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Remembrance Wall

Holy Cross Father Robert Wiseman knows that funerals are “a golden opportunity to do some ministry, and we don’t want to miss it.”
That’s why he has taken the suggestion of Rita Dee, a parishioner of Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales Church in Bennington where he is parish administrator, to establish a “Remembrance Wall” on which persons who have had a church funeral are being memorialized for a year.
St. John the Baptist Parish in North Bennington, where Father Wiseman is also administrator, has a similar Remembrance Wall.
The first black walnut cross was placed on a wall near the vigil lights at Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales Church in December, and since then at least three more have been added to the space beneath a stained glass window of Jesus after His resurrection and next to a statue of St. Anthony of Padua.
The name and date of death of the person being remembered is engraved on a brass plate on the center of each four-by-six-inch cross made by parishioner John Fahey.
Family members of the deceased hang the cross on the wall at the end of the Mass of Christian Burial.
“It’s a way to connect to people with our faith,” Father Wiseman said. “Often we see people at a funeral and never see them again. This [Remembrance Wall] is a way to connect with people to come in and see their family member’s name on the wall.”
Dee brought the idea to Father Wiseman after experiencing a similar wall at Immaculate Conception Church in Glenville, New York, at her father’s funeral. “It was very consoling, taking the cross and putting it on the wall for everyone to see” and to keep her loved one in people’s memory, she said.
So far there have been only a handful of church funerals between the Bennington and North Bennington Catholic churches since the Remembrance Walls were begun, and Father Wiseman said reaction has been positive. “The crosses are beautiful, and the ritual of having the family put the cross on the wall is a plus too.”
The Remembrance Wall is a way for the parish to give honor to the person who has died, while the church funeral in general is a “chance for us to stop and look at what is important in life” and for people to console one another, Father Wiseman said. “It is an opportunity to embrace people who have lost a loved one and to let them know the Church is here to help them deal with the reality of death that has come into their life.”
Church “funerals are a chance to focus on your relationship with Christ and reignite people’s faith,” Dee added.
There were 23 church funerals at Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales Church in the 2017 calendar year.
In is 40 years of priesthood, Father Wiseman has never before seen a Remembrance Wall, and he encourages people to look at the crosses on the walls: “They are a real, physical presence of people’s lives.”
Plans call for a remembrance book to be added to a shelf near the crosses, which will remain in the church until the first anniversary of the person’s death when the cross will be given to the family at a weekend Mass near the anniversary date.
  • Published in Parish

Laity in Catholic schools

When David Estes, principal of The School of Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales in Bennington, walked into his first meeting of Vermont Catholic school principals in 1987, he looked around the room and saw one religious brother; the rest of the principals were women religious.
Now he is no longer the minority; Vermont has no Catholic school principals who are members of religious orders.
And according to Lisa Lorenz, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Burlington, this years marks the first year there are no religious sisters on staff of any of the 14 Catholic schools in Vermont, though pastors and other clergy are “wonderful” about visiting the schools.
Father Scott Gratton is the new part-time vice principal for Catholic mission at Rice Memorial High School in South Burlington.
Staffing is just one change Estes – a husband and father of two -- has lived through in his nearly 40 years in Catholic education – all at the Bennington school where he used to teach third and fifth grades.
“I have a lot of history” here, he said as he sat in a school office that was once a choir loft overlooking what was Sacred Heart Church.
The 1995 closing of the church located within the brick school building is but one of the changes Estes has witnessed. When Sacred Heart Church was merged with St. Francis de Sales Church, the Bennington parish became Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales, and eventually the name of Sacred Heart School was changed to that of the parish.
Other changes he has experienced during his tenure at the school are numerous: the reinstatement of grades seven and eight and the addition of a preschool; the expansion of the school into the church space for use as a multi-purpose room; an increase in interest in Catholic education among non-Catholics seeking quality education and a safe, disciplined environment; and the retirement of the last Sister of St. Joseph to teach in the school.
“For decades, schools were staffed entirely by religious but as numbers of religious decreased, schools were staffed by very capable, committed lay colleagues who ministered with religious and understood/understand what Catholic education is about,” commented Sister of Mercy Marianne Read, a former Catholic school teacher, principal and superintendent in Vermont.
“All lay teachers today in Catholic education understand that by the words spoken and by their presence to children and young adults, they can bring faith and hope and joy,” she continued. “Our lay teachers, continue the legacy of religious [congregations] and continue to build on a strong foundation, for they teach us that it is not just the crucifix on the wall or the statue of Mary or Joseph in the school building that makes a school Catholic. It is not just the priests, religious sisters and brothers or lay teachers we have that make a school Catholic. It is this and far more. It is the living out of the charism of the religious orders who taught in the schools. It is the teaching of Gospel values and striving to model the message of Christ on a daily basis, not just in religion class but witnessed to throughout the school day; it is our conscious participation in the life and mission of the Church that makes us Catholic.”
When the last Sister of St. Joseph at Sacred Heart School retired, Estes said there was concern about maintaining the Catholicity of the school, but the lay teachers and staff members live, teach and pray in ways that make it clear this is a Catholic school. “There is a joy here surrounded by the Catholic faith,” Estes said.
School Masses and prayer are key, he added. “When you see the students singing the Lord’s Prayer, they’re not singing. They’re praying. They mean it. It’s the presence of God here among everyone.”
Last year six students were baptized, an example of the evangelization role played by the school, once filled with only Catholic children. “We are evangelizing all the time,” Estes said.
Other changes he has witnessed through the years include the addition of technology and technology education to keep up with the changing times; the addition of athletic teams that build school spirit; more single-parent families and safe environment training for teachers, staff and volunteers.
“The gift of religious and clergy is truly a gift, and the gift of the laity is a gift,” Lorenz said. And having all-lay staffs in Catholic schools “is different, but this is a new time in our world” when there are fewer religious and clergy available to staff schools.
When Estes first came to the Catholic school, tuition was $50 a month; now it is $475. Though financial assistance is available, Estes said new ways of financing Catholic education need to be found.
As he looks to the future, Estes can’t help but look back on the changes he has experienced. “We’ve had a lot of change here at the school,” he said. “Change takes a lot of work, a lot of forethought and a willingness to change. …Change is a risk, but you have to go forward.”
--Originally published in the Fall 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.
  • Published in Diocesan

