We received the following letter from Father Hughes at Christmas and felt it deserved a wider readership, so we decided to publish it here.


Brothers Cassian Koenemann, front, Cuthbert Elliott and John McCusker, all monks from St. Louis Abbey, and seminarian Daniel Gill, attend class Feb. 11 at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis.

Brothers Cassian Koenemann, front, Cuthbert Elliott and John McCusker, all monks from St. Louis Abbey, and seminarian Daniel Gill, attend class Feb. 11 at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis.

“That we might become what He is.”—St John Chrysostom

Some six years ago, I remarked in conversation to our then-archbishop of St. Louis, Raymond Burke, today a Roman cardinal: “I don’t want to die without recruiting my replacement.” He generously replied that he was confident I had done this already. At that time I could not think of anyone. I later remembered that there was one: a young man in the parish of which I was then pastor who came to me in about 1987 as a college undergraduate, saying he was interested in the Jesuits. I nourished his vocation in several long conversations, mostly about prayer (a subject never mentioned, he told me, at the Jesuit vocation weekend he had attended). Some two years thereafter, after a year as a Jesuit novice, he wrote me: “You have done more to nourish my Jesuit vocation than any Jesuit.” It was a joy to lay hands on him at his ordination as a priest of the Society of Jesus some years ago.

The Lord must have been listening in on my conversation with Archbishop Burke, for He soon started sending men to me.

The first was a student from the Philippines who wrote me after reading my autobiography, telling me of his interest in the priesthood. It was more than a year before he was accepted as a candidate. I tried to encourage him with e-mails during the long wait. He is studying at an international seminary in Austria today and hopes to be ordained deacon in 2013. He recently wrote me: “I am greatly honored to be considered your first son. Your testimony has helped me forge on with great confidence. I think that your prayers, in no small measure, carry me through an otherwise very rugged path.”

The next man was a recent graduate of an elite university who came to me in Lent 2010, saying he was thinking of becoming a Catholic. I soon saw in him a spiritual hunger stronger than any other I had encountered in (then) 56 years as a priest.

“You’re so hungry,” I told him, “that I don’t think you’ll be satisfied with anything less than priesthood. But you must become a Catholic first.”

He is a happy novice in an austere men’s religious order today.

Next was another young man thinking of the Society of Jesus, who visited me regularly for confession for nine months. He is now a happy Jesuit novice.

Then-Archbishop Raymond L. Burke of St. Louis with seminarians from Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in Shrewsbury, Missouri, in the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis (CNS photos).

Then-Archbishop Raymond L. Burke of St. Louis with seminarians from Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in Shrewsbury, Missouri, in the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis (CNS photos).

About the same time I received the first of several overnight visits from a college seminarian, a candidate from a neighboring diocese and mature beyond his years. He is studying for the priesthood in Rome today.

On retreat last May, I met another young man, as joyful as they come, who had been thinking and praying about priesthood for nine months. In August he drove four hours for a 3-day visit with me. He is a college seminarian today, and (as we say in New England) happy as a clam at high water.

Then there is the college undergraduate whom I have been telling, since his graduation 3 years ago from a local Catholic high school, that he should go to seminary. I believe he will do so following graduation in 2014.

I met the seventh man, already in seminary, when he sat down next to me at a public dinner this fall, impressing me with his keen intelligence, maturity, and dedication — qualities since amply confirmed by one of his teachers.

I keep in touch with all seven of these men, pray for them daily by name, and offer Mass for them as often as I can. Knowing that when the Lord has called me home, there are men whom I have helped in some measure who will plead at the altar for the forgiveness of my sins is a great joy.

Recently, during the monthly conference that I give to enclosed Carmelite nuns here in St. Louis, I told them about these men, and the joy they bring me. “Father, it will take more than one to replace you,” one of the nuns said. “You can say that, Sister,” I responded. “I can’t.” Then, in a sudden access of candor, I added: “But I thought it. Isn’t that terrible?” (Laughter all round.)

The icing on this seven-layer cake is Sarah, who came to the parish I serve in August 2011, age 21, as a “Vincentian Volunteer,” to work in an inner-city school. She soon asked me to be her spiritual director. Impressed by her deep fervor and piety, I suggested that she visit the motherhouse of the steadily-growing Order of Sisters with whom I lived (at their St. Louis nursing home) from 1970 to 1987. On her second visit she decided that she had found her life’s vocation. The Sisters accepted her for admission in September of this year (“Everybody loves her,” the Superior told me), provided she paid off her student debt ($11,000). Working like one possessed, she managed to do this in six months. She is a radiantly happy postulant with these Sisters today.

Last January I had an opportunity to share my deep joy in priesthood through three very warmly-received talks to 100+ college seminarians at Conception Abbey in northwest Missouri. In my 43 years in St. Louis, no similar opportunity has ever been offered to me here. This explains something in a letter recently received from a local seminary professor, and personal theologian to our archbishop, who wrote: “Thanks for your many quiet services to the Church — recognized in so many places, and largely unnoticed here.” (See Luke 4:24)

Foremost among these services is my daily priestly ministry in Christ the King Parish, where I am now in my 22nd year. The April 30th issue of the Jesuit weekly America contained an article by me, “The Convert’s Tale,” describing my joy as I witnessed the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), and my dismay at the widespread misunderstanding, in the decades that followed, of the Council’s documents and intent. In late May, I gave the commencement address to high school graduates of Atonement Academy in San Antonio, Texas. No sooner had I spoken my final word, than over 200 people leapt to their feet cheering — causing me to say to myself, “It’s not about you, Jay. It’s about the Lord.” September saw me in Connecticut to lead the Sisters of Jesus Crucified (contemplatives, many of them physically handicapped) in a week-long retreat. In November I did the same for the Passionist nuns here in St. Louis. And in the same month I spoke to the annual conference of the Anglican Use Society in Kansas City (Anglicans already one with us in faith, coming into the Ordinariate the Pope has created for them) on “The Anglican Patrimony and the New Evangelization.”

Leisure activities this year included 2 week-long visits, in August and December, to my Chinese friends in McLean, Virginia. Their 2 daughters, Doris and Elaine, who had their 8th and 2nd birthdays respectively in August, continue to bring great joy to me and to their wonderful parents, who have bequeathed to their issue (as the lawyers would say) a full measure of their keen intelligence and wit.

Finally, in July I crossed the Atlantic from New York to Hamburg in the QUEEN MARY II. (Cunard Line was having a fare sale, and I have never been able to resist a bargain — a lifelong weakness which I remain unable to overcome.) Accompanying me was a fine 40-year-old priest and university chaplain in DeKalb, Illinois. We had met at a priests’ retreat 2 years ago. What could have been an unhappy pairing (we scarcely knew each other) turned out to be a delight. He was considerate and kind to a fault, and edified me with his dedication to priesthood and prayer. Since there was no chaplain on board, we arranged to celebrate a public Mass daily, attended by some 30 on weekdays and up to 120 both Sundays we were at sea. Before flying home, we had three days in Germany, visiting priest friends of mine: first in Osnabrück (where I preached at a Sunday evening Mass); then in Münster, where I lived from 1965-69, worked in a parish, and got my doctorate in theology.

For all this, and so much more, I find myself saying, every day and more times than I can tell you: “Lord, you’re so good to me, and I’m so grateful.”

May the Lord bless you richly at Christmas and throughout the coming year!

P.S. Since writing this letter, the Lord has sent me 3 more “replacements!” I now have 10 future priests in my stable. I could not have asked for a finer Christmas gift.

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