Yesterday I received word that Fr. Robert Struzynski, OFM had been greeted by Sister Death at 5:00 am. I knew it was a matter of time since Fr. Bob had been taken off life support because he had suffered a brain hemorrhage and was unresponsive. Nonetheless, even when it is expected the departure of a friend is marked by sadness. As I thought of Fr. Bob during the days leading up to his death I remembered our first meeting on the “Peace Path” at Mt. Irenaeus. We were both taking a meditative walk in the woods and though we didn’t speak there was a silent greeting that passed between us. Later at lunch we met more formally and shared a meal together. The next time we met when I was a guest at St. Patrick’s Friary in Buffalo, New York. Then in 2005 Fr. Bob came to Mt. Irenaeus and it was from that point until now that our friendship grew. One of my many memories of him was at a Sunday brunch following one of his homilies. I told him how meaningful his message was to me that day. I don’t remember the exact content nor context but I do remember the quote from Karl Rahner that he shared, “The Christian of the future will be a mystic or will not exist at all.” That quote continues to resonate with me.
In 2006 I became minister of the St. Irenaeus Fraternity of the Secular Franciscan Order and Fr. Bob shared his vision that involved a more active involvement between Secular Franciscans and the students of St. Bonaventure University. We continued our conversation on this topic and we both thought of how this could be effected. In the spring of 2009 when I was on my way up the hill to Mass at Holy Peace Chapel I told Fr. Bob that I was thinking of retiring. He told me, “The provincial said I can’t retire until I’m seventy-five.” That brief statement invited me to rethink my decision. Then in August 2009 I became a St. Bonaventure University graduate student. We continued to discuss many other topics including Fr. Bob’s very active involvement with the Cephas Ministry and how he was sharing that ministry with St. Bonaventure University students.
In May 2011 I graduated from St. Bonaventure University and as I entered and processed through the Reilly Center I was greeted by Fr. Bob and the other professors each in their doctoral robes. That was a very moving experience. We had many occasions to share in the time that followed. After the Easter Vigil service this year while we were sharing coffee and treats at the House of Peace at Mt. Irenaeus Fr. Bob told me how much he enjoyed what I shared and that he was leaving Mt. Irenaeus. He was going to St. Anthony’s Friary in Butler, New Jersey. I thanked him and told him that I would miss him very much. He sent me a card with his address and asked that we remain in touch and then he left in early June. Nearly four months elapsed and finally in mid-October I wrote him. I told him that I had retired but that I was spending my time volunteering at a number of places including the Warming House. He wrote back and I’m very grateful that I saved the letter. It’s priceless now! Rest in peace Fr. Bob! Your spirit lives on within us all.
Since September I have been volunteering at least one day a week at St. Bonaventure University’s Warming House. My friend Br. Kevin Kriso, OFM recommended it as an activity I might like as I transitioned into retirement. Unsure of myself at first in the new surroundings and lacking confidence in my culinary skills I decided that I could best help by washing dishes. Dinner for twenty to thirty people provides along with the cooking pots and utensils to feed them provides enough to keep one busy in the dishwater. The young ladies who serve as Meal Coordinators invited me to make desserts. At first I was hesitant even though I used to bake with my Grandmother when I was a child. No-bake cheesecake, muffins, apple sauce bread, apple crisp and more have made me more confident in the kitchen. Yesterday, Arielle suggested that I could make pumpkin cake and provided me with a list of the ingredients. Two cups of margarine melted, four cups of flour, three and half cups of sugar, four eggs and more along with plenty of stirring resulted in a delicious dessert. Arielle’s delicious turkey soup and fresh chocolate pudding made for an appetizing meal.
The Warming House is the oldest student run soup kitchen in the United States. Meals served there surpass anything I have seen or tasted in other such kitchens. The patrons who come each day bring forth the best in all of us. I am impressed with the cooking skills of the coordinators too. Each day they put together a tasty meal from what they find on the shelves of the storeroom and cooler. But, the Warming House is more than food. It is an community of people, young and old who come together for the common good. It is at its heart very Franciscan and emblematic of the Incarnation itself. It is tangible evidence of the goodness that resides in the hearts of all creation. Those who serve are served by those who come to eat. I am grateful to be a participant in this wonderful experience of love.
This is a season of thanksgiving and in that spirit I am thinking of the many ways that I have been blessed this year and in my life in general. I’m grateful for my life, my wife and family too. In a few weeks I’ll be sixty-one. Each year everyone seems to be getting younger and my definition of what constitutes an elderly person gets older. I’m grateful to be retired and volunteering at The Warming House and Blount Library. On Friday I was asked to serve on the Blount Library Board. That’s a great honor and I’ll be reunited with some of my former colleagues. I’m grateful for the opportunity to attend daily Mass at St. Philomena’s Church in Franklinville. I’m grateful to have worked with so many wonderful people at Franklinville Central School, who treated me to a wonderful dinner at the VFW and presents from the Franklinville Teachers Association. I’m grateful to be able to renew my passion for reading in general. Today I finished a book I borrowed yesterday from the Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Library System. It was an ebook that I borrowed wirelessly, Dr. J: An Autobiography. I’m grateful for the new opportunities to serve and grow. I’m even grateful for the snow and winter that has arrived.
A couple of days ago I signed up for my first ever MOOC and then I visited the Coursesites.com and signed up for a course about Locating, Creating, Licensing and Utilizing OER (Open Educational Resources). MOOCs are potentially disruptive innovation. They are free courses primarily from higher education institutions that have traditionally charged tuition for such opportunities. Regardless of the implications I jumped at the opportunity to learn more about open educational resources (OER). It’s an area that has interested me ever since I began to explore open source software and open source resources. I’ve found the course I’m taking to be very engaging and already I have learned a great deal. I’ve found out about Coursesites and Coursera. I’ve learned more about OER Commons and how to add your own open educational resource and license it properly using Creative Commons. I’ve learned about resources that support the open educational resource community like Merlot.org and added to the knowledge I already had about other sites like CK-12 which allows teachers to create their own Common Core aligned texts which can be shared in a browser or on any tablet that can view portable documents (PDF).
Whether massive online courses are the future or not few can say. But one thing is for sure they along with pervasive broadband and wireless have changed the landscape of traditional higher education and will transform aspects of K-12 as well.
Last night our family attended the St. Bonaventure University vs. Canisius College men’s basketball game at The Reilly Center. We sat in Section 10 and had a birdseye view of the court. We participated in a rich tradition that spans decades. My Mom and Dad attended these games at the Olean Armory when I was a preschooler. I’ve been an active St. Bonaventure fan since the days of Bob Lanier, Billy Kalbaugh and Jim Satalin. My first time at the Reilly Center was in 1967, I saw Bonaventure beat Loyola of Chicago. Thirty-two years ago next month my wife and I came on our first date to a St. Bonaventure game at Reilly Center. Coming to St. Bonaventure games is sacramental. Last night as I sat with my father-in-law, wife, daughter Dara and her fiancée Shaun I felt a sense of gratitude and joy for our participation in this rich tradition. The appeal of the Bonnies is inter generational. My wife, daughter and I are all St. Bonaventure alumni too. That’s a point of pride for us. We’ve been treated to many great games over the years and last night’s game against Canisius was no exception. The cast of players changes each year but the mystique continues. Thank you to St. Bonaventure University their opponents the Canisius Golden Griffins and to the coaches for a wonderful evening of memories.