Seton Goes to Columbus
The following is a speech that Sean O'Hare (Class of '99) gave at Holy Family Parish in Columbus, Ohio.
Malcolm Muggeridge was a British journalist and author – during WWII he was a soldier and spy. And for much of his life a professed agnostic. That was until he met Mother Teresa, and at age 79 he and his wife entered the Catholic Faith. He entitled his famous book about his conversion with a description of the work of Mother Teresa. “Something beautiful for God” is a wonderful description of the work of one of the greatest persons of the 20th Century.
“Mother Teresa” and “something beautiful for God” have been on my mind as I have visited with the people you serve in your soup kitchen and visited your museum of art and culture. I can imagine that many of you are wondering who I am. Malcolm Muggeridge I am not, nor am I a Mother Teresa!
I am a Virginian native and a New Jersey transplant currently living in Princeton. So, now you might be really wondering what connection is there between someone like myself; the Holy Family Parish of Columbus, Ohio, the Jubilee Museum & Soup Kitchen and this Hidden Treasure Banquet.
I need to share with you a couple stories so that you will see that my presence here tonight is not a disconnect at all, but rather you will see that I am here because I feel particularly connected indeed to the wonderful apostolic work that is being done in this capital city. Since your museum and soup kitchen are in an old high school building, I have chosen to connect with you through stories about my high school in Manassas, Virginia.
When it was time for me to enter high school, my family’s own treasure chest had fallen upon hard times. You see, Dad had recently lost his job and my parents were searching for ways to cut expenses. All of my siblings had gone to a big and prestigious Catholic high school nearby. My brothers were both big basketball and soccer stars with their numbers retired and state championship banners to their credit. And as you can imagine when you are the youngest of 4 with 2 older brothers — all you have ever dreamed about is following in their footsteps — or even the chance to break their records. But even more than that — I wanted to do something they hadn’t – PLAY FOOTBALL. Somehow, here in Buckeye country I feel like you can appreciate that…
However, given our constraints, but still feeling committed to a Catholic education, my parents sent me to a tiny Catholic school that was less than half the cost, with seemingly no prestige at all…. called Seton. Mind you, it was bad enough that I was now attending this rinky-dink school where I had no friends. But to add insult to injury – it was a 40 min commute one way. There were 350 students…in the entire school! We had no heat, no bleachers, no sports fields of our own, and worst of all — No Football… But it was the best thing that ever happened to me. Because as you will learn, Seton was not your average Catholic school.
When one enters Seton, he comes face to face with a 5 foot tall statue of Christ the King on a pedestal – arms outstretched. He is the lobby’s featured presence whose gaze one cannot escape. It is a beautiful statue and obviously very old. The figure of Our Lord is carved out of wood and dressed in regal robes and crowned gloriously.
I asked about this statue – where did it come from? Well it turns out, some years before I entered, a family from North Carolina had decided to have their freshman daughter board with a local family so that she could attend Seton. The parents brought not just their daughter, but also this statue, hoping that Seton would have a home for it. It was not a family treasure. In fact, the family had rescued the statue of their King from a rubbish pile outside a church that was being renovated. (I have a feeling Fr. Lutz has told many stories similar to this) This beautiful statue, although worn, had not been considered a treasure by the construction crew. Once this old statue arrived at Seton, one of the school Moms, a mother of 15, took the statue home. She, of course had many other responsibilities, but she wanted to contribute her talents to this previously beautiful statue. And so, she repaired and repainted it to restore it to its original glory. And it became the permanent fixture of the lobby to greet all that entered.
My second story involves a Seton father. One morning, just outside the very lobby where Christ the King stands, a homeless man named Jerry wandered in. Mrs. Rafter, the school secretary, was watching him. Just then, Bob Rafter, husband of the secretary who had been his high school sweetheart, came to the school and saw the bearded Jerry in his well-worn jacket. Bob immediately thought of the many homeless people he had seen in Washington, DC, near his office. Bob worked as a Secret Service agent providing security for the President, Vice-President, and heads of state and had recently provided security at the Olympic Village in Utah. Even with his work among the powerful and the glamorous, Bob’s thoughts were often with the poor who had no security from the cold or hunger. Bob saw Jerry and began talking with him. He asked Jerry to meet him back at the school later that morning Normally, Bob would have been at work, but he had been feeling a little run down and had decided not to go to go in that day. He had brought his son Casey, the oldest of his five children, into school.
Bob went into the school to tell his wife what he was going to do. What he did was run back home to grab a backpack and fill it with things Jerry could use: cans of soup and tuna fish, bottled water and a Gortex jacket. He came back to the school with this bag full of treasures and gave it to this needy man.
Mr. Rafter then returned home. Later on that day, the school received the shocking news that Mr. Rafter had suffered a massive heart attack and died that very afternoon. His last act before going before his Savior and Judge was to serve others in the person of Jerry. “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto Me.” Bob Rafter had found his security in loving God by serving his fellow man.
Perhaps now you might see how we are connected?
A statue and a homeless man. An art museum and a soup kitchen. I think the immediate response to these combinations is that there is some disconnect. But Cardinal Marchisano in his visit here clearly saw the connection: "art treasures of Christ above; the treasure of Christ’s poor below."
