By Robert R. Schwarz
A Few Words Before the Big Event…
When asked for his goal, the Rev. Dr. Joseph C. Carolin replied as would those ancient Hebrews who were trekking across a desert towards the River Jordan: " Survival." His smile had been formed by 50 years of hugging and holding hands of people who had nothing to give back. He said he sees "God everywhere and in all people. "
|St. Ignatius Loyola Church,, site of Fr. Carolin's 50th|
anniversary and were Jesuits prayed in 1795
When I asked where Fr. Joe's fortitude comes from , a close friend and colleague replied: " I think he has an unusual feeling for the common man. He doesn't come across as theological. He doesn’t give you a sermon when he talks to you. He adjusts to the person. He always behaves as a friend—to anyone. His great gift is to implement his deep religious philosophy with common people. "
The April 30 Feast of Love and Baked Ziti
Their license plates told you they came from all over the Eastern states to celebrate the thanksgiving Mass and 50th ordination anniversary of Fr. Joe. Hearing how small the church was and doubting if they'd be a pew for them , some of the 180 invitees came an hour early. The church is a 30-minute drive from Chambersburg. Out-of town guests without a car GPS to guide them through the miles of southern Pennsylvania forest roads which twisted between the Tuscarora and South mountains, eventually found St. Ignatius Loyola Church.
My wife and I watched as those cousins, colleagues, close friends , priests, nuns, and several well-wishers ( some from the Chicago area ) indebted to Fr. Joe for various reasons , disembarked from their cars , a few with camera in hand. Below them was as an immense countryside imbued with spring beauty that stretched for miles . Then camera shutters snapped at the quaint and small storybook-like church . Fr. Joe was there to greet them.
| Leo, one of many of Fr. Joe's cousins who attended...some|
affectionately refer to him as nice "mountain man "
Though the Mass would arguably be the highlight of Fr. Joe's anniversary, most of us would remember it for re-bonding of friendships, sharing "good ole days" , and exchanging exaltations about a most unusual priest and friend. Here's what some told me :
Sr. Maria Cieslinski , Missionary Services of the Blessed Trinity: "I've known Fr. Joe for 49 years. He's kept me on the straight and narrow. Sometime it's been entertaining . He has a great sense of humor , but sometimes it got me aggravated ( she chided with a smile ) . " I'll never forget when he asked me what I could do to help this family about to lose their mobile home, and he reached for his wallet."
Fr. Paul Shuda, retired priest and a co-celebrant for the Mass, a friend since Fr. Joe was a seminarian and also later, when the two lived in the same rectory: "I could always go to him when I needed to be cautioned about 'staying out of the soup ' that is, taking on too much responsibility. For fun we'd go to a car dealership on Saturday mornings and take a new car out for a test drive with no intention of buying it . . . Fr. Joe is very interested in helping people become more fully themselves. He's built a support group of friends and priests who stand by him today. Losing both parents and having no brothers or sisters I think has helped formed him. "
Frank Penna, friend and colleague since 1974 , a globe-trotting agnostic devoted to alleviating poverty: " We talk almost every week about our work and sometimes personal problems . Joe relates to people of all different types. He's also a real intellectual and has read widely."
Virginia, a cousin in Minnesota: " We were friends as kids. I still think of him as my friend. Joey is very easy to get along with."
Scott, a cousin in Illinois: "I have fond memories of playing games with Joey's father. "
Besides Fr. Joe's occasional past homilies in the St. Ignatius Loyola church, worshippers here through the years have been hearing homilies ever since 1795 , when Jesuit priests first travelled through the area . In 1817, local families built a church here , a few yards from a statue of Mary Jemison , the daughter of Scotch-Irish settlers . The statue honors her as the only household survivor of a Shawnee Indian attack in 1758. She was taken to Ohio , raised by two Seneca Indian sisters, and after refusing to be returned to her homeland, married twice, each time to a Seneca chief. She had eight children and lived to 91.
