Stories of Discernment Series
I’m in my last year of formation to be a Holy Cross priest, and I have spent the last 7 months living at St. Adalbert’s Parish – a Holy Cross apostolate here in South Bend. I’m nearing the end of seminary training and the beginning – God willing – of my life as a finally-professed priest, ready to carry out the mission of Holy Cross.
Right now, I live in a massive, ancient rectory only five feet away from St. Adalbert’s: a gargantuan red brick Church with two towering spires. A century ago, Polish immigrants built this west-side church with the hope that it would be the cathedral of the diocese. It is fittingly grand with with two choir lofts, an ornate high altar, soaring ceilings, stained glass windows, and sprawling paintings of enraptured saints and angels. The place is still magnificent, even if the plaster crumbles here and there.
Next door to the parish is the grade school. Hundreds of students arrive here every morning to learn to read, think, and pray in a place where the Church has educated the young for more than 100 years. Shaking their hands in the pre-dawn darkness of February, the students smile sleepily when they hear their names. Names like Alejandra, Jose, Maritza, and Miguel.
The parish sits like an anchor in an ocean of compact houses and yards as far as the eye can see – and these houses are packed full of families. In the summer, kids wander over broken sidewalks, journeying to their cousin’s trampoline or to the tienda for ice cream, while smiling grandparents sit in the shade. Cats and dogs saunter around, trying to avoid the cars that drive through the neighborhood serenading us with mumble rap or mariachi music – our own particular soundtrack.
My heart is full to bursting with gratitude for my life here working in the parish. I see here a place for which Holy Cross is a perfect fit: education on the edge. As a west-side apostolate we are on the edge of the city, on the edge of people’s imagination – a lot like Galilee.
I am here with two Holy Cross priests and another seminarian to do the work that Basil Moreau – the founder of Holy Cross – missioned us to accomplish: to live and work with such radical hope that the resurrection of Jesus would be perceptible in our flesh – in our lives. This means we embrace the cross as the tree of life and cooperate in God’s work of turning the “desert into pools of water, and the parched land into springs” (Is. 41:18).
Here at the parish, I accompany groups of the faithful who visit people who do not go to Mass. We pray with them. We carry statues of the Virgin de Guadalupe to homes in the neighborhood to pray rosaries with families and to beg the Holy Spirit to come upon their dwelling. And we find pain. We find people who feel far from the Church, people whose families are torn apart by deportation or addiction. But on our knees with the beads flipping through our fingers, we also find the scent of roses from La Virgen, and the promise of joy and communion in Jesus’ body.
St. Adalbert’s parish is very young, and we have tried to invite the middle school and high school students of our parish into a place in the Church. About 80 students come every week for formation and the number is still growing. Our youth began a choir that sings at Mass every Sunday, and they are forming tight networks of friendship centered around the church. They care for the elderly and the poor in their neighborhoods, they sweep and clean the church, and they learn to guide one another in their journey of faith. They are learning how to preach, pray, serve at Mass, cantor, sacristan, and be ministers of the Eucharist.
I have seen healing Masses where people bring their wounds to be touched by Jesus in the holy oils. I have seen people become preachers of the Word of God who were once sunken in their own sins. I have seen the parish rally around the sick. I have seen them dance, celebrate, and eat with accordions pumping, Polish sausage and pierogi, flautas and green salsa, all under the same sun. And God was there.
And I have seen us all at Mass – formed into the Body of Christ – begging for a slice of God’s Reign. Begging for things on earth to be as they are in heaven. And sometimes, the veil falls at St. Adalbert’s, and you can see it. You can see what it will be like to stand saints among the saints in the halls of heaven.
When I first arrived at the parish, when it was warmer, I would lie in bed at night with the windows open and listen to the sounds of the neighborhood: firecrackers, cars, laughter, shouting, sometimes even gunshots.
And I would pray. I prayed for the people of the parish and of the houses around us. And I thanked God. Because as a Christian, as a Holy Cross religious, I was right where I was supposed to be: on the edge. On the West Side. In Heaven.
Michael Thomas, CSC, is a 4th year professed seminarian in formation at Moreau Seminary. He is originally from South Bend, Indiana, and he studied political science and philosophy as an undergraduate at Indiana University. One of his favorite books is The Brothers Karamazov.