As a way for me to share my Novitiate experience with people, I decided I'd start to talk about the many people I live with. Some are more willing to share than others (since "anything goes" here in this format). My hope is that by meeting some of the people I live with in my community (smart, holy, crazy, etc.), you may better understand this aspect of living.
When I think about warm, heart-felt, and caring preachers, one of the first names that always comes to my mind is Fr. Gerard O'Dempsey. A loving friar with a "heart of gold," Fr. Gerard is one of the three friars on the Formation team here at Novitiate. After lovingly guiding two previous classes of Novices, Fr. Gerard is still that same cheery friar he's always been.
Fr. Gerard is from the Australian province, and brings his exotic flavor to the experience of being a novice. After asking to be on the Novitiate Formation Team, Fr. Gerard continues to remain a formator, saying: "What the hell else am I supposed to do?" The secret to his success as a formator is simple. In his own words: "Religious life draws a lot of crazy people, why would I miss out on all this fun!?"
Fr. Gerard's specialty is Liturgy. For us, that means we're able to understand specific aspects of the liturgies we celebrate, do them properly, and recognize the tradition(s) and theology behind each of them. He also is an excellent musician and a wonderful singer.
With these talents, Fr. Gerard enslaves molds the minds of eager and young novices as we discern our vocation to become Capuchin friars. First and foremost is his status as a formator. While we can be roudy, loud, and questioning of authority, Fr. Gerard uses his skills to instill fear, ridicule, pain (lovingly, of course) in order to form us to become good friars. Having Fr. Gerard at the dinner table always brings tears [of joy] to the eyes of us novices. I know that when he refers to us as babies, he's not just calling us immature, messy, and whiners...he means that our innocence and pure hearts belong to God.
But most importantly he is the musical director for the Novitiate. In keeping with the mandate that future religious learn music and it's role in Litugy, Fr. Gerard not only directs the schola, but also teaches voice lessons, piano, and other instruments. Since being here, I can actually carry a tune and sing most hymns. I also sing the psalm once a month...a task I'd never been able to accomplish without the tutorledge of Fr. Gerard. Even though he would throw things at me if I sang off-key (pencils, song books, insults, etc.), that negative reinforcement has turned me into the singer I am today!
In all seriousness, Fr. Gerard brings a much needed sense of absurdity to the formation of religious life. While the formators are obviously worried about us doing what is reverant, proper, and in accordance with the history and tradition of our Order, Fr. Gerard makes sure we don't take ourselves too seriously, or that we don't forget the virtues and the reasons behind what we do and how we live.
Today as he served a Mass in dedication to the local firefighters, he shared this little story with the congregation at St. Alexis:
"While reading about St. Florian, patron of figherfighters, I found this German prayer:
O heiliger St. Florian, verschon mein Haus, zünd andre an.
"Literally this translates to: 'Oh holy St. Florian, save my home. Light up someone elses.' Keep that little gem in your mind on your drive home."
Fr. Gerard O'Dempsey: turning the Novitiate into his personal form of amusement since 2007.