by Father Mark Goldasich
“Ne plus ultra.”
This Latin phrase, meaning “there is no more beyond here,” was the Spanish royal motto in the 15th century. According to Greek mythology, Hercules erected two pillars near the Straits of Gibraltar to mark what was considered the end of the known world. They were meant as a warning to sailors and navigators to go no farther.
When I was a small child, I didn’t have a motto, but it could well have been “Ne plus ultra.” Growing up in a predominantly Croatian community called Strawberry Hill in Kansas City, Kansas, there was no need to “go beyond,” since everything was available in a several block area. My school and church of St. John the Baptist, with both a gym and a bowling alley, were there. The neighborhood had at least three grocery stores, several “drinking establishments” (where families went for boiled shrimp on Friday nights), and playgrounds and alleys galore to play at and explore.
Even though I was an only child, I never felt alone. My maternal grandparents and my godparents lived on the Hill as did many other relatives and friends. And almost everybody was Catholic.
There were plenty of picnics, wedding receptions, festivals and dances to fill up our leisure time. I even performed as a member of the St. John’s Catholic Club Tamburitzans, an orchestra that preserved our Croatian heritage.
However, if we absolutely couldn’t find something that we needed on the Hill, we ventured a few blocks north to “the Avenue” (Minnesota Avenue), which offered several movie theaters and a slew of stores.
This was “the world” to me.
But let’s return to that motto of Spanish royalty. Everything changed when Christopher Columbus set sail from Spain into the “unknown.” Upon his return, with tales of a “New World,” Queen Isabella simply eliminated the first word from the royal motto, making it: “Plus ultra,” or “There is plenty more beyond.”
I underwent a similar transformation the older I got. Each year, my family would take a trip to Omaha, Nebraska, to visit an uncle and aunt and experience their Croatian parish’s extraordinary festival. My world got a little bigger.
Then, I began traveling to more states (and even once to Croatia) with the Tamburitzans and to Croatian Catholic Union bowling tournaments. The world got bigger and bigger.
Eventually, short trips turned into longer stays as I attended college in St. Paul, Minnesota, for four years. Later, I became an “ex-pat,” spending over five years living and studying in Rome and visiting much of Europe and even Africa. Turns out this is a really, really big world.
By the time you read this column, I’ll be returning from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I’ll be the chaplain for a group of about 35 people. Although I’d been there in 1981, this visit will be a brand-new experience. For example, the last time I was there, as a transitional deacon, things like cellphones, texting and Wi-Fi were unheard of.
It will be humbling this time around to celebrate Mass as a priest at sites like the Basilica of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, the Boat Chapel in Tiberias, the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.
I’m sure to return with many stories about my adventures.
How blessed is this “kid from the Hill” to discover that in this world — as with our Catholic faith — there is “plenty more beyond.”