Bill Blank: Enough music and stories to fill 90 years

Allegra Thatcher, Assistant Editor.

He’s known as a piano tuner, an organist, a choir director and a lector. But few know him as a Korean war veteran, a member of the first graduating class from Covington Latin School, a proud father of six and a man who lost his wife too soon.

He might be the longest attending Mass-goer at the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption (78 years), and yet he’s never officially been a member. He attended seminary before Vatican II and Thomas More University when it was still called Villa Madonna College. He wrote two Mass settings and didn’t even mention it during an interview.

And Bill Blank, now nearly 90 years old, still attends Mass every morning at the Cathedral Basilica and tunes pianos practically every day.

Not a composer by profession, Mr. Blank, whose full name is William, has composed two Mass settings — the Mass of All Saints and the Mass of the Holy Cross. A Mass setting is the words of the Mass Ordinary set to music. The Ordinary words of the Mass are the parts that do not change with the liturgical calendar — they are a part of every Mass. There are five parts to the Ordinary: Kyrie (Lord have mercy…), Gloria (Glory to God in the highest…), Credo (I believe in God the Father…), Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy…) and the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God…).

In the 1960s after the Church changed the common liturgy to English, Mr. Blank said he looked at some of the Masses that were coming out in English, and said to himself, “I can do better than that.” They were quickly taken up by local churches and used “quite extensively” until about 30 years later, when the ‘Lord have mercy’ changed from three repetitions to two, which made the Masses unusable at the time.

“Having been a church organist for 50 years, I knew that the problem with congregational singing is that the people who write some of these songs and motets don’t realize that the ordinary person in the congregation isn’t a great musician and can’t sing this difficult stuff,” said Mr. Blank. “So I wrote Masses that are simple, easy to read and sing, yet devout and pleasing to God.”

Then in 2012, after the new translation of the Latin Missal was published, Mr. Blank rewrote his Masses so they would fit the new liturgies. On July 15, 2015 Bishop Roger Foys approved Mr. Blank’s Mass of All Saints and the Mass of the Holy Cross for use in the Diocese of Covington.

“They’re being used, people like them,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of comments about how good my Masses are. I don’t want to toot my own horn, but I think they’re better than a lot of what’s out there.”

He’s not a well-known composer or musician, but as a choir director he often arranged old hymns for his choirs. “I’m not trying to make money off it, I’m just doing it for the honor and glory of God.”

His Mass of All Saints is in the process of being published for use outside the diocese, if family friend Rebecca Schaffer Wells has anything to do with it. Mrs. Wells’ father, Dr. Robert Schaffer, was good friends with Mr. Blank while the two of them were church musicians around the diocese. Dr. Schaffer was choirmaster and organist at the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption for 62 years, a position his son, Dr. Gregory Schaffer, now holds. Dr. Schaffer also composed Masses, such as the Missa Pange Lingua and the Chorale Mass, published by the World Library of Sacred Music.

“Bill’s Mass of All Saints was one of the first ones approved for use in the diocese after the new translation in 2011,” Mrs. Wells said. She hopes to see it used across the nation soon.

Mr. Blank and her father met at the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and remained friends for many years after, as they continued to run into each other across the musical circuit of the diocese. Mr. Blank even taught the younger Dr. Schaffer some of his piano technician skills, though Mrs. Wells laughed that she always calls Mr. Blank to tune her piano.

She has great admiration for Mr. Blank’s work as a piano technician. “It’s a very refined skill,” she said. “You have to hear the smallest beats, we call it, the smallest difference of pitch, and turn that hammer,” she said. Whenever he finishes tuning, she said he’ll sit down and start playing sing-along tunes from the 1920s to test the tuning.

Some of Mr. Blank’s best musical memories come from the 15 years he spent as an employee for Steinway. In that time, he tuned for about 90 percent of the music artists who came through Cincinnati’s Music Hall on tour, including celebrities such as Ruth Lyons, the Nippert family, Roger Williams and Peter Nero. He became the go-to man for any style: classical, rock or pop.
“They claim I’m a master tuner,” said Mr. Blank.

He started tuning and restoring pianos as a young man, working for friends to make extra money on the side. He spent four years in both the Navy, where he was drafted in the Korean War, and four years in seminary for the diocese, before discerning out. He attended college on the GI Bill, and eventually dated and married his wife in the 1960s.

Over those years of finding his vocation and his career, he never forgot the Cathedral Basilica, where he attended school 1942-1946 and was the first graduating class for the new building. Though he grew up attending Blessed Sacrament Parish, after his high school years he always somehow ended up back at the Cathedral.

While Mr. Blank and his wife were raising their six children, he worked as an organist and choir director for over 50 years at parishes such as St. John and St. Ann in Covington, Holy Cross in Latonia and Mary Queen of Heaven, Erlanger. It was during this time that he wrote his Mass parts. Since he retired 25 years ago, he has been playing organ at St. Charles Community nursing home free of charge for the Sisters of Notre Dame for the weekend Masses.

