Monday, April 26, 2010

My arrival in Hervey Bay

I am blessed and I don’t deserve this. I feel like I am at a Caribbean resort because the temperature is so splendid. There’s a touch of humidity in the air and the sun is still strong. Both the pool at my villa and the ocean’s waters have warm water. I tried both today. It has rained for days upon days, but on the day I arrived the sun was shining brightly with a few wisps of clouds.

The folks at Xavier Catholic School

I was greeted so warmly by Mr. Kerry Swann and Bern. As soon as we arrived, we traveled to a teacher’s house for coffee. He just renovated the house in back of his former house and it is so spacious and airy. It is beautiful construction. The hardwood floors are made of the second most durable gum tree. They have a great design to their new home.

Afterwards, we traveled to the south side of Hervey Bay for lunch with other teachers and administrators. The meal was terrific as I had grilled Barramundi and a few low carbohydrate brews. Very tasty. I can’t remember all the names: Loretta (Kerry’s wife), Di, Carmel, Brendan (Ignatian Spirituality coordinator), and Glen(?). The al fresco dining with the warm breeze made for such a pleasant day.

Afterwards I moved into my holiday villa and settled in for a little rest. Why is it that Americans do not allow for naps? Our work productivity would be improved so much. I was struck by the nice design of the luxury apartment.

In the afternoon, I met Kerry and others (primarily from the Star of the Sea School) at Hoolihans to watch some of their national sport. I can not quite remember the difference between Rugby League and the AFL. This one had the two goal posts instead of the four and you did not have to kick the ball after every 10 meters. It seems like the more difficult game. I am just amazed at how bruising these games are in light of the polite, kind, civilized people who are the Australians. The pints of Guinness though hit the spot.

Dinner at Hoolihans was very nice. I had a Kilarney steak and some chips. I had the most pleasurable day meeting so many kind people of Hervey Bay. I am fortunate to be here with them.

The town

Hervey Bay is a collection of small villages that sprang up along the coast. The main street runs along the ocean with small privately-owned shops and restaurants. The bay is miles upon miles of beach with piers and walking trails. We are very near to the Fraser Island, which is the largest sand island in the world. In the middle of the vast island are tropical rain forests. Cumulus clouds assemble over the center of the island and provide the rain, but the coastal areas get much sunshine. I may get there this coming weekend as we celebrate Labor Day. Fraser Island and the Great Barrier Reef meet the Pacific Ocean but provide shelter and warmth for Hervey Bay. It is a great whale watching area and there are dolphins and a few sharks, but it is very safe to swim.

Along the main road, the shops are on the land side of the road. The town was very wise in creating an esplanade on the ocean side of the road. The esplanade provides a walking and bicycle trail along the seashore, and the trees provide shelter from ocean storms that could damage the sugar cane crop. It provides scenic beauty as you step through the many paths to the sandy beaches. The tropical colors of the houses add to the beauty of the land. I used portions of the exercise equipment that dot the walking trails. This morning I probably walked 8 kilometers. Unfortunately I left my pedometer in the apartment.

My fortunate schedule

I arrived in Hervey Bay on Anzac Day, April 25th, and enjoyed a very full day of activities. Monday is a national holiday. Later in the week, several of the teachers are attending a conference so I told the schedule will end up being rather light. We have another long weekend next weekend as Labor Day is celebrated.

Preparations for tomorrow

Today feels like a continuation of my retreat. I spent some time playing some music that I used on retreat and it brought back many good memories. I spent time praying for my brother tertians who are now dispersed and I prayed for Adrian and Joe, our tertian instructors, who are incredible people and have provided for us so well. Gosh, I know that I will miss them all when it is time to return stateside.

Tomorrow is Peter Canisius Day and we live at Canisius College. My other blog has a nice prayer written by Peter Canisius. Many blessings to those who are living and working at Canisius College in Pymble.