Totus Tuus 2017

Troy Norman, a seminarian for the Diocese of Burlington, is spending part of his summer break from his own studies -- teaching.
A team leader and teacher in the Totus Tuus program, he is, he said, “helping children give themselves to Jesus through Mary” and sharing his experience of the faith with them as a role model.
Two teams of two seminarians and two young women each are conducting five Totus Tuus programs for elementary and middle school students and a separate one for high schoolers.
In Bennington, 62 children participated along with about a dozen high schoolers.
Totus Tuus was St. John Paul II's apostolic motto. It is a Latin phrase meaning "totally yours" and expressed his personal consecration to Mary.
Totus Tuus is a Catholic youth program dedicated to sharing the Gospel and promoting the Catholic faith through catechesis, evangelization, Christian witness and Eucharistic worship. The goal of Totus Tuus is to help young people grow in their understanding of, and strengthen their faith in, Jesus Christ. The program strives to bring faith to life by creating a balance between knowledge of the meaning of the sacraments and an authentic sacramental life.
According to Holy Cross Father Robert Wiseman, administrator of Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales Parish in Bennington and St. John the Baptist Parish in North Bennington, the program provides a consistency in vacation religious education throughout the statewide Diocese.
Though some parishes have their own Vacation Bible School programs, Totus Tuus offers the same program with a strong catechetical basis throughout the Diocese with trained staff members.
Vermont is the only site in New England where it is currently offered.
Father Dwight Baker, director of the Catholic Center at the University of Vermont in Burlington and chaplain for Totus Tuus, said the program is a “great blend of learning and fun.”
Classes are geared to each grade level, and each year the theme is different mysteries of the rosary; this year it is the Joyful Mysteries. Participants also learn about salvation history.
“The young people [on the team] are on fire for their faith, and the children see they are living an authentic life in their faith,” Father Baker said. “They are people [the children] look up to.”
Participants in the Bennington Totus Tuus – one of the largest in the Diocese – came from Bennington, North Bennington, Manchester and Arlington and from North Adams and Williamstown, Mass.
Jessica O’Connell, one of the coordinators, sent her son, Ambrose, 5, to Tutus Tuus at the Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales Parish Center. “It’s an opportunity for him to be with a group of his peers and be exposed to the older leaders who are encouraging him in his faith,” she said.
The other coordinator, Tammy Buckley, said she hoped the Totus Tuus experience would have an effect on the wider community too, bringing persons to Jesus through the words and actions of the participants. “It’s really all about love,” she said.
Father Wiseman said Totus Tuus also is an opportunity for him to meet parents “and engage is some pastoral ministry.”
In addition, he said it is good for parishioners to see youth activities in the parish; he planned to show a video of Totus Tuus during upcoming weekend Masses.
Kayla E. King, 14, a volunteer helper from Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales Parish, said she helped the children “stay focused” on their lessons and have fun. “It’s important so they can grow in their faith,” she said.
Totus Tuus is funded in part by The Bishop’s Annual Appeal/the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis.

