The Men Who Changed My LifeTOM HOOPES
When I first met them, at the St. Ignatius Institute at the University of San Francisco, I hadn’t gone to Mass regularly for years. I enrolled in their program knowing but not caring that it was Catholic. I just wanted to live in San Francisco and read great books. I didn’t have even a passing interest in the faith. The St. Ignatius Institute changed that.
John Galten is a junior high school teacher. Father C.M. Buckley is chaplain at a relatively obscure Catholic hospital. Father Joseph Fessio is scheduled to become his assistant there.
When I first met them, at the St. Ignatius Institute at the University of San Francisco, I hadn’t gone to Mass regularly for years. I enrolled in their program knowing but not caring that it was Catholic. I just wanted to live in San Francisco and read great books. I didn’t have even a passing interest in the faith.
The St. Ignatius Institute changed that.
The curriculum these men built taught me to embrace the faith naturally and almost effortlessly, simply by starting with Aristotelian logic and ending with Flannery O’Connor and reading the greatest works that came between. A clincher for me was Father Fessio’s “Revelation and Christology” class, a class where I saw the lecturer get misty-eyed describing how God made wine inevitable when he made grapes, passionate when describing the beauty of marriage, dead serious when discussing miracles, and distracted when baseball playoffs coincided with class-time.
With this curriculum and by their personal attention, these men gave me nearly everything I have.
John Galten (and John Hamlon, assistant director) spurred me on to use my writing talent, and Father Buckley helped me find a place to do it. It was through him that I made the contact that got me my first writing paycheck — from the National Catholic Register.
In my senior year, Father Buckley put me in charge of signing up men and monitoring all-night eucharistic adoration. He planned to invite a woman to be in charge of signing up women and monitoring them. Whoever it was would stay up with me all night every month. “Who do you think that should be?” he asked, significantly.
“April Beingessner,” I answered. Our organizing meeting was our first date. Two years later, I mentioned to Father Fessio that I was going to propose to April.
“How are you going to do it?” he asked, and was shocked to find I hadn’t thought it through.
He helped me plan the evening, which would end at a beautiful chapel in a nearby town’s convent, and he told Mother Superior when to expect us. A week later, I proposed to April beneath golden lamps as a choir of nuns sang night prayers across a grill, nudging each other and pointing to us knowingly.
“Father Fessio arranged for this chapel to be kept open for a special purpose,” was the absurd first sentence of my proposal.
When we married we moved to Washington, D.C., where April earned her master’s degree from the John Paul II Institute — a place John Galten had helped her discover.
Without these men, my life would be totally different, and impoverished.
These men taught me that truth existed, introduced me to my wife and my closest friends, and taught me to have self-confidence and to strive. Most importantly, they reintroduced me to Jesus Christ and his sacraments. Without them, I shudder to think where — and who — I’d be.
The three men were split up first a few years ago, when Father Buckley was reassigned to the hospital in Duarte, Calif., because he was “divisive.” (“Faithful, gentlemanly and long-suffering” are good descriptors for him; “divisive” isn’t.) Then Galten was fired from the St. Ignatius Institute which he had served tirelessly for 20 years. Now Father Fessio has been sent to work at the hospital as well.
Sometimes this makes me so angry I can’t sleep for hours. Other times it breaks my heart to think of all the students who will never know them.
Because, the fact is, mine is a typical story of an Institute student.
There are hundreds of people who have been touched and bettered in the deepest possible way because of these men — doctors, teachers, housewives and lawyers; businessmen, priests and nuns. People who think of these men the way sons and daughters think of their fathers.
Now, by quietly taking on a new mission in a faraway place, Father Fessio and Father Buckley are teaching us another lesson.
teaching us the counter-cultural lesson of obedience: God works through his Church
and we are to obey, even when obedience is cold, thankless and difficult.
Tom Hoopes. "The Men Who Changed My Life." National Catholic Register. (March, 2002).
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Tom Hoopes is executive editor of the National Catholic Register.
Copyright © 2002 National Catholic Register
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