Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Bishop Choby tribute

From the Rector's Dinner at the Pontifical College Josephinum this week:

Tonight we honor the memory of the Most Reverend David Choby, eleventh Bishop of Nashville and, at the time of his death, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Pontifical College Josephinum, the very Board that is gathered here tonight in preparation for their meeting tomorrow. It is fitting this his successor as chief shepherd of the Church in Middle Tennessee, the Most Reverend J. Mark Spalding is present in this place where Bishop Choby contributed so much to the future of the Church. The formation of men for the priesthood of Jesus Christ was of supreme importance to Bishop Choby. This was true of Bishop Choby in his episcopacy during which he lavished care and attention on the formation of his seminarians, even serving as his own director of vocations. He jealously guarded his prerogative of directing the formation of the future priests of the diocese. His role in priestly formation, however, was not limited to his time as bishop. He had also served on the faculty here at the Josephinum, as have Bishop Campbell and Bishop Baker. He was remembered as a great teacher and an engaged formator. In the homily at Bishop Choby's funeral Mass, Archbishop Alexander Sample, who had been his student here, spoke movingly as well as humorously (with the Archbishop's great skills as a mimic that I remember from seminary days) of Bishop Choby's strong influence as a teacher and formator. During these years at the Josephinum, Bishop Choby also served on the Board of Trustees that he was later to lead, as a faculty representative.

I am honored to speak tonight in honor of Bishop Choby, but I cannot do so from personal recollection of these official roles that he held in priestly formation. I can speak of my experience of being formed personally by him, largely from the summer I spent with him after my first year of formation here at the Josephinum when I was assigned to his parish in Gallatin, Tennessee. It is indeed Providential that the current pastor of St. John Vianney Parish in Gallatin, Fr. Stephen Gideon, a fellow alumnus of the Josephinum, is with us tonight. At the time, then-Fr. Choby had been pastor for one year after returning to the diocese from the Josephinum. I have many fond and humorous recollections of that summer. One involves my almost incurring an impediment to orders by removing my finger tips. There were a number of renovation needs in the parish, including in the rectory, that we worked on that summer. In the process of one of these, a storm window fell and landed across my finger tips, a fairly nerve-sensitive part of the body. The canonist pastor pointed out that it was a good thing that we were no longer under the old code of canon law with it requirement of digital integrity for candidates for priesthood. The same injury that could have been an impediment to priesthood might have opened up a career for me in crime as it altered by fingerprints!

On the serious side, I did learn much about being a priest from Fr. Choby that summer, mainly by being with him as he went about his pastoral duties. No one here will be surprised that I did not learn much about constructing a flow-chart of parish administration that summer! I did, however, learn how to be with God's people, especially with those who are sick or alone. I was his shadow that summer, in practically everything he did, especially wandering around the back roads of Sumner County, Tennessee is search of the far-flung flock of the parish. These were his sheep. Fr. Choby also tried to teach me to be calm and patient. He failed, but nonetheless he gave great witness of these qualities that we all recognized and valued in him. One story is particularly fitting as it involves a meeting about my formation evaluation from that first year in seminary. The evaluation from the seminary had arrived in Nashville, and let's say that it raised some areas of concern, largely from my own self-evaluation so that I really cannot blame anyone else but myself. I was summoned to Nashville to meet with the vocations director at the time. I really thought that I might return to Gallatin after that meeting no longer as a seminarian. Yes, that is the way that seminarians think. That afternoon, we had again been working around the parish grounds. When I stopped by to tell him that I was leaving for the meeting, Fr. Choby was in the middle of a field where the "new" church now stands, sitting on a riding lawn mower. I know, it's hard to picture – but true. He expressed support for me and in conclusion said that we would have dinner at home when I got back. From his demeanor, I felt confident that all would be well. I also had the prospect of looking forward to another example of his amazing cooking skills.

I guess that he was right about that meeting, as I am here to tell you about it. As a good shepherd, he gave the same peace and confidence that I had experienced from him throughout his ministry. It is what encouraged his seminarians who flocked to him as bishop. It is the most important lesson that students and directees learned from him as a seminary priest. It is the strength that so many parishioners and friends drew from him. It is how he blessed the entire Diocese of Nashville during his episcopacy. It is the confidence of being children of God. It is the realization that if God is for us who can be against us. Indeed, in the words of St. Paul which Msgr. Jessing chose for the motto of the Josephinum: Si Deus pro nobis quis contra nos. Thank you for teaching us this lesson, Bishop Choby. Well done, good and faithful servant

No comments:

Post a Comment

more on weakness

As I approach the 25th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood, I am trying to embrace weakness, especially by seeing beauty in it. I wa...

Popular Posts