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.

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.”

Diocesan principals meet, Bishop installs new superintendent

Allegra Thatcher, Assistant Editor.

The principals of the Diocese of Covington schools met with Bishop Roger Foys Oct. 15 at St. Henry District High School to discuss the changing protocols regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and to install Kendra McGuire as the new superintendent of Catholic Schools.

Principals from the diocesan schools met at St. Henry District High School Oct. 15 to pray and discuss the current COVID-19 protocols in schools.

They began with Mid-Morning Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours led by Father Dan Schomaker, vicar general. Bishop Foys then formally installed Mrs. McGuire. She recited the Nicene Creed and promised fidelity to the Church’s teachings as she guides the department forward.

“Our schools are being entrusted to your care,” said Bishop Foys. “You are to serve them as a good steward, seeking not your own interests but the good of the students, their families and the Church.”
Mrs. McGuire resolved to carry out her responsibilities “with fervent joy and prudence. I will to the best of my abilities, for those commended to my care, form them in the Catholic faith and teach them about the mysteries of the created world.” Mrs. McGuire also received a crucifix and relic of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, patron of Catholic schools, as signs of her new position.

Bishop Foys addressed all the principals, encouraging them to keep taking the COVID-19 pandemic seriously, as a call to live differently. Details about the current state of the virus in Northern Kentucky were given by Dale Henson, CFO.

Mrs. McGuire then gave principals details regarding funding from the CARES Act for schools, the summer feeding program and determining activities outside regular education based on whether they’re essential. “Anything that can be done virtually is definitely preferred at this time,” she said.
Laura Keener, COVID coordinator for the Diocese, also provided the principals with updated reporting and statistics regarding cases of COVID-19 in the diocesan schools.

New superintendent excited to support schools and ever deepen Catholic identity

In the 2020-2021 school year, the role of superintendent of Catholic Schools couldn’t be more critical — and Kendra McGuire has stepped up to navigating a school year ridden with challenges.

Formally installed Oct. 15 by Bishop Roger Foys, Mrs. McGuire, who has been assistant superintendent for four years, said she is excited for the opportunity to lead. It helps, she said, that she already has a firm understanding of the situation and ideas of what needs the most attention.

Kendra McGuire, superintendent of Catholic Schools, makes a profession of faith during her installation as superintendent Oct. 15.

“I’ve been blessed to work at different schools both as a teacher and a principal, so I’ve built these relationships with our school system. I’m happy to have stepped into this role because we, as a group, know what we need to do moving forward,” she said. “I want to express my gratitude to Bishop Foys for his confidence in me to serve as superintendent. Catholic education is an important ministry of our church and I am excited to assist Bishop Foys in carrying on the mission of our schools.”

There are many things on her mind for improvement, such as the inclusive education program and streamlining safety in schools. Most of these initiatives, she said, have already been in process and simply need time to be worked on when attentions aren’t all on the pandemic situation.

“One of the things that is challenging is that because of COVID-19, where we are starting this year is not where we would normally begin the year,” she said. “In some ways we have to stop and step back and look at priorities in light of all the changes since March … despite all these areas I see we can work on, we have to put that in perspective with what our priorities are right now.” For example, the schools just wrapped up fall testing to evaluate if remote instruction from the spring left any gaps in the students’ education.

Mrs. McGuire said she’s driven by a desire to support principals and to improve the Catholic identity of the schools.

“When I came to the Curia four years ago (as assistant superintendent), I wanted to make sure this office supported principals and schools in all the ways that they needed. I also think we always have room for improvement with our Catholic identity and making sure that all of our schools are focusing first on our mission of the Catholic faith, because with our focus there, the other aspects of the Catholic education come together. As I transition into the superintendent’s role, that has heightened those goals,” she said.

Being superintendent gives her the motivation to “lead the charge” and address these areas of growth. “Now, more than ever, our principals need that support. Our schools need the support because everyone is overwhelmed. Schools are busy anyway, and when you throw a pandemic on top of it … the more that we can do to help them through that, whether that’s to help with COVID-19 planning, or planning on the education side, if we can be proactive and be a support, that’s what drives me.”

For Mrs. McGuire, the new position is a vocation rather than a job. “It’s a calling,” she said, “and I think God taps you on the shoulder and asks you to serve.”

