Friday, August 31, 2012

A Day in Chicago {Day 8: Meandering Home}

St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle...
Visiting St. John Cantius placed first on our 1-day-in-Chicago-to-do list;  meeting up with a long lost high school friend was a very close second.  Brian, my dear friend from Gig Harbor High School and a current FB and Christmas card friend, caught our online posts as we traveled I90 en route to Notre Dame and emailed an invite to stop off at his place on our way back through Chicago.  Further communications revealed that he lived only a short distance from St. John Cantius, and very near to St. Michael's Church (in Old Town), which he highly recommended we check out, knowing how we love our Churches.
St. Michael Church, Old Town Chicago
Brian served as our personal transportation consultant for the drive into and around the Windy City, with great driving directions and tips for avoiding serious back-ups and finding free parking.  At Brian's suggestion, we met at St. Michael's in Old Town around lunch time.  The glorious artwork was captivating, and reminiscent of Churches we visited in Italy, the high altar and tabernacle were still in place. 

Tim, Zachary and I were all given St. Michael as our middle-name patron, and our family fosters a special devotion to this Archangel, so visiting this place named in his honor had special significance... little did we know HOW special and HOW significant!
Joseph teaches Emmett a new trick at lunch.
After our rendezvous at St. Michael's, we walked a few blocks through beautiful Old Town Chicago to Brian's house, where we met his wife, Kathleen, and sons Emmett and Evan, before venturing on foot to the neighborhood diner for deli sandwiches and milkshakes.  Post lunch festivities included a trip to the North Shore of Lake Michigan, a short walk from their house.  The adults lounged and visited on the sandy shore, and the our boys enjoyed a dip in the lake, while their boys frolicked on the beach.
Peter and Evan's sidewalk races in Old Town Chicago
4 boys on a bridge, heading for the beach
Back to Brian's house for sand-rinsing, Lego sharing, and adult bonding, we found ourselves still in town at 5:30PM when the daily Mass began at St. Michael's in a side chapel.  My new friend, Kathleen, and I speed-walked to Mass, while the men-folk lingered and joined us at the Church for a 6PM farewell gathering.  Barefooted sidewalk races and pinkie toe first aid ensued, and before long we tore ourselves away from our Chicago friends and began another many hours drive west.
Joseph and Peter swimming in Lake Michigan on Chicago's North Shore

  • Tonight's en-route inspirational CD highlighted the spiritual experience of reconnecting with a long-lost friend named Brian, not seen in 27 years...on this day that I reconnected with my friend, Brian, not seen in 27 years; certainly a spiritual experience!
  • On sharing our Chicago stories with Tim's parents, they told us that it was IN ST. MICHAEL'S CHURCH in Chicago that they received the inspiration to give their unborn son (Tim) the middle name Michael! Certainly another spiritual experience...
Tim and me on the North Shore
Brian and Kathleen in their own backyard
Our final view as we departed Illinois heading West