I am having dinner tonight with someone from the school. I will have to balance the joyful eating with new friends with a healthy lifestyle so I can keep my weight down. Thank God I have the esplanade to walk each day.

Uluru, Kata Tjuta, King’s Canyon and Alice Springs

Ivan, Gottfried, Kolbe, Paul and I traveled to Alice Springs in the red, sunburned center of the country for a holiday following the long retreat. Ivan is a good friend who is an explorer at heart. He has a passion to see new things and gain new experiences. From the border towns of Slovenia and Italy, he is a gentle person who has a nice way of interacting with many. Gottfried is an Austrian with a good sense of humor. He is a very kind man with a generous heart. He is so neat, tidy, and organized. Kolbe is from Korea. He has a boisterous personality at times, but when you get to know him, his heart is incredibly gentle. He loves to photograph and he had a mystical retreat-like experience to his vacation. Paul is a Bohemian intellectual who requires much alone time. My best guess is that Paul enjoyed many parts of the holiday and good times of our companionship, but it often seemed like there were four of us and Paul. So many times I wanted to pull caringly and gently Paul aside to ask him if he realizes how he comes across to us, but we tried to respect him and care for him as best we could. After all, you do have to wait until a person is ready to receive some caring conversation. All in all, we enjoyed many of our conversations with him and we shared great laughter.

A desert?


The central part of the country received more rainfall this past year than in the past five years put together. The place was so lush and green. We did not see much of a desert-like area at all, but water was high in the streams everywhere we went. We saw a number of camels and wallabies and a few kangaroos. Alice Springs had a very wet season just before we came, but the weather cleared up the day we arrived. This seems to be a theme with me. Everywhere I go is spectacular.

The first night at Alice Springs we stayed at a campground run by Brendan Heelan. We offered Mass for him for his generosity to us. We were grateful to Paul for bringing hosts and wine for Mass, but he placed the wine in a former mouthwash container that gave the wine a unique taste. We all felt cleansed after attending Mass.

Uluru

Ulura (formerly Ayer’s Rock) is the big attraction in the area because it is the largest rock on earth. There are many theories about its existence, but it seems to be a rock legacy that did not erode as quickly as the other rock formations around it. It does dominate the landscape and is considered sacred by the aboriginal people. I wish I knew why it was considered sacred.

We were told that is would be amazing to just gaze upon the rock as it would change almost minute by minute. So we watched and looked and it stayed the same. People told us of the purples, and pinks and reds that it would become, but it pretty much stayed the same color.

We walked the base and we can see why only one side of the rock is shown in photographs. It was an easy two hour walk. Many people scaled the rock even though it is the people’s wish to refrain from rock climbing.

Kata Tjuta (The Olgas)

Kata Tjuta (silent J) was a terrific climb. It was a great series of rock formations that had many oases in it because of the springs and billabongs and the great recent rains. It was so fresh and Gottfried would say that it looks like central Europe’s hilly regions. We each shared good stories of our retreats with one another as we walked. I liked this place much better than Uluru because of the great diversity of flora and fauna and the varied rock formations.

Gottfried spotted a kangaroo hopping along the side of this gigantic rock. It looked like it should fall off the ledge, but it was hopping at such great speed. That night, we lodged at the Ayer’s Rock Campground, which caused us to laugh. There is nothing but wide open space and great expanses of land everywhere we go, but four grown Jesuits checked into this one room with two bunk beds in a space that is only five feet by seven feet. We gave Ivan the big room because he snores occasionally.

The resort area of Uluru is nice, but I wanted to see where the people lived. I went to the library and the rural area of town where 700 people live. They are there for the resorts. The population swells to 1,000 at the end of April through September. I tried to arrange Mass there, but the people said they just celebrated the Easter Sunday Mass. After several attempts to organize something, I realized I was working harder than was needed.