Mr. Blank has countless stories from his tuning years, “enough to write a book.” In 1970, he tuned for Van Cliburn when he played for the dedication of the Riverfront Stadium, with 30,000 people gathered. Mr. Blank has a sense of humor about it all, laughing as he recounted: “Clybourne looks down at me and he says, ‘I can’t wait to get … back to Texas,’ and I never did like that guy after that. I tuned for him two or three times 10 or 15 years later.”

He’s a man with gumption, unafraid to perform his job well, even when challenged. “I had a concert pianist from Spain who asked him to pull the two higher octaves up sharp, because it sounded better,” he said. “And I said yes ma’am, and I went ahead and tuned that piano for the next rehearsal and at the rehearsal she comes up and says, ‘That’s just the way I like it,’ and I didn’t tune it any different than I did the first time.”

“Then I had a concert pianist who called Steinway and complained,” he said. “So Henry Steinway, the president of Steinway and Sons, came to visit and check me out. He walked up and said, ‘Mr. Blank, this doesn’t sound right,’ and I was so nervous, but I said, ‘Mr. Steinway, it sounds fine to me.’ He nodded and walked away, and the next day I was called in after a sleepless night and thought I was going to be fired. Mr. Steinway said, ‘Keep up the good work.’ I was nervous but I was confident that I did a good job. He was just checking to see if I was confident.”

Mr. Blank’s family means everything to him, and he’s known his share of sorrow. Two of his children died at the age of 37: one of pancreatitis and one in a car accident with a drunk driver. His wife died a month later, out of grief.

Yet through it all, Mr. Blank keeps getting out of bed every morning and getting through each day. Now, Mr. Blank’s children live in Villa Hills, Ky., Frankfort, Ky., one in Tennessee and one in London, England. He has 13 grandchildren and six great grandchildren. His son Tom, who lives in Frankfort, has taken up the musical legacy and tunes pianos as well.

“The Lord has been good to me,” Mr. Blank said. “I have a wonderful family, a lot of grandkids.” He’s still tuning pianos, repairing and rebuilding them, and still playing golf.

Mrs. Wells said she’s seen a resiliency in Mr. Blank that is unparalleled. “With all the pain in his life, he’s always a bright spot,” she said.

In the last 10 years, Mr. Blank has been lectoring at the Cathedral for daily Mass. He also has been a server and an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion. “Even after 78 years, every time I walk in that place, I’m just overwhelmed and inspired by it,” he said. “This building is incredible. I’ve been all over it.”

As he approaches his 90th birthday Nov. 4, Mr. Blank said he’s had a good life. “I love what I do, the priests have been good to me, and here I am,” he said. “I just try to do the best I can. My kids all love me and I’m just very fortunate.”

Seminarian Education Fund

Messenger Staff Report

The Seminarian Education Fund for the Diocese of Covington will be held the weekend of Nov. 7-8 at all Masses across the diocese. All parishioners will receive a mailing before the weekend with brochures, prayer cards and response cards to facilitate donations either to be mailed or brought to Mass that weekend in the collection basket.

This year, the Diocese of Covington has 11 seminarians studying at St. Vincent Seminary, Latrobe, Penn., and the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio. The cost to educate a seminarian is currently approximately $57,000.

“The future of our Church is our priests. It’s critical that people make a conscious decision to support our future,” said Michael Murray, director of Stewardship and Mission Services. “We have a very generous faith community that responds, so we’re looking forward to them responding again in a positive fashion, especially in these difficult times.”

Religious sisters offer virtual open houses for vocation discernment

Allegra Thatcher, Assistant Editor.

To celebrate National Vocations Awareness Week Nov. 1-7, local religious orders are hosting virtual open houses via Zoom. In place of traditional meet and greets, the sisters are inviting young adults to drop in on calls to learn more about religious life and specific communities.

Of the 14 participating orders, three are from Northern Kentucky. The Benedictine Sisters of St. Walburg, the Sisters of Divine Providence and the Sisters of Notre Dame are all taking part in the opportunity to share their spirituality, their ministries and their daily life with curious young adults.

Sister Leslie Keener, vocations director for the Sisters of Divine Providence said people often ask about the sisters’ prayer life, experience in ministry, what’s it like to live in community and about the vows they take. This is a new event, since their congregation usually hosts events like dinners in the spring.

“One of the gifts of being a vocation director is to go out and about and talk about this life that I love, and an event like this gives me an opportunity to do that and to interact with different people,” she said. “The gift of doing the program this way is that people don’t have to be local — anybody can be in on it and we get to meet all the different people.”

Sister Ruth Lubbers, assistant vocation director for the Sisters of Notre Dame, said their national vocation team members will be present for the events to share about their charism and mission and to address questions that participants may have.

