Father Augustine Tolton was the first black priest in America. There is a story about him that I read (but which I cannot now find reference) that when he was in Rome, studying, the day (night) before his ordination he was told, 'America is supposed to be a tolerant country, let's see if it lives up to that image.' He was told this because he was studying African languages so he could be a priest in Africa, BUT, at the last minute, THE VERY LAST MINUTE, he was told otherwise. After years of learning languages and with the belief he would be going to Africa, he was instead told that he would be going back to his home country.
He was needed more in the United States.
I had read this story a few months back and I know that Bishops, the Vatican...I'm not really sure who, but, the superiors of a priest, can, at any time, transfer a priest. I also know that priests are transferred for the real reason of not getting too attached to any one priest or his personality; the priest doesn't matter but priest matters. It doesn't matter who is the celebrant offering the Sacrifice because they are all in persona Christi. It doesn't matter who is there because He is there.
Priests are transferred so that we can be reminded of this.
It didn't work this time.
August 4, 2011, 1900, 2000, 2100...something, I'm not sure when, but, I was eating dinner and watching TV. My iPhone rang and it wasn't the default ring tone.
It was Father McCambridge calling.
I think I wanted to talk to him anyway, so, it was odd that he was calling me, but, it's not the first time I wanted to communicate with him and that happened.
Unfortunately, the news wasn't what I wanted to hear. He told me he was being transferred; his superior wanted him to report to the new place (he couldn't tell me where because three priests were being transferred, all were to break the news on the upcoming Sunday, that way nobody of one parish could call a friend at another parish and start talking about it) by next Thursday (one week from whence he called). That Sunday was to be his last Sunday there as Assistant Pastor.
The thing is, he was asking his parishioners to pray for a special intention. I don't think I particularly did initially, but, when he asked it of penitents in the confessional, I began fervently praying for his special intention, asking God that whatever it is, He grant it.
The last Friday he was there, after Mass, outside, I walked up to him and asked him, "So your special intention was that you would stay?" (I think he told me this the night before in the conversation.) "No, my special intention was God's Will be done. BUT, I suggested to him that I would like to stay." "You should have suggested a little harder." He didn't look like he appreciated that comment.
So, no wonder he got transferred, he was asking that we pray God's Will be done and I was praying that God grant him the special intention whatever it is. (Yes, I realize, it's not all on me; he had an entire congregation (at least!) praying for him.)
I also remember that Friday because Father Van der Putten was also there, outside (it was the first Friday both priests were there since Good Friday). He was talking to a circle of about 8 and saw me and said hi and asked how I was doing. "I'd be much better if Father McCambridge was staying." "I think that goes for all of us." Indeed! Poor Father Van der Putten! He has the weight of the parish to support now. No priest to help.
I am fortunate he called me. He said he did that because he didn't want the first time to hear it to be from the pulpit. I think I was one of the last called on his list. He said that he was calling the husbands to let their families know, and I think he already called an older woman of the parish with whom he may be fairly close.
He did mention how he was going to be a Rector, not a Pastor, because, technically, he was going to be the head of a chapel. I looked online and saw that there were two places where "Rector" was the title: Nebraska and a school in Pennsylvania. I was hoping for NE but, could see him as the head of the school in PA.
So, Sunday 8/7/11, he mentions he has one other announcement, he was being transferred to Nebraska.
I felt better. Nebraska is drivable.
He also mentioned how he was going to be sad, but, he was sad when he was told he had to leave NJ, but, if he didn't come to Tulsa, he would have never been happy in Tulsa. He was sad that he had to leave, but, he knew it wasn't the end, and he knew that it was God's Will he leaves.
The last thing he mentioned in his sermon (he was hyping and encouraged us to take a copy of St. Alphonsus de Liguori's "Uniformity With God's Will"), was, "Love the good God" (I think the entire quote, from a saint, was, "And so my children, love the good God."
He took a minute to compose himself, and his voice was higher if it didn't break when he said, "In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." The, "Amen," was not audible.
[Updated 12/3/11: He puts the maniple back on and continues the Mass. He is not distraught or distressed as he performs the Sacrifice. There is no mingling the Mass with the interruption of the Mass. He says the Mass of the Faithful like he has said every other Mass.]
Afterwards there was his Going Away Party, and, I tried to thank him for everything before he went in (and in true fashion, I was looking down, trying to remember everything), but, Father Van der Putten said he was needed in the CCD building.
I stayed (though I initially had no intention to do so, as a matter of fact, I wanted to thank him before his party started so I could leave right away, but, that wasn't in God's Will....and who am I to argue with God's Will?).
I really didn't mingle during the celebration, as a matter of fact, I remained hidden in the kitchen and the back during most of it (I also met a wonderful seminarian, Joshua Curtis, I think was his name, in his 4th year of seminary, and, so much like a good priest already!). There is a funny man there who apparently makes the coffee every week, and he was commenting about how he wasn't used to this many people in his kitchen. Too bad I don't remember Funny Man's name.
When it was time to go, as much was said, and, I mentioned to him that I'm going to mention the words he hates the most: Father, you're going to get an e-mail.
"Aaaargh!," he played along.
"You know it's going to be long and detailed."
My Father knows me.
I remember being inside one CCD room when he was right outside and picked up a box from off the table. I sheepishly asked for a hug.
He put the box down and we hugged.
It was....unremarkable. I don't remember at all what it felt like. He clearly wasn't as bony as I might have thought, or, maybe he is, his clothes just cover that fact well.
The next thing I remember is we were outside, in front of the building, and I was standing just off to the left of Father, who was to the left of the door with his back to St. Augustine's talking to two other men. He invited me to come into the shade (I kinda didn't know if I should be that close to them), and I was listening to that conversation. The man directly in front of him said he wanted one final blessing from him before he left.
And Father McCambridge obliged and gave the two men and I one final blessing.
Father McCambridge offered his hand to help me up, but, there was a pillar I used to get up, instead. I don't want to be dependant on Father, but, I failed miserably with that.
Also at his Farewell Party, which, by the way, started at approximately 1030...and there was beer, he stated to a group that he was supposed to be in Tulsa for another year, and his superior thought he could do that for him, but, as it turns out, he was transferred.
The thing is, as far as not growing attached, it didn't take that long. I had only been talking to him, for ten months....and he had only been at the parish for 13 at this time.
I remember talking to him on the grass by the CCD building, and, the seminarian was trying to call him away, but, Father gave him a box to take to the car (all three of them were taking Father VdP's car, I think). I don't remember how we got to this point, but, I mentioned that I thought he wouldn't be sad of the transfer because he would have a new parish and serve new people (or something like that). "Priest's aren't robot's (Attia)."
No, apparently not. Priests are human, and thus, sinners.
But, they have God on their side, and they teach us we have God on our side. And, if God is for us, who can be against us?
(Incidentally, one will note, I did not at any point during this final Sunday, sob hysterically and clutch Father McCambridge's ankle with the grip of death....I think that was pretty stoic of me.)