August 29, 2016

Krakow: The Pope and the Holocaust; I Am Proudly & Humbly Connected to Both*

IT MAKES SENSE TO ME

By Larry Peterson

Mom died from leukemia way back in 1961. She had just turned 40 and, at the time, there were no cures, no chemo and no bone-marrow transplants. She was dead within six months of diagnosis.

We lived in the Bronx in a five floor walk-up. Grandma lived up on the fifth floor and we were down on the third.  Grandma gave up her apartment and moved in with us downstairs. I guess it was to help take care of the “little ones”; I was 15, Carolyn was 13, Danny was 11, Bobby was six and Johnny was two). But, it was not a good thing. Grandma hated dad because, for some bizarre reason, she decided he had killed her daughter and let him know it every chance she had.

I have no explanation for this nor will I ever. None of us do. Hey, we were kids, what did we know. Grandma’s grief was so intense that Dad could not handle it. It was just the way it was. Dad solved the problem by avoiding Grandma as much as possible. He just began hanging out in the local saloons which actually gave Grandma a real reason to yell at him.

On March 8, 1963, Grandma had a massive stroke. I saw her standing seemingly twisted in a body spasm and managed to drag her to the bed. I held her in my arms as she summoned the strength to say an Act of Contrition.  Looking me dead in the eye, she slowly slurred each word. Then we said an “Our Father” together. I was crying like a baby and so were my sister and brother, Danny. Dad was in the other room with Bobby and Johnny, waiting for the priest to show up. He was not crying.

When we finished praying she closed her eyes and became comatose. Father Quirk arrived and administered Last Rites. She died a few hours later in the hospital. That moment is etched forever in my brain’s “like it just happened” memory section.

What does Krakow and World Youth day have to do with all of that? Well, the first question that must be asked is, who was Grandma’s husband, our Grandpa? We were kids and had never asked. We never thought about it. That’s what kids do—take things for granted.

But then Mom was gone and Grandma was gone and Dad was drinking heavily. He died two years later. We had never gotten to the point of asking, “Hey, where is Grandpa?” Just like that it was too late. As adults we never found out—until four years ago. And now, with the Pope going to Krakow, Grandpa is in the forefront of my mind.  Krakow was Grandpa’s hometown.

Forced deportation from the Krakow ghetto, 1942   wikipediacommons
Our Mom had a brother, my namesake, Uncle Larry. He had been in the 8th Army Air-Force during World War II and his plane had been shot down on a bombing mission. He survived the war as a POW in the infamous Stalag 17. One time I asked him about his dad. He told me, “He died.” He never said another word.  That was that. Then we grew up, our folks were gone, and we lost contact as we began our own individual lives.

About four years ago I received a message on Facebook (kudos to Facebook) by none other than my long lost cousin, Vicki, Uncle Larry’s oldest. She had been on a “quest” and located me. Like dominoes perfectly colliding, my sister and brothers and cousins all reconnected. Now, to the point of this essay.

What follows may seem implausible but it is true and we have the documentation to confirm it. Vicki had been wondering about the missing Grandpa too. Her dad told her the same thing he had told me. Now he was gone. But she never stopped wondering and began a journey into the world of genealogy.  Lo and behold, she unraveled the mystery of the missing Grandpa.

Our grandma was an immigrant from Austria. A devout Catholic who never missed Mass, she married a man by the name of Isidore Schul. This was our grandfather. He was a Hebrew man from Krakow. Our maternal grandfather was Jewish. Shocker of shockers, the immigration papers and naturalization papers all confirm this. He made it to America in 1910.

We cannot understand how these two unlikely people connected, got married and had two children, one of them our own mother. But it was so and that mystery will never be unraveled. We dubbed our long, lost, mysterious grandfather, Grandpa Irv. He and grandma split up when Mom and Uncle Larry were young children. Grandpa Irv died in the Bronx in 1965. We will never know more than I revealed here.

But here is the thing. Cradle Catholics, we are also 25% Jewish. Grandpa Irv was the only one of his family to get to America. His parent’s names were Simon and Regina Schul. Simon and Regina are our great-grandparents. We do not know if they died in the Holocaust or before it began but apparently, from what Vicki discovered, Grandpa Irv’s siblings did. Probably in Ravensbruck but it might have been Auschwitz.