New guest house at Mary Rose Mission will provide stability and hope to struggling families

Laura Keener, Editor.

Since 1999, the leadership of Mary Rose Mission has faithfully fulfilled its mission “To Love as God Loves” by serving those in need through the intercession of Mary. That abandonment to God’s will has led the mission full-circle, with an added new ministry in a familiar place — a Guest House for families needing a home at its original home in west Covington.

Bishop Roger Foys blessed the Guest House, Oct. 10. “The volunteers and Board Members of Mary Rose Mission take to heart its mission ‘To Love as God Loves’; the new Guest House is its most recent example,” said Bishop Foys. “May God continue to bless them; and may the guests whose lives they touch come to know — through their care — the love of Christ.”

The home originally served as a hospice for people who were in the advanced stages of a terminal illness with no health insurance and no family to properly care for them. Many people lived-out their final days there and many found or returned to their faith due to the care and support they received from the volunteers — priests, women religious, businessmen and homemakers.

“The original Mary Rose Mission house is holy ground — miracles occurred there,” said Cindy Carris, vice president, as she talked about the eagerness of the Mary Rose Mission Board to re-acquire the property and open the Mary Rose Mission Guest House.

In 2008, with St. Elizabeth Healthcare expanding its hospice center, the Mary Rose Mission dissolved its hospice care, selling the house in Covington to another non-profit. Mary Rose Mission then opened its new ministry — a soup kitchen in Florence where every day volunteers continue to serve a hot meal to guests.

Most, if not all, of the guests at the Mary Rose Mission kitchen are food insecure; some are homeless.
“I get choked up every time I think of this,” said Mrs. Carris, “… to see a family living in a car is just devastating. To see a young, homeless family and to know that they just need a little lift and they would be okay, it’s heartbreaking to see over and over again.”

Last year Mrs. Carris learned that the Mary Rose Mission house was available and she immediately knew that the mission was being called back home, this time as a Guest House for individuals and families needing a safe and secure place to live.

“Some families they just can’t get the support they need. They rely on family and friends but eventually that runs out. They aren’t asking for a lot — they are not asking for luxuries — just a roof over their head,” Mrs. Carris said.

The Mary Rose Mission Guest House is not a program. Instead it offers its guests a stable place to live so that they can begin to rebuild their future. There is no timeline and there is no deadline. The only requirement is that guests agree to participate in personal and financial counseling.

“Hopefully our guests will get stable employment and then save up some money and transition to a home or apartment where they can support themselves independently,” said Mrs. Carris. “We have found that people just need a break — just need a lift — so that they can take a breath and begin moving forward.”

Century Construction has completely remodeled the 3-bedroom, two story home. The home includes a full kitchen, two family rooms, two full baths and a fenced yard. The first guest has already been identified — a single mom with a small child — with plans to move in soon.

“When this person called me she was in tears. I told her no, no, no — don’t cry. You have just fallen into the hands of Christ; we have got you, it is okay now,” said Mrs. Carris. “She is so scared and she has this beautiful child and she just wants to make a life for him.”

Mrs. Carris said she has no reservations in reassuring the mom that everything will be okay. “I can say that because it is all God now.”

“If you seek to love, God will put people in your path. When he puts people in your path, he will give you a means to love,” Mrs. Carris said. “We do not fix people, only God fixes people. He just gives us the ability to love and that ability to love opens avenue after avenue … We are just a small instrument here, God is just so good and it is so fun to see him work. It is so incredible to help and love somebody.”

Thomas More University’s in-person experience continues legacy of excellence

Allegra Thatcher, Assistant Editor.

The 2020-2021 school year has certainly presented challenges for communities across the globe when social distancing is required for everyone’s safety and sports games are mostly cancelled because of COVID-19. Yet at Thomas More University, students and faculty are making sure authentic education still occurs, safely.

From an academic standpoint, a little more than 90 percent of students are either on campus in person or doing a combination between in person and online courses. President Joe Chillo said that since so much of the Catholic college experience happens in person, the students knew they wanted to come back for instruction.

“As we were planning for the fall back in April and May when we were in the thick of things, our students and their families overwhelmingly wanted this in-person experience,” said President Chillo. “This fall we opened up with the second-largest enrollment of the university, we had the third largest freshman class coming in. So I think those things speak to where the families and students were at in terms of coming back to campus.”

