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The Men Who Changed My Life

  • TOM HOOPES

When I first met them, at the St. Ignatius Institute at the University of San Francisco, I hadnt gone to Mass regularly for years. I enrolled in their program knowing but not caring that it was Catholic. I just wanted to live in San Francisco and read great books. I didnt have even a passing interest in the faith. The St. Ignatius Institute changed that.


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The men who changed my life have now been dispersed around California, sent away from the place where they saved me.

John Galten is a junior high school teacher. Father C.M. Buckley is chaplain at a relatively obscure Catholic hospital. Father Joseph Fessio is scheduled to become his assistant there.

When I first met them, at the St. Ignatius Institute at the University of San Francisco, I hadnt gone to Mass regularly for years. I enrolled in their program knowing but not caring that it was Catholic. I just wanted to live in San Francisco and read great books. I didnt have even a passing interest in the faith.

The St. Ignatius Institute changed that.

The curriculum these men built taught me to embrace the faith naturally and almost effortlessly, simply by starting with Aristotelian logic and ending with Flannery OConnor and reading the greatest works that came between. A clincher for me was Father Fessios Revelation and Christology class, a class where I saw the lecturer get misty-eyed describing how God made wine inevitable when he made grapes, passionate when describing the beauty of marriage, dead serious when discussing miracles, and distracted when baseball playoffs coincided with class-time.

With this curriculum and by their personal attention, these men gave me nearly everything I have.

John Galten (and John Hamlon, assistant director) spurred me on to use my writing talent, and Father Buckley helped me find a place to do it. It was through him that I made the contact that got me my first writing paycheck from the National Catholic Register.

In my senior year, Father Buckley put me in charge of signing up men and monitoring all-night eucharistic adoration. He planned to invite a woman to be in charge of signing up women and monitoring them. Whoever it was would stay up with me all night every month. Who do you think that should be? he asked, significantly.

April Beingessner, I answered. Our organizing meeting was our first date. Two years later, I mentioned to Father Fessio that I was going to propose to April.
How are you going to do it? he asked, and was shocked to find I hadnt thought it through.

He helped me plan the evening, which would end at a beautiful chapel in a nearby towns convent, and he told Mother Superior when to expect us. A week later, I proposed to April beneath golden lamps as a choir of nuns sang night prayers across a grill, nudging each other and pointing to us knowingly.
Father Fessio arranged for this chapel to be kept open for a special purpose, was the absurd first sentence of my proposal.

When we married we moved to Washington, D.C., where April earned her masters degree from the John Paul II Institute a place John Galten had helped her discover.
Without these men, my life would be totally different, and impoverished.

These men taught me that truth existed, introduced me to my wife and my closest friends, and taught me to have self-confidence and to strive. Most importantly, they reintroduced me to Jesus Christ and his sacraments. Without them, I shudder to think where and who Id be.

The three men were split up first a few years ago, when Father Buckley was reassigned to the hospital in Duarte, Calif., because he was divisive. (Faithful, gentlemanly and long-suffering are good descriptors for him; divisive isnt.) Then Galten was fired from the St. Ignatius Institute which he had served tirelessly for 20 years. Now Father Fessio has been sent to work at the hospital as well.

Sometimes this makes me so angry I cant sleep for hours. Other times it breaks my heart to think of all the students who will never know them.

Because, the fact is, mine is a typical story of an Institute student.

There are hundreds of people who have been touched and bettered in the deepest possible way because of these men doctors, teachers, housewives and lawyers; businessmen, priests and nuns. People who think of these men the way sons and daughters think of their fathers.

Now, by quietly taking on a new mission in a faraway place, Father Fessio and Father Buckley are teaching us another lesson.

Theyre teaching us the counter-cultural lesson of obedience: God works through his Church and we are to obey, even when obedience is cold, thankless and difficult.
Even in a time like ours, when those we are meant to obey disappoint us.

It is from the bitter winter suffered by men such as these that the new springtime of the Church will arise. If we learn their lessons well.

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Acknowledgement

Tom Hoopes. "The Men Who Changed My Life." National Catholic Register. (March, 2002).

This article is reprinted with permission from National Catholic Register. All rights reserved. To subscribe to the National Catholic Register call 1-800-421-3230.

The Author

Tom Hoopes is writer in residence at Benedictine College, in Atchison, Kansas, where he teaches in the Journalism and Mass Communications Department and edits The Gregorian, a Catholic identity speech digest. He was previously editor of the National Catholic Register for 10 years and with his wife, April, of Faith & Family magazine for five. A frequent contributor to Catholic publications, he began his career as a reporter in the Washington, D.C., area and as press secretary for U.S. House Ways & Means Chairman Bill Archer. He lives in Atchison with his wife and those of his nine children still at home.

Copyright © 2002 National Catholic Register
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