantertís family, and to the faith community at St. Paul Church in Whitehaven.Ē

Father Rick is survived by his six sisters and brother: Mary Micallef and Charlie Campbell of Bitburg, her three sons and five grandchildren; Cathy Hughes of Franklin, TN, her husband Bob, their three children and two grandchildren; Barbara Covello of Pleasantville, NY, her three children; Stephanie Sisk of Southaven, MS, her husband Harold, their four children and six grandchildren; Laurie Meddings of Bozeman, MT, her husband Greg and their son; Terry Gantert of Southaven, MS, and her daughter; and Tom Gantert of Charlotte, NC, his wife Maggie and their two children, and Father Rickís aunts, uncles and cousins.

Rick studied Christís words and walked in His footsteps. He comforted, counseled and cared for each of us in His name. Imagine the conversations theyíre having right now! Long ago Rick began his journey to Christ, and heís left each of us with a higher, clearer and steadier path to follow Ė and a good personal friend along the way.

Visitation will be at St. Paul Church from 5-8p.m. on Monday with the Rosary at 7p.m. Funeral Mass at St. Paul will be Tuesday at lla.m. Interment will be at Calvary Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to St. Paul Church, 1425 East Shelby Drive, Memphis TN 38116 to be donated in the name of Fr. Rick for the Johns Hopkins Cancer Center.

(back to top) ============

Commercial Appeal Article

The following appeared in the Commercial Appeal on April 23, 2006.

"Gantert Remembered for his Compassion," by Sherri Drake

Father Rick Gantert's accessibility to his parishioners, encouraging words during good times and bad and his love for the game of golf are qualities those near to him will remember.

As he battled leukemia, went in and out of remission, had a bone-marrow transplant, a T-cell infusion and traveled to Maryland for treatment, the Memphis priest's faith only increased, friends and family said.

He'd send e-mails updating his parishioners about his condition as he underwent treatment at Johns Hopkins University Hospital. He often reminded them: "Trust in the Lord and be of good courage," said Cathy Weirich, Father Gantert's administrative assistant.

"He said at one point he thought he had faith," Weirich said. "And that he found out what faith was during this sickness."

Father Gantert, the pastor of St. Paul Church in Memphis, died Wednesday at Johns Hopkins. He would have turned 57 years old Friday.

"He taught us how to live, and he taught us how to die," Weirich said.

Father Gantert was born and raised in Memphis and graduated from Catholic High, St. Ambrose College in Iowa, and attended Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans. He was ordained a priest in 1975.

In his early years as a priest, Father Gantert focused on a prison ministry. He later served as secretary of the local Catholic schools. He was an associate pastor at area churches before serving as pastor of St. Mary's Church in Camden, Tenn., from 1981 to 1987, and pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Memphis from 1987 to 2000. He'd been pastor of St. Paul since July 2000.

Msgr. Peter Buchignani, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi in Cordova, said he and Father Gantert shared a love of sports. They and another priest had often played golf together.

They'd usually find time to play while attending seminars.

"He'd say, 'Pete, are you bringing your golf clubs?' And I'd say, 'Is the pope Catholic?'" Buchignani recalled.

Buchignani said Father Gantert will be remembered as a kind man of many talents.

"He was just down to earth. He could relate to the people in the pew," Buchignani said. "I just think he loved people and had a real desire to serve people wherever he was."

Father Gantert leaves six sisters and a brother.

A funeral Mass will be celebrated Tuesday at 11 a.m. at St. Paul Church, with burial in Calvary. Canale Funeral Directors has charge.

(back to top) ============

Letters from Fr. Rick

Whenever Father Rick was away for treatments at Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore, he missed his St. Paul parishioners as much as we missed him. He kept in touch with a series of inspiring email letters that were printed in the Sunday Bulletins and posted on this Web site. All of his letters are here, reflecting Father Rick's unswerving faith, his concern and love for the St. Paul Parish, and his eternal optimism and good humor.

