Fr. Walter’s New Assignment
Chapters of Life
Over the course of this past week I faced the sad task of informing the Community of the Parish that I have received a new assignment, and the happy challenge of communicating, at the same time, how much this new assignment fulfills me as a Dominican Friar. For eleven years I have marveled over the towers of Manhattan and pinched myself to think they form the pillars of my home. But by mid-Summer I will look up at the Blue Ridge Mountains, and will find myself residing in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Home will be the Grounds of Mr. Jefferson’s University. I have no doubt of new reasons for amazement as a new place envelops me. In this loss and gain you perceive the itinerancy of the Dominicans.
Monks and Nuns attach themselves to a place by a vow of stability, but St. Dominic located the permanence of his Brothers in the Brotherhood itself. Grounded in relationship, we move from place to place as the needs of the preaching demand. But geographical change doesn’t tell the whole story because in these movements the Friar enters and leaves multiple worlds over the course of a lifetime. Each new assignment becomes grist for the study required of every Dominican and it provides wherewithal for contemplation.
When I moved from the Boston area to Cincinnati in 2000, I relished discovering the Ohio Valley and the city’s German Catholic heritage. (Of course this study offered a subjective excitement for I was uncovering my own roots as a native of nearby Louisville.) But when the taxi brought me over the Triborough Bridge in 2010 I set to work once again and immersed myself in the streets and buildings, history and people of this city, so that it became my own. The experience is that study leads to understanding, and understanding leads to love. When I would savor brats and beer at the St. Gertrude Parish festival I felt part of, but when I dined outdoors in a Lexington Avenue lean-to this winter I felt no less part of. In such belonging lies the satisfaction of contributing something to the well-being of a place and people, and the awareness that they have somehow completed me.
Contemplation takes over at this point, because when I sit back and take in the series of my assignments, in my case four different ministries in four different worlds, I see God at work not only in each one, but in the succession of them. Truly I have been amazed at how each assignment has prepared me for the next in ways I could never have imagined. My first posting after ordination was to teach at Providence College where I served in an interdisciplinary program called the Development of Western Civilization. Never did I dream that this experience would help me structure my program as Novice Master. Continuities such as this surprise the one who serves and the ones who are served. One time I referred to my novitiate experience in a retreat at St. Vincent Ferrer. In response I heard one parishioner ask another, “What is a novitiate?” She responded,” I don’t know, but I think we are in it.”
From these experiences I derive the confidence that God does organize life for me and for those I love. Clearly, to my eyes there will be in Charlottesville, something for me to learn, a measure for me to grow, and a service for me to give.
My trust in the plan for me, gives me confidence in the plan for you.
If a Friar’s life proceeds as a series of assignments, then the life of a parish unfolds in serial chapters shaped by the movements of people in time, and each stage of growth makes possible another. God’s providence enables a group of people to grow organically by supplying the leadership needed at each time. A group like our parish grows through having a variety of pastors who bring to their service varying gifts and talents, struggles and insights. The succession of them enables the development of a parish culture wider and deeper than any one of them.
So, on a foundation of this confidence I grieve my losses, for I am losing a world, and at the same time I prepare to welcome my Brother, Peter Martyr Yungwirth, to take my place in this world. I hope he will enroll as a student of New York and a student of you, and that he will discover in the learning, something of the great happiness I have known here. Meanwhile, having surrendered my seniority I will find myself this Fall a 59 year old Freshman on campus. I am just glad I already belong to a Fraternity.
So much more to say!