It has been a few weeks since this Chronicler jumped into the way-back machine to explore what was going on fifty or seventy years ago at St. Anthony’s.  That is due partly to the scarcity of the entries in the Chronicles from February 1951 and February 1971.  However, an entry from late February 1971 may provide a clue to explain the lack of information that year:

Feb. 17-28: Fr. Marius flew Ozark to Dubuque, Iowa, where the pastor of Holy Cross, Iowa, picked him up and brought him back to his parish.  Next day, the pastor (Fr. John Hemesath) and the housekeeper (his sister) took off for vacation. 

Lenten Courses: Fr. Vernon – Dorchester; Fr. Carl – Marathon; Fr. Roger – many sermons, many places; Fr. Peter – St. Michael and St. Anne, Wausau.

To put the entry into context, we need to remember that 1970-1971 was a time of transition at St. Anthony’s.  The students had been moved to other seminaries in June 1970, and the retreat ministry was in its infancy.  The building was undergoing transformation, too, in the early 1970’s, converting classrooms to conference spaces, adding bathrooms, renovating the main chapel.  So, like 2020-2021, in 1971, very little was “normal” compared to years past at St. Anthony’s.

And February usually marked the beginning of Lent.  In the retreat center years, Lent was always a busy time for the friars at St. Anthony’s, as they were frequently engaged in either helping out at area parishes or offering parish missions.  In 1971, Fr. Marius went above and beyond the call by traveling to Dubuque to cover for another priest’s vacation, and his absence may account for why Fr. Roger was in greater demand here at home.

Pre-COVID, when Fr. Bob was still with us, his notation might read just like Fr. Roger’s – “many sermons, many places” – as he juggled his schedule to cover the needs of retreat groups here and the needs of area parishes.  It makes it hard to imagine how the friars and Fr. Bob ever found the time for their own Lent, their own reflection, their own Sabbath time to “just be” and allow God to renew their spirits.

We have been wondering the same thing, in a way, as we near the one-year mark of the pandemic affecting us at St. Anthony’s.  This past year has been a stark contrast to our “normal” schedule – fewer groups on the calendar, the groups that do come are smaller, and there is more downtime between groups.  Those changes were necessary for our safety and the safety of our guests, and eventually we hope to return to a more “normal” schedule.  Yet, as much as we miss seeing all the familiar faces of our regular guests and volunteers, this year has given us more time to “just be”, as individuals, as a part of our families, and as a part of this community.  It has been a Sabbath year of sorts, a year-long Lent that gave us time to reflect on how we did what we did for so many years, trying to keep up with the sometimes frantic pace of retreat ministry while shoe-horning our downtime into those few regular gaps on our calendar – Easter, July 4th, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Perhaps God knew we all needed the Sabbath time this past year.  Our challenge will be, as we move forward and gradually return to a more “normal” schedule, to continue honoring our need for Sabbath time, our need for Lent as a time to “just be” and allow God to renew our spirits.

For all those moments God provides – whether hours, days or weeks – of Lent and Sabbath Time, time when we can “just be”, we say Deo Gratias!