“We are looking forward to meeting women through these events and sharing about the Sisters of Notre Dame. We are interested in seeing how this type of event works out, and if it fills the needs of those discerning religious life,” she said.

All the meet and greets are free but pre-registration is required. Registration can be found here.

Virtual open houses
Women discerning a vocation to religious life, mark your calendar to meet and greet the following religious communities:

Benedictine Sisters of St. Walburg
Nov. 4, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 5, 12 p.m.

Sisters of Divine Providence
Nov. 1, 1 p.m.
Nov. 4, 7 p.m.

Sisters of Notre Dame
Nov. 4, 7 p.m.
Nov. 7, 10 a.m.

A gift of presence and unifying love

By David Cooley.

Did you know that when you attend Mass you are present — actually present— to the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross? Though you can’t see it, it’s as if you were standing right there at the foot of the cross during the crucifixion.

In his encyclical letter, “Ecclesia de Eucharistia,” (“On the Eucharist in its Relationship to the Church”), Pope St. John Paul II wrote: “When the Church celebrates the Eucharist, the memorial of her Lord’s death and resurrection, this central event of salvation becomes really present and ‘the work of our redemption is carried out.’ This sacrifice is so decisive for the salvation of the human race that Jesus Christ offered it and returned to the Father only after he had left us a means of sharing in it as if we had been present there. Each member of the faithful can thus take part in it and inexhaustibly gain its fruits. … What more could Jesus have done for us? Truly, in the Eucharist, he shows us a love which goes ‘to the end’ (cf. Jn 13:1), a love which knows no measure.” (EE, n. 11; cf. LG, n. 3)

Each time we go to Mass, right before receiving Communion, we hear the words: “Blessed are those called to the Supper of the Lamb.” How often do we pause to contemplate how blessed we truly are to be receiving Jesus? I heard it said once that if the angels could be jealous of anything it would be of human beings’ ability to receive the Eucharist. To be sure, the angels worship constantly at the heavenly altar, and each time we go to Mass, whether we realize it or not, we are joining them in their praise. We are participating in the heavenly banquet!

As sojourners in this place of exile, the Eucharist is the strength and nourishment we need as we journey toward our heavenly home. The Church constantly draws her life from Christ in the Eucharist “not only through faith-filled remembrance, but also through a real contact …” (EE, n. 12). The Blessed Sacrament is the reason why, no matter how dark things get, our days are marked with confidence and hope. The Eucharist stands at the center of all that we do and through it we find meaning, mercy, healing and protection.

We learn from Scripture, that the devil’s work, demonic power, is always about division, scattering and separation — and then destruction. The first mark of the Church is that we are One. In the Eucharist we are in communion — union — with God and each other. It is the Eucharist that makes the Church one with Christ. The Eucharist unifies us all as members of the Mystical Body of Christ and unites us to Christ, the head.

Every offering of the Eucharist is simultaneously the sacrifice of those participating at that time, all those united to the Church throughout the world and all those who have entered heavenly glory. When we receive the Blessed Sacrament we become what we receive; we become “another Christ”— Jesus to others, his hands and his feet on earth.

Everlasting life is to be in “common union” with God, to be one with him. We are one with him by receiving his body and blood, just as he taught us: “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” (Jn 6:56)

God loves us and calls each of us to perfect and everlasting communion with him. He gives us our time on earth as an opportunity to either cooperate with him in achieving this goal or to reject his offer of salvation. In the center of the word “Eu-charis-t,” we find the word “charis,” which, in Greek, means “grace.” It is by the grace of God — a freely given gift — that participation in his divine life is possible and we are truly saved.

The Eucharist also commits us to others, especially the poor. Jesus sacrificed himself for us and we are to lay down our lives for others. At Mass we pray that he makes of us a sacrifice, a holy offering, to God and to others. We read in the first chapters of Genesis that the world was originally created to be in communion with the divine life. Now, through the sacraments, Jesus unites himself to us and makes us all temples of the Holy Spirit in the midst of the fallen world. The Church, the Body of the Christ, in union with Christ the Head, continues his incarnate presence on earth. We grow in sacramental living as Christ lives in us and through us. We are to let God’s love flow through us. We are conduits of his love, sharing it through our humanity.

David Cooley is co-director and office manager of the Office of Catechesis and Evangelization.

Out of shadows and into truth

Msgr. William Neuhaus.

I enjoyed watching recently an interesting and even somewhat charming British documentary in which Queen Elizabeth II (who even managed a rare joke) handled, examined and talked about the St. Edward Crown, with which she was crowned over sixty-five years ago and which she apparently has not seen since (I suppose she doesn’t keep these things in a dresser drawer), and the newer Imperial State Crown, which she dons on a regular basis to open the British Parliament. She spoke with some knowledge of the history of the great Cullinan “Star of Africa” diamond which adorns the latter crown, and the program featured commentary on the circumstances of its discovery, cutting and placement in the crown (the priceless gem was sent years ago from South Africa to London by regular mail!), as well as a lengthy discussion on the stone’s characteristics, colors, flaws and so forth, which was all news to me and rather beyond anything I know (which is more or less nothing) about diamonds.