(back to top) ============

July 2, 2004

My Dear Friends in Christ,

"Wait on the Lord; be of good courage; and He will strengthen your heart." (Ps 27) For the past two months this prayer has been my daily prayer and source of abiding hope and confidence. When pain or discomfort were unbearable; when the weakness of my muscles and body were sources of disappointment; when the boredom, tedium, and frustration of the recuperation process closed in on me; when any other temptation to anxiety or worry threatened to lead me away from full confidence in the Lord's healing and peace-giving presence I would repeat the words of this prayer. Never has the Lord failed me! Thanks be to God!!

Yesterday, July 1st, marked another milepost in this journey of healing and return to you. Quite to my surprise my doctor came in and informed me that if my blood counts had made as much improvement over night as they had the previous couple of days he was going to release me to the "outpatient care" portion of my stay at Johns Hopkins. An hour later I found out they had and he did and I made all the preparations necessary to come to our little "cottage" on the grounds of this wonderful little retirement community for priests. It is from here that I write you. Let me fill you in on what's happened and what lies ahead (as if we ever know!)

On June 9th I began my treatments here at JHU. I had a catheter implanted in my chest to facilitate reception of all the "meds", fluids, and chemo that I would receive over the coming 6-12 mos. That afternoon I was checked in an began an eight day regimen of chemotherapy. Much to the doctors and nurses surprise I went through it without any apparent side effects. I wasn't surprised because I knew how many prayers were being offered for just this situation (one of the parishioners e-mailed me to let me know that she was just praying that "tomorrow would be one of freedom from pain and a day that saw me getting stronger). Those wonderful prayers are working.

As you well know, Friday, June 18th, I received my Bone Marrow Transplant. Again, the whole process went off without a hitch. Terry had a measure of her bone marrow removed, they did whatever it is that they do to it, and came to my room about an hour later with two bags that looked for all the world like "pink lemonade". As future days would reveal it was a lot more refreshing! :-O In all this my wonderful sister Terry was the real hero (along with my sisters Cathy and Steph who have been at my side throughout). It's a painful procedure but she came through it with flying colors. Thanks, Ter!

And thanks to all of you. When I was informed of the Eucharistic Adoration that took place that day and night I knew that I had nothing about which I needed worry. And I haven't. My release took place fully a week earlier than expected - so strongly had my blood counts started to build. I will now make daily trips to the outpatient section of the BMT floor for the drawing of blood, evaluating of meds, and just generally keeping an eye on my progress. This will go on for 4-6 weeks at which time they'll likely give me a few days off and week for the next 4-6 weeks and then...well, let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Folks, I'm doing great (my doctor took to referring to me as "superstar" - in my humility I demured). However, I'm not out of the woods yet. Please don't lessen the prayers you're offering. Continue to storm heaven's gate. I miss you. I pray for you. I long to return to you. Throw all your support behind Fr. Tagg and Fr. Dennis whom the Lord sends to serve you. "Trust in the Lord; be of good courage; and He will strengthen your heart."

In all of Christ's Peace and Love
Fr. Rick
(back to letters)

July 15, 2004

My Dear Brothers and Sisters,

"Wait on the Lord; Be of Good courage; and He will strengthen thine heart."

Good Morning, folks. Another glorious day is dawning here in Baltimore at St. Joseph's Manor - my home away from home. My sisters, Mary, Terry, and Cathy, are off to daily Mass at the retirement home chapel and I sit on the sun porch of our lovely little "guest cottage" and give thanks and praise to God for another day of healing and another day that brings me closer to returning to my home and family at St. Paul. I would normally be with them but at this time I'm battling one of the effects of the bone marrow transplant. This too shall pass. Just one more step on the road to recovery.

