Last Dance

Friday was my last work day at St Joseph University Church. And I’m doing a lot of reminiscing. Mostly about some first experiences and impressions here in Buffalo. Two stand out in my memory.

I stepped off the plane with my wife for the weekend interview. It was a free trip to the Falls at worst and to a city I had never visited. But secretly I wondered if this would become our new home. I wondered about new colleagues, Patty Spear and Ann Marie Eckert were two friends I had met on the conference circuit and Dan and Marcy Zicari were college friends that I knew in Buffalo, but beyond that this was a place of strangers.

Fr. Jack said that he’d meet me at the airport. A nice touch, I thought, not making me fetch a cab. I looked up and saw a man with a full Roman Collar on at the edge of the pick up area. I looked at Marion and said:

“Yeah, I don’t want to work for this guy already!”

Marion: “Why?”

Mike: “Um, cause he wore his collar to an airport! That means he’s either very clerical or an idiot. Every nervous flyer is going to latch onto him and we’ll never get out of here.” (For the record, I now think that’s a good reason for a priest to wear his collar to an airport).

Fr. Jack took Marion’s bag and welcomed us and then immediately said:

“Oh! By the way, I only wore this collar so you would be able to recognize me!” And then ripped it off, to show a simple golf shirt.

I looked at Marion and winked. He passes.

And if you know Fr. Jack well, you know that he is neither clerical nor a moron. One of the brightest guys going and he became a great mentor, teacher and a serious big brother who always had my back (He’s MUCH too young to be my father!)!

I will miss working with him daily for sure.

The second experience comes from Zach Tomasik, one of my favorite students, now a few years removed from UB and headed to physician assistant school, which he’ll be great at, by the way.

We had decided to go to NYC for an alternative break. My hometown! I was pumped to take students there. We decided to take Megabus down because that’s what poor people have to do.

We piled on with the rest of the people traveling down to the big city. I found a seat and hunkered in for the next 9 hours. The students piled in all around me. But none took the seat next to me. I was the new guy after all and apparently, I was also the old guy. Katie my colleague was much younger than me and we were leading this trip, a first venture for us together.

I looked out the window and saw Fr. Pat, Sr. Jeremy and Fr Jack waving good bye and became terrified at the obvious:

I was now the responsible adult.

My next thought was even more obvious: “Well, these folks are really screwed!”

There still was an empty seat next to me. And the last student got on the bus. It was Zach. And the only seat was next to “the old guy.”

Zach had that terror-filled look of “No! Not there. Not for 9 fricken hours!”

The only thing Zach knew about me was that I had worked in sports radio. So he leaned into the sports conversation:

“So the Sabres are looking good, huh?”

“Yeah” I replied. “I’ve never been all that into hockey, but it seems like that’s gonna change up here!”

And off we went. Talking some sports, some family, Busted Halo, his anthropology major and we generally hit it off. Fears subsided.

Fast forward years later and Zach reminded me of that conversation:

“Y’know. I was terrified to sit next to you that time and I only knew you had that sports radio background. It was fun hearing some of your stories from back then. But by the end of that ride I said to myself, ‘Wait up! Mike left that life to go and work at Busted Halo?! Mike’s crazy!”

I laughed.

“But then, I started reading Busted Halo and said ‘Well, that’s a pretty cool site. Of course, Mike left to do that. What a great venture!'”

I nodded.

“But then I said ‘Wait up! Mike left Busted Halo to come here and hang out with the likes of US! Mike IS crazy! Why would he EVER leave there?’ But now that I’ve gotten to know you and you’ve taught me a bit about Ignatian Discernment, I realize that you are exactly where you ought to be. It’s been great spending time with you.”

And I you, young Zach.

And now the time has come to leave once again. Am I crazy? Who knows? (Many are saying “Yep but not for that reason!”) St. Ignatius’ spirit has had me breathing with Ignatian lungs on this secular campus for the past 4 years and now I get to stretch into building a team around his spirituality. And if that’s crazy than I just might be the biggest loon going.

I’m looking forward to the next adventure, but continuing to grieve the loss of what has been. The great spirit of St. Joseph I will take with me. The same spirit that Ignatius shares of being “someone for others” as Joseph was for a child who was not only not his own, but God. That spirit that captures this parish clearly of treating everyone as if they were Jesus, is what I take with me. So that the stranger on the bus becomes Zach and that priest with the collar isn’t pre-judged and the person in our midst is Christ Himself.

Zach’s right. I am crazy. A fool for Christ, perhaps.

But these four years have been filled with great joy. And for that, I am filled with gratitude. There are too many of you to thank…so I’ll just say…friends, colleagues, pastoral staff, students, support staff, professors and parishioners…thanks! The community is sending me forth on Sunday June 30th with a blessing, so if you’re around, I hope to see you there.