Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Remembering My Novice Master - Fr. Thomas Stransky, CSP (1930-1989)

“What is the Church becoming? When someone like Fr. Stransky is here, I think she is waking up.” So wrote Thomas Merton, on August 9, 1962. Even if confided to his private Journal and not published until decades later, that was still quite an accolade!

Milwaukee-born, Paulist Father Thomas Stransky, who died yesterday on his 89th birthday, was ordained a priest in 1957. Subsequently sent to study in Germany and then in Rome, in 1960 he became part of the original staff of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, which Pope Saint John XXIII had established in preparation for the Second Vatican Council. (In the photo, Fr. Stransky is the young priest at the far right of the picture.) He only left the Secretariat in 1970 after his election as President of the Paulist Fathers, but continued as one of the Secretariat's Consultors and continued to be active in ecumenical activities, culminating in his 11 years as Director of the Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem (1988-1999). During his eventful tenure as Paulist President (1970-1978), the community expanded its mission, assuming pastoral responsibility for many new parishes around the country - among them here in Knoxville, TN, where the Paulists have served now since 1973. 

From 1981 to 1988, he served as Paulist Fathers' Novice Master, presiding over the initial year of formation for each year's new class of novices discerning religious life and priesthood as potential members of the Paulist community. Fr. Stranskly will be remembered rightly for his many ecumenical endeavors and his prodigious scholarly activity, for which I obviously lack the credentials to comment credibly, but about which others much more qualified than I will surely have much to say. World-travelling ecumenist and serious scholar that he was, it was in his more mundane ministry of novice master that I came to know and appreciate him.

The Paulist Fathers' Novitiate was then situated in an ideal location on some 1100 acres of rocks and trees in northern New Jersey, amazingly only 50 or so miles from New York City. It was in this beautiful and contemplative setting that I met Tom on August 24, 1981, as a member of his first novitiate class. Years of seminary study and formation would follow, for which I am grateful; but I remain most grateful for that wonderful year at Oak Ridge, NJ.

Intended to bridge the gap between secular life and religious life, the novitiate under Tom's leadership was meant to be a uniquely intensive experience in which one would not escape from oneself, from others, or from God. Although obviously part of a prolonged process of community socialization and ministerial education, the novitiate was unique in being entirely about the present. It was neither in studying the past nor in preparing for the future, but in learning to live, work, and worship with others that God's will was to be discerned. I learned many things from Tom, from our novitiate community, and from the uniquely evocative atmosphere in which we lived, but above all I learned from Tom patience - patience with an unpredictable and uncontrollable world, patience with my confused and conflicted self, and patience with the God Tom taught me to trust above all.

In paradisum deducant te Angeli; in tuo adventu suscipiant te martyres, et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Jerusalem. Chorus angelorum te suscipiat, et cum Lazaro quondam paupere æternam habeas requiem.

No comments:

Post a Comment