Yet, in teaching about the Eucharist, I have often found myself mentioning diamonds — they are proverbial for being (pun intended) multi-faceted, a term which comes to mind when one reads this beautiful quote on the Eucharist from the Second Vatican Council, to be found (n. 1323) in the wonderfully comprehensible and accessible “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” which should have a place in the home of every committed Catholic:

“At the Last Supper, on the night he was betrayed, our Savior instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice of his Body and Blood. This he did in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the cross throughout the ages until he should come again, and so to entrust to his beloved spouse, the Church, a memorial of his death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a Paschal banquet ‘in which Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us.’”

Sacrifice, memorial, sacrament, bond, banquet … how wonderfully bright is this shining “source and summit,” as the Council calls it, of the Christian life.

The Catechism with great clarity references the centuries of scriptural and Church teaching on the Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, including that “summary” which was presented in the sixteenth century by the Council of Trent:

“Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly his body that he was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God … that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation.” (n. 1376)

It sometimes happens that faithful Catholics encounter people objecting to what we believe about the Real Presence by claiming that the Church’s use of that medieval, philosophical term, “transubstantiation,” as well as the development over the centuries of how the Church has sought to honor that Presence, means that what we believe about the Real Presence is some kind of a medieval innovation or exaggeration remote from what the early Church believed about how Christ is present in the Eucharist.

In 1968, in his beautiful yet relatively brief “Credo of the People of God,” and like his successors in many subsequent papal teaching documents, Pope St. Paul VI tried to address that and other modern errors concerning the Eucharist, and perhaps especially concerning adoration of the Eucharist, by describing the use of “transubstantiation” as appropriate while, at the same time, emphasizing that whatever kind of language we may use in describing the change which occurs on the altar, we must always understand that “in the reality itself, independently of our mind, the bread and wine have ceased to exist after the Consecration, so that it is the adorable body and blood of the Lord Jesus that from then on are really before us under the sacramental species of bread and wine, as the Lord willed it, in order to give Himself to us as food and to associate us with the unity of His Mystical Body. … And this existence remains present, after the sacrifice, in the Blessed Sacrament, which is, in the tabernacle, the living heart of each of our churches. And it is our very sweet duty to honor and adore in the blessed Host which our eyes see, the Incarnate Word whom they cannot see, and who, without leaving heaven, is made present before us.”

“Our very sweet duty.” Pope Paul appreciated and loved the Catholic impulse quietly and reverently to express our wonder and gratitude for what happens before us at Mass, and for what — for whom — we receive in holy Communion. And so we have, among many other hopeful things in the life of the Church, and shiningly standing out in a troubled and confused world, the phenomenon of parish programs of Eucharistic adoration, including here in our own diocese. It’s always a great and often a moving pleasure, and a reaffirming one, to see how such expressions of our belief in the Real Presence strike converts to our faith.

Msgr. Ronald Knox (preacher, apologist, Bible translator and mystery writer) was a 20th-century English convert, and in a powerful Corpus Christi homily recalled the epitaph of St. John Cardinal Henry Newman, the great 19th-century convert (himself very frequently cited in the Catechism), “Out of Shadows and Appearances into the Truth”:

“When death brings us into another world, the experience will not be that of one who falls asleep and dreams, but that of one who wakes from a dream into the full light of day. Here, we are so surrounded by the things of sense that we take them for the full reality. Only sometimes we have a glimpse which corrects that wrong perspective. And above all when we see the Blessed Sacrament enthroned we should look up towards that white disc which shines in the monstrance as towards a [crack] through which, just for a moment, the light of the other world shines through.” (“Pastoral and Occasional Sermons,” 304)

Msgr. William Neuhaus is a retired priest in the Diocese of Covington.

The Eucharist and our longing for God

Father Michael Hennigen

One of my favorite places to go ever since I was young is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee. My family and I would always stay in Gatlinburg, and we still go down as a family every year in the summer.

Visiting the Great Smoky Mountains is spiritually uplifting, a kind of retreat for me. Every morning we go to Mass at St. Mary’s in town and then spend the day out in nature. Nature is God’s “first word” to us, showing us that he created us, he loves us and he sustains us. In the Gospels it is mentioned many times that Jesus would go off alone to pray, to be with his Father, out in the wilderness, up on the mountain alone to pray. Mountains in Scripture are often the place of encounter with God. Psalm 144:5 says, “Lord, incline your heavens and come down; touch the mountains and make them smoke.”