For me, personally, I am humbled by this connection. Jesus, the Blessed Mother, St. Joseph, their  relatives, St. Ann, St. Joachim, and the apostles etc. were all Jewish. They were also the first Catholics. And today, as I write this, Pope Francis is in Krakow, Grandpa Irv’s hometown. I feel connected to it all and the Holocaust has a whole new meaning for me. It is all part of my heritage. My “own people” were killed there.  SHALOM

*This article also appeared in Aleteia. org on July 28,2016


                                     ©Larry Peterson 2016 All Rights Reserved

August 21, 2016

This College Kid Can Teach All of Us a Lesson*

IT MAKES SENSE TO ME

By Larry Peterson

Most Catholics know of the St. Vincent de Paul Society. The Society has been helping people in need for over 180 years. What most Catholics do not know is that St. Vincent de Paul is not the founder of the society. It is simply named after him because of his lifelong example of Christian charity. So, if it was not founded by St. Vincent de Paul where did it come from? How did it begin? What does St. Vincent de Paul have to do with it?

This is the very first paragraph from the Mission Statement of the St. Vincent de Paul Society

Inspired by Gospel values, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, a Catholic lay organization, leads women and men to join together to grow spiritually by offering person-to-person service to those who are needy and suffering in the tradition of its founder, Blessed Frédéric Ozanam, and patron, St. Vincent de Paul.”

As you finish that paragraph you will notice the name of Frederick Ozanam. Please, take a moment to meet him here. He happens to be the founder of the oldest Catholic charity in the United States of America, The St. Vincent de Paul Society.


Bl. Frederick Ozanam (as young man) courtesy slideshare.net
Frederick Ozanam was born in Milan, Italy in 1813. He was the fifth of fourteen children of Jean and Marie Ozanam and only one of three who lived into adulthood. The family moved to Lyons, France and this was where Frederick grew up. As a teenager the young man was strongly influenced by the elitists of the day and his Catholic faith began to waiver. Frederick fought his doubts and overcame them. Vowing to consecrate himself to the defense of his faith he moved to Paris. He was 18 years old.

Frederick entered the University of Paris and took up journalism. He made friends with some other young Catholic men and soon he and a few of his new friends were involved in vigorous debates among secular students who challenged their preaching for lack of action.

The secularists told them that maybe ‘long ago’ the Catholic Church was a benefactor of humanity but those days were over. They were then asked what they were doing for people now? Frederick and his pals had no answer. They were laughed at and told they were hypocrites and basically did nothing but talk.

Frederick’s friend, Augustus Le Tailandier, asked Frederick if they might be able to put together a small group of Catholics to bring to action the Gospel message of “doing” instead of just ”talking”. Thus was born the “Conference of Charity”. This small group of Catholic/Christian young men who would not only devote themselves to helping the needy but would also advance Christian friendship.

Frederick had been submitting copy to Joseph Emmanuel Bailly who published the Tribune Catholique. He asked Mr. Bailly what he thought of their idea. He liked it so much that he joined Frederick and together they and four other young men held their very first meeting on April 23, 1833. Frederick Ozanam was 20 years old.

At that first meeting Emmanuel Bailly sent Frederick to see Sister Rosalie Rendu, a “Daughter of Charity”. Sister Rosalie became Frederick’s mentor and set him and his fledgling organization on its course by focusing them on doing “home visits” to those in need. This method of interaction was to become the primary way members would interact with those seeking their help. It remains that way to this day.

 In the spirit of St. Vincent de Paul, the founder of her order, she also taught Frederick and his followers the techniques of helping the poor and the sick by being compassionate and always treating people with their God given dignity. They invoked St. Vincent de Paul as their patron and named the group, in his honor, The St. Vincent de Paul Society.

Frederick Ozanam and his friends could never have dreamed of the way the Society would grow. Within 12 years from its inception it had spread to Italy, England, Belgium, Scotland and the United States. The society chose St. Louis, Missouri as its headquarters in America and to this day the National Council of The St. Vincent de Paul Society USA is located there.

Today in the United States there are more than 160,000 trained volunteers who provide almost 12 million hours of volunteer service helping those in need. There are close to 750,000 members doing volunteer work all around the world. And all of it was started by a 20 year old kid responding to the graces showered down upon him and inspiring those around him to join in his quest to stop “talking and start doing”.

Frederick Ozanam was beatified on August 22, 1997 by Pope John Paul II. His mentor, Sister Rosalie, was beatified on November 9, 2003. We ask them both for their continued prayers for all of us, especially those in need.

*An edited version of this article appeared in Aleteia on August 15, 2016

                                 ©Larry Peterson 2016  All Rights Reserved

August 8, 2016

The Deadliest Forest Fire in U.S. History was No Match for The Blessed Virgin Mary*

IT MAKES SENSE TO ME

By Larry Peterson

On October 8, 1871, in or around a place called Peshtigo, Wisconsin, several men were setting small fires in the woods. This was a common practice in clearing land for expanding railroads or for expanding farm land. Except on this particular day something unexpected happened. A cold front moved into the area creating winds that were close to hurricane force. The winds fanned the flames and the resulting Peshtigo Firestorm still can claim the ignominious title as the "deadliest wildfire" in American History.