Monday, August 27, 2012

Meandering Home {Day 7: South Bend to Chicago}

Peter receives an exuberant greeting from the hounds at Uncle Wayne's house.
The sting of leaving Zachary at Notre Dame {at 2:22PM} was eased by divine grace, and by the fact that we had a dinner engagement in Chicago with Tim's uncle and cousin that evening.  Treated to deep dish Chicago-style pizza, we enjoyed the chance to visit with Wayne and Stacy and meet their (growing) menagerie of furry friends.  Checking into our hotel after the family reunion, we were assigned to room 222.
Cousin Stacy, Uncle Wayne, Tim and Bridget
A long desired wish to visit St. John Cantius Church in Chicago, put a family pilgrimage at the top of our to-do list during our short stay in the Windy City.  We navigated toll roads and one way streets to the Church, and upon entering were surprised to find the entire nave filled with scaffolding and drop cloths. We knew that extensive renovations were happening at St. John Cantius, but had no idea that the place was actually off limits to visitors that day.  We walked along the outside isle, taking in the beauty amidst the construction chaos.  A quick call to the main office filled in a few blanks:
"Hello, St. John Cantius."
"Hello, we are visiting from Washington State and made a special stop to visit the Church. Father Phillips told us that one of the Brothers could show us around the Church today."
(Pause) "The Church is closed today and tomorrow, the only days it's not open to the public during the construction project.  Can you come back another day?"
"No, we are only in town today."
(Pause) "Where are you?"
"We are in the Church, near the baptismal font.  The doors were open... the construction crew must have been on a break because we didn't see anyone when we arrived."
"Stay right there.  I will be right over."
St. John Cantius, under renovation
Not even a minute after we were given instructions to stay put, a construction worker some 30+ feet above us on a scaffolding platform yelled down,
"Hey!  Get out of here!  There's no one allowed in here today!" 
"But Father told us to wait right here.  He's on his way over to see us."
(Pause) "OK... Well then could you unplug that extension cord and unwind it from the base of the pillar?"
Main altar at St. John Cantius, during renovations Aug. 2012
Brother Matthew arrived shortly thereafter, a pleasant, peaceful young man in his fifth year (of eleven) of formation for the priesthood in the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius.  Well informed and entirely welcoming despite the scheduled building closure, Brother Matthew visited with us, answering our many questions and sharing the mission and charism of St. John Cantius.  Amazing renewals are happening in our Holy Catholic Church, and the Restoration of the Sacred at St. John Cantius offers a glimpse of the tremendous, heavenly beauty of our prayer and worship, rediscovered and restored.

Brother Matthew with Joseph and Peter at St. John Cantius, Chicago
Restoring the sacred, St. John Cantius is filled with beautiful works of art.
Like most religious orders, St. John Cantius' priests and brothers welcome prayer requests and have an online prayer request form, through which prayers can be requested from anyone, anywhere. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

Destination Notre Dame {Day 6: Opening Mass and Farewell Hugs}

Opening Mass in Purcell Pavilion at Notre Dame for students and families at the close of new student orientation.
Knowing that only hours remained before our final farewell, we thoroughly enjoyed each and every moment with Zachary on Sunday.  Walking across campus together to the Purcell Pavilion after a brief wait in the 3rd floor study hall while he showered, we heard snippets of the events from the previous evening.  Upon entering the pavilion, the students were ushered to the main floor seating for the opening Mass, while the families were directed to the upper seats.   I asked the guys to be on the lookout to find 5 seats together as we climbed up into the stands, and Tim corrected me, "4."
Box lunch on the lawn, following the opening Mass at Notre Dame for the Class of 2016
Rev. J. King’s homily brilliantly illuminated the Gospel reading (John 6: 51-58).  He reminded us that so many thing Jesus taught didn’t seem to make sense, particularly the command to eat His flesh and drink His blood to have eternal life.  So many walked away at these words, these instructions of Jesus.  Fr. King encouraged us, “Dare to look upon Jesus as the ultimate answer to all your needs…for He has all the answers.” 
Assisted at the book store, Zachary locates $700 worth of  text books for his first semester at ND.
A gourmet box lunch picnic followed the opening Mass, and an errand to purchase Zachary’s first semester books allowed another hour together on campus.  Navigating the maze of shelves to find each course’s required purchases took a little doing, but the courteous staff made the job enjoyable. 
Dad, Firstborn Son, Mom
Leaving time upon us, we made one last visit to Zachary’s dorm room, inhabited with several new friends enjoying his roommate’s game system.  To allow for a few moments alone as a family, we asked Zachary to walk us to our van, which he willingly obliged.  Gathering together for a final prayer, we exchanged hugs and bid our boy farewell with well wishes for his freshman year.
Joseph, Tim, Zachary, Bridget and Peter
Further reflections on saying farewell to Zachary here.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Destination Notre Dame {Day 5: Orientation}