Today is a day off from the usual routine of going to the "outpatient center" at the hospital. I'm now going in only every other day to have blood drawn and "counted", my "electrolytes" analyzed, and any "help" that I might need on a given day provided. Some days I wonder why I'm here at all, I feel so good. Others, I know quite clearly why I'm here. Fatigue and the interminable boredom of waiting weigh heavily on me. I'm in the beginning stages of what they call "Graft Versus Host Disease", a condition that in small doses is actually good for me. In fact, my doctor in the outpatient clinic, upon seeing the first signs of GVHD, said "You get an A+." Apparently it's a sign that the marrow that Terry donated has begun to engraft and do the things that healthy marrow is supposed to do. Tomorrow they'll begin to treat it and get it under control. Until then...Well, I wait. This is surely a "funny" disease and healing process. The doctors do all they can to keep me from having any infection or other problem, all the time hoping that I'll develop some kind of infection so they'll be able to see if my system will fight it. Go figure!

Keep praying for me folks. I still need those prayers and will for some time to come (when do we ever stop standing in the need of prayer?). My doctors here continue to be amazed at how quickly I'm progressing and how well I handle all the different procedures I've gone through. I just keep teling them that I've got an awful lot of help. Prayers from Memphis and from around the world. I know that I am without question the most blessed man here at Johns Hopkins Hospital. I am forever indebted to you all for your prayers, support, and joy that sustain me in this time. You are in my prayers every day as well.

I look forward to the day when I will celebrate the Eucharist with you again. Until then, cvontinue to support Fr. Tagg and Fr. Murray - how blessed we are to have them. Continue to support one another with your love and fellowship.

In the peace of Christ
Fr. Rick
(back to letters)

July 29, 2004

My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

"Our soul waits for the Lord, who is our help and our shield. For in God our hearts rejoice; in your holy name we trust. May your kindness, Lord, be upon us; we have put our hope in you." (Ps 33)

Another couple of weeks have passed since I last updated you on my progress. It has been a real "rollercoaster" of a couple of weeks. I had my first bout with GVHD - a condition that comes with a Bone Marrow Transplant - got it under control with strong doses of steroids, overcame the side-effects of that, began to increase my energy and strength, and then, yesterday, showed signs of the GVHD coming back again. So, today it's back on the high doses of steroids and begin the waiting game once again. The good news in all of this is, as my doctor put it: "If you've got Graft Versus Host Disease (GVHD) then you know the Transplant is taking, your system didn't reject it or defeat it." It's just a matter of time. So the routine continues: Up early for prayer, Mass, something to eat, off to the Outpatient clinic for blood and other tests, usually some IV hydration, and then back home. I'm walking every day so that when I do get back to St. Paul I'll be ready and rarin' to go. Believe me when I say I'm READY!

Yesterday my mail from St. Paul arrived. This is always a day of joy for me. Today, for some reason, I was powerfully struck by how awesome it is that you so faithfully take the time to express your support, prayers, and love. I realized what a genuine effort it is to get out and by the card, drop it off or mail it, share a part of your life with me, and look to my needs in this time. I am touched deeply because with each name I read I also know the person, and many of the struggles you are going through at the same time as I. I know that you are suffering your own illnesses and diseases; longing for estranged, lost, or suffering children; mourning the loss of loved ones near and far; striving to make ends meet and share with those you love all the good things of life and of eternal life. I was simply and powerfully struck by how much we really are all in this together. We are One Body - One people - One Church. How fortunate we are to have each other. How fortunate we are to be one in Christ! Continue to support and strengthen one another. Your support for me has been a joy beyond compare or imagining. I will see you soon.

"Wait on the Lord; be of good courage; He will strengthen thine heart."

Peace
Fr. Rick
(back to letters)

August 13, 2004

My Dear Brothers and Sisters,

"Faith is the realization of things hoped for; and the evidence of things not seen." As I sat and listened to St. Paul last weekend, while gathering with the retired priests of the Josephite order here at my home away from home, I was struck by the power, mystery, and certainty of those words. How many times I have heard and read them and yet, this week, it's like they are brand new. "Realization...evidence..." Not just wishful thinking, or, "I hope...", but absolute certainty. How I needed those words, that truth, this week. Let me catch you up.