It was about 10 years ago on one of our family trips to the “Smokies” we decided to buy huge inner tubes called River Rats at the Walmart in Pigeon Forge. We went tubing in the Greenbriar and Elkmont areas of the park. We fell in love with this activity and now do it every year. I notice the beautiful mountain streams — the cool, clear, crystal water — and how they keep flowing, they never dry up. The water is refreshing to see, to listen to, and to get in to. It always reminds me of the verse in Scripture, “As the deer longs for streams of water, so my soul longs for you, O God.” (Psalm 42:1)

We long for God, we thirst for God, we are made for God. We long for his life — eternal life — to be one with him. As St. Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” Our Lord thirsts for us. Jesus’ words on the cross, “I thirst,” demonstrate that he wants to share his life with us. Only in God is our soul — our thirst — quenched, so that we will never run dry.

In the book of Ezekiel, chapter 47, the prophet speaks of water flowing from the temple giving life to the earth. Jesus is the “New Temple,” as he speaks of himself, his body as the Temple — God with us — and from his side came forth blood and water, the sacramental life of the Church. Water and blood are signs of life.

From the side of Christ came forth his bride, the Church, just as from the side of Adam came forth Eve. He gave us his divine life, his body and blood, the Eucharist. The word Eucharist means “thanksgiving,” and we are thankful for the gift of his divine life, which is everlasting life, salvation from sin and death. We long for salvation like a deer longing for flowing streams; our souls thirsts for God.

 Father Michael Hennigen is pastor at Holy Cross Parish, Covington.

Sacred treasure, sacred space

By Father Britton Hennessey.

To me, one of the most moving aspects of the Easter Triduum that accompanies and accentuates the sublime celebration of the Paschal Mystery has always been the dramatic changes that happen in the interior of the church. After the conclusion of the Holy Thursday liturgy, the Blessed Sacrament is reposed in a different location, leaving the main tabernacle empty. Quite often thereafter, linens, candles and other items are removed. When entering the church for the Liturgy of Good Friday and seeing the dark, empty tabernacle, I always experience a deep sense of emptiness that drives home the emphasis of the Lord’s death for our salvation. But shortly thereafter, on Holy Saturday, the Light of the World re-enters our darkened world after rising from the domain of death. The tabernacle remains empty until after Communion when the Risen Lord is once again reposed and is present for his people. If you’ve ever been able to attend the dedication of a new church building or chapel, a similar experience occurs when the tabernacle remains empty until the Eucharist is consecrated for the first time in the new place at the dedication Mass, and when reposed after Communion, the Lord’s Real Presence dwells there.

The tabernacle in each church building serves various functions. As a repository for the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, a treasure worth more than any amount, it’s often constructed with costly metals and may be adorned with jewels, like at our Cathedral Basilica. For the protection of such a priceless treasure as the Eucharist, the tabernacle is locked. But despite being secured, it is accessible for Mass, for Communion to the sick, and for reserving the Eucharist for Adoration. Most importantly, though, it is the physical dwelling place where the Lord is always present to his people.

The dwelling place of the Real Presence of Jesus is sufficient enough to define the tabernacle, but to understand more about its role we have to look to the Old Testament, the 24th and 25th chapters of the book of Exodus. Moses and the Israelites have just arrived at Mount Sinai. The Lord God makes himself manifest to his chosen people (whom he had just delivered from slavery), with flashes of lightning, billowing smoke and peals of thunder. But Moses was to lead the people to the Promised Land, and the Lord desired to accompany them by being present in the Ark of the Covenant. In these chapters from Exodus, construction plans are given for the ark and for various other elements of the Lord’s dwelling. The ark was to be made of acacia wood, have every surface covered in gold, and was to be adorned with angels. In later chapters, after the construction was complete, the Lord descended to his dwelling place in the form of the glory cloud, the Shekinah. It was here that bread was placed in the Lord’s presence in sacrifice and was only able to be eaten by the priests, an early prefiguring of the Eucharist. Later in salvation history, Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem and the Lord dwelt there in the Holy of Holies, an area separated by a large veil. Sacrifices were offered to the Lord day and night.

 

It was important for the people of every generation to know of the Lord’s presence among them. But also, the Meeting Tent was where Moses met with the Lord panim-al-panim … that is, face to face. No one else had such an intimate friendship with the Lord to be able to meet him face to face, only Moses, the people’s intercessor. One element of Moses’ interactions with God that has always fascinated me is the fact that Moses’ face became radiant from being in the Lord’s presence — so much so, that it frightened the people and he was forced to wear a veil.