From the altar , Fr. Joe , flanked by five co-celebrant priests, welcomed everyone . Recognizing that in this flock of dear friends were those from other religious faiths and those who professed none, he said up front that the Mass would be simple and that everyone should not feel obligated to follow all the Catholic protocol. He then gave a homily which , among other things, expressed his love for Christ and for the love which everyone here had shown him through the years. The Eucharist was celebrated and the choir sang and then everyone headed to the church event room for an early dinner.
A Free Electron in the Body of Christ
Watching their host Fr. Joe making rounds at more than 20 tables reminded me (metaphorically speaking and stretching Catholic metaphysics ) of a free electron in the Body of Christ. With people feasting on baked Zita (Fr. Joe loves pasta ) and chicken Marsala, the l5-piece brass playing oldies- but- goodies amidst animated camaraderie everywhere, this unrepeatable event was a fitting climax to an anniversary of a spiritual servant. Of course, a bit of credit for all this belonged to the dessert of unlimited blueberry pie alamode and the life-size cardboard cutout of Pope Francis around which dozens posed for photographs
For some here, the scene likely brought to mind Christ telling this disciples , I pray for them…so that they may all be one…I in them and you in me ( John 17:20-23 ) . And observing Fr. Joe's beaming face, some might have even acknowledged that Saint Irenaeus ( circa115-203 A.D.) had someone like Joey in mind when the saint wrote , The glory of God is a human being fully alive.
|Cousin Shannon Johnston and son Liam bringing up the|
Eucharist gifts...The drove up from Chicago.
One young man sitting at a table—we'll call him Fred— Fr. Joe had been counseling to become fully alive. Fr. Joe stopped and prompted him go up for a second helping of pasta and chicken. Fred had recently served 2 ½ years at the youth detention center at the South Mountain Restoration Center . He had been adopted by a man and wife after being abused by his father. When Fred was in detention, his new parents sought out Fr. Joe , who began to meet weekly with the youth . When Fred was released from custody, he began a new life that included regular church attendance, daily prayer and Bible study.
But Fred began to back-slide soon after he got a job as a truck driver and while on the road one day, he had seizure ; doctors could not diagnose it, and Fred was disabled him for awhile. His employer refused to re-hire him. "I got angry with God," Fred told me. "I mean, I prayed and prayed to get my job back , and I didn't. And I love driving a truck ! "
Fred stopped going to church and praying and accused God of "teasing" him. I advised him to keep his relationship with Fr. Joe and reminded him of the Biblical wisdom that tell us to be patient because God ,Who works in mysterious ways and works all things to the good for those who love Him , may have another plan for Fred.
During the dinner, Fred had been sitting next to an agnostic, 72-year-old Frank Penna. Frank and Fr. Joe in the 1960's shared an interest in the social change programs supported by President Lyndon Johnson, and when Fr. Joe was an orphanage chaplain , he had Penna help him with homeless kids on drugs.
The Anniversary Beat Continues at Our Motel
That night and all the next morning, the lobby of the Hampton Inn in Chambersburg was filled with departing guests taking an hour or more to say farewell to someone they probably would not see again. Penna was one of them, and I sat down with him and his wife to learn more about Fr. Joe's work. Frank , who has been interviewed by numerous media , including PBS television, anticipated many of the questions which a retired newspaper editor like myself would ask.
"I can't think of a more depressing job than Fr. Joe's, " he began. '' He talks to terminally ill patients who can neither respond nor hear , but I've seen them joyful just to be in the chapel during one of his Masses. He gives them hugs just to get them through the day. And these are people who are dying all the time. "
|Some of Fr. Joe's family ...They call him "Joey"--and friend|
He went on to say that that he has "spent a good part " of his life making ethical decisions after thinking about who would be hurt or what would be gained by this or that action and then "making a gut decision about what is the best thing to do."
I humored Penna with a question: "Has Fr. Joe ever tried to convert you ?"
