This month of January my mom celebrates her 100th birthday and my parents celebrate their 73rd wedding anniversary. Dad is much younger than mom. He’s only 98!
I’ve been asked many times if I have inherited their good genes. I don’t know about that. I do know that mom and dad have given me an even more precious inheritance – the gift of life, the gift of faith and the gift of good example.
Mom and Dad are part of what Tom Brokaw called “the greatest generation.” Dad is a World War II veteran and a longstanding member of the Knights of Columbus. He served in the Navy on an LST (landing ship, tank) near Okinawa. He met my mom in 1946, about a year after he re-entered civilian life.
Actually, I think, St. Joseph had something to do with getting them together. My maternal grandmother knew that my future mother was looking for a good Catholic husband and so grandma made a novena to St. Joseph. Sure enough, on March 19, 1946 (St. Joseph’s feast day), dad arrived to take mom on a first date. Grandma looked him over and asked, “Are you the man St. Joseph sent?” Evidently, he was. They were married January 17, 1947.
My parents worked hard. Dad worked for the telephone company and Mom stayed at home to take care of the three of us boys. We were a handful. In addition to dealing with my mischief, mom also had the challenging responsibility of caring for my older brother with special needs. In accepting that heavy cross, Mom and Dad taught me a lot about commitment and perseverance. Frankie died a few years ago; Mom and Dad loved him faithfully and cared for him to the end of his life. My younger brother came along 11 years after I was born. I was old enough to witness how my parents’ love enveloped the newest member of our family.
Mom and Dad taught us the faith, both by word and by example. Back in the day, my classmates and I studied the Baltimore Catechism. Every night I was expected to memorize a certain number of catechism questions and answers. Mom always made sure I had the answers down pat.
My parents expected me to study hard, to comport myself well, and to be respectful of the religious sisters who taught us. Usually I did OK but when the phone would ring at about 4 in the afternoon and I heard Mom say that she and Mr. Lori would be at the convent that night at 7, I knew there was trouble ahead.
At an early age, I had an inkling that God was calling me to be a priest. I solemnly announced this to Mom and Dad. They surely knew that I was way too young to be so sure of myself but, if so, they didn’t let on. They gently encouraged me. They didn’t push or pull. But as I drew closer to ordination, I sensed their joy in my priestly vocation. I still do.
To this day, when I visit them I offer Mass in their room at the nursing home and anoint them. “What a gift!” Mom always says. But when asked if she’s proud of me, Mom astutely replies, “Not proud, but grateful to God.”
In addition to everything else, Mom is artistically gifted. I have several of her paintings and I cherish them. She and Dad were also good with power tools – for the most part, they did their own home renovations and repairs; that gene was definitely not handed on to me! And in the midst of it all, they always had time for others in need. When I was still in the seminary they started visiting the sick and elderly in nursing homes and continued doing so until they themselves were up in years. For many years they were daily communicants and never did a day go by without their praying the rosary.
Soon family members and friends will gather to celebrate my mom’s big birthday and parents’ anniversary. I look forward to sharing in that happy moment of celebration and thanksgiving. May the Lord bless them in their love for each other and in the love they have shared with so many.