Late last week I was informed that this would be the week for my first bone marrow biopsy and DNA test since the transplant. This is the first big step in finding out what's been going on since the transplant. They already knew that I hadn't "rejected" the transplant because of the two bouts of GVHD with which I've been wrestling, but this would give us the first good look at whether or not there is a graft and, what's happened to the leukemia. Naturally, some anxiety sets in but then the word of the Lord through St. Paul! I don't have to worry or doubt. God has brought about all that is good in me and He won't change that now. "Realization...evidence." Though I don't see it yet I know He has done it! But that's not all! After an appointment on Monday for blood work and the rest, the folks told me to take Tuesday and Wednesday off. Everything was looking so good there was no need to come in. Wouldn't you know...Tuesday they call and say come in immediately! We've detected an infection in the blood caused by some problem with the catheter in my chest. That afternoon they started a "high dose" treatment of antibiotics that will need to be infused 3X's a day for two weeks. If it's not one thing it's another :-) "Realization...evidence..." God is still at work!

So, for right now, what can I say. A little setback but one that with your help in prayer we'll overcome. I wish I could tell you more but for right now we'll just have to wait a little longer. Continue to pray for me - and all the folks who stand in need of prayer. You have a power that goes all imagining and understanding. I pray for you daily. I'll see you soon.

"Wait on the Lord; be of good courage; and He will strengthen thine heart."

Peace and Love
Fr. Rick
(back to letters)

August 19, 2004

Dear Friends in Christ,

"...Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done..."

Unfortunately, this past week was a lesson in how hard it is to live that part of Our Lord's prayer and how easy it is to take back from Our Lord's hands and care all that I have placed there. Let me explain.

A week ago Monday things were looking so good that the "team" in IPOP (outpatient) was talking about releasing me. The next day Terry and Randi and Steph and I decided to take a little trip to the aquarium down on the Inner Harbor. When we got back home I had a call from the IPOP folks saying they needed me to come to the IPOP immediately. They had discovered an infection in my blood (probably caused by the Hickman catheter) and needed me there to begin a high-powered dose of antibiotics. Needless to say I was really bummed by this development. Two days later the hammer really fell. They had identified the infection as a particularly dangerous one that would require hospitalization. On the day they were going to send me to discharge class they were sending me back to the hospital. Here's where the real problems started. I became very short and testy (hard to believe, huh?) with everybody. Depression started to set in immediately. Why? Because, I realized the next day, I had taken back from the Lord what I had placed there so many months before: My absolute gift of myself and trust in Him for my healing, well-being, confidence, and hope throughout. One little sign of trouble and disappointment and I was going to handle it myself - and not in a very productive way! Talk about 2 steps forward and one step back! Not only in my physical life but in my spiritual life as well. But here's the good news: The Father didn't abandon me in this time but drew even nearer to strengthen, lift up, and move forward. Each time I wanted to bemoan my setback He reminded me of the so many obstacles we had overcome together. Such love! Such comfort!

Now for news of today. The infection is under control; the Graft Versus Host Disease seems to have been reigned in; my doses of steroids have been tapered and will end in about 10 days. And how about this: the bone marrow biopsy reveals NO CANCER! (DNA results take a little longer.) Today I go to IPOP for more treatment followed by a DISCHARGE CLASS (not to Memphis yet but to my attending physician here in Baltimore - one step at a time, folks). I'll be on another week of IV antibiotics just to make sure the infection is gone and then another 5-6 weeks with the attending. After that...well, maybe early October will see me back home at St. Paul.

So, that's where I am right now. A little slip up in "Wait on the Lord; be of good courage; He will strengthen thine heart.", but Our Lord is so forgiving and ready to welcome back. Continue to support Fr. Tagg and Fr. Murray. We are so fortunate to have men like them ready and willing to serve in whatever capacity they are asked - regardless of their own needs or desires. Continue to pray for all priests and for the whole Church - it's a difficult time. Know that you are all in my prayers every day. I long for the day when I will hear again the joyful sounds of our choirs giving praise and glory to God and we are all gathered around that one table that is our eternal life!

