Monday, December 26, 2011

(58) Christmas Newsletter 2011 Regarding Our Extended Family

Dear Friend:

        Thank you all so much for your Christmas cards. I'm surprised that we received so many, considering that we are so terrible at sending cards ourselves. Thank you all. I wish that I would have time to send a thousand cards, especially to the dear ones of our extended family, friends, former students, colleagues, former teachers, the members of our parish, the readers of my articles & blogs, and the many who have helped us along the way. I guess I'll only get caught up with all of them in eternity when we are all together again instead of being spread out all over this world of ours. I'll be terribly disappointed if any of us don't make it to heaven. So make sure that you get there. By no means is it automatic as we canonize each of our departed friends and loved ones during their respective wakes......assuming that each one has a direct flight to heaven without even a stopover in Purgatory. Don't ever canonize me and thus let me languish for decades in Purgatory; please pray for my soul when my time comes. In the meantime, let's pray for each other.

        The year 2011 was another year of growth in our household......trying to get closer to God, trying to maintain a Christian family in a very secular culture, trying to form our kids spiritually with character, and preparing each of them for that great mission God has for each one of us. Trying to raise teenage kids in the faith with those aspirations is a real challenge.

        Chicago. Among the highlights of the year were our visits to Chicago and Maryknoll, NY. In May, I took John-Paul to Chicago to start an internship with, first, a Polish banker and then his cousin Mark, an entrepreneur who founded his own firm for training people in the intricacies of the options market. On the day after our arrival, May 15, we picked up Stephanie, who flew into Chicago from Thomas Aquinas College just outside of Los Angeles. Being big on family, she wanted to visit the Chicago Sebastians and see a little of Chicago. In the meantime, Jaga stayed home with Joseph who was still in school and took over Naomi's nine hour weekend job as cashier at the El Toril Mexican restaurant.

        We had a great time as the three kids got to know better their Uncle John, Aunt Kathleen, and cousins Michelle and Mark together with their beautiful families. We met Shawn & Michelle's two babies, Isabella and Emilia, plus Mark and Lauren's Baby Mark for the first time.

        We also had the opportunity to spend a day at Chicago's huge art museum and another day at the Museum of Science & Industries, where they had an extensive temporary exhibit, “Body Works”. It was so fascinating that we spent most of our time on that extensive exhibit alone. They plasticized human cadavers and in each isolated a different system of the body......the brain and nervous system (the greatest unknown frontier of the universe), circulatory, respiratory, digestive, reproductive, muscles & tendons for motion, and the many different organs within each system. From the very first exhibit, the placenta in which they highlighted the immense network of arteries and veins......all I could see and hear constantly shouting at me was design, design, design, design. I was overwhelmed by it all. Our human bodies are amazing and ingenious feats of engineering. This is especially evident in watching gymnastics in the Olympics or at a meet. How can even the most talented and brilliant secularist ever assert that all that came by chance and by chance alone over millions and millions of years through unguided natural selection, thus violating the Second Law of Entropy? (Of course, this does not preclude the possibility of evolution by intelligent design.) To believe that would have to be a tremendous leap of faith in itself. The probability of such a random occurrence would have to be infinitesimal if not constantly mixing together an infinite number of parts of a huge junkyard and coming up with a Boeing 747. That Body Works exhibit left an indelible mark on my mind. See ,, and .

       John took us and his granddaughter Isabella to the huge Chicago zoo and to the American Shrine of the Little Flower in Darien, IL. See The latter beautifully complemented my visit to Lisieux, France, back in 1962.

