Monday, September 24, 2012

Charlton Heston and The Wedding

It's been a bit of a stretch since I've written – almost two weeks, which is not typical of this blogger. Yet the reality since returning from Ireland is that there has been a lot of backpedaling, an abundance of catching up, since those jaw-dropping days overseas.

In the first place, my eldest, Nathan, got married! A mere six days after the Dublin ND/Navy game, our family converged on my middle son's former monastery – Mepkin Abbey, outside of Charleston, South Carolina.

And as with any great event, there is a Story To Be Had.

The two days surrounding the wedding day were typical of September in the Low Country – huge thunderheads muscling their way through the region, portending a change in season. The day of the wedding rehearsal, Mepkin Abbey was spared their wrath.

But on the day of the wedding, Friday, September 7th, we arrived at the monastery around 4:00PM and watched with horror as an enormous storm system bore down on the outdoor gardens... the very spot where the wedding was to take place.

Thunder rolled up the river, announcing the mayhem that was soon to be celebrated. The musicians had frantically scrambled up and out of the garden area, leaving the presider and myself alone by the banks of the Cooper River.

The priest was a man I've admired for many years: Fr. Tom Tunney, a wise Irish pastor who'd spent half his life in Africa, before coming back to New York City and taking the helm of St. Mark's Catholic Church in Harlem (founded by Katherine Drexel, I might add). This is where he and my son first met and worked together.

So there we stood, Fr. Tunney and myself, watching as forked lightning and monsoon-like rains encroached. First they were down by Charleston... and then, the lightning and thunder and buckets of rain had reached the far side of the river. We just stood there, helpless.

And then some pretty strange things happened. I did my best Charlton Heston imitation, looked at all that water, and parted my hands like a Moses-wannabe. Fr. Tunney laughed, and I pointed up to the sky with a menacing look and said, "You will NOT rain on my son's wedding this day!"

Then the two of us just stood there, quietly praying on the riverbank, watching the Thing bear down on us.

As God is my witness, what happened next is the truth. And if you don't believe me, ask the priest, because even if he's Irish, he wouldn't lie about this.

We stood quietly for a couple more minutes, praying and watching the crazy weather.

And then the storm front simply turned around and went the other way.

Fr. Tunney looked at me, and I looked at him. He grinned, and gave me a high-five. "I'd say," said he, "that we'll do well to raise a glass over this!"

And so we did, later on, at the wedding reception.

Neither of us fashioned ourselves as being able to go up against the forces of nature or the One who authored them. But it sure was something else, watching that storm turn tail and run.

And if I were a betting man, I'd say the storm was more fearful of the wrath of my son's beautiful red-headed Welsh bride, than any kind of menace I could muster up.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Parting Glass

Following the weekend's nonstop football extravaganza in the Emerald Isle, Dublin Airport looked like the lobby of Legends Pub on the Notre Dame campus, except for the fact that it was stretched out over hours and days – an endless wave of ND t-shirts, sweatshirts, blue and green and gold emblems.

The Irish, and those who wished they were, had begun to depart, headed back to the States.

But I was not to be part of this early exodus, for there was one chapter left for me, my wife, and a few of my colleagues: a long-awaited visit by friends and benefactors to Teach Bhríde, the House of Brigid.
We are now into Year Four of this amazing witness and sharing between Campus Ministry at Notre Dame and the Diocese of Ferns in Southeastern Ireland.

Simply put, this was a chance for some of our wonderful supporters to gain a glimpse of the fruits of these first years of work.

Here is the roll call of our House of Brigid/Folk Choir graduates: Carolyn Pirtle, Martha Calcutt and Chris Labadie (Year One); Carolyn, Jessica Mannen, Patrick Duffey and Clarisa Ramos (Year Two); and Jessica, Kurt Nowak, Dan Masterton, and Molly Mattingly (Year Three). Their enthusiastic labors have spilled over into neighboring schools, shaped the repertoire of faith communities from Wexford to Galway, given consistent musical leadership to the liturgies of the Keough-Naughton ND program in Dublin, and been of steadfast help to their home diocese and the parishes of Ferns. And for two precious days, following all the football craziness, our benefactors had a chance to take in this legacy.

And now, three new members will join in this next year of witness. Nick Galasso, Emily Puscas, and Nicole Storey, all formidable musicians and teachers of the faith in their own right, will be led by House Director Molly Mattingly as they launch into the waters of spiritual and liturgical joy.
We parted from the members of Teach Bhríde late last night, families and clergy and friends and musicians all bidding farewell to one another.
The Irish, perhaps because they value friendship and hospitality to such a high degree, have a marvelous respect for gatherings and good-byes. A parting glass, if you will. And while we raised a few yesterday evening, it was not the wine that spilled over. Rather, what overflowed from the cups were words of love and common mission, of deep and abiding friendships, of souls that had been shaped and strengthened by the gospel.

