Tag Archives: Catholic

A Phone Call From Rome

by Colleen


On Monday morning, I was woken from my slumber by a call from Rome.  I confusedly stared at my caller ID while my phone jingled and jangled.  “Rome!”, it said.  As my mind slowly unclouded on the 3rd or 4th ring, I realized that my best friend, Killian, was calling me from Rome, and immediately flipped open my phone, attempting to make my “Hello” sound less than groggy and tired.  Killian and many of my closest friends are studying on the University of Dallas’ Rome campus this semester, and I hastily programmed the campus telephone number into my phone as “Rome!” just last week.

Killian was calling to tell me the latest news, news which is by now old: that Pope Benedict is retiring.  Due to the early hour, I refused to take him seriously the first few times he told me the news.  “Ha ha, very funny, Killian.  You’re not fooling me, even if  I did just wake up,” I replied to his assertions.  Soon, though, I realized that he was not fooling around.  The gravity of the situation hit me, and I sat up in bed.

“It hasn’t been done in 800 or so years!” Killian exclaimed.  It struck me that this truly is a momentous event in church history  and it is amazing that all of us are alive to witness it, especially all of my friends who will  be there to watch and wait in the courtyard outside of the Vatican at the end of this month, searching the sky for traces of white smoke.  The future is uncertain, but the church is not.  It will always be here.  And, from Killian’s phone call, I was reminded of those I miss in Rome, They may not be  physically be near me, but I know they are with me in spirit, and I with them.  Apparently, I can’t get away from them making me miss out on sleep, even a continent away!


Snow Memories

By Mary

Just as the meteorologists predicted, the world is covered in the first coat of snow here in Southwestern Wisconsin. Snow is not an element that I welcome with peace. However, I have been musing of favorite snow memories. In the past I have had my share of good times in the flakes: Slating, sledding, the traditional first snowfall ride that I would take on my horse, building forts and jumps, and of course making snow angels. No childhood snow memories are as dear to me as a later favorite snow memory though.

This memory takes me back to Raminika.

Raminika is a poor military village far, far away in a mountainous region of Russia dotted by the shrubbery of trees and little dachas on steep hillsides. When I spent the winter in Russia, there were times when I would make the 4 hour round trip from the city of Vladivostok to the little village of Raminika. I would go with a most  joyful group of Catholic sisters that had originally come over from Spain. The trip would be a vernacular collage of Russian, Spanish, and English. The only background noise that could be understood by all passengers was the emotional booming opera music that the sisters were especially found of playing while navigating the twisting roads on those longs trips into the countryside. The operatic ensemble was a deserved relief to the sisters, some of whom would make the trip up to 5 days a weekly. A children’s center had recently been opened by the order for children to have a safe place to play. In addition to making the trips to the village, the sisters also taught at the University in the city and maintained a very detailed prayer life.

While I viewed these incredible ladies with utmost admiration, it was perfectly evident to me that the children at the center did too. On the days that I rode along, when we would arrive at the little rented building, a flock of children would greet us. Entering into the cramped space, the charismatic Sisters would be right in the midst of the excitement, chasing balls and dancing with the children.  Every child there would get to drink heavily sugared tea from a plastic cup and have a large chunk of donated bread as an early afternoon meal before playing more games and heading home before dark.

I can still remember the taste of the bread, the sweetness of the tea, the hours and hours of volleyball that I would play with the kids, and the painful Russian lessons that a gaggle of school-aged children would capture me to partake in!

One Saturday, a young woman from the University in the city made the trip with the Spanish Sisters, and just before dark she asked the golden question in the golden language (English!) ” would I like to take a walk with her?”

This walk turned into my favorite snow memory ever. The stillness and crispness of the cold after such a long day in the midst of the close quartered commotion greeted me with a special refreshing lure. My breath floating like a white sheet of fog into the cold air calmed me as we set off to view the fallen ruins of an old military officers club at the edge of the village.

After some time of walking, a little girl who looked to be about seven or so and who had been one of my former volleyball buddies throughout the day, ran up from behind us and linked her little arm in mine. How I enjoyed our unspoken friendship on the remote walk in the crisp snow. After some time, we came to a shack with straw spread in front and a rusty clothesline spread with the hanging of frozen laundry.