Peace and Love
Fr. Rick
(back to letters)

December 23, 2005

My Dear Brothers and Sisters In Christ,

"Glory to God in the Highest...for today is born for us a savior, Jesus Christ the Lord...And He shall be called Immanuel, that is, God-with-us...Lord of Lords; King of Kings; Wonder-Counselor; Mighty God; Prince of Peace."

My Dear Friends at St. Paul, your family members, visitors, first-timers, and first-timers in a long time - I rejoice and celebrate with you this glorious night and day when God's glory shone on earth in the presence of that little babe in Bethlehem. How truly blessed we are that our God has become man and dwelt among us, taking upon Himself all our sin and troubles.

I write this to you at the end of a long and frustrating week. Monday I was admitted to the hospital with fungul pneumonia and a bacteria in my blood. From there it just seemed that it was one thing after another - every day, sometimes every hour - brought a new concern or setback. But a sunrise lifted be up. My room in the hospital looks out over the remains of a parking garage they're tearing down. Beyond that is a high-rise (low cost) apartment building; and next to that is the spire of some church. The morning after I was admitted I awoke to a perfect sunrise between the garage, the high-rise, and the church. Each morning after brought the same sight. What a joy! Just as that sunrise revealed itself amidst the broken, the poor, and suffering of this world so would The Son rise day after day for me in the midst of my own brokeness and suffering. God is so good...all the time!

Until I return I think about you constantly, trusting and relying on your prayers and good thoughts. Know that you are in my daily prayers. I'm going to try to celebrate Mass with my sisters on Christmas Eve and I'll also remember you there. Take care of each other and rejoice : God is with us!

Peace
Fr. Rick
(back to letters)

January 1, 2006

My Dear Friends In Christ,

HAPPY NEW YEAR! As you gather today to celebrate the Feast of Mary the Mother of God I write to wish you a New Year filled with happiness, peace, and the joy and strength that comes only from Our Loving Father. As I make this wish I recall the words of our Blessed Mother: "My soul does magnify the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior." As I head into the new year these words of Mary become my own as I head into this next phase of my treatment and life.

This past Tuesday I received from Terry my DLI. She was the real hero in all this: four hours of having her blood spun, separated, and extracted. For me it was just an infusion - like any of the other meds or fluids I've received recently. Now it's a waiting game - and that's the hard part. You know something's coming but you don't know when or what or how. So every day becomes a day to simply say: "Lord, whatever today brings walk with me and give me the strength to handle it." It also becomes a new day to echo the words of Mary that I quoted earlier. When I look back on this time and on my life how can I do anything but give praise to God and rejoice in His abiding presence. He has been so good to me.

Thank you for all your good wishes at Christmas and all the get well cards. Continue to keep me in your prayers - as you are in mine. With any luck and the grace of God I'll see you soon.

In the Peace of Christ
Fr. Rick
(back to letters)

January 20, 2006

My dear friends in Christ,

Several weeks have passed since I last wrote. For a while my e-mail was down. For another period of time I was in the hospital and just didn't have the energy to get it done. Though I haven't been writing please know that you have never been far from my thoughts and daily in my prayers.

Right now things are going good. My "counts" have begun to rebound. A good sign I'm told by all who are in the know. This Monday I meet with my lead doctor to make plans for my return to Memphis and my continuing treatment by my oncologist there. I haven't had any of the reactions to the "donor lymphocyte infusion" that they're looking for - graft versus host disease - but I am assured that it will probably still come. That becomes the hard part of all this: Just waiting. Keep me in your prayers.

Each Sunday I've been up here I've had the joy of celebrating Mass - either in the hospital or in our little apartment - with members of my family. Though we were small in numbers, the celebration of the Eucharist and it's unifying power brought home to me the wonderful truth of our unity. Though a thousand miles away I was still with you, and you with me, in the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup. I know I could not walk this path alone - I know I can walk this path with all of you at my side.