" He's never even tried ." The important thing is what you do in life. It doesn’t matter whether your beliefs come from theology or from my background, which is ethical culture—though the source of our principles can be different. " I would have loved to hear him debate Fr. Joe on these beliefs.
Going a Little Deeper with Fr. Joe
During my interview with Fr. Joe the next morning, he shed some light on how his core spiritual beliefs color his work at South Mountain , work which other priests and counselors might view as a progressive. Some of his beliefs he referenced to the Bowen Theory, a concept on which he wrote his PhD dissertation in 1980 at the University of Pittsburgh. The theory is named after Dr. Murray Bowen , an American psychiatrist and professor in psychiatry at Georgetown University and one of the pioneers of family therapy . Beginning in the 1950s, Dr. Bowen, who died in 1990 , developed a systems theory of the family. Joe has written and lectured widely on these theories , which he would tell you, has done much to form his skills as a priest, chaplain and counselor .
Looking over Fr. Joe's two-page, single-spaced resume that included religious studies in England and Belgium, I asked if he could simplify the Bowen Theory for me. As he talked, he kept a meditative gaze out a window at the tops of gray clouds hanging over plowed-up crop fields. Fr. Joe is six feet, often dresses in a casual outdoor jacket and blue jeans and speaks with a gently modulated voice that soon tells the listener—be it stranger or patient— that he's a willing listener . He is dismissive of any words that tend to flatter him and will use humor to parry a question he believes trivial and unnecessary—such as when I asked, " Your eyes are blue, right ? "
His laughing retort: " Yes and no. One is orange. "
" Understanding human behavior has an interface with spirituality, " he began. " Any time you look at the way humans act or think, there's an emotional substrate [ part ] . In other words, we ask how many times have we seen a person act upon a spiritual impulse and at the same time see their emotional underpin ? I don't think you can reduce spirituality to psychology , but I think that if you ignore the emotional underpinnings you're missing an important understanding . "
The value of applying the Bowen Theory, Fr. Joe explained, is that when interacting with a non-communicative resident at South Mountain , the counselor can interpret what’s going on inside him. It also helps a priest to hear a confession, he added. " How many times I have heard a person in confession confess someone else's sins or seen this sacrament used to avoid one's own responsible activity. " He said he has found a lot of "wholesome agnostics" among his peers who use the Bowen Theory. The interaction of the church's theology with science , he said, "helps purify its understanding of how God is at work. "
Fr. Joe said he sees this work of God not only in his friends, relatives, and the people from various background to whom he ministers but also in "rocks, plants, even soil " , which used metaphors in His parables. He waxed excitement as he related this, and I asked what makes him happy. He laughed , as if at my naiveté and, with a grin, replied simply: "I like the Eucharist. " What was currently making him happy was looking forward to his upcoming memorial Mass at which was to express appreciation for all the support given him by South Mountain staff, residents, retirees and " key people in my ministry, some of all faiths and some of no faiths. "
Listening to Fr. Joe like , one quickly senses his love for the universal Catholic church and his commitment to challenging all religious establishments to raise the heights of their achievements. "The Gospel , as I try to engage in it, is a vision ; but it's not alive unless you try to incorporate it into the values of life as best you can. Examine your beliefs and you'll get power and freedom. "
|"God is everywhere and in all people "|
What Saddens this Priest
One thing will sadden Fr. Joe: Though he likes to be in control, he admitted that "when things trigger my anger and then I lose control , I get down on myself . " Does anything about the Catholic Church bother him ? "The past sex abuses by priests ; it was a powerful indictment…but I've know so many wonderful colleagues in the church. " Referring to the Vatican bureaucracy and the media's criticism of it for the way it handled the abuse, Fr Joe paused for a deep breath : " But it’s a struggle. We all have our limits. At times the church can be too rigid and defensive. " He lauded Pope Francis for his efforts to change this bureaucracy . " He agreed that centuries of Catholic church history has shown that the church has had the uncanny wisdom to take the best from all faiths and filter out the best for adoption.
