Friday, September 9, 2016

The Summer of the Long Good-Bye

The ND Guitar Pilgrim blog has been silent since the twentieth of June.  It was at that time that I announced to readers and friends that, after thirty-five years at the helm of the Notre Dame Folk Choir, a new opportunity had made itself known on my ministerial horizon.

It is an opportunity fraught with opportunity and challenge, in a land and with a people that, throughout the touring history of the Choir, I have come to love and cherish.  And so I said yes – yes to the chance to work in downtown Dublin, Ireland, in an historic church whose founder I have admired for most of my ministerial career.  I've studied his words, even put his poetry to music.  It took very little convincing to sign me up, that I might walk and work in the church built on the legacy of John Cardinal Newman.

My silence on the blog was rooted in the simple fact that, for the past two and a half months, we have been packing, allocating, choosing what to keep, what to send, and what to let go of.  A pod of precious books and resources is on its way, by boat, to Dublin – even as I write this.  Some of our furnishings went to family members.  Some things on the walls of office and home went to longtime friends.  And a good many things were simply given away or sold in a weekend-long estate sale.  But all the time, for the past ten weeks, we have been letting go, letting go, sorting through what was deemed essential and what was not.

All of this is, of course, took place within the practical vision of moving a household from Granger, Indiana, to Dublin, Ireland.  But there was another lens that made itself equally manifest over these warm summer days… the lens of friends needing to say good-bye.

Throughout the weeks of June, July and August, my wife and I were humbled to have countless doors open to us – friends who had regularly gone to the 11:45 Sunday liturgies during the academic year or the 9:00PM Summer Folk Choir celebrations.  Each time we entered a household, we were greeted with warm embraces, not a few tears, eager questions, reflections on the ministry and song of an ensemble that had become so very close to their hearts.

It has been the Summer of the Long Good-Bye.  And I doubt that, even after sixty-two years of living on this earth, something like this could ever be experienced again.  Every day was a holy experience, walking with friends who had been touched by the song of these exceptional singers and musicians.

I suppose, when you name an ensemble after the assembly (for that is what the tag "Folk" has always pointed to in the choir's title), that very assembly will make its voice heard – especially about its Director and the direction he is taking with his life.  Throughout these weeks, I've been surrounded by a familiar theme:  "Notre Dame's loss will be Ireland's gain!"  "I am overjoyed for you – and heartbroken for us!"  These were the thumbnails.  But woven into these themes were personal stories: memories of a particular song, moments of grieving or gladness that had somehow been better illustrated by the repertoire and witness of the Folk Choir.  All these stories needed to be shared.  And Michele and I became the recipients, the place where all those stories were collected.

As of Tuesday after Labor Day, everything was disposed of – home, cars, property, kayaks, excess clothes, furniture, even a precious collection of compact discs.  We will soon be on our way across the Atlantic, and only the necessary things will do.

But we carry other things with us – far more powerful things.  And these things weigh nothing.  They are the stories, the sacred memories, the legacy of almost two generations of singers and the witness they created.  We carry these with us, these precious chapters that will need no suitcase.

And as we make our way toward the shores of the Emerald Isle, we can hear the song of these past few months – the song of a Summer of the Long Good-Bye.  Please God this song will be an encouragement when we arrive at Saint Stephen's Green at the end of September.


  1. Very well said, Steve. My heart and prayers go with you and Michelle as you make your way across the Atlantic to your new home. Transitions can be doorways to something new, and in the letting go and the welcoming in, God is there. I pray with and for you.

  2. Your legacy at ND will live on and you blaze new trails and find the God of surprises in new people and places. Prayers of thanksgiving on your ministry as you let go and move on, brave pilgrim.

  3. A beautiful reflection, Steve. Thank you. Be assured of prayers in this transition.

  4. Steve - Your work at Notre Dame has been no less than transformative. The students whose lives you touched through the Choir-- the uncountable numbers who were moved by the choir's work. You will never know it all. But know that the gift you gave so many of us was deep and beautiful.

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  6. Steve and Michelle, our hearts go with you to Ireland. Your love of God, inspired vision of the possibilities in people and organizations, and your desire to share the spirit of God through liturgy and music has transformed the landscape of our Catholic music heritage. Thank you for sharing your gifts without counting the cost. May your new home resonate with echoes of the music of our hearts, one with yours. God bless you both in your new mission!

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  8. Wishing you and Michele the peace and joy of our loving Lord. May this new portion of your ministry be a blessing for all those you encounter every day. God loves you!
    -Peter Dobosz
    Diocese of Orlando

  9. Wishing you and Michele many blessings as you begin this new chapter of your lives. You have been a gift to many and will be a gift to many more. Go with God! ~ Lena & Bill Gokelman