Despite the many years that have passed since the time of Moses, several things are still the same. First, the Lord still desires to be present to us and to accompany us on this journey through life, and as such, is still very present to us in the most holy Eucharist. Veiled in the outward appearances of bread and wine, Jesus Christ becomes present to his people at each and every Mass. Second, as in the Old Testament, the Lord’s dwelling is still a sacred vessel (the tabernacle) made of precious elements and centrally located in many churches. The sanctuary lamp, a specific and conspicuously placed candle, denotes the presence of the Lord. Finally, like Moses, any amount of encounter with the Lord reserved in the tabernacle (or especially during Eucharistic Adoration) leaves a radiance within our souls. Our faces may not glow as Moses’ did, but our hearts, our minds and our actions cannot help but radiate Christ to the world if we continually place ourselves before the Lord, face to face.

In this life, we face many challenges each and every day that might seek to close our hearts and minds to the Lord’s Real Presence among us. But in each and every Catholic Church, the Lord is reserved in the tabernacle and waits for us to come before him … to speak to him whatever may be on our minds … to show his love to us and transform our souls. Humanity’s most intimate desire is unity with our Lord and Creator because we are made in his image and likeness and can only be truly fulfilled through unity with him. He continues to sustain us at every Mass through the reception of his very Body and Blood, and he makes himself available to us in a real way in every tabernacle in the world. He does this not because he needs us — he does this because he desires us, and he loves us. May we always remember that when the world faces us with adversity, the Lord waits to show us his love face to face.

 Father Britton Hennessey is parochial vicar at St. Timothy Parish, Union, Ky.

The Eucharist: how we should receive this gift

By Father Andrew Young.

“Let the entire man be seized with fear; let the whole world tremble; let Heaven exult when Christ, the Son of the Living God, is on the altar in the hands of the priest.” These words from St. Francis of Assisi should give us pause as we reflect upon the reality of the Eucharist. The Eucharist is a sublime gift from God that enables us to enter into a union with Jesus Christ unlike any other. When we receive holy Communion, we are not simply receiving bread and wine. We are really, truly and substantially receiving the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. The awesome nature of this gift is something that should fill us with intense joy and we should be awe-struck every time we are in the presence of the Eucharist — because the very same Jesus who was born in Bethlehem, worked amazing miracles, suffered, died and rose from the dead is right there in front of us. All too often, however, we can lose sight of this great reality and we can find ourselves approaching the Eucharist in a routine, nonchalant, way that makes it seem like receiving holy Communion is no different from anything else happening in our day. If we find ourselves falling into this category, a look at how the Church says we should approach the Sacrament can be a helpful reminder of the glory in front of us.

Since the Eucharist is the bedrock of our faith, the Church sets certain requirements for one to be able to receive holy Communion. Baptized (or fully received) Catholics who have reached the age of reason (7 years old) and who are not aware of mortal sin and who have observed the Communion fast may receive holy Communion. One who knowingly receives holy Communion while guilty of mortal sin that has not been absolved in confession, receives unworthily and thereby commits the mortal sin of sacrilege. Venial sins do not and should not prevent us from receiving Communion. The grace received in holy Communion forgives our venial sins and fortifies us against temptation to mortal sin. The Communion fast is absolutely necessary as well. All are obliged to not eat or drink for one hour prior to receiving Communion. Water and medicine are always permitted and do not break the fast. Deliberately not observing the Communion fast and still receiving is a mortal sin. Those who are seriously ill, however, and those who care for such persons are not bound by the fast.

Beyond these basic requirements to receive the Eucharist in a fitting manner, we also must make sure our hearts are properly disposed. When it comes to our prayer lives our disposition is of pivotal importance. God hears all of our prayers and answers all of our prayers but how we prepare ourselves for these encounters with God and how we approach God makes a huge difference in how we are able to experience God’s grace in our lives. Think about the last time you received holy Communion. Did you line up, look around the church, wave to a friend, then mechanically stick out your tongue or hand, quickly make the sign of the cross and go back to your pew? Or did you step into the line, try your best to block out any distractions, bow as the sacred Host was elevated in front of you, and then humbly receive the Lord of the Universe into your very person?

In both cases the same things occurred. In both cases you received holy Communion. One case, however, clearly had a better realization of the true gift that was being received and certainly had a greater impact on the one receiving the gift. Our preparation for receiving our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament should begin even before Mass begins; hence the need to fast for a while and to confess any grave sins we are aware of having committed. Once we enter the church, we should spend time in silent prayer so that our hearts are ready to fully enter into the Mass. Throughout Mass, we should try to avoid distraction and continually unite our own prayers and petitions to the prayers being offered by the priest. We should especially offer our own petitions at the moment of the Offertory and in that most sacred moment of consecration, we should be so plugged-in to the action of the Mass that we can truly recognize our Lord and God as he is elevated before us in the sacred Host and precious chalice. All of this should lead up to the moment when we step out of our pews and prayerfully approach the throne of God, disguised as a golden ciborium.

St. Therese of Lisieux once reminded us, “Our Lord does not come down from Heaven every day to lie in a golden ciborium. He comes to find another heaven which is infinitely dearer to him — the heaven of our souls.”

