“Jesus sent out his disciples two by two to preach the good news. They took nothing with them.” Mark 6:7-13.
Today, friends and family gathered for a Mass at St. Raymond’s Church in Menlo Park, CA — to honor Dominican Father Patrick LaBelle, O.P., and his fifty years of priestly ministry. When you search around for the right priest to speak with, or get to know, Pat LaBelle has been that priest for so many people, over so many years.
His work in campus ministry at Stanford University may be among his top professional and public accomplishments — but his person-to-person efforts on behalf young women and men in the quiet of confession, or at that moment of personal turmoil, make him an extraordinary figure.
I met Patrick at the steps of the rectory of Saint Vincent Ferrer Church on Lexington Avenue, New York City. It was on February 11, 1984, and a time of decision in my own life, since I took my chances to go west, and a teaching position at Saint Mary’s College. On that particular day, Patrick, along with Brother Raphael Patton, was in New York, and among those “sizing me up” for the appointment to the faculty at Saint Mary’s.
Months later, after I arrived on campus, I began to appreciate how Patrick’s vision and his commitment to the Saint Mary’s College community made all the difference in the world to students, friends, colleagues, and me.
Today, at this celebration, so many years later – there were hundreds of family and friends at St. Raymond’s coming from everywhere, with a choir from Stanford – and his community of Dominican friars, Christian Brothers, and all of us honoring a great priest.
Father John Paul Forte preached on Saint Mark’s gospel and made the point that the gospel writer was in awe of Saint Peter’s faith.
Much the way, we are in awe of Father Pat’s efforts over many years. We are the “body of Christ,” and each person is called to this service on behalf of the Lord.
Father John Paul mentions a time of healing in Mark’s gospel – where there are so many in the room, that a person is lifted high, and hoisted down from an open roof to feel the healing power of the Lord. The open roof is a sign of how Christ must be made accessible to everyone in need. Father Pat made Christ available in his efforts these fifty years of priestly service.
Most remarkably, Father John Paul sang the verse for those of us in the congregation: “I will arise and go to Jesus. He will embrace me in his arms, in the arms of my Savior.”
Indeed, Pat LaBelle has made the Lord accessible – “arise and come to Jesus and feel His embrace.”
Nancy Greenfield, a co-worker with Pat in the Stanford campus ministry, told stories about “Little Leo” whose “down to earth” style and his ability to be “shocked by nothing” provided the life-lessons so helpful to young people.
After the Mass, we gathered on the lawn of the Dominican residence for lunch, thanks to the generous spirit of Brian Stevens, one of the many Saint Mary’s alumni there. The now “old Gaels” included Jennifer and Jerry Horan, Erin and Shawn Pynes, Kristine and Terry Kvochak – what a blast!
At the event, I met some of Patrick’s family members. Among them, Pat’s cousin, Kathleen Ryan of Monterey who I must acknowledge kindly reminded me of this celebration, some days before.
Lastly, Father Pat, in his prepared remarks, was not caught up in the past, and like priests of the Vatican II era, he too marvels at the efforts of Pope Francis and writes:
These are particularly happy times for any of us involved in any way with the Catholic Church. Just over a couple of years or so, the College of Cardinals elected a Pope who was not a European and the first Jesuit in history. He was not a familiar face around the Vatican and did not come with a handpicked set of in house advisors. Talk about an outsider!
In this short time, he has changed the papacy’s face and has given us a breath of hope. He has not done this by turning the Church upside down, nor has he made many substantive changes. But he has simplified, humanized, and captured the world with simple kindness. If I sound excited, it is because I am. The Church needs a human face, and Pope Francis has invited us to walk with him in finding and presenting such a gift.
Such are your gifts of grace and kindness, Patrick.
God bless you in the days ahead!