Last Sunday the Word of God focused on the call to service that God makes to all of us. As I listened to my sisters proclaim that word it struck me very powerfully that God calls us to serve right where we are. You there at St. Paul - me, whether here in Baltimore or there with you. He only asks that we respond, as Samuel did: "Here I am Lord, you called me."

Keep me in your prayers. I miss you all.

Peace
Fr. Rick
(back to letters)

February 16, 2006

My Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I know itís been quite a while since Iíve actually written but hopefully between writings, Terry and the parish staff have kept you up to date. Itís such a day to day struggle that I never have any hard and fast news to tell. . . except that itís been more than I ever would have imagined. Keep praying!

Here, though, is why I write today. As you know I was so very fortunate to be able to celebrate the Eucharist with my family on Sundays and the Holy Days. It was such a joy and strength. Then when the "GVHD" hit so hard all that stopped since I couldnít eat or drink anything. The "fasting" began officially on the 30th of January.

I missed the Eucharist so much and even more missed the prayer with my family. Then, this past Saturday, with my brother Tom and sisters Barb and Steph here with me, I asked them to pray the rosary with me. They quickly joined in and now we pray the rosary together each day at 4:00 p.m. (3:00 p.m. Memphis time) How surprised was I when Cathy Weirich told Steph to look on the parish website and see what the parish was doing. I couldnít believe my eyes! Without consulting with each other we chose the same time to unite our hearts and prayers . . . spirits and souls. The rosaries I have prayed since then have been the richest and most serene I have ever prayed. You are truly my strength and my joy.

As far as what tomorrow brings . . .well, thatís still in Godís hands (and his able assistants up here) . . . keep up the prayers. Know that you are always in my heart and prayers. Until then . . .

Peace,
Fr. Rick

PS: Today, February 16th, Iím being discharged to my apartment. Iím still on an ice-chip only diet for the next couple of days and then start on the clear liquids....but itís progress (I think!).

I also received the GIANT VALENTINES and want to greatly THANK Sarah Riley, who I understand initiated this, and to THANK everybody who signed and wrote notes. The valentines, along with all your cards and notes you continue to send me, mean so much to me. My love to everybody!
(back to letters)

February 24, 2006

My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

"Blessed are you for you have seen and believed; Blessed more those who have not seen but believe."

For most of my life I would have put myself in that second categoryĖone who has not seen but believed and was blessed. (Indeed, I have been extraordinarily blessed throughout my life!) But only now can I also see the fullness of the first partĖI have seen, heard, felt, experienced and reveled in the nearness of God in ways that are just unimaginable. Let me reminisce a little.

Two years ago on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday I gave a homily that turned out to be a fateful and magnificent new path in my journey of life and faith. I encouraged everyone to set aside what they wanted "to do" for Lent, and let God decide and direct. Three days later (Ash Wednesday) I received the preliminary report of my leukemia. I know I didnít realize it at the time but God was taking me up on my offer to let Him lead me through Lent. What a horrible and magnificent path He has led me down! Many a day and night of near despair, confusion, pain, depression and uncertainty. Over these two years now it has truly become a time of "giving up"Ėnot just the pleasures of the world but the pride of a soul and so much that separated me from the One who loves me above all others. It has been a time of stripping away--piece by piece-- all that kept me from "seeing and truly believing". With each layer stripped away, my Lord has drawn me nearer and nearer to that abiding peace that knows no equal. I AM BLESSED BEYOND ALL MEASURE!

Now we approach this season of grace once again. My words to you are the same: follow where He would have you go. It may not be along the path that He has led me (I believe itís what He knew I needed) but it will be a path that leads to the greatest joy and peace youíll ever experience.

As for right now, each day seems to bring a little improvement. Iím on my fourth day out of the hospital and my third day of "eating". Iím up to 4 saltines, chicken broth, and the highlight of every day: a real Italian Icee. "Give us this day our daily bread" has taken on new meaning over the last month or so. Be thankful for every little morselĖjust one more lesson for me.