We are body and soul. The body needs feeding and so the soul. Our Dear Lord, of course, knows this better than any of us. So He gives us His very Body as the principle nourishment of our soul. And Holy Mother Church in Her wisdom has seen the appropriateness of surrounding the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, our greatest treasure, with the sensible beauty of candles, and incense and crucifixes and statues, so that rich and poor alike may honor and partake of the Bread of Angels in great splendor.
Our churches are places where class distinction is meaningless — where all come to the Lord in equal value: bringing to Him their wants and desires; their fears and failings; their sufferings and their joys.
And so it is at the Holy Family Soup Kitchen. On Friday I visited and saw that from ten to noon every day, this extraordinary place serves 500+ meals (over 3000 a week). The needy come pouring in from every type of background and nationality. Different ages, different experiences. But each one is looked upon with love. No judgements, no inquiry. Just love.
When I had the chance to talk with Bobby — who lent his voice to the choir earlier tonight. He said that there are individuals and groups present at the Soup Kitchen, who outside its walls are rivals and enemies. But all that is forgotten within this safe haven. The example of the staff along with the swift discipline of Frances provide an environment that for a few hours each day, love of God through loving others comes first. It demonstrates we believe in something greater than ourselves.
Later on – I saw Bobby at his usual post. Outside the church steps, guarding it from any who may intend harm along with his fellow guard Mike. Mr. Rafter protected the President and other dignitaries. Bobby protects something even greater — our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and the community of this Holy Family. (As you know, we aren't located in the best area of town.)
When I asked him – why do you this? You aren't paid (you receive no compensation) and at times its below zero – yet you stand guard. Why? He responded….
"Because I love the Church"
And what I found so profound about that statement, is that he didn't say that he loved Holy Family or any specific church. But that he loved THE Church. Because we are of course, One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. The Universal Church. And it took Bobby to remind me of that.
When I pressed further, Bobby said simply "This is my family and I would do anything to protect them".
I for one am happy that Bobby has our back….
Later I was given a tour of the Jubilee Museum. I was struck by the heritage and tradition of our Catholic Faith. This Church, established by Christ Himself and handed to us through the Apostles — is of inestimable value. And yet, there are those who cease to recognize that the artifacts of our Faith play an invaluable role of defining who we are and who we can be.
There was a familiar feeling walking through the museum. My favorite activity when visiting my Grandmother who lived in the same house for over 50 years, was to escape into the basement where she stored all the artifacts of her life. I was meticulously study each object, each document, searching for clues that could help me understand my heritage — who my family was.
And I had the same feeling when touring with Fr. Lutz. Except our Catholic heritage spans 2000 years and even further to our Jewish ancestors. To see Bibles from the 15th century, paintings from century after century. Depictions of the lives of the saints. This is our heritage — this is what defines who we are — and what we can be. This museum stands as a reminder. Each one of them tells a story. And to know that so many of these treasures were rescued from the trash heap. It seems to me that Fr. Lutz has become the triage for Catholic Art. Nursing them back to health and restoring so all can enjoy. And it breaks my heart, to know that this is just a small portion of what he could save — there is so much already gone, but better, so much more to be recovered.
Because whether its the homeless in search of nourishment for their bodies at the soup kitchen — or its when any one of us visiting the Museum who seeking nourishment for our soul — it can be found here.
A statue and a homeless man. An art museum and a soup kitchen.
That family from North Carolina could have driven past the rubbish heap outside that church as many others had done disregarding the treasure that lay among trash. It would have meant a treasure lost; a work of art never again to be appreciated. It would have been a tragedy.
Mr. Rafter could have ignored Jerry – after all he was doing much already just in raising his five children. He could have failed to see the true treasure of that homeless man and the rich treasure Christ offers to those who serve Him in His poor. He could have made his last day on earth just another day. He did not. He made the most of his final hours and gave a beautiful witness to serving the poor. A few years later, Casey, Mr. Rafter's son that he had dropped off at school that day. He was with a group of friends after school and saw Jerry outside of a Taco Bell. He approached him and they began to chat. Jerry had remembered Mr. Rafter and the kindness he had shown. And he was saddened to learn that Mr. Rafter had died that day. Jerry was wearing the same backpack — it was now worn down, zipper broken with a few holes. Casey asked Jerry to wait there….and in imitation to his father he got him a new backpack and again filled it with treasures.
We never know the example we set. We never may realize who is impacted. But each of us leaves a legacy. Every one of us is part of the Holy Family.
Here tonight we all have a double opportunity before us. An opportunity to help in the preservation and restoration of Catholic art treasures; and an opportunity to witness to the dignity and intrinsic value of the poor among us. No one will think us heroic or extraordinary, but there is a treasure that is laid up in heaven that is greater than human recognition. I urge you to take advantage of this opportunity and support the tremendously valuable work of Holy Family Parish. Bob Rafter filled a backpack for a homeless man and then made that journey that all of us will make from this fleeting life into the life that lasts forever.
I ask you tonight — to fill the backpack for this community. Help it to continue to bring physical and spiritual nourishment to this community. For if we fill our backpack tonight we too, as was said of Mother Teresa, will have done "something beautiful for God"
. God bless you all and thank you for letting me be among you.