King’s Canyon

King’s Canyon is by far the nicest place to visit and the park is free with no commercialization around it. I would ditch Uluru and focus on King’s Canyon if I were the Australian tourist bureau. The walk was harder than the others, but not at all difficult. It gave us great diversity of rock formations, views, and places of interests. The Garden of Eden has a nice pool where many swim to refresh themselves. We were all very happy with the trails and sights. Unfortunately, we drove from Uluru to King’s Canyon and then back to Alice Springs in one day. We were never so happy to get out of the car as we were that night. We stayed with the Marist Brothers at Alice Springs.

Alice Springs


The Marist brothers bought us a beer at the Finkle and Bull or something like that, which is right across the street from the parish. It was a hopping place. A Catholic woman thought we might be priests so she came over to say hello. She works at one of the local Catholic schools and she delighted us with her enthusiasm and zeal.

We checked into Campfire in the Heart and had a tasty meal of kangaroo over rice with David that night. We slept very well. They have a nice prayer room at their place and we all felt so comfortable. We talked with David about the situation with Aborigines, but I still have more questions than answers. The next day we hiked Simpson’s Gorge and Standley’s Chasm. At the chasm, we had a fabulous lunch that cost next to nothing. We all tried to tell them to increase their prices, but they seemed content with what they offered.

The next morning we took it easy. Mass was beautiful because it was such a mixed congregation. Two adults were being received into the church and two were being baptized. The parish priest (from Ghana) invited us up to bless and welcome the new folks into the church. His homily was good; the spirit was great; we heard a new song that was written about God’s presence in the area (For You); the house was packed. It was lovely.

We then had lunch at a very nice Mediterranean restaurant and took off to see the original Alice Springs. The temperatures were so lovely. We sat by the water and notice a woman drive her car onto the grassy area. She got out of the car and dropped off some stuff and drove away. She was dressed in all black except for a red hat. Ten minutes later two other cars drove to the same area and when the four people got out of the cars we noticed they were dressed in black as well. The five of them formed the Alexandria Quartet (why not Quintet?) and they played in concert for 2.5 hours. We listened for an hour and then headed back to the house to prepare dinner. It was a lovely afternoon. We lucked out as this was their second time in three years that they decided to put on the concert.

I left with a very good impression of Alice Springs. The place was so lush and green. It is a city of 25,000 people and it has a lot going for it. I could live there if I was assigned there, but I know I would feel isolated.

Aborigines


I do not know what to make of the Aborigines in the area. I realize that when I consider their situation, I impose my western worldview upon them. The situation seems so sad, but maybe they are not sad. The society seems to tolerate them, but there are security guards to keep the indigent people out of various stores or to keep moving in the malls. Yes, there are other better integrated Aborigines around, but the sheer numbers of wandering Aborigines are the ones who catch your eye. Australia has wrestled with this better than Americans have wrestled with the plight of the Native Americans (or the original immigrants.) I have to be careful not to impose my value systems upon other peoples whose lives and the meaning of their lives I don’t yet understand.

Canisius College, Pymble

While I enjoyed my holiday, I was so delighted to return to Pymble because it is home for me. The familiar smells and sights made me so happy. Adrian and Joe were there to warmly receive us and we were also greeted by our other brothers there. I had difficulty sleeping because I was so just happy and grateful to be back home.

We had a Seventieth Birthday party for Joe Sobb the next night. Joe is such a fun man and a bright man. He has a smile that makes you want to smile. The place was hopping with many guests and we decorated the dining hall and recreation room to celebrate Joe’s life. He’s a good man.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

This Phase of My Thirty Day Retreat Has Come to an End

It has been over thirty days since I last was able to update my blog. I have so much to tell. This place is really quite awesome and I’ll never be able to recapture it in enough words. Sevenhill Retreat House is about two hours north of Adelaide in South Australia. It is in the heart of the wine country. Sevenhill has very few people living in the town despite the hopes of the original settlers. In the center of town sits a hotel and restaurant, post office boxes, and a fire station. That’s it. I counted 19 houses in the center of town.