May Godís fullest blessings be upon all of you in this wonderful season. Keep up the prayers and fasting. I canít tell you how much it means to me. My sisters and I pray the rosary every day at 4:00 p.m. (3:00 your time) and give great thanks to God for you.

Looking forward to the day when we share the Eucharist together again. Support Fr. Dennis, Fr. Cortese, and the whole Parish Staff.

Peace,
Fr. Rick
(back to letters)

March 3, 2006

DEAR BROTHERS AND SISTERS IN CHRIST,

"I will lead her into the desert and speak to her heart...I will espouse you to me forever...in right and justice...love and mercy...fidelity...and you shall know the Lord"

"Do we need letters of recommendation? You are our letter...read by all, shown to be a letter of Christ ministered by us...written...By the Spirit of the Living God."

"No one pours new wine into old wineskins...Rather, new wine is poured into fresh wineskins."

As you know, these readings are taken from this past Sunday. However, I just couldnít let them pass. First, because it was the first Mass I was able to celebrate with my family in well over a month and, at the same time, the first time Iíd been able to receive the Eucharist in that same time. When I looked at them in preparing for Mass I knew the Good Lord had prepared them just for me (all the pride isnít gone yet!). Each of them spoke so deeply to my heart and my time.

Back in 1998 I experienced the desert into which God led his people - the Sinai. I was with 20 other people but as we made a short trek into the desert I was stunned by its harshness and emptiness; its silence and solitude. It swallows you up. Itís a place of despair and, at night, of utter darkness. I have had that same feeling through this struggle. God has led me into the wilderness of this disease (not caused it) and here He has spoken to my heart. Here He has, and I have finally let Him, espouse me to Himself in every wonderful, magnificent, peace-filled way He has chosen. He has done it for me! I know there are many of you in your own desert place right now. I pray for you. But donít try to leave that desert. Rather, listen...listen...listen. He will speak and you will rejoice.

The second reading only reminded me how blessed I am to have been given the opportunity to be your pastor. St. Paul Parish has a long and proud history and tradition. I canít imagine, though, that it has been more a "letter written large" of the power of faith and action. Throughout these two years you have been my strength and hope and focus of healing and return. Through your faith and actions - especially the prayer and fasting you undertook of your own initiative - people all over the world (literally) have done the same. You are indeed "a letter of Christ" that I have been privileged to minister. I shall never be able to thank you enough.

Finally. Boy, did this ever hit me! Talk about new skin. Literally, the Father was pouring all the new Wine into a new skin - literally! Over the past two months (not to mention two years) I have managed to shed my skin twice (itís part of the GVHD process - ask Terry if you want the details). But of even greater importance, I have had to shed the skin of pride, arrogance, self-centeredness and so much more to let God be God. I thank and praise Him, because the new skin into which He has poured this wonderful new Wine of Truth and Love fits so much better.

I pray this Lenten Season will bring to you the joy that I have experienced. Let Him lead you. Let Him fill you. May the Holy Spirit guide all you do and bring it to fruition.

I pray that Iíll be with you in body through at least part of this holy season. That would be a great joy. But if Iím not, I know itíll be because the Lord is still working with me. Until then....

Peace,
Fr. Rick
(back to letters)

March 10, 2006

My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

No Leukemia!

Thatís right! I had barely sat down in IPOP this morning when my GVHD Doctor wandered in to tell me he had good news (When I asked what? He went on to say "I saved a bundle with GEICO" - I love this guy). He went on to say the initial tests of the Bone Marrow Aspiration showed n Leukemia. Theyíll do the much deeper tests and, hopefully, confirm what the first tests show. Praise God - Thank You Jesus - Thank You my Sisters and Brothers at St. Paul Church - Thanks to All, Around the World, who have supported and prayed for me!