        We left John-Paul in Chicago and headed back. On the way in northwestern Indiana, we stumbled upon a shrine to Christ's Passion with its life size Stations of the Cross. See Then came our stop in Evansville, Indiana, where we visited the cloister of the St. Clare Sisters to see an old friend, Sister Jane DeLand, with whom I worked in Arequipa, Peru, in the middle 1960s. She's a former psychiatric nurse and MBA public health administrator. She's the prioress at a young 75, one of the youngest of the nuns there. It was inspiring to see those old nuns ever so faithful for so many years, making Eucharistic hosts and praying for our world so much in need of prayers. Pray for vocations! When your parish needs hosts, have it order them from one of the cloistered convents in your area, not from a factory. See

        We stumbled upon Santa Claus, Indiana, where they celebrate and market Christmas products all year round. See Then we stumbled upon Abraham Lincoln's boyhood home with the museum and a live replica of their family farm with costumed pioneers. Caught in a rainstorm, we had a very interesting visit in the farmhouse. See Then we passed around the outskirts of Cincinnati and called John and Ann. They were on their way out; so that ruled out seeing them and their beautiful kids: Mary, Kate, and John.

        Greg Loya's Ordination to the Diaconate in Parma, Ohio. On May 29, our entire family had the privilege of witnessing the ordination of Greg Loya as a new deacon at Holy Spirit Byzantine Catholic Cathedral (See and It was a beautiful liturgy in which John and priests of the Loya clan participated. Also beautiful was the participation of all six (count them) sons of Greg and Kate as altar boys. The Loya clan is richly blessed with vocations. May other families be so richly blessed. Pray for vocations!

        It was great to see so many old friends at the reception, including Cathy whom I dated fifty years earlier and her son, Fr. Danny, and other Loya kids with whom I grew up. It also was great to talk to Fr. John Loya, who served as a missionary priest in El Salvador when things were hot in the early 1980s and Fr. Joe Loya, a professor at Villanova. I love to needle professors of Catholic colleges and ask: Is your school still Catholic? So many traditionally Catholic colleges have become secularized and lost their original Catholic identity and mission, not following the directives of Blessed Pope John-Paul's Apostolic Constitution for Catholic Universities, “Ex Corde Ecclesiae” (See Even Notre Dame is struggling with it. After the ordination, Naomi went back with John & Kathleen to help her cousin, Michelle, during the last month of pregnancy and birth of her third beautiful daughter, Maria.

        Stroudsburg.  In June, Jaga, Stephanie, Joseph, and I took a trip to Maryknoll, NY, for the 50th anniversary of the ordination of my friend, Fr. Joe Kowalcyzk, on June 25-26. On our way we stopped in Strousburg, PA, for a delightful evening and morning with Nicole and John Peeney together with their beautiful kids, Allison, Christian, and Justin. We were impressed by Nicole, who teaches math and chemistry at the Catholic high school with a salary much lower than what she would earn in a public school. Without the nuns as cheap labor, the Catholic school system is struggling and is only surviving because of dedicated and gifted teachers like Nicole. True, the three kids have a great fringe benefit.......a free 12 year Catholic school education for each one of them.

        Maryknoll, the headquarters for the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers just outside of Ossining, NY, on the Hudson, was inspiring. … many priests celebrating 25, 40, 50, and even 60 years of faithful service to God and His Church and His people all over the world (Latin America, Africa, Indonesia, Korea, Japan, etc.) plus many more retired missionaries living at Maryknoll and in its nursing home. It was such a privilege to meet so many great men. They all deserve our gratitude, prayers, and support. At the same time, their ordination classes of the last few years range from zero to three or four. WHO IS GOING TO REPLACE ALL OF THESE RETIRED MISSIONARY PRIESTS? One night in tears I couldn't sleep thinking about it. Pray for vocations, and nurture vocations starting with your own families.

        Then we spent a few more days there with first a trip to New York City's great Metropolitan Museum of Art. We walked some 60 odd blocks from the train station to the Art Museum both ways. On the way we stumbled upon St. Stephen's Church, an ethnic Hungarian parish. Jaga decided to just stay at Maryknoll and pray and rest. The next day we all took a trip to the United States Military Academy at West Point whose graduates give their careers and often their lives to defend our country. Then on Wednesday, we had the additional privilege of attending the Centennial Mass of the Maryknoll order on June 29.

