He used to be on staff at my parish, Blessed Sacrament, in Seattle and was always good both for vivacious presentations of theology and for general joie de vivre. He was the guy who taught me the way to avoid windy discussions about irrelevancies with Mormon missionaries and just cut to the chase with the core question: “When, precisely, was the Great Apostasy?”
No Great Apostasy, no need for a Latter Day Revelation to fix everything. And the thing is: when it comes to evidence for the Great Apostasy, there’s no There there. I found it a useful technique for engaging Mormons who want to chat.
Anyway, Fr. Jerome sent along this letter to all his friends, and I thought it amusing to share it with you since it’s obviously intended for public consumption.
I guess the saying is true, “All good things must come to an end.” In January my provincial (aka boss) called me and asked me (ok ordered me) to move to a new ministry. On July 1st, after six years of being the pastor of St. Dominic Church in Benicia, I became the new pastor of St. Raymond’s Church in Menlo Park, CA.
St. Raymond’s is located 30 miles south of San Francisco. It is one of the cities that makes up the Silicon Valley. The church is five miles from Facebook’s headquarters and two miles from Stanford University. Once again, I feel like I am a religious version of Forrest Gump, because I have no idea how I end up in the places I do. Good thing God is in charge.
With this assignment, I will now claim the title prophet. My prophecy was given 19 years ago at a Dominican retreat center in McKenzie Bridge, Oregon. That retreat marked the end of my novitiate, the first year of my religious life. At this retreat, one day we were talking to one of the older student brothers had just come back from a missionary trip to a very poor third world country. He was excited about the trip and was telling us all about it. Looking back now, I can see he was an early adopter of the guilt / privilege movement. All of a sudden, every problem in the world was because of rich, first world, white people. After his diatribe, he started to ask the younger brothers in formation what they wanted to do after they were ordained. One brother, wanting to butter him up, proudly said he wanted to be a missionary. The rest said pastors, campus ministers, professors, etc. When it got to me I thought I would have a little fun. I said, with as much compassion and love I could possibly muster in my voice, “I want to minister to (long, dramatic pause….) rich, white people!” I did everything I could not to laugh. I noticed his face started to turn beet red. Then I innocently said, “They have souls too, right?!” Needless to say, I was lectured for a half hour about how horrible I was. Now that I am ministering in Silicon Valley, I believe my prophecy from 19 years ago has been fulfilled. So, from now on, if you could please refer to me as The Prophet Jerome I would appreciate it.
While the shortest distance between two points is a line, I am more into curves these days. The driving distance between Benicia and Menlo Park, CA is 65 miles. I thought I’d take a little bit of a different route from my old to my new new ministry. So, I embarked on a coast (CA) to coast (Portland, ME) to coast (CA). It took me 32 days through 31 states over 9,351 miles, and it cost me under $3,000, not including wear and tear on the car. During my drive, I was ALL BY MYSELF! It was incredible!
OK, I was not totally by myself. During the day I would drive while listening to the Bible on audio books. You want to know how long it takes to listen to the Bible? I finished it on the 30th day of my trip. The Bible is long. I spent all but 5 nights with family and friends scattered across the country. The trip turned out to be a life review because of all the people I visited along the way. Read on, if you would like to take the trip with me.
Now, if I mention a city that you live in and you did not see me when I was in town, please know I knocked on your door, but you did not answer. I can’t believe how inhospitable you are! The first leg was from Benicia to Los Angeles. I ministered in Los Angeles for 3 ½ years before I moved to Benicia. In LA, I offered and preached the Saturday Vigil Mass. At the crack of dawn on Sunday, I started my journey east, arriving in Tucson, AZ late in the afternoon. I said the Sunday evening Mass at the Newman Center at the University of Arizona, my first priestly assignment.
Next step was Phoenix, AZ. I lived in Phoenix for four years, met the Dominicans there, and left there 20 years ago to start religious life. Because I was on a tight schedule, I invited everyone I know there to a restaurant to say hello. At this gathering there were people I prayed with from the ASU Newman Center in Tempe, and students from the U of A Newman Center in Tucson who have graduated and now live in the Phoenix area. There were also people I worked with, and met during my time in Phoenix. One of my college friends from my days at Pace University, New York City campus now lives in Phoenix, and I got to meet her family. It was a great night!
The next stop was Albuquerque, NM. The family of the bride of the first wedding I ever witnessed said at the wedding reception to look them up if I am ever in Albuquerque. Well, eleven years later, I finally called telling them I was coming to town. About ten of us went out for an evening of fun and killer New Mexican food. The next stop was Oklahoma City, OK. Pull up a map and look at the route. It is 544 miles that takes about 7 ½ hours on Route 40. Interstate 40 is almost chalk-line straight all the way from Albuquerque to Oklahoma City. At that point of my adventure I was listening to the 2 Chronicles of the Bible. After a few hours of listening to list after list of names, I was just begging for a war, a murder, adultery, or something! In Oklahoma City, the friend I wanted to visit was called to work at the last minute, so, I grabbed a pizza, checked into a hotel and watched a basketball game.
The next day I arrived into Little Rock, AK, and then it was off to pay homage to the king in Memphis, TN (my earthly one, not the heavenly one). I went to a rib house for dinner and asked for the ½ portion of ribs. The ½ portion was the size of my leg. The next day I drove through Mississippi before arriving in New Orleans. Five parishioners from Benicia met me there and we spent a day and half touring.
