by Father Mark Goldasich
If you plan it, they will come.
He did plan it. And come they did: from Iowa, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Indiana, Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, California and, of course, Kansas. The meeting place was the home base of the planner, Father Dave Hulshof, pastor of Our Lady of the Lake Parish in Branson, Missouri.
Way back during Holy Week 2020, Dave reached out by email to his class of 1981 from the North American College in Rome. His purpose was twofold: To check how we were faring with the pandemic, and to see if we’d be interested — provided there would be a vaccine — of gathering in Branson to celebrate our 40th anniversary of priesthood together in 2021.
For me, it was a no-brainer. I was going to make time for this no matter what. As the months went on and specific dates were picked (June 7-10), the list of attendees was finalized.
Some of our class couldn’t attend because of impending moves, health concerns or other plans. But eleven of us would be there. (I didn’t get to see one other classmate as he arrived early but had to leave before many of us reached Branson.)
I’d seen a good number of the “Branson bunch” when we gathered in Rome to celebrate our 25th anniversary. But there were a couple that I’d not seen in 40 years!
Honestly, I was sort of nervous because I’ve grown “a bit” larger over the years — I like to say that I’m now twice the man I was when they knew me — and the hair almost isn’t.
The first night’s dinner in the hotel restaurant was awkward . . . for about a tenth of a second. There were big smiles and hugs all around. The family was together once again. And I don’t use the word “family” lightly.
I remember my fear 44 years ago, meeting this group for the first time at Kennedy Airport in New York, prior to our flight to Rome. I knew no one in my class. Little could I imagine how close this class would become in the next four years.
These were the days before cellphones, computers, Skype and Zoom. Leaving home really meant leaving home. Although you could phone home, the cost of an international call was astronomical.
So, these guys literally became my family. We celebrated birthdays together, traveled together and spent the holidays together. We struggled through the Italian language together as well as living in a different culture. But through it all we bonded and laughed . . . and laughed even more.
Although our time in Branson was short, Dave made sure that our days were well spent. We had Masses together, explored the Ancient Ozarks National History Museum, did a houseboat cruise on Table Rock Lake and attended a couple of live shows.
But most of all, we spent time catching up, especially at meals and during car rides from place to place. It was humbling to listen to where life had taken each of us. We savored stories, lots and lots of them, of the lives the Lord has touched through us and of the many people who have formed our priesthood.
The only thing more plentiful was the laughter . . . and, of course, the food.
By the way, when pressed as to what first prompted Dave to get us together, his reply was simple: “I figured we’d better get together now for our 40th, because Lord knows what shape we’ll be in for our 50th!”
Sure can’t argue with that, brother!