My new friend waved goodbye to me. I hugged her and watched as her blue coated back darted into the little house. And just for a second everything seemed beautiful.

Even snow.

Back on the (Organist’s) Bench

By Colleen

I distinctly remember thinking, “Oh, it will be such a nice to change to not have to play organ for mass anymore, and to be able to just sing!” upon leaving home in August.  I have been playing the organ for Sunday mass at the “Jewel on the Ridge”, St. Peter’s Parish Church since I was 14.  And while I do admit that it was the best job in the world, I was looking forward to a change.  It takes a lot of concentration to accompany a mass, and I never was able to just sink into the beautiful rhythm of the words and form of the mass, always waiting for a cue, signaling the start to the Alleluia, Sanctus, or the communion hymn.

So, it came as a big surprise even to me when I heard the words slip out of my mouth, volunteering to play organ for mass at the Dominican priory here on campus.  It was a natural reaction to the situation.  My brothers, Raphael and Patrick, had invited to me to go to mass with them that Sunday.  The mass took place in a large room, complete with a lecturn, alter, and to my surprise, an organ in the far back corner.  Windows dot the wall behind the alter, letting in little bits of the Dallas skyline, set into plain, stone walls .  In other words, it was the complete opposite of St. Peter’s.  Except for that organ.

The priest who does the mass normally is 97 years old, and  there was no music.  What could I do?  I went up to the priest after mass and volunteered with Emma, who is now doing all the cantoring with me.  The familiar pattern of Sundays in now back in place for me: get up, pick out music (typically I call Mom for this-we have the same book here as back home), practice, and walk over to mass.  Now of course I have to walk much farther than across the road, and the way is so much different, studded with small, twisted trees and sidewalks, in place of oaks and maples, and grass and gravel scraping my Sunday heels.  But at least I’ve found some equilibrium.  I’m back on the bench, and here to stay.

Sauerkraut Supper 2011

By: Clare

Deep in the rolling Midwestern hills of Wisconsin, there’s a place called Middle Ridge. That’s where I grew up. Located on the top of the hill, right across from my house, is a Jewel. The Jewel of the Ridge, we call it. It’s our Catholic church, St. Peter’s. It’s stood proudly at the top of the hill since the late 1920s, I believe, and has since been inhabited by a great many German Catholic families. In the 1960s, the congregation of St. Peter’s held the first annual Sauerkraut Supper, which has been successfully held every year since then on the second Wednesday in October.

 My first memory of the Sauerkraut Supper is from when I was a four-year-old homeschooled kindergartner. Mary and I headed over with a handful of quarters and jumped in line for the cake walk. You bought some Tootsie Rolls and if I remember correctly, the one with a gold wrapper underneath the regular wrapper was a winner. After I won one cake, it just wasn’t enough, and I was hooked on the cake walk for life. I now have my own little schedule for the Sauerkraut Supper. Get off the bus, grab all the loose change off my dresser, and head straight for the cake walk.

  The cake walk, as well as everything else the Sauerkraut Supper has to offer, is run by parishioners of St. Peter’s who I know well. This meaning that I can usually coax and cajole them into letting me pick whichever cake I want. Sadly, the boy on the left made sure I didn’t get any special treatment. This special part of the Supper has kind of turned into a competition between the siblings to see who can win the most cakes, so I wanted to get the most cakes, as well as the best tasting ones. As it was, I ended up with 4 cakes and 1 container of cupcakes. That was good enough for me, knowing I would have to share, or just get my cake stolen, with the family.

 Truth be told, The Sauerkraut Supper is very popular with the elderly, and it honestly took me ten minutes to spot one young person in the considerable crowd. This is a little bit humorous. One elderly man won a cake by drawing the orange chip out of the box and decided to walk away with his chip instead of collecting his cake. His wife just shook her head and muttered something to herself. Another man who was old, and broken by hard work on the farm decided he wanted to give the cake walk a try, so he rudely hobbled over to his wife, poked her in the arm, and said, “give me some money for this”, and walked away with her wallet.

