Photo: Felix Carroll
Fathers Dan Cambra, MIC, Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC, and Larry Dunn, MIC, greet pilgrims at the beginning of Mass on Sunday following a reception celebrating their Silver Anniversary.
By Dan Valenti (Aug 12, 2012)
On Sunday, Aug. 12, 2012, the word "persistence" found itself exemplified at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy, Eden Hill, Stockbridge, Mass., as the Marian Fathers celebrated the 25-year priestly anniversaries of three of their brothers.
The Marians, along with numerous family members, friends, and loved ones, honored the Very Rev. Fr. Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC; Fr. Larry Dunn, MIC; and Fr. Dan Cambra, MIC; for their combined 75 years of priestly service to Christ and His Church. Father Kaz is provincial superior for the Marians in the United States and Argentina. Father Kaz was ordained on June 20, 1987; Fr. Larry on Aug. 1, 1987; and Fr. Dan on Oct. 4, 1986.
View Fr. Dan's homily during the afternoon Mass:
The day began with a luncheon in the Great Room at the Marian monastery attached to the National Shrine. A Rosary for Life followed at 1:30 p.m., with Mass at 2 p.m., praying of the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy at 3 p.m., and at 4 p.m., a ceremony enshrining a relic of Blessed John Paul II in the Shrine.
Doggedness, Commitment, Assiduity, Tirelessness — Call it What You Will
Determination and staying power emerged as the theme of the day.
"It's hard for me to put into words the significance of this," says Fr. Larry. "God says to His priests, 'I trust you. I trust you to be the ambassador of My love. I trust you to be the channel of My mercy. I trust you to bring your brothers and sisters closer to Christ.' Despite our ordinariness, He choses us, but we are often stubborn. I fought His call to be a priest."
Father Larry had been a Marian brother for 15 years, and he said he became
"comfortable" in that role. He served the Congregation in many ways, including as assistant chaplain at a hospital. As a brother, though, he began noticing that in certain situations, especially those involving administering the sacraments, he felt limited. That's when God started to hound him.
"I was middle aged, I didn't have an undergraduate degree, and I thought of all the obstacles in my way of becoming a priest," Fr. Larry said. "God, though, had other plans. He kept asking me in those sacramental moments: 'Why not you?' God challenged me. He grabbed me by the collar and issued a direct challenge to leave my comfort zone. I fought it, but I now realize that when we get comfortable, we can lapse into a false sense of security. We can become tepid and lukewarm."
Father Larry took a year to weigh what God was telling him. He told himself that if, at the end of the year, the call still gnawed at him, he would act on it. A year passed, and the "call was there, stronger than ever. I kept asking, 'Why me?' I'm just an ordinary guy, nothing special, but that's who God often calls."
Father Larry answered that call. He went back to school. He had to overcome many obstacles along the way. The "staying power of faith," as he calls it, saw him through the ups and particularly the downs.
Reflecting back a quarter of a century on that choice, was it the right one? "Absolutely," says Fr. Larry. "I just hope God thinks it was the right choice," he says with a laugh. "But he's stuck with it. It was His choice."
Faithful Servants of the Lord
Marian Vicar Gen. Fr. Joe Roesch, MIC, in from Rome for the occasion, goes back a long way with these men.
"I remember attending the deaconate ordination of Larry and the priestly ordination of Kaz," says Fr. Joe. "It's a great blessing to see how their ministries grew and flourished over the years and to see just how far they have come with the grace of the Lord. The religious life is full of ups and downs, and for sure each one of us faces numerous challenges. It's a blessing to see how these men have handled their ministries, with love, through perseverance that comes from deep and abiding faith. They have remained faithful in serving the Lord."
When asked for his thoughts on the silver anniversary of his three brothers, "persistence" is the first word that comes from Fr. Dante Aguero, MIC, of Argentina. "Persistence is one of the humblest fruits of love. To witness the long service [of Frs. Kaz, Larry, and Dan] is an inspiration to my vocation."
Father Dante then tells a story of the recent passing of an elderly Marian Father for whom he helped care in the final month of his life. "We talked, and he told me all of the things he went through in his long priesthood. Despite all of his problems and all of the difficulties, he never wanted to be anything else but a priest. That's awesome. That's what I see in [Frs. Kaz, Larry, and Dan] here today."
Moments that are the 'Extensions of His Love'
Father Kaz says he was humbled when looking at all the people who came for the celebration, including a friend from high school, and many friends and loved ones from all walks of life and all parts of the country.
"The Lord provides us with these beautiful moments of encounter," Fr. Kaz says. "It's God's goodness on display. These are moments of grace. God has given us the gift to reach out to each other, to recognize the dignity in each other, to persevere in friendship, which are extensions of His love."
When asked if the 25 years seems like a long time, Fr. Kaz says, "I feel like it was yesterday." He then said that it's 32 years since he entered the postulancy. Is there a sense of bittersweet concerning the swiftness of time? "There's no bitter. There's only sweet."
Father Kaz says he knew he wanted to be a priest since the age of seven. He persisted in that knowledge, until college, when he began to question and doubt his calling. He dated, and for a while, thought he would get married.
"I asked myself, 'Why would God want to call me?'" This is common with a vocational call, Father Kaz says, but when you go through this questioning phase, you ask the question with all sincerity. It's common for a person to take stock, focus on our weaknesses and flaws, and seriously wonder who and why God would want to choose such a person. The answer, of course, is that God often calls the least likely, the weakest, and the most improbable. God knows what He is doing. We do not."
After college, Fr. Kaz said, "The call came back, very strong." He wondered: "How can I be sure this is what God wants of me and that this is truly a call from God?" Father Kaz brought that profound question to his spiritual director.
He got the answer: "When the time comes, you will know."
"I thought it was a cop out," says Fr. Kaz, "but he was absolutely correct. When the time came, I knew it. It's a relationship, like that with a person, except you're falling in love with God. This process, too, is an extension of His love."
What is the sum of these past 25 — or 32 — years? Father Kaz answers this way: "I want people to be drawn closer to God. Through what I have done and what I have been able to do, solely through God's grace, I want to bring people back to His love through the sacraments. I want to help people remove whatever stumbling blocks that might be in their way in deepening their relationship with God. I want to help people experience the true God — not the "god" of philosophy or the "god" we may learn about as a result of cultural expressions, but the true, living God of love, of mercy, of hope, of charity, and understanding.
The many who attended the day of celebration shared well wishes, thanks, and expressions of gratitude to the three "silver priests."
Marian Helper Ann Clark of Bedford, N.H., sums up their thoughts nicely:
"It's a thrill to be here on such a special day for three special priests. It's a joyful day."