Basilica of the Sacred Heart, University of Notre Dame
A full day of parent and student orientation activities on the agenda, we began in the Knott Hall chapel where the dorm’s rector, Brother Jerome, introduced us to the young men (seniors) who will serve as residence assistants (RA’s) this year and gave a general talk about dorm life in an effort to “put parents’ minds at ease.” The questions from parents following the presentation:
  • What if my son doesn’t KNOW there was alcohol in his room?
  • Can’t you please call me if you are taking my son to the emergency room?
  • What if my son just can’t stand his room mate?
  • Will my son be forced to wear an orange beanie?
didn’t phase Brother Jerome in the least. He encouraged us to allow our sons the opportunity to make their own decisions and learn to live with the consequences; turn off the helicopter, so to speak. The dorm room stability policy at Notre Dame encourages students to learn to live and work with others and figure out how to negotiate the differences and difficulties rather than offering an easy ‘fix’ and removal (extreme cases not withstanding). In a very direct statement, an RA told us that the University of Notre Dame “follows the teachings of the Catholic Church” (Please God, may it always be so!) “that intercourse is to be reserved for marriage…”

Brother Jerome addresses parents of Knott Hall freshmen, in the dorm's chapel.
“Introduction to Academic and Student Life” followed a family style lunch in the dining hall. Gathering the entire class of 2016 and their loved ones at Purcell Pavilion, Notre Dame administrators, Dean Page, President Fr. Jenkins, Erin Hoffmann Harding, and senior student Catherine Reidy officially welcomed the new students and gave sound advice for a successful university experience including:
  • Take everything as an opportunity to learn (in all humility) and grow
  • Encounter the mystery of God
  • Be Christ for others
  • Be a leader and a servant
  • Make time for discernment 
  • Begin to learn a new language~ very well 
  • Wander the stacks of books and explore the libraries
    Students of the Notre Dame class of 2016 and their families enter Purcell Pavilion for first-year orientation.
Notre Dame's “Parent Orientation Session” with Dean Page, Erin Hoffmann Harding, and Parent Orientation Panel (James McKenna, Lee Svete, Darrell Paulsen) coincided with a break-out session for our first year students to meet with their academic advisors. A few tips from the Dean’s key to success list:
  • Be patient in this time of transition
  • Master the art of supporting rather than solving 
  • Trust in the values you have instilled in your child (pray and trust) 
  • Encourage your child to find time for contemplation and silence 
  • Embrace this new stage of life
The topic, ‘Discernment in Year 1,” sounded promising, although I didn’t particularly appreciate the ‘wisdom’ passed along by the first presenter, Professor James McKenna, who quoted his own UC Berkley prof from 1966. McKenna redeemed himself with a slightly comedic repeat after me phrase for parents, preparing us for that excited call from our student announcing his new intended major of study in an area never before mentioned, like, say, anthropology: “Anthropology!! There’s NOTHING you cannot do with THAT major!”
Migrating across campus after the parent orientation program concluded, we reconnected with Zachary at the Arts and Letters exploration session. Lemonade, cookies and snacks were enjoyed by Joseph and Peter, who understandably opted out of another lecture and rather passed the time in comfy chairs in the lobby area.

Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Notre Dame
Leaving Zachary to peruse the Arts and Letters open house at his own pace, the four of us made our pilgrimage to the Basilica of the Sacred Heart for the 5PM Mass. The organ and student choir ensemble filled the church with the beauty of holy music, and the sound preaching and awesome sacramental miracle of the Holy Eucharist brought heaven to earth (see Revelation).  Time to visit the reliquary and side chapels followed, and we eventually made our way to the dining hall where Zachary sat surrounded by new friends at a table not far from ours. He joined us mid-meal and shared bits of his student orientation experience.