He said the experience during March of transitioning 500 classes from entirely in-person to entirely online challenged faculty, staff and students alike to greater innovation and agility that is being carried over into the fall semester.

“I think it gave our faculty and staff a taste and experience of what this was going to look like and it became clear that our faculty would have to continue to engage our students in that type of environment,” he said.

Thomas More is using larger spaces like halls for classes so that students can effectively distance. Smaller classrooms have been turned into Zoom spaces.

“It was really an effective job by our registrar and our academic leadership team in looking at space across campus and how we could effectively transform that space to work in this environment,” said President Chillo.

Michael Thompson, a senior at Thomas More studying fine arts (painting) and creative writing, said his classes are all in-person except for his senior seminar, which is being conducted with various professors over Zoom.

“From an art student’s perspective, it’s a lot more sterile because usually we’re very hands-on people,” said Mr. Thompson. “If another student needs help, we’re right there and are able to touch what they’re working on, show them how to do it … often we’re collaborating. Because of COVID-19, that’s very difficult to do because we have to keep six-foot distance in the studio. We can’t share supplies … it’s much more of an individual work area than the collaborative shared experience that I’m used to.”

Nevertheless, Mr. Thompson said he wouldn’t substitute the experience for anything. “Part of the reason I chose Thomas More in the first place was that I love the way that the liberal arts are taught here,” he said. “I love how the professors want to help you learn and how often classes are discussion-based experiences. Probably anyone that chose Thomas More because of the liberal arts Catholic education values that discussion-based experienced and being able to be in person with your professor or your peers because it’s a very different experience to look at someone eye to eye and have a conversation … it’s a lot easier to understand someone face to face than in a chat room or discussion board.”

Numerically, the university has had 31 students in quarantine or isolation as of Oct. 1, and only seven of those quarantined on campus. Students who could go home have done so. Reduced capacity in student housing has given adequate space for quarantining and isolation when students display symptoms.

One of the biggest changes this year, President Chillo said, was having to modify events based on social distancing requirements laid out by the CDC, the governor’s office and local health officials. The events themselves get few and far between, and the lesser numbers mean they “don’t really have the same feel as they’ve done in the past.”

Mr. Thompson said it’s been hard on students to not have those social experiences on campus, and he’s not alone with being less likely to attend when things are scheduled — even with safe distancing. Students value being in the classroom and, since the types of activities at events are so limited, students don’t want to risk getting involved if they think it might not be worth it. Even Mr. Thompson, who used to attend many events, is more skeptical, so he knows people who are more introverted will certainly be less likely to attend.

School spirit has also been challenged by lack of live sports games. While student athletes are practicing lightly right now, there have been no competitions to attend. The school has participated in events like cross country meets, but sports like soccer and basketball have been pushed back.

Yet through it all, President Chillo said students have come together to combat the pandemic extremely well. “I’m watching our students show resiliency, showing understanding and commitment to the policies that have been put in place to make sure we practice effective social distancing, and a good healthy and safe environment,” he said. “Our students are deeply appreciative and hard working. In some ways, when you don’t have that traditional school spirit through athletics, it’s coming out in other ways and I see the best of that coming out in our students and faculty.”

“I think that these clubs are really trying to make sure school spirit stays high and people stay involved, but I think more than anything, school spirit right now is just collectively trying to keep each other safe,” said Mr. Thompson. “That’s what we’re doing as a campus.”

Another change, Mr. Thompson said, is a lack of student presence in the work-study programs which normally involved students working in Admissions or Student Life, for example. He said many students don’t see the value in making minimum wage for those types of jobs if they’re in harm’s way, so the jobs aren’t taking place this year.

“It’s a loss for the university as well as the students because … there’s a close bond between administrators and students and professors here, and I think a lot of that is facilitated by student workers,” he said.

President Chillo sympathizes with the students, who aren’t experiencing college in the way most have in the past. “They want to have that university experience and right now they’re getting that in a very modified way. … We’re going to have to continue to think through ways to engage our students and create the sense of community that Thomas More is known for,” he said.

He’s looking ahead to future school years with hope, however, that some of the newly implemented practices will make the university experience even better.

