Gratitude and Regret
In my Facebook feed on the evening of March 3, I read that Fr. Angelus Shaughnessy had died. The sadness I felt was overwhelming. Not because he had moved off this earthly plane, at age 89, but rather, because I had failed to reach out to him.
Fr. Angelus’s presence in my psyche has always been strong. Perhaps because I tend to see connections in places and between people that others do not. Perhaps, because I met him initially during my 'formative' years. Perhaps, because he reached out to me when I opened my soul to him, at a time when I was still in grade school, but was certain that I was a horrible sinner. Perhaps, because he seemed to "appear", like when I was going down the dial on the TV and there he was, saying Mass and preaching! Perhaps because he was the first person I ever heard use the expression, "An encounter with Christ". All I know, is that Father Angelus, has remained a touch point for my mind and heart for most of my life.
This started out to be writing out my feelings of regret. But, perhaps it will be about gratitude, too.
Way back in the fall of 1963, I attended a Youth Retreat at St Augustine’s Church. The details of why or how slip through the mesh that is my memory, but several things stand out about the experience.
I remember Father Angelus, and Father Carl. I remember a prayer book called, "Youth Before God". I remember going to confession, with Fr. Angelus as my confessor. I remember baring my soul as I had never done in the confessional prior (or since, I imagine). I remember the actual feeling of lightness as my sins were forgiven; a feeling of joy, peace, and contentment. I remember that the experience was so intense, that I wrote Fr. Angelus a letter afterward. I remember, too that I very much wanted to purchase the prayer book at the retreat, but I had no money. I did, however, have a kind, generous, caring Grandmother, who was probably the one who initially got me interested in going to the Youth Retreat. So, I went to her, and explained how I wanted the prayer book, but didn’t have the $4.35 to buy it. She gave me the money. I, in turn, wrote a letter to Fr. Angelus, explaining my desire to buy the prayer book, and recounting the incredible incident I experienced by way of my confessional event at the retreat. I mailed the letter, and imagine my surprise, when less than a week later, Fr. Angelus showed up at our front door! He brought with him the prayer book I so desired, and stood on the front porch with me, explaining that what I had experienced was what he called, "an encounter with Christ".
Now, reading this, I am struck by how profoundly that experience touched me. I remember little else from the retreat, except for the time in the confessional and the feeling of pure peace and joy that developed in that moment, and the kindness of two adults toward me. Fr. Angelus, who took time to deliver the prayer book, and then took time to talk to me, never discounting or disparaging my experience, but treating me with kindness and respect. And, my Gram, who indulged me, gave me the money I needed, (probably at some personal sacrifice to her own budget), because she loved me, and wanted me to grow spiritually.
My Gram did that kindness for me in September or October of 1963. She left this world in December that same year. That was a realization that only came to me as I was writing this.
As for Fr. Angelus, many times over the course of my life, I have thought of him, prayed for him, and wanted to reach out to him. I remember once, stopping at the Franciscan office and asking about him. It must’ve been around the summer of 1967, because I was at St Augustine’s to make arrangements for the transfer of my records to Peabody High School. The woman in the Franciscan office told me that Fr. Angelus had volunteered for a missionary position in New Guinea the previous year. So, I read what I could find about New Guinea, but I never wrote to him.
Then, years later, I was perusing the TV offerings one day, and came upon a channel I had never heard of, EWTN. There was a priest offering Mass, and he looked very much like Fr. Angelus. Indeed, it was him! He was in Alabama. If I wanted to, I could tune in to Mass and his homily, right in my living room. Then, as happens, years passed. I searched for him on EWTN, and he was gone. But we were now in the age of the internet, so I could look him up online, and I did. When I rediscovered him, online, the information was that he was in ill health at St Conrad Friary. I thought of him often while we were traveling, but again, never reached out.
When we returned to western PA, I assumed Fr. Angelus to still be at St Conrad, though I never investigated.
Turns out that he had a couple of bouts with cancer, though after one, he was pronounced "a cancer survivor", according to something I read today. In any case, I never reconnected with him, even though he was there in my head and in my heart, intermittently, lo these many years. That is a regret. The rest - is gratitude.