Today is Good Shepherd Sunday; it’s also World Day of Prayer for Vocations. We pray for shepherds who imitate our Heavenly Good Shepherd. And today I want to tell you about two different priests. The first is Fr. Francis Grogan. Fr. Grogan was born in 1925. As a young man he served aboard a Navy destroyer during World War II. And after the war he entered the Congregation of the Holy Cross and during those initial years he earned two degrees, one from Notre Dame, of course, and the second from Fordham University. Fr. Grogan was ordained in 1955 and he spent the next 46 years working in education at the university and high school levels and on the weekends he went to work in various parishes. Much of Fr. Grogan’s life was spent teaching and ministering at Stonehill College (a Holy Cross institution) in Easton Massachusetts. He was described as being, well-educated but incredibly humble, he had no ego and he was a priest who really cared about people.
On his 76th birthday Fr. Grogan received the gift of an airline ticket. This ticket would allow him to travel to California so that he could visit his sister Anne, whom he hadn’t seen in decades. He really looked forward to seeing her. So on the morning of the flight he got a ride to the airport and at the ticket counter he received the surprise that someone has upgraded him to first class and as he boards the plane he finds that he is sitting in front of one of his former students, a man by the name of Jim Hayden. When Jim was a student at Stonehill Fr. Grogan had introduced him to a woman by the name of Peggy. Peggy would eventually become Jim’s wife. Fr. Grogan was their matchmaker and he was very special to them and it was a nice surprise for Jim that Fr. Francis Grogan was sitting in front of him. So he called his wife Peg to give her the news. It was a nice little reunion. Fr. Grogan got to talk to Peg for a few minutes.
Now Fr. Grogan boarded his plane in Boston at Logan Airport and the date was September 11, 2001. His plane would soon crash into the World Trade Center. Peggy Hayden was later interviewed and she spoke of Fr. Grogan and she spoke of what he had done for her family. She was
greatly consoled by the fact that her husband’s final moments were spent in the company of this holy priest. “The power of the presence of a priest can be a mystical and mighty comfort,” she said. “I know that Fr. Grogan exercised all the powers of his priesthood in those last moments.”
The next day Pope St. John Paul II would say that “Evil, terror, suffering, and death will not have the last word.” And it didn’t, on that plane, Fr. Grogan’s words of absolution and peace had the last word.
The second priest I want to talk about is an un-named priest. On September 21st, 1953 this particular priest happened to be praying in the Church of St. Joseph in Buenos Aires. In the Southern Hemisphere September 21st is the first day of spring and in Argentina it’s a National Holiday called Students’ Day. It’s a day when students don’t go to school a day they can goof off. A 16 year old boy named Jorge Bergoglio (Pope Francis) was planning to go out to celebrate with friends on that day. Before going out, however, Jorge decided to go to his parish church of St. Joseph to pray a bit before beginning the day of fun. When Jorge arrived at the church, he saw a priest he didn’t recognize but this priest seemed to radiate holiness. And so he decided to approach him and ask him to hear his confession. Pope Francis later recounts that he doesn’t remember what he said to the priest or what the priest said in response. But he does know that that confession totally changed not only his plans for the day, but also the plans for the whole course of his life. Pope Francis would later say, “For me, this was an experience of encounter: I found that someone was waiting for me. Yet I don’t know what happened. I can’t remember. I don’t know why that particular priest was there, whom I didn’t know, or why I felt this desire to confess. But the truth is that someone was waiting for me. He had been waiting for me for some time. After making my confession, I felt something had changed. I was not the same. I had heard something like a voice or a call.” “I realized that God was waiting for me.”
Both Fr. Francis Grogan and the unknown Argentinian priest were good
shepherds, good shepherds after our own Divine Shepherd, they each laid down their life for the sheep in their care. And they each did it in a different way, in different parts of the world and in the way God called them to lay down their life. Pope St. John Paul II said, “Evil, terror, suffering, and death will not have the last word.” Instead our Lord’s triumph over death, his peace and his mercy will have the last word. And the graces of our Lord’s triumph, his peace and his mercy, all of these graces, are given to us through His priests. We can encounter God through our priests. God used Fr. Grogan and that unknown Argentinian priest in countless ways to reach his sheep and to shepherd them home to heaven. Fr. Grogan helping that plane full of people at the end of their lives, the Argentinian priest inspiring a young man to consider the priesthood which would ultimately lead to the papacy. Just two events in two lifetimes of priestly activity.
God is still calling young men to the priesthood. However, I think that call sometimes gets lost in all the noise of our modern culture. That call sometimes gets lost in the lack of support young men receive from parents, family, and friends. So we not only pray for vocations but I think we need to pray that those young men have the time and place and silence to hear our Lord’s call. In the Old Testament the prophet Elijah heard the voice of the Lord but he only heard the voice in a tiny whispering sound. He didn’t and couldn’t hear our Lord’s voice in the noise of the world. He only heard it in the silence.
On this Good Shepherd Sunday and World day of Prayer for Vocations we pray for God to continue calling shepherds after his own heart, and we pray for those young men to have the support and space, and time and silence to hear his call.
Peace and all good,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley