By Tanya Connor
WORCESTER – “Father Rueger,” as the Diocese’s retired auxiliary bishop was affectionately called, was honored last week at the Adopt-A-Student dinner with a scholarship in his name. He advocated service, especially through priestly vocations.
Guest speaker Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston told about Pope Francis’ calling to the priesthood, and the outreach to the poor – especially their spiritual care.
Bishop McManus and retired Bishop Reilly offered prayers.
“We couldn’t have had it any better,” Robert R. Pape, chairman of the Adopt-A-Student steering committee, said of honoring Bishop Rueger and having the cardinal speak for the 25th anniversary of the Adopt-A-Student program. The anniversary was observed at the seventh annual Adopt-A-Student Recognition Dinner March 27 at Mechanics Hall.
The dinner raises funds for the Adopt-A-Student program to provide financial assistance to students in the diocese’s central Catholic schools: St. Bernard’s Central Catholic High in Fitchburg, and Holy Name Central Catholic Junior-Senior High, St. Peter-Marian Central Catholic Junior-Senior High and St. Peter Central Catholic Elementary, all in Worcester.
Each year students are given recognition awards named for past and present Adopt-A-Student supporters. This year’s recipients were: Gabrielle May, Holy Name senior, Paul and Dorothy Kervick Award for leadership; Anastasya Babb, Holy Name senior, Charles and Beth McManus Award for Academic Excellence; Anne Saball, St. Bernard’s junior, Wilfred and Bette Iandoli Award for Service, and Michael Vayda, St. Peter-Marian senior, Bill and Kay O’Brien Award for best exemplifying the values of the Adopt-A-Student Program.
A video of Mr. Vayda was shown and President Francesco Cesareo of Assumption College presented him with the college’s fifth consecutive, four-year, full tuition scholarship.
St. Peter-Marian senior Margaret Snee was then surprised with a College of the Holy Cross scholarship announced by Jesuit Father Paul Harman, vice president for mission.
Starting next year, the Adopt-A-Student program is to give the Bishop George E. Rueger Scholarship annually. Mr. Pape said there is not much one can give Bishop Rueger, because he gives it away, but he loves education, so the scholarship will be given in his name. He also promised the bishop theater tickets.
“For the past 25 years, Catholic education in Worcester has had no greater advocate or supporter” than Bishop Rueger, who served the schools as a teacher, administrator, superintendent, vicar and bishop, said William Driscoll, an Adopt-A-Student steering committee member and assistant principal of St. Peter-Marian.
Judge Francis J. Larkin, professor of law and dean emeritus of the University of Massachusetts School of Law, shared memories of “our beloved Father George Rueger.” That title departs protocol, but reflects reality, he said; “‘Father’ was his most cherished appellation.”
He recalled Bishop Rueger as a formidable opponent when they were high schoolers in diocesan debate finals, he for St. Mary’s in Milford, the future bishop for St. Peter’s in the “big city” of Worcester. At Holy Cross College they became friends, he said. The clergyman later became pastor in his hometown of Hopedale, a preacher who doesn’t use notes, whom he called “the real thing.”
After the judge’s remarks, Bishop Rueger spoke without notes, first congratulating the students and encouraging them to learn and do much, making the nation better. He spoke of them fulfilling their aspirations, and added, “All I can do is pray that it will also be in the line of service.”
He said a rabbi once marveled how many firefighters are Catholics. Bishop Harrington, with whom he first worked as a bishop, responded, “That’s what we Catholics are all about. … We are people who are in service to others” to build God’s kingdom.
Bishop Rueger recalled being among the first priests of the diocese to attend seminary in Boston.
“I ask you to pray for an increase in vocations,” he said. “There are many lives that can fill you,” but none like that of a priest. Priests prepare people for God’s kingdom not just at the pulpit, but “as men of God who walk in a difficult world and who are needed by every generation,” he said. He said they seek to build the kingdom where they live and pray every day.
Cardinal O’Malley talked about Pope Francis and others seeking to build the kingdom.
Catholic education is a treasure and “it’s all about sacrifice,” he said, recalling the religious who gave their lives to teach other people’s children.
“And people like you make it possible for Catholic education to continue,” he told listeners.
He said the Jesuit Pope Francis has embraced the vocation of the Jesuits’ founder, St. Ignatius, who wanted to be like St. Francis.
The pope was attracted to the Jesuits’ missionary spirit, community and discipline, he said.
Pope Francis wrote about when “the loving face of God crossed my path and invited me to follow him,” the cardinal said. He said morality is centered on such an encounter; it’s not the titanic effort of the will, but a response to a surprising mercy.
Pope Francis embraces introspection and mental prayer, he said. He is free to do things differently; he washed prisoners’ feet on Holy Thursday, challenging assumptions about power and authority.
He used to teach young Jesuits to be close to the little people. He sent them to give poor children catechism lessons and if they returned without dusty shoes, they had some explaining to do.
In his apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium,” Pope Francis writes of the obligation to help the poor and work on the structural causes of poverty and says the worst discrimination they suffer is lack of spiritual care, Cardinal O’Malley noted.
He recalled how he himself arranged for someone to help earthquake victims in Guatemala whose first request was for new church doors. The people felt their relationship with God was more important than any personal needs.
St. Francis Xavier, patron of missions, wrote that he wanted to urge priests to be missionaries, as he saw people not becoming Christians because no one shared the Gospel with them, Cardinal O’Malley said.
He said Pope Francis says Catholicism is not a catalog of prohibitions; catechesis should show the beauty and joy of following Christ, even in difficulties. In this light, Catholics’ rejection of the evil that endangers such a life will be easier to understand.
Cardinal O’Malley said the religious belief that stresses being nice, feeling good and saving God for emergencies is missing the message the pope announces: the love of God that sent Christ to die, rise and stay with human beings. The pope speaks of community, solidarity and encountering and accompanying others in the faith, he said.
He said the pope’s message has enticed many to look at the Church again, and Catholics feel energized by his focus on love, mercy and the social Gospel.