Pastor’s Desk ~ November 27, 2022

Dear Fellow Parishioners,

Last Saturday morning, we had an unexpected but most welcome visitor from Dublin, Ireland. Let me set the scene.

At 10:00 a.m., I had six baptisms in Spanish and, at the conclusion of the final blessing, there was the usual bedlam as parents, godparents, relatives and newly-baptized children line up to take pictures in front of the altar. Invariably, there are several smart phone cameras managed by 10-year-old photographers. Every possible combination of godparents, relatives and attendees is photographed, and it takes quite a long time. In the meantime, families approached me for blessings of their baptismal candles, medals, statuettes, party favors, you name it. Other parents bring forward their own naughty and mischievous children, asking a blessing to calm their deviltry with a “booster shot” of baptismal water. (Unsurprisingly, it’s almost always boys, with their natural boy energy.) I offer a blessing, sprinkle them with holy water, and then add a few drops to the right and left of the crown of their heads “to get rid of the little horns.” It’s a lot of fun.

While all this was happening, a tall, dignified, late middle-aged man approached me, introduced himself, and said that he was Fr. James Kiely’s great-grand-nephew. He came from Dublin to visit the church and Fr. Kiely’s grave. Fr. Kiely, as many of you know, was a legendary figure not only in this parish (as pastor from 1915 to 1968) but also in Petaluma as he built our current church 96 years ago. He also sold the previous St. Vincent Church, which was moved up the street and re-assembled as Elim Lutheran Church.

Our visitor told me his name but, unfortunately due to the post-baptismal tumult around me, I didn’t write it down. He told me what many of us already know: that after the earthquake of 1906, when Fr. Kiely was pastor of Our Lady of Loreto in Novato, he vowed that anything he ever built would be as close to earthquake-proof as possible. In the following years, Fr. Kiely built the SVES Convent, the current rectory, and the current elementary school– almost all of it during the Great Depression. Though our parish has earthquake insurance, our buildings could never be rebuilt today at any cost, and we are blessed to have them. All of these buildings have survived several notable earthquakes, including 1969, without anything other than minuscule cosmetic damage.

Interestingly, Fr. Kiely’s great-grand nephew was interested in Fr. Kiely’s memory and reputation today. He hoped Fr. Kiely was remembered in a positive way. I told him he was a powerful spiritual leader, fundraiser and builder, remembered and revered by many parishioners today, and that his projects speak for themselves. Not many pastors are remembered 54 years after they depart but, as in many things, Fr. Kiely was exceptional.

This is a good note on which to celebrate this Thanksgiving weekend. Gratitude not only for the blessings of the present, but for those in our own lives on whose shoulders we stand, and whose lives contributed to the blessedness of our own lives. Happy Thanksgiving! And now on to Advent.


Fr. Bill Donahue

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