Dear Friends in Christ:
Two years ago today, I presided over the burial of one of my mentors, Fr. Stephen Mandry. Fr. Mandry (and he was always “Father Mandry”) was one of the most influential people in my life. I have spoken to you of him over the years. I met Father when I was in 7th grade. In the beginning, he was a figure bigger than life. Like a young child in admiration of his father, such was my esteem for Fr. Mandry. He had just come back from Rome where he completed his doctorate and was temporarily assigned to my home parish, St. Mary’s Cathedral in Galveston, before beginning his teaching career as a university professor. He was a scholar, a talented musician, funny, kind, thoughtful, generous and erudite (although I am sure that I did not know the meaning of that word as a kid in Galveston!) One of the things that struck me about Fr. Mandry that I had never seen before in my life was that he had parents! I had never met a priest’s parents before and was oblivious to the fact that priests were “real people” too. I got to know Mr. and Mrs. Mandry and loved hearing their stories about “Gus” as a boy and as a young man. (The fact that priests had nicknames was also a revelation!) Over the years, my relationship with Fr. Mandry took on different dimensions. He was my counselor, confessor, teacher, and mentor. He taught me Hebrew, to drink coffee, to love Holy Scripture and the liturgy, and that white wine goes with veal. As I became an adult, we also became friends. He was someone I could have discussions and conversations with as well as disagreements. Needless to say, I was usually wrong! Once I was ordained, we became brother priests. In fact, he and Fr. Joe vested me at my ordination. He taught me how to offer or, as he always insisted, “pray” the Mass. Because my Mass of Thanksgiving was in Galveston and the weekend traffic on the Gulf Freeway was terrible, I delayed starting my first Mass until Fr. Mandry and his mother arrived, as I was not starting without him!
Over the years, I became aware like any child who looks at their parents from an adult’s perspective that Father Mandry had his faults and failures. As I said at his funeral Mass, he was a wonderful priest but a terrible pastor! From an outsider’s perspective some of his decisions were funny and others bemusing – unless you were one of the parishioners! He had his blind spots and his limitations as we all do, but what he always had was a deep and profound love for the Lord, the Church and the priesthood. Due to health reasons, Fr. Mandry had to take an early retirement. Until his deteriorating health crippled him, he would regale in playing the piano for the other retired priests at the priests’ retirement home. He would do so in an old ragged sweater and a phosphorescent orange stocking cap! A sight to behold! When I went to visit him, which sadly was not frequently enough, he would still want to know everything that was going on in the archdiocese. He would love to pontificate on the latest pronouncement from Rome or share with me the latest ecclesiastical rumor he saw on the internet. Due to Parkinson’s disease and a series of strokes, he was confined to a wheelchair at the end of his life. On Saturday, December 17, 2016 in the chapel of the priests’ retirement home, we celebrated mass together. It was the anniversary of his ordination which took place fifty years earlier on that date at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Barely able to speak and unable to stand or even hold up his head, he sat in his chair attired in priestly vestments and held my hand. Five days later he died.
At that last Mass, I asked Fr. Clint Ressler, who was also mentored by Fr. Mandry to preach. He told the story of how when he was in 7th grade, Fr. Mandry asked him how he would repay the Lord for all the good things that God had done for him in his life and told him to read Psalm 116.
How can I repay the LORD for his goodness to me?
The cup of salvation I will raise up and call on the name of the LORD.
My vows to the LORD I will fulfill before all his people.
O precious in the eyes of the LORD is the death of his faithful.
Your servant, LORD, your servant am I, you have loosed my bonds.
I will offer a sacrifice of praise and call on the name of the LORD.
I was shocked because when I was just a 7th grader in Galveston some years earlier, Fr. Mandry spoke those very same words to me. Ever the scripture scholar and liturgist, Psalm 116 is the psalm that the Church prays on Holy Thursday at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the night of the institution of the Eucharist and the priesthood! This was an invitation for me to consider becoming a priest. This was the Lord’s invitation through Fr. Mandry. So I now extend this same invitation to any young man who reads this letter. How can you repay the Lord for His goodness to you? Even more so, it is the Lord’s invitation to all of us to live in His love and offer ourselves as a sacrifice of praise!
In pace Christi,