And by way of farewell, let me share with you the eloquent words of Emily Ward, the Co-Director of Music at Our Lady's Island:

Teach Bhride has, perhaps without realising it, contributed so much to our music.... Our ‘musical landscape’ has been transformed and for this we thank you all. To follow the mustard seed parable, the Teach Bhride community sowed the musical seed and we now take on the responsibility to water and nurture it. . . and, young though this seed is, it is already bearing rich fruit.

Such parting words are full of hope. And gives us yet more reasons to continue bringing the gospel back to the land of our ancestors.

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Location:Cluain Dara, Clonard, County Wexford, Ireland

Monday, September 3, 2012

A Four Letter Word in Dublin

No, I'm not going to start this blog by dropping some f-bomb tidbit!

But there IS a four letter word that is a pretty good reflection on the events of the last few days. It's one that college students use a lot (though, often as not, used in crazy ways).

That word would be EPIC.

It would actually be safe to say that these past five days have been epic.

For instance: on Saturday morning before the game, liturgy was celebrated in the courtyard of Dublin Castle (at which more than five thousand people showed up). It was the very first time in the history of Ireland that mass was celebrated there... A remarkable thing, given this was also the place where England routinely subjugated and humiliated the Irish.

Or that, on several occasions, mass was celebrated at the Merrion Hotel, in the actual rooms that were once occupied by the Duke of Wellington. And I'm sure he's rolling over in his grave on account of that.

Or that close to ten thousand people crammed into the O2 Centre a few days ago, Irish and Americans alike, to hear The High Kings and Anúna and Liam O'Flynn and a host of other singers, musicians and dancers. (And yes, the Notre Dame Marching Band and the Folk Choir).

Temple Bar was transformed into Joyce South: thousands upon thousands of crazy Americans mingling with the Irish (and sopping up their Guinness).

And the day after the game, yet another extraordinary gathering took place: a mass in St. Mary's Church on Haddington Road. It was estimated that about a thousand people – a congregation that stretched all the way out to the sidewalk – cued up for this liturgical celebration.


And here's another thing that was epic: at that Sunday liturgy, which was largely made up of Notre Dame alums and family, they sang, as we would say, with "full heart and voice". The priests of the parish were, as the Irish would say, "gobsmacked". Our family knows how to raise the rafters... And that is precisely why we brought the choir to these green fields.

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Location:Owenstown Park,Dublin,Ireland

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Backstage: Dublin

It's not often that a member of the Notre Dame Folk Choir gets a vantage point like the one we had a few hours ago. Normally, what we see and hear is taken in from a church loft or the sanctuary of some sacred space. But on Friday night, the ensemble collaborated with a collection of musicians seldom gathered together on one stage: Anúna, Liam O'Flynn, the High Kings, Anthony Kearns – these were just a few. Throw into the mix a huge serving of the members of the Notre Dame Marching Band and three dozen of the Folk Choir, and you get a production, the likes of which hasn't been seen on the banks of the River Liffey.

Months and months ago, there was a meeting in Dublin, at Staunton's On the Green: John Kennedy, the executive producer, Noel Eccles, the music director, and their assistants asked me to sit in on a dialog about what this celebration would look like. The elements were staggeringly diverse: a marching band, trad Irish bands, singers, a comedian (Martin Short), a pep rally-like feel, a talk show and a sentimental homecoming, all thrown in together.

How in the name of Saint Patrick could they pull all of these elements together?

I have to say, even from my own perspective backstage, the writers and producers of this homecoming did a simply amazing job of weaving the whole thing together. At times both contemporary and yet deeply cognizant of their rich Irish traditions, the whole night was a joyful reunion of two great families: the returning Notre Dame community, and their kin from Eire, welcoming them home again.

Click HERE to go to RTE's main page (you may have to download the RTE player, which is a free app). A quick word of advice – take in the whole show! The Folk Choir sings at several places (I'm not going to tell you when), but each time is with a singer or ensemble that represents an amazing contribution to the Irish musical landscape.

Of all these collaborations, though, I think it would be fair to say that there is now a very special bond between the Folk Choir and Anúna. We worked very hard on our Irish and Scots-Gaelic pieces, but so much more than that. Michael McGlynn is one masterful choral director, and the singers he has accepted and formed into his ensemble are fabulous men and women. It would be safe to say that we anticipate other chances to work together in the future!

More on Dublin and our labors in the next post!

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Location:The O2 Centre, Dublin, Ireland