'Bake for Good'

Twelve-year-old Evan Eggsware, a sixth grader at The School of Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales in Bennington, learned to toss pizza dough at school April 26.
But it was a lesson in more than pizza making or even baking.
King Arthur Flour presented its “Bake for Good: Kids Learn, Bake, Share” program for students in fifth through eighth grades, and Evan was one of the demonstrators.
He and Grace Kobelia, 11, also a sixth grader, assisted Paula Gray, manager of the Bake for Good program, onstage, putting into action what she talked about: making dough from scratch.
A former math and science teacher, she explained the math and science that go into baking bread as well as hygienic procedures like hand washing and pulling hair back.
Like a television cooking show, video close-ups of the dough-making procedures were shown on a large screen on the stage next to the table where the students and Gray worked.
One catchy lesson included in the program was the proper way to measure flour: fluff (in a bowl), sprinkle (into the measuring cup) and sweep (off excess with a dough scraper to even the flour in the cup).
Kneading requires “fold, push and turn” to get the dough soft, smooth, not sticky and stretchy, Gray instructed.
Once the students saw how it’s all done, they received a bread baking kit from King Arthur – based in Norwich – so they could bake at home. The kits included wheat and all-purpose flour, yeast, a dough scraper, a recipe booklet and a plastic bag and gift tag. (Gluten-free flour was given to students who are gluten-intolerant.)
Their instructions were clear: Bake one bread for themselves and one for the Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales food shelf in Bennington. (They could choose to make rolls if they preferred.)
“They are ‘baking for good,’ baking for other people,” and that fits in with lessons learned at the school of caring for others as Jesus would have them do, commented Principal David Estes.
At the school, “we learn to be respectful and serve our community and follow the example of Jesus Christ,” Grace said.
Gray said representatives of King Arthur like to present the free program in Catholic schools, which are “all about the mission of sharing, caring and giving to others,” just like the Bake for Good program.
After assisting her in the school program, both Evan and Grace said they are more inclined to bake more, though both have some baking experience at home.
King Arthur Flour presents the Bake for Good program at about 200 schools each year; about 800 apply.
For more information, go to kingarthurflour.com/learnbakeshare.
  • Published in Schools

Ukulele lessons

Uke-otta hear this: Children at The School of Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales in Bennington learning to play ukuleles.
Free ukes.
Thanks to a win in a contest sponsored by Kala, a popular brand of ukuleles, the school got 45 of the instruments at no cost at the beginning of the current school year.
The ukulele, sometimes abbreviated to uke, is a member of the lute family of string instruments.
“I enjoy the ukulele; it makes a beautiful sound,” fourth grader Isabella Thurber, 9, said after a March music class during which the students worked on their ukulele skills.
March is Music in Schools Month.
“Whenever you can put an instrument in the hands of a child, it’s exciting,” enthused Principal David Estes.
Ken Pallman, father of fourth grader Kaelene, is a drummer who took up the uke about three years ago; he likes it so much he has 17 in his collection – including two Kalas. “It’s more fun than the recorder,” a common musical instrument for entry-level school band members, he said. “It sounds like a happy instrument. You can’t be sad and play a uke. It’s a blast.”
He entered a Facebook contest and encouraged others to participate, and the result was a prize of 45 ukes for the Catholic school.
Students in grades four and five are learning to play the ukulele during their weekly 45-minute music classes, and this is the first time the school has provided instruments. (Third graders learn to play the recorder, and like students who play in a school band, their families must provide their instruments.)
“We’ve never done the ukulele; we’ve done the recorder. Ukuleles are more fun,” said Ryan Maroney, 10, a fourth grader.
Classmate Vincent Mattison, 10, called out his enthusiasm for “Hey, Ho! Shalom” when his music teacher, Stephanie Paul, asked students to play it. “It’s slow, and you don’t have to change chords,” he said.
He likes the instrument because, he said, “once you learn it, you can play the guitar.”
The ukulele has four strings; the guitar six or 12.
Kaelene Pallman, 10, already is learning to play the guitar, which she said helps her with the uke. “This is easier because I know how to do the fingering” of the chords, she said.
Ken Pallman, inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame as a drummer in 2014, said there has been a “huge upswing” in interest in ukuleles over the past half dozen years. “I think it’s because it is an instrument anybody can pick up and at least noodle on and get somewhat proficient,” he said, adding that ukulele groups are forming throughout the country.
There is even one in Bennington that people of all ages attend.
The instrument is popular, Paul said, because it is easily grasped. “You can start to feel you’ve mastered the ukulele pretty easily, and it’s a lifetime instrument you can play.”
Taking ukulele lessons at school gives Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales students “an opportunity if they are not so inclined to do something musical,” Pallman said. “Music is a wonderful thing.”
He said students who learn to read music increase their math proficiency because musical notes are based on math.
“You have to know your numbers” to learn music, said fourth grader Zoey Zazzaro, 10. “You have to get your timing right.”
When Paul was a child she had difficulty with long division, and in the fifth grade began playing the saxophone. Within a year and a half she was in advanced math class. “It’s getting that part of the brain turned on” that affects both music and math skills, she said.
She called it a “blessing” to give the children the hands-on experience of the ukulele. “They can see their progress and hopefully use this experience to be confident as they try out other instruments in their lives.”
Some of the ukulele players will accompany the school chorus during a performance of “Over the Rainbow” in the spring concert.
  • Published in Schools