        A big bonus was spending time with my old friend, Sister Maria Colabella. She was an angel to us at Maryknoll. Maria served with me in the early 1970s as a nurse at the Universidad Catolica de Santa Maria in Arequipa, Peru (see or very complete in Spanish,, after being a volunteer in Africa. Despite open heart surgery, she kept very active in the apostolate and joined the Maryknoll sisters. That woman is unsinkable. She still does nursing and social work in a near-by poor area of New Rochelle not far from Maryknoll.

        Maria took us to the Maryknoll Sisters convent for dinner where I was overjoyed to see my former student, Sister Elizabeth V. Roach (now librarian and an author of children's stories about mission lands, giving us an autographed copy of her book, “Secret Melody” with the setting in the Peruvian Altiplano ISBN 1453770542), and two other nuns I knew in Peru. Too bad another former student, a native of Arequipa, Sister Maria was not there. She and her nursing class in 1969 in Statistics were a delight to teach.

        Again I had the same experience of meeting so many older nuns with so many years of faithful service, but few young people willing to generously give their lives to replace them. I tried to thank each nun I met for their many years of faithful service as I was doing with every retired priest I ran into. Pray for vocations. Twenty-five years previously, I took a young Polish girl with me to celebrate Fr. Joe's 25th anniversary. I took her to Sister Maria Colabella at the Maryknoll convent to explore a possible vocation. On the way back, Jaga said: “I don't think I would like to become a nun.” Now you know the rest of the story.

        For more details on our visit to Maryknoll and its glorious history with its nine martyrs for the Faith, including medal of honor winner in Vietnam, Fr. Vincent Capadonno, whose cause for canonization is advancing, see my Blog #11 and #31 at the following web address:

        You can simply click on it here or copy and paste it into your browser's web address space. I'm trying to post a different article almost every day. So you might want to go to the blog every once in a while. I'm sure that at least some of them will interest you. Once you find an article you like, click on the label at the bottom to find other blogs of mine in the same category. Often the blogs will link the reader to more detailed sources on the Internet. Feel free to use the blogs as you wish, such as forwarding to friends, a source for papers, etc.

        Articles of special interest are Blog #2 with special photos on Fatima and the Miracle of the Sun in 1917; #4 on commonalities with Islam, Judaism, & Christianity; #9 on making a difference with your life; #11 on the fascinating 100 year history of the Maryknoll Missioners; #31 with a documentary on Fr. Vincent Capodanno's heroic death in a Vietnamese ambush; #42 with photos depicting the martyrdom of Blessed Miguel Pro in Mexico; #43 our family experience living in Poland; #55 & 56 with fascinating photos and discoveries about the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and #60 on our trip behind the Berlin Wall in East Germany. Last December 12, we attended a beautiful bilingual Mass at St. Mary's in Marietta with Aztec dances before the Mass and a Mexican nun participating.

        On our way back from Maryknoll, we stopped at Ellis Island and the imposing Statue of Liberty from the New Jersey side (Exit 12 I think) of the New Jersey Turnpike to Staten Island, from where we took a ferry. My mother, her parents, and my father should have come through Ellis Island (some professional people were processed on the ship). I wish that we could have had a whole day for both sites (See People can still go into the statue, but you must apply months in advance. What a way for us to celebrate the 4th of July only a few days before at the Statue of Liberty! Inspiring is Emma Lazarus' 1883 poem on the pedestal of the immense statue:

The New Colossus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

        From Staten Island, the new immigrants radiated out to the entire country, which they enriched. The immigrants made our country. The lazy and the timid stayed home. The adventuresome, the risk takers in a new land, the enterprising looking for freedom and opportunity, the hard workers.......they were the ones who came and made our country great. They worked for low wages with back breaking and often unsafe jobs in the damp and cold coal mines, the hot steel mills, the tedious auto assembly lines, etc.. They often held jobs that nobody wanted, producing great profits that the industrial tycoons were able to reinvest into an expanding economy that became self sustaining and caused the economic take-off of our country to become a world power. These foreign countries gave us their best, including doctors, scientists, engineers, musicians, enterprising business people, clergy, etc. A short sighted, prejudicial, and rigid immigration policy can be extremely counterproductive. In our history, immigrants have been a great resource, and we don't know it. Increasing populations have created expanding markets and greater prosperity. It is Europe with its birthrate (about 1.7) well below replacement that is dying. George W. Bush had the right idea for immigration policy.