“I think the agility we’re creating here at the university is something we’re going to put into place for the spring and we’re being mindful of the academic calendar and structure out the spring semester,” said President Chillo.

40 years a deacon: The diaconate as a layman’s road to holiness

Allegra Thatcher, Assistant Editor.

Deacon Tom Dushney is celebrating his 40th year of the diaconate, and credits it with his greater formation as a man. Whether baptizing his grandchildren or teaching RCIA, he says his service to the Church has been his route to sanctification.

“I had a great desire to serve God, his Church and the people of his Church,” said Deacon Dushney. “I had contemplated the way Mary said yes to God, and I responded to God’s call to do that … to serve God and his Church at a greater level.”

Currently serving at Mother of God Parish, Covington, he was ordained in Camden, New Jersey in 1980 and incardinated into the Diocese of Covington 1998 when he moved here for his job. At the time, he was assigned to Mary, Queen of Heaven Parish, Erlanger.

Deacon Tom Dushney

Deacon Dushney said that through a life of service, he’s developed into a much more whole man.
“It helped me to develop a disciplined prayer life through the Liturgy of the Hours, to understand ecclesiology and teachings of the Church and (have) a deeper relationship with Christ.” Through this personal spiritual growth, he said he learned how to be a better husband and father, as well as bring Christ into his work place. “It reminded me of the call to holiness … that really appealed to me and bore fruit in my life,” he said.

Some of his greatest joys during his ministry have been bringing people in to the faith through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) at Mary, Queen of Heaven Parish, where he was director of Religious Education, and being involved in the administration of sacraments. He loves to preach and teach, as well as prepare the faithful for the sacraments of baptism and marriage.

“Recently I’ve been able to witness the marriages of my granddaughters and baptize my grandchildren and great-grandchildren,” he said. “What a wonderful experience that has been for me, and a blessing in my life. There’s so many wonderful opportunities to serve the people of God. I’m so thankful to God that he called me to this ministry of the permanent diaconate.”

“I congratulate Deacon Dushney on his 40 years of dedicated and fruitful service to the Lord and to the Church as a permanent deacon,” said Bishop Roger Foys. “Deacon Dushney embodies what it means to be a true servant of the Church looking after the needs of others and administering to them with compassion and love. He is a true gentleman and example and witness to everyone and anyone engaged in ministry.”

Deacon Dushney said he’s also been a better spiritual leader of his home through his diaconate. He’s come to understand the importance of obedience to the Church, especially to his bishop and to the teachings of the Church. Through his continued learning, he’s been able to share that truth with his family.

“It’s given me a greater sense of belonging, a sense of personal responsibility to my role as a Christian man,” he said. “I think my family has most benefited from my spiritual growth … as I was able to give them a deeper insight into Christ and his Church, and the meaning of God’s love for them.”

Though his ministry has slowed down a bit as he’s advanced in years, Deacon Dushney, now 75, is still joyfully serving wherever he’s given the chance. He’s looking ahead with peace that he’ll be able to do whatever his pastor and bishop need from him.

“My prayer has been, that I will still be able to minister to God and his people, that in my old age I will be able to participate in ministry and serve as I have for 40 years,” he said.

He encourages men interested in the permanent diaconate to prayerfully consider it. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to serve as a representative to the people, to be able to bring God’s love to them.”

“I attribute it all to God and his loving mercy to me — I’ve done nothing to deserve these many blessings in life so whatever I have received, the joy and happiness, I attribute it all to God’s grace and mercy.”

New cancer center dedicated at St. Elizabeth Edgewood

Allegra Thatcher, Assistant Editor.

It’s a week for new beginnings and an advent of hope at St. Elizabeth Healthcare, Edgewood. The new Cancer Center was dedicated Sept. 29 by Bishop Roger Foys after the ribbon cutting ceremony, and opened to its first patient Oct. 1.

Mr. Garren Colvin, president and CEO, said, “This building, and the programs in it, has a soul. It’s a soul tied to the mission and vision of our institution, which goes back 155 years. When this building opens Oct. 1, the amount of lives who will be impacted by the people, programs and medicine that will fill these halls, is positively overwhelming.”

Bishop Foys, who brought a first-class relic of St. Elizabeth, patroness of the hospital, blessed the space and led those gathered in prayer.