Spirit of Holy Cross Award

Mary Flood has an attitude.
That’s what her pastor at Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales Church in Bennington said before he awarded her a prestigious Spirit of Holy Cross Award Jan. 29.
“She has a can-do attitude, and she exemplifies The Beatitudes clearly,” Holy Cross Father Robert Wiseman explained.
The award is meant to acknowledge those who best represent the character of the Congregation of Holy Cross in its parishes, educational institutions and mission outreaches.
Of the 11 recipients from throughout the country, Flood was the only one recognized for her parish ministries.
The order serves in 27 parishes.
The awards were announced on the Solemnity of Our Lady of Sorrows in September and awarded in recipients’ local communities in January. At that time, they received a proclamation of gratitude signed by Holy Cross Father Thomas J. O'Hara, provincial superior, on behalf of the entire Congregation of Holy Cross, United States Province of Priests and Brothers.
The award is given annually to lay collaborators who faithfully serve the province in the United States and abroad. The Spirit of Holy Cross Award acknowledges the critical importance lay collaborators play in living out the vision and mission of Holy Cross founder Blessed Basil Moreau to make God known, loved and served through education, parish and mission settings.
Flood is the first member of Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales Parish to receive this award.
Other honorees include a couple who donated the new organ in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on the campus of the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, which serves as the mother church of the Congregation of Holy Cross in the United States; the administrator at Moreau Seminary in Indiana, the major seminary for the congregation in the United States; the union steward for facility workers at Stonehill College in North Easton, Mass.; and a long-time associate of Andre House in Phoenix, Ariz.
Flood, 85, is chair of the Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales parish life committee, chair of the fundraising committee, chair of the art and environment committee, a member of the social concerns committee, a member of the worship and spirituality committee and an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion.
Her relationship with the Holy Cross congregation dates to 1952. She and her husband, Tom, and six children lived in Montreal. There at Holy Cross Parish her activities included serving as president of the Catholic Women’s League and chair of fund raising.
The family moved to Bennington in 1982 and joined Sacred Heart Parish where she served as part-time parish secretary, coordinator of religious education and chair of the parish council.
“In 1995 St. Francis and Sacred Heart parish communities merged during a very
challenging time,” Father Wiseman said. “As religious education coordinator she was responsible to combine the two religious education program totaling 350 young people. Her excellent people skills made the task appear easy.”
In his letter nominating her for the Spirit of Holy Cross Award, he wrote, “Over the past 64 years she has worked with 32 Holy Cross priests and brothers. For that reason only she deserves an award.”
“I told him I am a no-fuss, no-muss girl. I don’t do awards. He ignored me,” Flood said with a smile and a twinkle in her eye.
Turning serious, she added, “I am very appreciative. I’m not a one-woman show. My volunteers help, and it is all done with love and joy.”
“She’s got a talent for recognizing other people’s talents,” said Gwen Hannan, a member of the parish life and art and environment committees.
“She brings everything to life,” said parish bookkeeper Jo-Anne Prouty. “She has an uplifting attitude.”
Flood described her own attitude as three-fold: one of strong faith, straightforward and with a good sense of humor.
But after the Sunday readings, which included The Beatitudes, it seemed Father Wiseman’s assessment of her attitude of exemplifying The Beatitudes clearly is most appropriate: Mary Flood has an attitude of Beatitudes.
  • Published in Parish