Tabernacle; home of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, at Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Notre Dame
Leaving the dorm after a brief post-dinner tour of Zac’s room-in-progress, we introduced ourselves to the rector, Brother Jerome, and enjoyed a visit with him before departing campus for the much anticipated swimming pool at our hotel.
Zachary's dorm room, under construction

Joseph takes the camera in hand and snaps revenge on the family photographer.
One more day.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Destination Notre Dame {Day 5: Move-In Day}

Assisting the sophomore moving company, Tim and Peter haul Zachary's gear out of the van at Knott Hall.
Our official campus move-in pass displayed on the dashboard as instructed, we trekked from our South Bend hotel to the University of Notre Dame and took our place in a long line of vehicles loaded with excited freshmen dorm inhabitants and their furnishings.  Rather like waiting for a ferry on a holiday crossing, we inched along at single digits speeds for nearly an hour. Along the fenced border of a large grassy field where the marching band rehearsed in the morning sun, we lifted the seat belt requirement a rode along with the sliding door wide open, feet dangling.

Car door-to-door hospitality provided by the Notre Dame parents’ club delivered cold water bottles, campus maps and driving directions to the nearby superstores for any last minute shopping needs.  Eager sophomores greeted us as we finally pulled up the front entrance of Zachary’s new home at Knott Hall.  Whisking Zachary off to sign for his room key, his new dorm-mates unloaded Zac’s belongings from our van and delivered them to his new room on the third floor.
Zac and his new roommate, Joe, rearrange the furnishings to their liking as Joe's parents look on.
Finding his Google-Earth assisted measurements to be precisely accurate, Zachary lost no time unpacking to inhabit his12x16 cinder block double dorm room.  A friendly resident assistant suggested removing the closet doors which would allow ease of access to the main storage areas and offered tools for the project.  The especially anticipated move-in moment occurred when Zachary’s new roommate, Joe, arrived together with his parents, Linda and Steve.  A gentle-spirited and serious young man, slightly on the shy side, Joe immediately hit it off with Zac and simultaneously won my heart.  I offered silent, fervent prayers of gratitude for the complimentary pairing and for the opportunity to get to know Joe’s parents.
Zachary and Joe in their new room in Knott Hall at the University of  Notre Dame.
A drop-in dorm visit by our Bellingham friend, Matt (ND sophomore), and his mom, Vicki, was a great consolation and spirits lifted to see their familiar faces.  Matt and his mom gave sound suggestions and answered many questions for us in the months, days and hours prior to Zac’s move to Notre Dame. Having them join in the joy of Zac’s first day on campus was certainly fitting. By divine providence we ended up eating lunch with Matt, Vicki, and another Bellingham youth group friend, Drew, and his family on the grass outside the campus ministry welcome barbecue tent. 
Matt, Zac, and Drew at the campus ministry-sponsored picnic lunch on Freshmen move-in day at ND.
Bellingham moms unite on the grounds of Notre Dame; Vicki, Bridget and Diane.

Many booths set up to provide insightful leads for students and parents on campus, we collected treats and freebies while learning about the various campus services, work study options and extra curricular offerings.  Anxious to settle in to his new dorm room, Zac took us up on our offer to do a bit of running around in town on his behalf.  Had we known we would need to visit four stores before a box of thumbtacks could be found…

Reuniting for a walk to the family friendly dinner served at the dining hall, we were blessed to find five seats all together right next to Zac’s new roommate and his parents.  Although the noise level in the expansive space made our attempts at polite conversation fairly futile, just sharing a meal all together hit the spot.  Our paths parted after dinner as Zachary rejoined his dorm activities and the four of us made a visit to the Grotto in time to pray the sorrowful mysteries with the faithful crowd which assembles there every night at 6:45. 
Joseph, Peter and Tim light a candle and pray for Zachary at Notre Dame's Grotto.
Back at our hotel, Joseph and Peter wasted no time getting to the pool for their evening exercise.  We enjoyed visiting with other parents of Notre Dame freshmen gathered at the Jacuzzi after a long move-in day.  One couple was delivering the youngest of their three sons into university life; one brought the middle son of three boys; and we, the oldest son of our three.  A lively conversation ensued and once again, it seemed as if every little detail of this day had been prearranged for our benefit

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Destination Notre Dame {Day 4: La Crosse to South Bend}

Pay to drive system in full effect

Sleeping through most of the breakfast hour, we ate lobby fare hurriedly before loading up and shipping out of La Crosse, Wisconsin. Stopping briefly along the shores of the Mississippi River to purchase fuel and de-bug the windshield, we discovered a bait room with a full refrigerated tank full of bait, including leeches. Yum! No time for fishing, or cutting bait, so east we headed on I90.