                                               Skeeze - CC
To this day, no wildfire in the U.S. has ever caused more deaths. It is estimated close to 2500 people perished in the raging 2,000 degree inferno. But there is an incredible side-bar to this story. Miraculously, there was a small group who were not harmed at all and they were right in the middle of the blaze. This small group of people were with Adele Brise.

Adele Brise was 24 years old when she arrived in Wisconsin with her parents from Belgium in 1855. A devout Catholic, Adele had a great devotion to the Blessed Mother and prayed daily. On Sunday, October 2, 1859, Adele was walking home through the woods when she saw a woman clothed in white  standing between a hemlock and a maple tree. The woman was encased in a bright light and had a yellow sash around her waist.  A crown of stars was above her long, blond hair. Adele, filled with fear, began praying and the vision disappeared. She told her mom and dad about it and they told her that maybe it was a soul in need of prayers.

The following Sunday, Adele, was on her way to Mass with her sister and another woman when she saw the apparition a second time. But her sister and friend, who were walking a bit ahead of her, did not see anything. Returning from Mass, the Lady appeared to Adele for the third time. Adele, who had confided in her parish priest about the mysterious lady, did as he told her. She asked the lady the question, "In the Name of God, who are you and what do you wish of me?"

The Lady answered, "I am the Queen of Heaven who prays for the conversion of sinners and I wish you to do the same. You received Holy Communion this morning and that is well. But you must do more. Make a general confession and offer Communion for the conversion of sinners...Gather the children in this wild country and teach them what they should know for salvation."

Adele was afraid. She knew little about her faith. She asked how she was supposed to do this with so little knowledge. The Blessed Virgin told her, "Teach them their catechism, how to sign themselves with the sign of the Cross, and how to approach the Sacraments; that is what I wish you to do. Go and fear nothing, I will help you."

Adele took the Blessed Virgin's words to heart. She began her new, lifelong ministry of teaching children the Catholic faith by traveling by foot from house to house to instruct children in their homes. Adele's dad, Lambert Brise, built a small wooden structure at the sight of the apparition and a few years later, after Isabella Doyen donated five acres around the site, Adele, started a small school.
In addition, a bigger wooden church was built and it was named Our Lady of Good Help.

In the meantime the magnificent woodlands of Wisconsin were being harvested for their fine lumber. Mounds of sawdust and dried branches were being littered about with no sense of cleanup or conservation ever considered. Then came the evening of October 8, 1871. The Peshtigo Fire quickly exploded and began to devour the entire area with its rushing flames and 2000 degree heat. The firestorm began to head for Our Lady of Good Help.

People nearby the chapel began heading there.There was never an accurate count but many people came, some even bringing their livestock. Sister Adele organized them together and they all prayed the rosary. Outside the chapel they  processed,  holding high a statue of Mary pleading for her protection. The fire kept coming and the people moved inside the chapel and continued praying. Soon the fire raged all around the compound and the flames even arched over it. But the fire never touched the Chapel of Our Lady of Good Help or the people that were there.

Over one million acres were destroyed in the Peshtigo Firestorm. As far as the eye could see was total devastation. Yet, in the middle of it all, the Chapel of Our Lady of Good Help and  the fenced property surrounding it, was untouched. The property had been spared and no-one had been hurt, including the animals. The five acres sat amid the charred landscape like an oasis in the desert. People who came and saw this incredible sight knew it was the Hand of God at work that night. The faithful all had no doubt that the Blessed Virgin, Our Lady of Good Help, stood outside the chapel deflecting the raging inferno away from her children inside.

The story of Sister Adele and Our Lady of Good Help was always well known within the local culture and to the faithful but many considered it "urban legend". That was because there was never an "official ecclesiastical judgment" rendered. Then, in 2009, the Diocese of Green Bay launched an official investigation. On December 8, 2010, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a special Mass was offered on the site  by Bishop David Ricken. At the Mass the bishop declared that the Marian apparitions seen there by Adele Brise were "worthy of belief".

The site of the apparitions of Our Lady of Good Help is only one of 15 worldwide recognized for Marian apparitions.  It is the only one in the United States. Since its ecclesiastical recognition and approval, The Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help is rapidly growing as a site for pilgrims from around the world. It is a beautiful thing.

*An edited version of this appeared in Aleteia on July 28,2016
*On August 15, 2016, the site was declared a National Shrine:  http://www.thecompassnews.org/2016/08/olgh-shrine-receives-national-shrine-recognition/


                               ©Larry Peterson 2016 All Rights Reserved