Living with ALS: Bennington parishioner trusts in God's plan for her life

BENNINGTON—Kathy Keenan is almost poetic when she reflects on the disease that has changed her life: “Why me! Why not me? I never blamed God. I felt God was using me. He had a plan…. Is it a coincidence or God’s plan? Why me or why not me. I never blamed God.”
These are words that came not from her lips or even from her fingers typing on a keyboard.
They came from her eyes, her sparkling brown eyes.
Mrs. Keenan, 53, has ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. It is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, people may lose the ability to speak, eat, move and breathe.
Mrs. Keenan, a parishioner of Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales Church in Bennington, uses a motorized wheelchair and has difficulty speaking. She often communicates with the help of Eye Gaze technology on a Tobii Dynavox computer donated by the Gleason Foundation in New Orleans. It looks like a computer monitor on a stand.
She can sit in her wheelchair at her kitchen table, computer at eye level in front of her. All she has to do is look at the part of the screen she wants to activate – like email, texting, Kindle or computerized voice.
This cutting-edge technology allows her continued involvement in parish life.
Mrs. Keenan schedules the altar servers using her Tobii Dynavox. But more than letting them know when it is their turn to serve, she ensures coverage when she goes to church and has been known to wheel up the aisle at church to find someone to fill in when necessary, nodding toward the altar to let them know they are needed.
She uses her computer to help with parish fundraising emails and to gather materials for the Bible study she organizes every other Wednesday for Catholic women at her home.
Mrs. Keenan hosts an ecumenical Bible study once a month and attends a monthly community book club she began 17 years ago.
The computer’s voice technology allows her to prepare comments ahead of time, typing them with her eyes then playing them aloud for her listeners.
In addition, a fellow parishioner visits her every Friday to discuss the readings for the upcoming Sunday, she attends Eucharistic Adoration on the first Friday of the month in the church’s chapel, and someone brings her Communion every Wednesday and Friday.
“Kathy is fully engaged in parish life,” said Holy Cross Father Robert Wiseman, administrator of Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales Church. “She always has a smile, and everyone knows that Christ is the center of her life.”
There are two different types of ALS: sporadic and familial. Sporadic is the most common form of the disease in the United States and accounts for 90-95 percent of all cases. It may affect anyone, anywhere; it is what has affected Mrs. Keenan. Familial ALS accounts for 5-10 percent of all cases in the country and is inherited.
A lifelong Catholic, Mrs. Keenan grew up in Kingston, N.Y., and attended Catholic elementary and high school. At Le Moyne College in Syracuse, N.Y., she met her future husband, James Keenan.
She earned a bachelor’s degree in biology there, then a master’s in human genetics from the University of South Carolina in Columbia and worked as a genetic counselor and teacher at Albany (N.Y.) Medical Center.
The Keenans moved to Bennington in 1998 so he could work as a radiologist at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center.
The couple has three children: Katie, 24; Luke, 21; and Bridget, 16. “All accepted and mirrored faith in God's plan that they see in Jimmy and me,” Mrs. Keenan said.
Early in 2008 the couple moved her in-laws to their street, planning to help them. Her parents moved to the neighborhood in 2010 to help her and her family.
Always active in the parish, the community and at The School of Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales when her children were in elementary school, one of Mrs. Keenan’s many activities was coaching soccer. But when she couldn’t tie a shoe for children on her team and also had difficulty playing the piano, she knew something was wrong.
At first the Keenans thought she had some kind of neuropathy caused by the way she positioned her hands on her bicycle handlebars, but after many tests and doctor visits, Kathy Keenan was diagnosed with ALS in 2008.
Though she always knew what is important in life – faith, relationships and health – that awareness became more acute.
“Her disease really made a whole lot of people realize what is important in this world,” Dr. Keenan said. “Kathy continues to be a huge part in people’s lives.”
As they spoke to a visitor – he often repeating her words for clarity – he sometimes dabbed her tears with a tissue, noting that ALS can heighten a person’s emotions, making him or her cry or laugh more easily.
Mrs. Keenan has a team of caregivers to ensure someone is with her at all times. Dr. Keenan, who now works part time, is her main caregiver.
Her faith never weakened, and she always finds ways to honor and give glory to God by helping others: She is a good listener, shares her wisdom and assists others with cooking tips and home finance guidance.
“I have a good life,” she said, speaking in soft words that those closest to her can best understand. Among her most precious blessings she counts her husband and children, her parents and in-laws, her caregivers and friends, her parish and her faith.
“Before the (ALS) diagnosis, our life was just perfect,” Dr. Keenan said. They have wonderful children, Mrs. Keenan remains active in the community, and they find Bennington a great place to live. “The thing we don’t have is Kathy’s health,” Dr. Keenan said.
Sometimes Mrs. Keenan dreams about being able to walk and run, but she does ride a stationary bike, and her husband often takes her on 14-20-mile bike rides on their special tandem recumbent tricycle. “I want to ride and I want to pedal,” said Mrs. Keenan.
“Riding makes her feel like she is not sick,” Dr. Keenan said, seated at the table with these words from St. Paul’s Letter for the Philippians inscribed on the wall in front of him: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Mrs. Keenan surrenders to the plan she believes God has for her. “I have no worries,” she said.
  • Published in Parish