“Let us ask for God’s blessing on all the sick who are patients, and on those who devote themselves to caring for them,” he prayed. “We ask a divine blessing on this center, dedicated to the care of those in need. … Grant that, comforted in their illness, the patients will quickly regain their health and joyfully thank you for the favors they have received.”

Bishop Roger Foys prays a blessing over the new St. Elizabeth Cancer Center at the dedication Sept. 27.

Bishop Foys expressed his gratitude for the new center and all the good work it will do. “One of the primary things that Jesus did in his life, beside teaching, was healing the sick … this facility continues the work of the Lord Jesus,” he said. “I’m so pleased to be here.”

As part of the dedication, Jospeh Bozzelli, staff chaplain, read from Scripture and led those present in a responsory psalm and prayers of the faithful.

Debbie Simpson, Board of Trustees chair, also addressed those gathered. “I’m extremely proud to know that this center is being built for the benefit of our community and through the support of the community,” she said. “The structure signifies the unity of people throughout our region, who have come together to change cancer outcome for our region. … Together we will change the cancer narrative for our family, our friends and our community.”

The idea was conceived about three years ago after a Community Needs Assessment, according to Dr. Doug Flora, MD, executive director. The St. Elizabeth staff surveyed educators, politicians and local community leaders on what they thought the most pressing needs were for healthcare in the region. The results showed it was cancer care, cardiac care and mental health and addiction. Two other centers, dedicated to cardiovascular care and mental health care, were completed since then.

“This was the final cog in the wheel for us,” said Dr. Flora.

Kentucky is currently first in the country for cancer-related diagnoses and deaths, first for lung cancer deaths and first for colon cancer. St. Elizabeth’s solution is the region’s first world-class cancer center, featuring screening and prevention, precision medicine and genomic health, clinical research and the most advanced technology in the field. Ground was broken in 2018, and the center has continued in construction since then, leading up to fall 2020 and the grand opening.

The center, Dr. Flora said, is a promise. “I feel like we have had thousands of meetings, planning and scheduling and schematics … now we’re actually inviting patients into our home. To finally have these guests who are able to take advantage of the gifts of this building means a lot to me.”

As a former cancer patient himself, Dr. Flora said he made sure the new center was built around the patients and their convenience. At every level of decision making, even interviewing for navigator positions, patients set the bar.

(left to right) Kathy Jennings, senior vice president patient care, cancer care, Dr. Doug Flora, MD, executive director, Cancer Center, Debbie Simpson, St. Elizabeth Board of Trustees chair, Garren Colvin, St. Elizabeth president and CEO, Bishop Roger Foys and Father Dan Schomaker, vicar general.

One of the major advantages of this facility, said Dr. Flora, is its capacity for multidisciplinary care. “All of the providers that a patient would need to see can combat that cancer under one roof … You can see three or four doctors in a half day in the same clinic, that’s unique. Sometimes these things take three or four weeks and different offices to get through the queue of medical oncology and surgeons and radiation doctors. Now we’re all going to see you on a Tuesday morning, within an hour and a half of each other … I think that relieves some of the burdens off the patients themselves and also makes us expect a little bit more of ourselves as caretakers to make sure that the process is built around the patients themselves, rather than around the doctors, which has been the traditional way.”

Another asset is the attitude around the center of addressing the whole person — body, mind and spirit.

“We’ve got places for prayer and quiet reflection, for massages or acupuncture, in addition to cutting edge clinical trials … This is worthy for our patients, they deserve access to clinical trials,” said Dr. Flora.

“What we’re going to do here is challenge the rest of the community to keep up, and if you want to provide the same level of care that we’re going to afford our patients, you’d better be ready to do screening detection, precision medicine, cooking classes, all of these softer touches I think will distance us from the field and maybe make the other centers realize that it’s about the whole person and not just the cancer,” he said.

The center opens for its first chemotherapy infusion on Oct. 1, and the following Monday the medical oncologist practice moves in. Mr. Colvin said overall, it’s taken 700,000 people hours, employing 2100 employees during a pandemic. “When the world slowed down, this building kept going. We were able to do it safely, on time, and for this community.”

“Today is a momentous day for the fight against cancer in Northern Kentucky,” said Mr. Colvin in conclusion.