I had promised my friend that I would help her serve for a while before I sat down to eat. Now, usually I wait the tables after I finished eating, but I figured I might as well help out a little extra. I didn’t turn out to be very dedicated, and ended up taking quite a few lengthy breaks to the cake walk, and to run across the road to my house. It’s hard, waiting tables! I found out that I’m not very good at it either. I’m always getting into someone’s way, or forgetting something. Once I tried pouring an older man’s coffee and ended up spilling it all over the table! Many, many people attend our small church’s supper, a fact that I’m very proud of. We get well over a thousand people every year. They start out buying their tickets in the tent, where they can sit, visit with friends, and listen to some traditional polka music.

Or you can opt to sit in the church and wait for your ticket number to be called.

Once their number is called, they can head down to the church basement for a delicious meal, started off with some homemade pie. I know, dessert first? Yup, it’s just that great of a supper.

Mashed potatoes and gravy. Carrots. Some amazing sausage.

And of course, the very famous, sauerkraut.

One word. YUCK. It may be called the Sauerkraut Supper, but for me it’s all about the mashed potatoes and the sausage!

Although the meal is amazing, the real intrigue is behind the scenes, in the kitchen. This is not as true today, but when the supper comes around you’ll see many women in the kitchen who you don’t often see in church. But every October, they’re there, working hard. These strong, hard-working German women never sit down. Their all about the ‘kraut, and they put a lot of time and energy into the supper. For instance, a couple weeks ago I went over to church one day to help out cleaning the church in preparation for the supper. One older German lady decided she couldn’t stand up for much longer, and wanted to know if she could have a “sitting-down job”. One lady suggested that she just sit down and rest, and the look of dismay on this woman’s face when that was suggested was almost laughable. She couldn’t fathom taking a break. She never ended up sitting down by the way.

It took me awhile to summon up the courage to even go up to them and take them a picture. They seem like such intimidating people to me.W

When Mary saw this picture she said that even running into posts could not deter these German women from plowing right into their jobs. This is very  true. Too true, too true.

Half an hour before the supper ended, when things started dying down, I decided I couldn’t take standing up anymore and went on home. Hey, I’m proudly Irish, NOT German. And it shows.

Just before I crossed the road I looked back and realized I had forgotten something. There’s a horse chestnut tree by our church, and the horse chestnuts are all around the ground when the time for the Sauerkraut Supper comes. The kids used to have some pretty intense chestnut wars with them. I used to take these wars very seriously, and would walk across the road to stock up on chestnuts almost every day for about a week before the Supper, just so I was prepared. I realized that I hadn’t thrown one chestnut that day, and I knew I couldn’t leave my tradition in the dust. Bending down in the dark, I took a minute to fumble around and finally found a small chestnut. Scooping it up in my hand, I threw it across the road, reliving memories past. With my deed done, I contentedly walked back home with a stomach full  of great food, and hands smelling of ‘kraut.

The University of Dallas

By Colleen

A few mental notes that I’ve made since I arrived here at UD:

1. I’ve never had to stand in a 20 minute line for confession before. (Heck, at home it was just our family who went!  I suppose the Slatterys are the only ones who sin in Middle Ridge)

2. It’s easy to get into a debate over ancient, epic poetry anywhere, especially over lunch (Achilles is a big baby, in my opinion, by the way).

3. It’s a small campus.  And everyone seems to know my older brother.  Every single time I’ve mentioned that I’m his sister their reaction is: “Ohhhhh, RAPH!  Yeah, man, he’s awesome!”

4. My friends all remark that I walk exactly like said brother.  A good thing….?  At home my friends called it the “Slattery Swagger”.

5.  Being from a family with 9 kids just doesn’t get the same respect anymore…I’m one of many now.

If you hadn’t guessed by number 4 that UD is a Catholic university, I’m pretty sure you got it by number 5.

More notes on college life to come!


by Mary

Monday was an enjoyable day at Sweet Ridge Farm for many reasons. Naturally, Labor Day is always a special day to celebrate.  September 5th also marks the birthday of my littlest brother, James. Though he turned 17, I am positive that I will continue to coddle him till he’s about 70. However, with that subject matter aside, I will write this post on the special Labor Day Celebrations here. The Slattery Farm was filled to the brim. It was filled with the company of  14 visiting Mexicans from southern Mexico, 1 seminarian named Fernando Hernandez,  the famous Father Joe Hirsch, who is vocations director of the LaCrosse Diocese, and a few other folks who were just along  for the visit.

