I left for Joliet Friday evening in a downpour. I thought if I left the city at 6:30, the rush hour would be at least on the wane. Was I ever wrong! Friday rush hour lasts from 3:30 to.... Then I got lost in Joliet. Sister Agatha of the Franciscan sisters got me turned around, and I showed up at their convent door toward 9:00. The sisters run a shelter for battered women in a former orphanage. They were so gracious to give me a place to stay so that I would have an early start on my Saturday morning retreat day at the local parish, St. Paul's. This retreat day was the "finale" of the parish's events for the Year of St. Paul, and my fourth visit there. But the rain kept falling in the morning. Whatever the cause, only seven people came. Poor Father Greg! He said, "People complain that we don't offer things like this, and then when we do have them, nobody shows up!" But he also said that those faithful few who did come to the various events were enthusiastic about them. Perhaps it has ever been thus in the Church!
After the last talk and Benediction at noon on Saturday, I was on the road again--this time a few hours south, to the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign) for the graduation festivities. Our candidate, Jackie, would be donning the robe with three velvet bars on the sleeves as a Doctor of Philosophy. Sr Helena was coming, too, in a separate car (she had a talk that morning downtown). I made it in plenty of time for the Cardinal's Mass at the Newman Center chapel. The Cardinal gave one of the best homilies I have ever heard, on the Gospel in which Jesus says, "I have called you friends." Wow. Sr Helena missed the whole thing. (She's usually late for things, but not that late!) There was a reception afterward, and Jackie told the Cardinal about entering the postulancy in September. He was really pleased with that and promised to pray for her. Naturally, we took advantage of the photo op!
Then Sr Helena and I made our way to the Sisters of the Holy Heart of Mary, who opened their home to us. I had spoken directions but no address. Sr Helena (in her separate van) had an (incorrect) address and no direction. And the sister who was our contact person didn't have her cell phone on. Somehow, we connected and got to the convent. The elderly (but vivacious) Sr. Agnes let us in and showed us to our guest rooms. She was telling us about her work in the spirituality of their community (a development of the "French school") and her work translating the spiritual writings of the founders, as well as some of her other experiences, for instance, as a professor at Mundelein Seminary. Finally, I just had to ask, "Sister, what is your last name?" Turns out she was (the famous) Sr. Agnes Cunningham, an author and patristics scholar whose works I have read and enjoyed over the years; someone who is noteworthy for depth and orthodoxy. I was thrilled.
Sr Agnes had some funny stories from her days at the seminary. She was on the faculty when Fr. Robert Barron, the rising star of the American theological scene, was doing his graduate studies for the priesthood. Turns out the young Bob Barron didn't think much of Sr. Agnes' area of expertise. "Why do you pay so much attention to those old Church Fathers?" he asked her. The teacher came back at him, "With your gifts, Bob, if you get to know the Fathers, there's nothign you won't be able to do for the Church theologically."
A year later, Barron took one of Sr. Agnes' courses on the Fathers. Looks like her prediction came to pass!
I'm on the road again tomorrow (Milwaukee--well, Whitefish Bay, St. Monica's). What am I going to do with myself when the Year of St. Paul ends on June 29?