When we receive the Eucharist with the proper disposition and having prepared our hearts for the amazing gift that it is, the Lord’s grace is able to flood our souls and provide us with the strength we need to continue our mission of being true disciples of the Lord in the world. May each of us never lose sight of this precious gift. May we always make every effort to receive the Eucharist in the best possible manner and may we always approach the Eucharist, as St. Francis of Assisi said, with holy fear, trembling and exaltation!

Father Andrew Young is pastor of St. Patrick Parish, Maysville, Ky.

St. John’s new steeple reflects faith of rural community

Allegra Thatcher, Assistant Editor.

A misty morning and a vague drizzle of rain on fall leaves couldn’t dampen the spirits of those gathered to install the newly arrived steeple at St. John Mission, Dividing Ridge on Oct. 20. The mission, founded as the parish of St. John, was the life’s work and joy of eight Irish immigrant families when they came over to the United States. Over 130 years later, their descendants are honoring their legacy by restoring the church with a new steeple and roof.

Since the steeple fell in the 1970s, the church has been without its defining feature. In late 2018, one of the third-generation descendants initiated the project to celebrate his 60th birthday. “I wanted to understand the faith these founders had,” he said. “They cleared their land, not the best land, with mules and by hand. They had these rock piles everywhere. Still living in log cabins, but instead of building their homes they built this church…. What kind of faith in Providence did they have? … I don’t have that kind of faith and I wanted to understand it.”

The founding families were the families of James Donehue, John Cahill, Francis (Frank) Kelly, William McLafferty, Michael Powers, Edward Moran, Michael Lowers and Patrick Hogan.

On the morning of Oct. 20, those present watched as a large crane carried the newest reminder of that ancient faith to the top of the tiny church building. The gloomy clouds drew out the solemnity of the moment as the vision became a reality, and the church once again was becoming complete because of the work of its people.

The steeple project is built on donations from five of the eight original families: 32 donors total from three generations of families and friends. It began as a steeple only, and ventured onto the roof, once it was discovered that the current roof was unsound. Once the Parish Council and Bishop Foys approved the idea, the blueprints were set into motion. Garlan Vanhook of Vanhook Architectural designed the new steeple based on pictures, measurements and diagrams of the original.

The endeavor has brought together the parish and the eight founding families, many of whom are no longer in the area or even parishioners. Some are not even Catholic, but wanted to honor what their ancestors began. Four donors have even passed since the project began.

St. John Mission before the restoration.

As one of the smallest churches in the Diocese of Covington with one regular Sunday Mass, St. John only houses 12 pews. According to a “History of the Church” written in 1919 by the pastor, Father J.J. Taaffe, Sunday mass was only said at St. John’s every other Sunday during that time. There were times after Father Taaffe’s death that there were no pastor and therefore no Sunday mass, which strikes a chord with the faithful of 2020. Their longing for the celebration of Mass has been echoed in the present day, said Steve Kelly, a major supporter of the project and descendent of a founding family.

The founding date on the cornerstone reads 1856, though the community had existed for many years before, said Mr. Kelly. He grew up in St. William Parish, Williamstown, but his family originated at St. John’s and has been buried in the cemetery there for generations. The original name of the church was St. John’s Dromard, an Irish word for “high place.” Located at the highest point in Pendleton County, the church overlooks a large ridge and borders many of the farms of the founding families.

St. John Mission after the restoration.

Evelyn Peluso, a parishioner since 1970 whose ancestors are also buried at St. John, said that when she came, an elderly parishioner named Sherman Tomlin would ride in on his horse or his motorcycle to ring the bell in the steeple for Mass every week. The steeple crashed in the early 1970s because of rotten wood, Mrs. Peluso said, and the bell has been outside on a cement block ever since. Her three boys would always serve at the Sunday Mass while they grew up.

“I think it’s going to be a wonderful thing,” she said. “We’re going to have a bell system to call out across the hills, reminding people it’s time for Mass.”

“And the church never really looked right without a steeple on it,” said Mr. Kelly. He has been heavily involved in the project even though he moved to Colorado several years ago. “We’re glad that we’ve been able to work toward getting that replaced,” he said. “Everyone wants to see a steeple put back up there and wants to do their part to help make that happen financially.”

The steeple installment is contracted by Marty Zalla, owner of Building Crafts: a craftsman, artisan and structural engineer, retired CEO, honored in the business hall of fame of Northern Kentucky and dear friend of one of several of the founding families. While the community paid for the steeple and the new roof, Mr. Zalla is completing the work as a contractor completely for free to give back to the community. He would often visit the Kelly farm during the summers during his childhood, working, and developed an attachment to the simple rural community.

Mr. Zalla said setting the steeple correctly will probably take about two weeks with three workers. When asked about his motivations for donating his carpentry work, he said simply: “I spent my summers there and I have a liking for the parish, that’s all.”