If I may, I will backtrack to a Labor Day several years ago. Back then Fernando was an illegal immigrant picking apples at an organic apple orchard located about an hour away from our farm. I was told that at this point in his life he had such a zeal to get to the local rural church that the hippies at the orchard would provide transportation to get him there. Well, apparently the zeal never died. This year, he will be ordained as a Catholic priest in the LaCrosse Diocese. He will be celebrating his First Masses at the same churches in the steep hills surrounded by apple orchards where he arrived as immigrant apple picker years ago.  

Beautiful story, right? Well what is even more gorgeous is that my family got to meet him and his entire extended family on Monday. When you come to Sweet Ridge Farm, you leave as a friend.  Sure, there were a few glitches to hosting our new friends from Mexico. There first would be that we have  NO natural Spanish speaking skills around here (where are you Kate when we need you!!). Luckily, Father Joe was able to act as an interperator.  Dad had no qualms about meeting and visiting with Fernando and family. The fact that he doesn’t speak Spanish didn’t phase him a bit, or keep him from describing his farming operations at length.

Nor did he have any hesitancy about loading all 15 of them up in the wagon and taking them on a little hour long farm tour. Upon seeing a tangle of bodies crawling into our old blanket laden wagon, my cousin Cale commented at their bravery. He had never seen a group of people outside our family so willing to squeeze into such a rickety ride. Fernando was quite a gracious gentleman about it.

More fun followed after the farm tour. Mom and I made a big meal to share with all. We also had a birthday cake for my embarrassed birthday boy brother. James was sung birthday songs in spanish for quite some time. What enthusiasm they had. James was not quite so enthused.

After cake and many exclamations of enthusiam from our guests we all headed across the road to the church. James was thrilled to escape his long serenade of spanish songs. While at the church Father Joe led the group in spanish praise and worship songs. Hands swayed in the air, voices soared, laughter and clapping broke out spontaneously. Dad informed my mother, who is the co-choir Director at our staid and solidly German Catholic parish that he had never heard such loud, free, and joyful music in those pews.

We took a group photo in the church to commemorate our Mexican Labor Day…

And they left the farm as our friends.

Deacon Fernando Lara Hernandez will be ordained on Thursday, September 8, 2011 at 10:30 a.m. at St. Joseph the Workman, Cathedral, La Crosse, WI. His First Masses will be celebrated at: St. Mary Parish in Gays Mills on Saturday, September 10th at 5:30 p.m. and at St. Philip Parish in Rolling Ground on Sunday, September 11th at 10:30 am.

Congratulations to Fernando Hernandez and his family!

Fumes Have Risen!

by Mary

Though I am known to have a fearless attitude in many circumstances, I have taken on a new phobia: Candles at the Easter Vigil. In the days of old, they have amused me with their drippy wax that is such fun to mold while the church is a glow from soft joyful lighting of the little white sticks.
When Colleen was a young girl, her hair caught on fire from the candle of Clare, who was at the time just a four year old baby of the family. I can’t remember the incident too clearly, but the accident has remained a family joke of sorts every Easter.
Before going to the vigil the other night, I took a curling iron to my long hair and manipulated it into a mass of spiraled subservience with the help of an old can of hairspray left over from Kate’s wedding that was nearly two years ago.
At church I slid into the back pew next to my little brother James, and started preparing for the special mass. Somewhere along the line, I whispered to James “just don’t light my hair on fire”, and drifted into thoughts that had nothing to do with sarcastic joking.
Did I ever come out of this time of personal reflection, when my hair had an inch long orange blaze leaping to life compliments of James! With my hand I batted at it in terror. Thankfully, I managed to smolder the ignited section, but unfortunately, the smell of burnt hair permeated the air. Unsure of what to do next, I started finger raking charred hair out of my curls that were saturated in alcohol due to the spray. My first reaction was to cry, but I hate crying in front of people, so hysterical laughter started bubbling out of me into the silence of the congregation.
I ended up pushing my way out of the pew, past my brother Robert and our family friend Ben. My exit plan was to get to the bathroom. The four inch designer stilettos that I picked up at a thrift store the other month when on a shopping spree for an African Orphanage Shoe Drive, made a noisy calamity on the tiled floor as I bolted.
In the basement of the church I washed  the black soot from my hands and contemplated going to the choir to hide next to my mother upwind from the smell of the fried hair. Later I was informed by Colleen that plan wouldn’t be of merit, for the smoke made it’s way there too.
After some internal debating, I decided to take my old seat, because, after all, everybody already knew that it was my dead hair fuming up the church. The rest of mass was thankfully uneventful, save James loudly bursting out “I am an idiot”, and the dramatized coughing of a man one pew up.
This particular parishioner is known to rarely frequent mass. His wife and kids come without him, and his loyalty seems to be more extended to attending parish softball games.
My guilty conscience imagined him making future excuses to not come to church by saying ” Can’t do it honey, it’s an awful nauseating environment, my lungs just can’t hack it, the headache that I got last time round from that Slattery girl was the heap of burning hair was somethin bad…”
My mortification made me want to apologize to the entire group of people gathered at the Jewel On The Ridge Parish. Save James of course. I guess I will just have to rise above the occasion. Next Easter Vigil I am sure to shy away from
(a) Candles
(b) Using a crazy amount of hairspray on my hair
I will make a point to take in the sweet aroma of easter lilies, incense and oils.
Alleluia! He has risen!
Until next time,