While touring the French Quarter a person asked me if I was a Catholic priest. When I said yes, the person asked if I could hear his/her confession. We walked away from the crowd and God’s graces were administered. At the end of a tour of a plantation house, the tour guide pulled me aside and asked if I could say some prayers in the house. Apparently, lots of people who work there are seeing and hearing paranormal activity. Who you gonna call [when you have ghost problems]? The Prophet Jerome who is also a certified Ghost Buster.
Having hit my most southern point, it was now time to go north young [uh ok!] middle -aged man. This day I drove through Mobile, Montgomery, and ended up in the greater Birmingham, AL area. The sister Servants of the Eternal Word allowed me to stay in their retreat house. I was the only one in the entire retreat house. The hallways were huge and creepy! As I thought about it more, my imagination started going wild as I found myself just waiting for Jack Nicholas to smash down my door with an axe while saying, “Honey, I’m home.” In the morning I had the honor of concelebrating the Mass that EWTN broadcasts on its TV channel. That afternoon I had lunch with Johnny Cash… Ok. Just the memory of him in Nashville, TN. I ended up staying the night with the Dominican Sisters of Saint Cecilia and visiting with one of my Dominican brothers who was giving their retreat.
From there it was on to the land of WKRP in Cincinnati, OH. A couple that moved from St. Dominic’s in Benicia to Cincinnati fed me dinner and gave me a place to crash. Ohio will forever be known to me as the roadkill state. I never saw more deer dead on the side of the road. Not just fresh kills but ones that looked mummified. Come on Ohio…you are better than that! The final and longest stretch of my eastward journey was from Cincinnati to New Milford, NJ. That took 10 hours. When I got home, I received hugs and kisses from my mother and father. I truly came to appreciate the saying, “There is no place like home”.
After spending the weekend with my family, it was off to the last of the 50 states of the United States of America that I had yet to set foot in: Maine. Starting in New Jersey, I drove through New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and, eight hours later, I crossed into Maine! With Maine crossed off the list, I can now say I have been in all 50 states. While driving through Boston I did stop at Fenway Park where the evil Red Sox play to offer prayers of exorcism. How can an all-loving God allow the Red Sox to exist? On my judgment day, God will have some explaining to do. In Maine, I had the privilege with meeting up with a high school friend who gave me the 3-hour driving tour of Portland, a lovely lobster dinner, and a place to crash for the night.
Having reached my most eastern destination, it was California here I come, right back where I started from! From Maine I went back to New Jersey for a few more days with my family. Then it was on to the greater Cleveland, OH area for an evening with a family I met at St. Dominic’s in Benicia, who moved east a few years earlier. Then it was off to see our Blessed Mother, a visit to Notre Dame University in South Bend, IN. I also visited with a Dominican brother who ended up leaving before solemn vows, marrying, and now works for Notre Dame. The next day I ended up in Lincoln, NE for an evening with a former student from the University of Arizona’s Newman Center in Tucson. I also had the privilege of witnessing her wedding a few years ago, and I finally got to meet her 2 year old son.
Never one to sit still, so the next day I was off to the greater Sioux Falls, SD area. Another couple I know from Benicia moved there a few months earlier, and I promised to bless their new house and boat. I am now the proud godfather of a boat appropriately named the Saint Jerome. [Are you seeing a pattern with people LEAVING California?] A day later, I arrived in Casper “The Friendly Ghost”, WY. After legally driving 80 mph the entire day, I cannot say how very disappointed I was in Casper because I had to drive a mind numbing 25 mph down the main street. I felt like I was going backwards!
The next day I arrived in Salt Lake City, and spent the evening with my Dominican brothers at the Newman Center at the University of Utah. From Salt Lake to the Nevada border there is nothing but really beautiful landscape views, the salt flats and a few retirement communities. However, as soon as you cross into Nevada you are met with casinos, hotels and other forms of “entertainment”. Something tells me a few prodigal Mormon sons have taken that drive to the Nevada border from Salt Lake City to see how the other half lives.
From there the next seven hours westward has some of the most beautiful vistas in the entire country. I can say that now – having been in all 50 states. So many mountains! So little time for climbing them all! By the end of that day I arrived on the Nevada side of the great Lake Tahoe. I spent a day with a friend from New Jersey who now lives there with his wife and three kids. The next day was the final stretch of the journey and I was back in Benicia, right back where I started from. I am proud to say I didn’t get any speeding tickets! I am either very blessed or just getting old and driving much slower, or both.
If you have never driven cross country, you MUST put it on your bucket list! I have now done it five times. The first time was from New Jersey to AZ (Ok not quite coast to coast); then DC to San Francisco; then Seattle to New Jersey; and now this last coast to coast to coast trip. I love what our country has to offer from the mountains, to the prairies, to the oceans, white with foam. God bless America! My home sweet home!
If someday you want to take an epic trip, here is what I recommend. Take route 80 East from Teaneck, NJ to San Francisco. Then take Route 1 South (The Pacific Coast Highway) down to Los Angeles. In LA take I-10 East to Phoenix and then I-17 North to Flagstaff. In Flagstaff take I-40 East to where it ends in North Carolina. From there take I-95 North, which will take you to New York City. You will see just about everything the continental United States has to offer. If you need a chaplain or guide, just say the word.
God bless you,
The Prophet Jerome
Don’t try to derive some general understanding of all Dominicans from this. When you’ve met one Dominican, you’ve met one Dominican.