        On our way home we wanted to say hello to Mother Mary at the American Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Doylestown, Pennsylvania south of Allentown and west of Philadelphia. Polish Paulist priests proficient in English run the shrine, retreat center, cemetery, and a number of ministries. We arrived late and the grounds were all dark. So we were prepared to camp out in the car and on the grass until the morning. However, some teenage hot rodders racing through the grounds attracted the attention of the pastor. We talked him into putting us up for the night, and we were comfortable after all. We heard Mass and enjoyed the beautiful shrine before heading home. On the grounds is a statue of Blessed Pope John Paul II who dedicated his pontificate to Mary (Totus Tuus) and even a statue of Ronald Reagan who stopped there. See .

        John-Paul is excelling as a senior at Ave Maria University near Naples, Florida where he received a scholarship (see He has a double major in Mathematics and Economics. He's thinking of becoming a Math teacher or professor. He really enjoyed being a Math tutor for students needing help. He ran cross country last year and will be going into his second year of track in the spring. He belongs to the Esto Vir, a household resembling a fraternity that is mainly spiritual.

        Stephanie is a nerd and proud of it. So are we. She's our scholar who loves to learn for the joy of learning. That's the kind of student who is fun to teach. Stephanie is now a sophomore at Thomas Aquinas College, just outside of Los Angeles (See There the focus is on searching for the truth through the great works. No lectures or multiple choice tests; it's all discussion and essay. Instead of reading an author's regurgitated version of a well known work, they read the original.... such as Euclid for Math, Einstein for Science, Augustine, and Aquinas with parts in the original Latin, etc. Both Ave Maria and Thomas Aquinas are Christ centered universities that firmly adhere to the Magisterium of the Church and Ex Corde Ecclesiae. She passed up two full tuition scholarships to go there and so she's on 13 hours a week of work/study. Last year she cleaned toilets and this year it's washing dishes. Utilizing her high school basketball experience, Stephanie stars in intramural sports there. She attended a Bible Study session at our parish and stood out as being very articulate with her intelligent contributions. Her rhetorical skills gained and intellectual foundation gained at Thomas Aquinas College really stood out. The College has a strict dress code, and Stephanie tries to teach her young sister about modest, yet fashionable clothing (see and Stephanie is truly growing into a woman of God, willing to help people.

        Naomi is in her Junior year as a PSO student at the University of Rio Grande, where she obtains high school and college credits simultaneously for each course she takes. Last year Naomi sang in the chorus for “Cinderella,” and other musicals in previous years. We gave up on Naomi with piano and sports, but out of the blue, after a dream (literally), she suddenly decided to swim for her base school, Gallia Academy. After a layoff of six years from her swim club team, she stepped right in, and now is the girls team's best breaststroker. This shows that one may not be particularly gifted for hand eye coordination sports, but still can excel in a wind sport as swimming or track. At the same time, she's a straight A student.

        Joseph is a freshman at Gallia Academy where he plays for the 9th grade basketball team. He's reached six feet in height and is constantly improving. He participated for four years in the Model UN program where the gifted kids simulate participation as UN delegates and debate certain issues. This year he served as an officer or leader in organizing the annual event at Ohio University among high schools throughout southeastern Ohio. Currently he's fascinated by the Republican debates. Joseph is a big reader. For example, in the 8th grade he got through Tolstoy's “War and Peace” and the first book of Henryk Sienkiewicz's “Trilogy” of three historical novels, covering the Ukrainian Cossack revolution in the 16th Century, the Swedish invasion of Poland and her heroic resistance, and the great victory over militant Islam (the Turks) in 1683 by the Polish King Sobieski that saved western civilization. The Trilogy kept the Polish culture and heritage intact during the 125 years of partition by Prussia, Austria, and Russia when Poland as a nation was wiped off the map. Sienkiewicz won the Nobel Prize for Literature for that great classic and wide acclaim for his more popular, “Quo Vadis”. (John-Paul is also reading the Trilogy.) As an 8th grader, Joseph scored a 27 on the ACT (well above average nationally for entering college freshmen around the country). His secret is not unusual brilliance, but simply this: HE READS. Kids today are so addicted to cell phone texting, the ipod, and facebook that reading has become a lost art, and kids are graduating from high schools almost as semi-illiterates.