Tighten your belt- it’s Triduum Time!

by Colleen

I woke up this morning in the usual way for the last leg of the school year- wishing for more sleep, but knowing there was none to be attained.  But, the sun pouring golden light through my windows was all the incentive I really needed to hop out from under my covers, and the promise of a hot chocolate with breakfast wasn’t too bad either.  What was really on my mind was that today is the day, Holy Thursday, the start of what is known in the Catholic Church as the Triduum. 
These three days, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, lead up to Easter Sunday, and while filled with the potential of many graces and reflection  of one’s relationship with God, are slightly stressful for an organist.  Especially when one is the only organist for a parish.  Especially when that person is me.  I have been known to get a little cranky during these days, a mood that is typically out of character for me.  But, this year being my last year as the chief organist at St. Peter’s Catholic Church, I don’t feel so cranky anymore.  In fact, when I woke of this morning, I was (dare I say it?) excited for the start of this most holy trio of days.  And I’ll try to keep that cheery outlook in place as I lug my six or so accompaniment books across the road for the start of this church marathon.  Wish me luck (and grace) as I make my way towards the starting line!

A Transfiguration of Sorts


It was a blustery and cold morning, not unusual for early spring in Wisconsin. The rain fell fast and hard, aided by a strong wind upon the ridge-top, and the skies were an iron gray, creating a dark and drear atmosphere. So much rain and so much wind must have been the main factor behind the sudden power outage. At one moment I was looking up the price of airline tickets to Oklahoma and the next poof! A blank screen. I was not disturbed. Everything I really needed was in working order, namely the trusty wood stove that kicked out its comforting heat steadily.

The only problem this did present was across the road. Of course, today being Sunday, the family would be heading out to mass at the dusky, rose-red brick Catholic church right across the road from our home. I was interested to observe a mass sans electricity.

When I walked into the front doors of church, the romantic in me was immediately pleased. Candles were being lit, adorning the altar mainly and casting a mellow glow over the smooth caramel walls. I walked up the two flights stairs to the choir loft to perform my job. I’m then one and only organist for St. Peter’s Parish The power outage had made it impossible for me to play the electric organ we have, so I was relegated to the piano for the morning. This made me very happy because I am a pianist and refuse to play the organ properly on a normal Sunday. The foot pedals are always turned off, and I’ve never attempted to try to learn how to use any of the controls but on, off, loud, and soft. The old people in the parish adore me for playing the organ (I guess you were right, Mom), and I smile and nod and pretend I like it just as much as they.

I played the piano by candle light, spilling weakly over my music, and enjoyed the special air the darkness outside, counteracted by amber candle glow inside, created. The gospel was on the Transfiguration of Jesus today, and I thought it especially relevant. We were given our own transfiguration of the church today.

Darkness and light, the battle ever rages, even within the church. But, the light always triumphs: the electricity flicked on without fanfare in the middle of the Sanctus.