A more urgent sense of reaching our South Bend destination has quickened our steps and our stops; no picnicking today. Fast food from a taco place sufficed for lunch and other than a rest area or two for necessary relief, we’re strictly down to the business of getting somewhere this day.

A powerful witness talk called “Winning the Game for Christ,” by Major League All-Star Mike Sweeney, lifted our spirits along another monotonous stretch of road. Anyone who questions the life changing, soul marking power of the sacrament of baptism aught to hear Sweeney describe the beginning of his walk with Christ ~ at his infant baptism in a NICU unit and miraculous cure. Sweeney’s talk highlighted the need to let Christ be our guide and driver on the road of life. His encouragement to weather any of life’s storms by fixing our gaze entirely upon the face of Christ hit home in a very meaningful way.

Rehearsals for the Chicago Air Show over I90

Delays on I90 over this stretch of our journey included the expected multiple stops to pay road tolls, and an unexpected but exhilarating air show over the city of Chicago by an Air Force acrobatic team. The jets roared over us in a trinity formation, diving, rolling and ripping through the urban skyline. Many drivers were understandably distracted and the crawl through Chicago easily endured with such sights above.
Below the golden dome; Zachary's arrival at the University of Notre Dame 

Spotting the first sign on I90 marking the distance to South Bend increased the need for speed, and with Zac riding shotgun, we arrived in his new hometown in good time, losing another clock hour as we entered Eastern Standard Time. After quickly depositing our belongings in a spacious hotel room, we made our way to the University of Notre Dame campus. The picturesque approach to the golden dome was accented by a perfectly timed text from ND Alum Grandpa Pete asking if we had arrived yet. Indeed we had arrived.

A stroll across Notre Dame's campus gave us a peek of the glorious architecture and sprawling grounds, and brought us to the famed Grotto at the very hour that the public Rosary (Gospel meditation) was being prayed. Before hundreds of votive candles blazing in the simple rock cave dedicated to the Blessed Mother of God, we lifted our praise to God in community.

And Mary said:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my savior.
For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness;
behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.
The Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name..."
       ~Luke 1:46-49

Rough play in the pool; on our last evening together at the South Bend hotel before Zac's move-in day.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Destination Notre Dame (Day 3: Rapid City to La Crosse)

Joseph, Zachary at Peter after morning Mass at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Rapid City, SD

With double alarm clock security, we arose at 6AM on day three, the Feast of the Assumption. Knowing we would be travelers on this holy day, and wanting to keep our obligation to attend Mass, we had intentionally picked our hotel to be within walking distance of the Rapid City cathedral. The warm early morning walk with only one treacherous J-walking passage took less than ten minutes and allowed for quiet prayer time before Mass. The church was fairly packed and the liturgy’s timeless beauty with the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist super charged us for another day on the road.

Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Rapid City, SD

Motel map reading meeting

Coffee snob that I am, I brewed my own coffee-to-go as the guys ate assorted waffles and biscuits and whatnot in the seriously crowded and slightly overheated hotel lobby. The great majority of us would soon be driving southeast on Mt. Rushmore Road to take in the awesome hillside attraction. Built up beyond recognition to Tim (whose family visited the site in the 70’s) the monumental experience offered us a two+ hour respite from the monotony of highway travel.

Mount Rushmore's interpretive displays and over half mile of walking trails gave us a wider perspective on this national treasure. Temping (but clearly marked off-limits) boulders along the side of the trail proved to be a challenge of willpower for one of our more eager and adventuresome members. A lesson on the graces of obedience ensued.