        I see so many people drifting away from the Church, including children of parents who tried so hard, but they have a free will. They drift into either no religion or some Protestant church. It's so sad and depressing! See and The latter has info on the fabulous Catholicism Series which appeared on PBS and EWTN. The problem is that they never knew the beauty and richness of the faith in any depth. The average person in the pew does not know his/her faith. I would do somersaults in my grave if any of my kids do not remain faithful to the Church. It's such a challenge to raise our kids Catholic in our very secular society. There's so much evangelization to be done beginning with the home and our extended families. John's kids have remained faithful; the jury is still out on my family.

        Jaga is very involved with our parish, especially the Catholic Women's Club that serves the parish. She's an avid reader of spiritual books, including the “Liturgy of the Hours” (Divine Office) every day. We both helped to start a monthly free clinic. We got the idea from the parish clinics that Maryknoll missioners often have when they staff a parish in Latin America. Dr. Mel Simon was the prime mover and we became friends when Jaga accompanied him on one of his medical missions in the Philippines. I have a blog (#16) on him and will have one on the clinic in a few weeks. Once a month she works in an ecumenical soup kitchen. Jaga and I also help out with the Catholic Newman Club and Campus Ministry at the University of Rio Grande. During vacations Stephanie works as a cashier at the Mexican restaurant, “El Toril”. During the rest of the year, Naomi does it nine hours over each week-end. Occasionally, Mama Jaga substitutes, thus involving all of the female half of our family.

        I'm still active with the Knights of Columbus and continue on the Steering Committee of the annual diocesan Men's Day of Renewal. Danny Abramowicz (EWTN's Crossing the Goal and former All Pro Wide Reciever of the New Orleans Saints) will be our main speaker on March 10 at St. John's Church in Bellaire, OH. Last April we recruited Fr. Thomas Loya to speak on The Theology of the Body as an Aid to Become a True Man of God along with Reid Carpenter on True Men of God as Servant Leaders. I continue to help out with our Confirmation classes and distribute Communion to the sick every Sunday.

        As we close, let us not forget our departed loved ones......Fr. Vladimir & Olga Mihalich; John, Stephanie, & Fred Sebastian; Geza & Irene Foley; Fr. Emil, Lilly, George, & Muncie Gulyassi; Aksel, Martha, and especially Eddie Eld who left us early this year. On my father's side there's there's Paul & Anna Sebestyen, Uncle Pal & wife, and Uncle Laci Sebestyen (the only one we ever met). There's Kathleen's lovely parents, Dr. Salvo & Bonnie Marks. And I cannot forget my in-laws, Jozef & Frederyka Gajda. I had an ideal relationship with my mother-in-law. She spoke no English; I spoke no Polish and we got along great! I enjoyed her. We miss them all and only have their pictures and fond memories. May we stay close to the Lord so that someday we will all be together again in heaven for a big party.

        I better stop before this becomes a book, but there's much to share this year. I hope that you found it interesting. In Poland, they don't celebrate until Christmas since the Christmas season extends to February 2, Candlemas Day (The Presentation of Christ in the Temple). The weeks of December (Advent) is strictly for spiritual preparation. Thus our Christmas tree will stay up until the beginning of February. So I'm not late in wishing that you continue to have a beautiful Christmas. May the spirit of Christmas be with you throughout the year. May the Christ child bless you richly throughout the new year.

No comments:

Post a Comment