THIS MONTH, 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 inherited their hardy genes. I don’t know about that, but I do know that Mom and Dad have given me an even more precious inheritance — the gifts of life, faith and a 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, near Okinawa, and about a year after reentering civilian life, he met my mom.
My maternal grandmother knew that my mother was looking for a good Catholic husband, so she prayed 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 Jan. 17, 1947.
My parents worked hard — Dad for the telephone company and mom at home, taking care of us three 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, my parents taught me a lot about commitment and perseverance. They loved Frankie and faithfully cared for him until he died a few years ago.
Because my younger brother came along 11 years after I was born, I was also able 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. We had to memorize a certain number of catechism questions and answers every night, and Mom always made sure I had the answers down pat. My parents expected me to study hard and to be respectful of the religious sisters who taught us. Usually, I did OK.
At an early age I had an inkling that God was calling me to be a priest, and I solemnly announced this to my parents. They surely knew that I was way too young to be so certain, but they didn’t let on. Instead, they gently encouraged me. They didn’t push or pull.
As ordination drew near, I sensed their joy in my priestly vocation — and 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. When asked if she’s proud of me, she 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!
In the midst of all their work, Mom and Dad always had time for others in need. When I was still in the seminary, my parents started visiting the sick and elderly in nursing homes and continued doing so until they were up in years themselves. For much of their lives, they were daily communicants and never went a day without 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.
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