Basic training

Our much enjoyed detour put us on the journey east at almost noon. Extremely windy conditions along hours of sad looking corn fields suffering from record draught conditions made for a more than monotonous day of travel. Hastily prepared bbq chicken and baked bean (ie: left-overs) sandwiches on half bagels eaten while driving sufficed for lunch along with a bag of pretzels.

Our approach to Wall Drug offered marvels of marketing madness for mile upon mile as enticing treats and .5 coffee were promoted in large, artsy roadside signage. We successfully fought the temptation to pull off the highway to see what all the fuss was about. That’s right, we just said No to Wall Drug. Take that, relentless advertising blitz, we won this round.

Another time change somewhere along the never ending South Dakota highway brought Zachary one hour closer his new time zone.  A growing excitement to reach his final destination gave inspiration to fight the clock and power through the miles making a further stop than originally planned. A quick stop for sub sandwiches as a dinner on the go kept us moving in the right direction.  Our final stop for the day in La Cross, Wisconsin, ended another triple state day of travel, and we wearily checked into our hotel just after the pool closed at 11PM.
The smeared evidence of today’s bug collisions marked by vertical streaks staining the windshield show a total kill count which must be in the thousands. Our apologies to the insect world.


  • Biscuits and gravy may or may not hit the spot.
  • Language guessing can be a fascinating pass time at national monuments.
  • Nervous passengers best not ride shotgun on extremely windy days when passing swaying semi trucks cannot be avoided.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Destination Notre Dame {Day 2: Bozeman to Rapid City}

Peter attempts to remove road kill.

Not surprisingly, a few of us slept late in the quiet darkness of the Bozeman hotel room, including Joseph in his floor-nest arrangement. Peter and I enjoyed a lingering coffee/breakfast hour in the hotel lobby, whereas the late-sleepers appeared, ate, and split for packing and pre-departure chores.

Without further ado, we poured back into our low-riding mini-van with Zachary at the wheel and made tracks out of Bozeman. Chauffeuring us through the Crazy Mountains on weather-weary roads, Zachary’s driving wasn’t to blame for Tim’s near sea-sickness in the way back cozy-seat where Zachary had enjoyed many hours of napping on day one. Probably wishing he’d called shotgun, Tim endured the roller coaster highway with windy gusts as his adult son captained the ship for a spell.

National Cemetery at Little Bighorn

A planned visit to the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument (formerly known as Custer’s Last Stand) coincided with lunch time and simple PB&J was on the picnic menu. Grandma Billie’s apricot jam sweetened the deal and a few pieces of left over pizza contributed a little spice. The overcast skies tampered the scorching heat sufficiently to allow us a brisk walk through the expansive monument; our youngest member dodging slow-moving tourists in a bold display of dexterity.

Hours along timeless stretches of I90 brought us safely to Rapid City where a room with a pull-a-way waited ready to host us for a few hours of rest. In the same parking lot a family friendly restaurant beckoned with rumors of amazing barbecue fare, which took a back seat to the serving of snickers ice cream pie we took back to the room to share five ways. An evening dip in a very cool pool helped sterilize a few bodies after a few days without showers and offered an hour of entertainment for those in and out of the water.

Slightly synchronized sinking

Settling down in another hotel room after another full day’s drive doesn’t happen automatically, but my super effective ear plugs allow me to doze through any amount of unrest and “move over brother” moments.


  • Matthew Kelly’s “The Best Way to Live” CD captivates even lukewarm listeners and offers powerful tips for living well including:
    • Spend time in the classroom of silence EVERY day, even if only for one minute.
    • Never say, “I’m too young,” or, “I’m too old.” These are thinking traps.
    • Finding deep peace through prayer will give us courage to do what is right.
  • Having friends like AM who give you Matthew Kelly CD’s rock. Thanks, AM!
  • St. MM Kolbe’s witness to self sacrifice in the face of torture and injustice inspires and motivates. What a great saint!