Former Holy Cross superior general now ministering in Bennington, North Bennington parishes

Holy Cross Father Hugh Cleary admits he did not like school when he was a child. It seemed everything was about memorization, and he just was not good at it.
But when he was in a sophomore English class as a seminarian at Stonehill College in North Easton, Mass., his teacher called on him for an answer even though he had not raised his hand. The teacher praised his student for his comments on the meaning of something they had read.
“From then on, I was on the Dean’s List,” said Father Cleary, now parochial vicar at Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales Church in Bennington and St. John the Baptist Church in North Bennington.
His current assignment has brought him full circle to this southern Vermont community where he spent a year of his seminary training in the Holy Cross order’s novitiate, once located in Bennington. Between stops here, he has been a parochial vicar, inner city pastor, novice director, provincial of the Eastern Province, Rome-based superior general of the worldwide order for priests and brothers and chaplain for the Monastic Family of Bethlehem of the Assumption of the Virgin and of Saint Bruno.
He moved to North Bennington to begin his current ministry in August.
“I love parish ministry in general,” said the 70-year-old priest who grew up in Queens, N.Y. He appreciates being able to share all of life with people, from the good times to the bad, from celebrations to mourning. “You get to know your parishioners. They have the strength of humanity. It all harkens back to that English class. What is literature but an expression of humanity’s joys and struggles?”
He feels privileged to be a priest. “People open up their heart to you. You gain so much strength from their heroic virtue lived every day,” he added.
The son of a New York City police officer and a stay-at-home mother, Father Clear has a single younger brother and an older sister who has five children and 16 grandchildren.
He always wanted to be a priest. “It was always in me,” he said during an interview at the Bennington parish center. “I can’t remember wanting to be anything else.”
His family life revolved around Our Lady of the Most Blessed Sacrament Church in Bayside where he became an altar boy shortly after his First Communion. He attended the parish school through eighth grade then walked a mile to attend Holy Cross High School in Flushing.
He had thought about becoming a diocesan priest in New York, but in high school one of the Holy Cross brothers suggested he consider the Congregation of Holy Cross.
He was ordained in 1973 at Holy Cross Parish in South Easton, Mass.
Father Cleary – who grew up in a family in which education was emphasized – has earned five degrees: a bachelor’s degree in English from Stonehill College; a master’s in theology from Notre Dame University in South Bend, Ind., a master’s in counseling psychology from Loyola University in Chicago; and a master’s and doctorate in formative spirituality from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.
For him, education is a way to help one think and reflect on life.
When he was in the novitiate in Bennington, one of the changes that came about after Vatican II was that the seminarians did not have to earn their undergraduate degree in philosophy. So he and three other members of his class of 35 seminarians decided to major in English. “I thought it would be easier,” he recalled with a smile.
So with a nod to their future English degree, the four seminarians snuck out of their rooms one night to sleep on the grave of poet Robert Frost in Old Bennington. “We thought we’d do better in English with him than without him,” he added with a twinkle in his eye.
A former marathon runner, Father Cleary now enjoys walking and hiking, and besides his sacramental, Catholic school and visitation ministries, he is working with parents and sponsors of confirmation students in both parishes.
Fluent in Spanish thanks to a Maryknoll language school in Bolivia with experience ministering to migrant workers, he would like to resume that type of work if there is a need for it in southern Vermont. 
  • Published in Parish
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