Dear Parish Family…
When Bishop Ed asked me in the fall of 2015 to leave my post at St. Mary’s in Oneonta to become the pastor of St. Patrick’s and St. Mary’s, Google Maps had just begun offering a new feature for smart phone users. Beginning that fall, Google Maps started tracking your car’s position so it could determine your driving patterns. That would allow the app on your phone to know where you lived, where you worked and what other locations were part of your daily routine, so that, for instance, when you got in your car at 8 AM, the phone would automatically tell you: “Based on today’s traffic, you will arrive at work in 22 minutes.” Handy little feature.
The problem for me was that my phone learned that Oneonta was my home. Those first few weeks after I moved to Coxsackie and Ravena, no pattern had yet been established and the phone couldn’t yet tell if I was perhaps just on vacation. So in those confusing first weeks, each time I got in my car, my phone would say:
“Based on today’s traffic, you will arrive at home in 1 hour and 33 minutes.”
The phone still thought that Oneonta was my home and was reminding me: “Okay, this has been a very nice visit, but shouldn’t you be going home now!?” It took my already bad wound of homesickness for my first parish and community and squeezed lemon juice into it.
Here we are, six years later, and I’m back in a familiar position. My last move I was sent east, this time I’m heading north, but the feelings I’m having are still right in the center of my gut. Ravena and Coxsackie have become my home, places I’ve loved; and the people here have become my family. To say I’m heading into a season of homesickness is an understatement. I suppose the fact that the territory is familiar makes me somewhat more prepared to face it, but my memories of it have taught me to respect it. It’s a form of grief. And like all of grief’s forms, it’s a force and will have to bear down on me and relent only when it chooses.
My dear friend in Atlanta, the mom of my godson Henry, always says: “Hard doesn’t mean bad.” And while this is hard on me (and hard on you, too, I know…), I have come to accept that this is not bad. No thought of a move was ever going to appeal to me, but Glens Falls is the right community for me to move to right now and St. Mary’s is the right parish. Glens Falls, a city of 15,000 or so people is the center of a region that includes Lake George and the communities north of Saratoga and the southern part of the Adirondacks. There is a big population in that region (about 150,000) and a large number of them are young. In fact, there are enough young families in the area so that St. Mary’s—St. Alphonsus Regional Catholic School, which is located in an almost 100-year-old gothic building on the grounds of St. Mary’s, has about 200 kids enrolled in Grades K-8 for the upcoming school year!
In addition, “Adirondack Catholic,” a young adult group of Catholics in their 20s and 30s that get together for prayer and social outings with people of their faith, is based in the area and has over 190 followers. This region is one of the “youngest” in our diocese and I think my experience as a Catholic educator and with Campus Ministry at SUNY Oneonta and Hartwick Colleges will be useful in engaging those families and individuals.
I remember the retreat I was on in the fall of 2016, just under a year after I became the pastor here, I realized that my sense of home had shifted from Oneonta to Coxsackie and Ravena. The healing was incremental, the inweaving of the land and the people here into my life was gradual, but it happened in God’s time. And now I marvel that I ever could have been homesick while nestled here in the middle of my beloved family and the sacred patch of God’s land we share. I pray that, in time, I will feel the same way about the people of Glens Falls and the land of Warren County. I’ve got a hunch – and I know that you do too – that, in time, I will.
With deep love and appreciation for you, my family…,