Fr. Ben’s Vision for Our Lady of Victory
July 29, 2018
“With God all things are possible!” or “If you’re not going to dream big, why bother dreaming?”
When President John F. Kennedy, visited Ireland in June of 1963, he addressed both houses of Dáil Éireann (Irish Parliament), and in that speech he quoted the Irish literary genius Charles Bernard Shaw saying, "You see things and say 'Why?'; but I see things that never were and say, 'Why not’?”
Almost a year before the Dublin speech, at Rice Stadium in Houston, Texas, on 12 September 1962, speaking about the decision to send a manned spaced craft to the moon, the president said: “We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win….”
President Kennedy wasn’t afraid to name a challenge and expected that his fellow country men and women would rise to that challenge and accomplish great things. In this he captured part of what I, as an Irishman, understand to be the American spirit – that entrepreneurial initiative, that tenacious character, that “can and will do” determination, but most of all that willingness to dream, to vision, to create, to go further, to not be afraid, to see things not as they are, but as they could be, and to make those things happen.
You don’t see this spirit so much anywhere else – you may see occasions or glimpses of it - but here, here in the United States it is a way of life, a way of being, an expectation – and, most of all, it is encouraged. Most of you reading this take it for granted because it is part of who you are, and it has allowed you to do what you have done. Here in the United States it is all around us – this incredible American spirit.
After signing up to work in the Archdiocese, I was sent to Sidney, Ohio. And one evening I had a life-changing conversation with four men just like you. There was a businessman who owned his own company, an engineer, a lawyer, and a banker – all family men, all energetic, engaged, and all entrepreneurs.
Curious, they asked about the message that was being sent “preparing for a future with fewer priests.” After listening to me giving them the “official” position, they offered their opinion. One, but really speaking for all said, “You know Father, if I offered that message to my customers, I wouldn’t have any customers.” “Nobody,” he said, “wants to buy from a person who can’t guarantee their product, or doesn’t have confidence in their company, or who says they might not be around to help in the future if anything goes wrong with the product.” “Why should someone join a Church, support a Church, or stay in a Church that isn’t confident in its own future?” “How” they asked, “can this be our message?” “A Church without a future?” “Who wants to belong to that and how can that be our vision?” These men helped me realize that if we wanted a future we had to be prepared to have a positive vision and confidence, we had to be willing to “see what could be” and make it happen.
Two years after that conversation I was appointed to the seminary and eleven years after that I was appointed Rector of the Seminary and President of the Athenaeum. That was seven years ago. But that conversation stayed with me. Once appointed I determined that “a future with fewer priests” or a “future with no priests” wasn’t going to be our message and certainly wasn’t going to be our vision. Fortunately for me that was also the Archbishop’s determination. He placed great emphasis on vocations and the vocations office has done outstanding work.
We had 33 seminarians at our seminary seven years ago with room for 50. On the occasion of my first public speech as rector, I said to a packed house, that within three years our seminary would be full. People thought I had lost my mind. There was stunned silence and then an embarrassed round of polite applause. Three years later the seminary was full – so we renovated a whole unused wing of the third floor. Within a year that was full taking our number to over sixty. We then renovated an old dorm above the library giving us more space and within a year that was full. Our seminary now has room for seventy-six seminarians, but we have 84 seminarians. We have more men studying for the priesthood than rooms to accommodate them. This year the Archbishop made the decision to build and construction has begun on a new building that will allow for the accommodation of another thirty seminarians. This year we expect to have over 90 seminarians. But let me be clear. The rising numbers is God’s work.
Vision, confidence, sheer determination, and faith – make all the difference. But in America you also allow and even encourage the opportunity to realize a vision, a dream, and you make things happen. With God “all things are possible” and what is possible for the seminary is also possible for Our Lady of Victory Parish, for our school, for our programs, for our families, for our children, for ourselves, and for our future.
If I have learned anything in America, it is that it is possible to make things happen and we can make dreams come true. What an incredible people, what an incredible spirit. Most “see things and say ‘Why?’; but you, Americans, “See things that never were and say: 'Why not?’” And to paraphrase President Kennedy: “We choose to reach for our dreams not because it is easy, but because it is hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win. A dream that will make a difference in so many lives.” For me life without priests is not an option – it’s a challenge – and we Americans are always up for a challenge. Because that’s what being a “shining city on a hill” means.
Let me turn to you for a final thought. There is no doubt that God has gifted you and this parish in many ways. In your lives you have done and achieved incredible things. If you weren’t men and women of vision and courage you wouldn’t be reading this or attending Church. You have achieved so much. But is this all there is? Is there something more, something bigger, and something better? Like you I believe in the Church, and I believe in her future, and I believe that our children need to have what the Church has to offer.
Should we not ask ourselves: Have I achieved the things God has sent me into the world to do? In the end will it all die with me or will it live on? Have I built for the past and the present alone or have I built for the future – for a better future. Kennedy had a way of reaching into the very psyche of the American spirit. While we live in a day that asks, “What has America done for me?” he said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” You, the faithful of Our Lady of Victory, “See what can be and ask, ‘Why not?’” Let’s dream big for Victory, let’s dream big for our children, let’s leave a future worth having, and a legacy worth inheriting.
Maybe if we are willing to accept the challenge to see as God sees, to do what God wants, then, what we can achieve, will be even greater than we could ever imagine: A life worth living and a legacy worth leaving.