I know that I still have many more hills to climb (lingering GVHD, some other virus, gaining back my strength and stamina) but weíll climb those too - together - with the grace of God. Please continue the prayers, fasting, and Mass. You canít imagine what a consolation, comfort, and strength they are to me. I know that the Lord walks with me in this and He will not be overcome.

In His Peace,
Fr. Rick
(back to letters)

March 17, 2006

My Dear Friends in Christ,

"If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but handed Him over for us all, how will he not give us everything else along with Him?"

Well, let's see. Our own bodies, minds, spirits can be against us. People who just don't like us. Cruel twists of fate or accident that befall us all so many times in our lives. The list goes on and on.

In my own circumstances it would seem that it's a different opponent every week. I did get a "final" report on the leukemia and the status of my donor marrow - NO LEUKEMIA AND 100% DONOR MARROW. On the other hand I've found out that the GVHD has flared up and another virus has shown itself. So, while I was starting to eat - however lightly - I'm now back on a clear liquid diet, and probably will be for another month at least. Bummer!

Thanks be to God, though, He lives within me and none of these things can prevail against Him. That is my constant hope and joy. This has been a setback but He who has already redeemed me through the sacrifice and obedience of His Son will see me through this as well.

Keep those prayers and good thoughts coming. You are certainly in mine every day. Continue to support Fr. Dennis and Fr. Richard, Cathy, Dale, Jackie, and all the parish staff. They're all in a difficult position and doing a great job. May you know the peace of Christ, always.

Peace
Fr. Rick

GO TIGERS!!!!
(back to letters)

March 24, 2006

Dear Friends in Christ,

This past Tuesday was significant for a couple of reasons. First, it was the first full day of spring. What a glorious time of the year, full of promise, hope, and life. By now I would imagine the azaleas in front of the rectory are beginning to burst with color, the trees greening, and maybe even a little color around the church.

The second reason it was significant is that it marked 100 days that I've been up here. Somehow marking those days seems significant. It gives something of framework for assessing where I've been and where I'm going. To look back on what has happened and look forward to what lies ahead.

In my case (as it is in most people's lives)it's been a bit of thrill ride these hundred days. Right now the docs tell me I'm on the right path: no leukemia, fended off two infections, and, slowly, getting over the GVHD. I still have a ways to go and am just weak as a kitten, but that too will change and improve. It'll just take time.

Today's Gospel is one of my all-time favorites. The interplay between all the different groups is wonderful theatre. Each different party trying to protect themselves from a truth that they could see and hear, but not quite ready to believe lest it cause them to truly believe. But the heart of the scene is clearly the man who was born blind and yet now sees. His relationship with Jesus mirroring the spiritual journey that we all walk.

While the man born blind was able to see immediately upon doing what Jesus commanded, Jesus was still just "that man they call Jesus." Pressed further the man confesses that Jesus is a prophet. He begins to see that Jesus is more than just a man, but truly a "Man-of-God." Finally, having challenged the powers that be, he is thrown out. Jesus finds the man and in a personal engagement with him the man comes to truly see and believe: "I do believe, Lord."

I don't know about all of you, but that sure mirrors my spiritual journey, and I thank God that he has been so patient with me. As I look back on my life I can see the different stages and the relationship with God that I have had. From an intellectual assent to what I was being taught and told, to that place where I am now. It didn't happen over night, but has been a journey of a life-time. These last two years have been an awfully important part of the developing of that relationship. So I mark the days and look forward to tomorrow with hope and joy.

I hope and pray that this has been a wonderful Lenten season. To our RCIA candidates: you are in my prayers. How I wish that I would be there with you to share the joy and majesty of the Easter Vigil, to welcome you into the Church and to share the Eucharist with you for the first time. I'll be there with you in spirit. To our First Communicants and their families: Holy Thursday is such a beautiful night. Know that I'll be with you in spirit, too.

Thanks for all the cards, letters, e-mails, and, above all, all the prayers and fasting that has sustained me during these 100+ days. You are always in my prayers,

Peace
Fr. Rick

GO TIGERS!!!!
(back to letters)