Roger Frisch, a parishioner at St. John for six years and member of the Parish Council, said the Council approved the project in early 2019, and was very pleased with motion to build a roof, which the Council had been talking about for a few years prior.

For the parishioners, he said, it’s about more than looking good. It’s a legacy to uphold and a hope that the small but stubborn church will stay open.

“I think it’s pretty important,” he said. “We have some old pictures of the church and the steeple looked really nice. I think getting it back really turns the building into a real church, it’s going to have chimes for Sunday morning… I think it’s going to bring back some of that history. We really like what’s going on; it’s good to have that old feeling back.”

“We worry about them closing the doors, like other small parishes,” said Mrs. Peluso. “But with the roof going on, it seems to have given us life again, and now we’re proud to have things looking so nice. I think it’ll be an encouragement for Catholics in the area to come to our church. We feel so blessed that people who have moved away or passed on have left this money to improve our church.”

The founding families and their descendants are buried in the graveyard next to the church, still serving as a reminder of the faith the pilgrims had to build a house for God before a house for themselves.

Mr. Kelly agreed. “The rural church has struggled over the years, but I think it’s a testament that the church is going to survive another couple hundred years… we’re just happy as a family that we’re able to make improvements to the church to make sure it does last through many more generations.”

The church’s pastor, Father Benton Clift, was just appointed to St. John and St. William, Williamstown this summer. Though he’s new to the community, he’s enjoying discovering the depth of its roots and entering into the legacy. “It’s a wonderful place and the steeple will make it even better,” he said.

“I think it sort of brings people even deeper together in their wonderful little worshipping community, which is very dedicated, very small but vibrant… it’s a wonderful time to be here,” he said.

Don Knochelmann, director, Office of Buildings and Properties for the diocese, said he enjoyed being part of the church steeple project. “It was my honor to work with Mr. Zalla and the construction team, who were instrumental in the successful completion of this project.”

The initiator of the project, who prefers to remain anonymous, said it was “moving” that “Bishop Foys had faith in this little church.” The new steeple sets the tone for regaining the reverence and trust that the ancestors had. “I think it reflects the best of our faith,” he said. “Strong-willed but humble folks.”

As they stood in the rain and looked with awe and delight upon the house they have maintained for the Lord on the top of the mountain, the community members at St. John Mission continue to build that reverence and trust themselves.

Pro-Life Mass unites diocese in prayer to respect all life

Allegra Thatcher, Assistant Editor.

The annual Pro-Life Mass, celebrated Oct. 13, was uncharacteristically quiet, with just a few crying babies present and a congregation spread out at a safe distance across the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption.

Two representatives from every parish across the diocese gathered for a Mass celebrated by Bishop Roger Foys. Concelebrants were Father Jeffrey VonLehmen, pastor, St. Patrick Parish, Taylor Mill; Father Ryan Maher, vicar general and rector, Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption; Msgr. Gerald Twadell, rector, Mary, Seat of Wisdom Chapel, Thomas More University; and Msgr. Kurt Kemo. Deacon Jerry Franzen assisted at Mass.

Members of the Pro-Life Office lead the rosary before Mass Tuesday night at the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption.

Every parish in the Diocese of Covington was simultaneously celebrating a Mass with its own parishioners in solidarity with the Cathedral Basilica Mass, so that more people than ever could be involved in the pro-life event.

The Pro-Life Office began the evening at the cathedral with a rosary led by Theresa Gray before Mass began at 7 p.m. A statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Protectress of the Unborn, was placed at the front of the church, surrounded by flowers.

Reflecting on this year’s Respect Life month theme, “Living the Gospel of Life,” Bishop Foys urged the congregation to begin their pro-life efforts with prayer. The Mass took place on the 103rd anniversary of last apparition at Fatima, and “Mary asked the children to pray, especially to pray the rosary,” he said. “Every effort that is worthwhile should begin with prayer. Oftentimes we see prayer as a last resort … that’s backward. We begin with prayer.”

A statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe, donated by a parishioner of St. Anthony Parish, Taylor Mill, graced the steps of the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption.

Bishop first addressed the issue of abortion. “Life begins in the womb, and for these 47 years it has been legal to extinguish that life with no repercussions. … So we pray. That has to be our first mode of attack, to pray.”

He then addressed all forms of life. “What does it mean to respect life?” Bishop Foys asked. “Being pro-life is not always so much about something negative but doing something positive. If we could ever come to a real appreciation of life, to an understanding of life as a gift from God, no matter what stage, then taking the life of a child wouldn’t be a problem because respect for life would be engrained in our soul. … It begins with respecting life in the womb but it has to be more pervasive than that. It has to do with how we respect each other, and that covers a whole gamut of life’s situations and encounters.”