Fr. Joe's Coming of Age
The South Mountain Restoration Center…sits atop the Blue Ridge Mountains…
From the center's seventh floor, an observer can gaze over the seemingly
endless tract of the Michaux State Forest or search for a glimpse of Gettysburg,
tucked in a valley to the east. The road leading to the center rises from the town
of Mont Alto at the foot of the mountains and climbs five miles in switchbacks
past the center to the village of South Mountain. It is an unlikely site for a
geriatric center, perched amid acres of forest land, where deer, snakes, and
ruffed grouse live, but the story of the South Mountain Restoration Center
twists and turns like the road that leads to its door. ( from an unknown book
from the center's archives )
We drove to the South Mountain Restoration Center and, on the way , learned that prior to Fr. Joe coming here, the center since its start in 1901 has cared for tuberculosis patients, soldiers who victims of mustard gas in World War I, women with mental retardation, older patients with mental illness, and troubled youth such as Fred. All of its 150 patients are housed in the center's administrative building, a large seven-story , Colonial styled structure that sits majestically among the many-acre campus surrounded by woodlands ; the several other buildings , now in "moth balls " ( as described by Fr. Joe ) , are old and have scrubby exteriors and , except for the still-functioning Secure Treatment Unit ( for repeat offender youths ) , they are ghostly reminders of all the poor, hopeless souls who once inhabited them.
Fr. Joe scanned his early years as a child, his life- defining moments, and those first tough years at South Mountain. " I was raised Catholic, was an altar boy," he began. " My grandfather prayed nine Rosaries each day . Mother was always empathetic, caring for the poor and people with disabilities, and that gave me empathy for elderly and disabled people. I was always interested in the things of God, but at first I wanted to be a physician. But I remember what a priest said at a high school retreat I was on: 'It would be harder to save your soul if you didn't follow your vocation of what God wanted you to do . ' And that was pretty much when I decided to enter the seminary."
Did Fr. Joe ever think seriously about marriage ? He answered candidly: " Continuously, for a number of years in the seminary and early years of my priesthood. It was a struggle, but gradually I got more and more being confirmed to lead a celibate life . " He went on a Jesuit retreat, where he made firm decision to become a priest.
Subsequent to his mother's death in 1979 was a "tough time" for Fr. Joe. His first two years at South Mountain he remembers as a "really tricky balancing act " between that work and , at the same time, being a parish priest and a college campus chaplain . "I felt like a single parent of triplets. "
I asked if he had a goal . "Yes, " he intoned with irony of one-word: "Survival." He's also writing a book about family systems. A final question about how he would like to be remembered elicited a loud chuckle . " I want to be known as the guy who celebrated Cadillac funerals for the little people. " He explained how uncomfortable he was when there were no funerals at South Mountain for deceased residents, only graveside prayers . When Fr. Joe suggested to the administrator and medical director that funerals be held, they were uncomfortable about what other people would say—but they eventually allowed Fr. Joe to conduct a funeral.
Fr. Joe conducted South Mountain's first funeral ; officials attended it. "It was wonderful, " Fr. Joe recalls. " Today, with some residents having no family and only staff for friends, we conduct a funeral service and Mass as meaningfully as we can. "
Many of the 185 people who attended Fr. Joe's anniversary took home what they perhaps considered a memorable gift from their priestly friend . It was is an image he evoked for them during his homily in that small country church. It emerged from a spontaneous comment he made about a memory which his cousin Scott had shared with him only an hour ago . Scott had told Fr. Joe how he, Scott, cherished the memory of himself, when a child, playing on the floor with Fr. Joe's father with little toy cars. " They were lying on the floor , close together, like a father and son and enjoying their closeness as much as their game, " Fr. Joe told his friends in the pews. Then, with a voice restraining his emotion, he said: "The memory of this today reminds me so strongly of the fatherly relationship each of us has with God ."
|Relaxing after the big event with his artist cousin from|
Arlington Heights, Illinois , Mary Alice Schwarz
All comments are welcome.
© 2016 Robert R. Schwarz