Jesuits in the Austro-Hungarian Empire left Europe for Australia during the revolutions of 1848 and they made a settlement in Sevenhill, which was to become the center of Catholic worship in the area. Sevenhill College was established in 1851 to serve the local youth of the area with a sound education. St. Aloysius Church was built around the same time. The Austrians created a large slanted roof because it was their only experience of roofs – just so the snow could slide off in the winter. Well, in South Australia you might get a frost but no snow of which to speak.

Sevenhill was named after Rome. Yes, there are seven hills and the founders named the nearby creek the Tiber. The Austrian Jesuits wanted to serve the local church, especially those who came here of their own free accord, with a vibrant worship life even though in much of Australia you could be fined or jailed for practicing Roman Catholicism as a priest. The grand hopes for a college (high school) and university were dashed when gold and other minerals were discovered in Adelaide and Melbourne. The people vanished. Jesuits served the local parishes in the area by building churches and worship centers. The diocese of Port Pirie has a Jesuit bishop, Bp. Greg O’Kelly, who is a fine man.

I live on the property called La Storta, named because of Ignatius’ experience of being confirmed in a chapel on his way to Rome. This 56 acre property was re-acquired a few years ago and makes for nice pasturing, a viable garden, three communities for retreats, and a hermitage for two occupants. It is very quiet here and a terrific place for reflection and prayer. I love the golden hills and at the same time, the great gardens. The orchards have granny smith apples, other red apples, oranges, limes, lemons, pomegranates, and peaches. Olive trees are used for their oils. Avocados and walnuts and figs are grown at this site. It does feel like paradise. The vegetable gardens provide plenty of food for the community and guests.

The Sevenhill Cellars provide all sorts of wines for sale. Most of them are named after Jesuit terminology. The wine staff is very committed and they produce quality products. The Clare Valley vineyard owners promote and market quality wines instead of the low-grade Australian wine Yellowtail that is on the market in the U.S. The time of year that I am making this retreat is during their vintage harvest. When I arrived, the grapes were plump and ripe, but now the vines are all harvested and the leaves are ready to drop for the winter. In two weeks the rainy season begins. This place has had a drought for the past seven years.

I’ve learned a lot about farming. The cows are in heat and the bull is roaming around with his nose up in the air all the time. You can hear all sort of bovine activity during the night when it is much cooler. I also learned a lot about ducks. We have five ducks in our shed and they have laid eggs since I arrived. Duck gestation is about 28 days so I hope to see a duckling before too long. One day as I was putting the ducks away for the night, I noticed that a mother duck would always taunt and jump on the younger duck to reprimand him for not being on time. This went on night after night. I told the farmer here about it because I had to wait quite a while before I could put them in for the night. He had a wry smile and he told me that the mother duck was really a drake. The light bulb in my head went off and I understood the rest.

The Jesuit directors are really good. I won’t speak about my retreat here, but it was very nice to have liturgy every night in the upper room of the College. The homilists were solid and thoughtful. I was selected to prepare music with the presider each night. I wish I had brought along more music. Lent is a special time to make the long retreat and it coincided nicely with the Triduum and Easter.

We participated in a Seder that preceded a Holy Eucharist on Holy Thursday. This provided a new glimpse about the reality of our saving God. The story of the Jews is our Christian story and it brings much fullness when we can understand the full expression of Jewish prayer as it feeds into our prayer. I received an intimate portrait of God who is always active in our lives.

Kangaroos come out nightly. You can look down rows of the vineyards and see them eating and hopping around. We have emus near the property as well. One night as I was gazing upon the stars and the heavens after praying Psalm 8, I must have lost track of time and where I was. The next thing I knew is that I felt an animal near me and as I gave a shriek, it took off up the hill and over the rocky ledge. When it arrived at a safe distance it began screeching and howling. My heart dropped, but luckily it was more scared than I was.

Well, I’ll end my words here for the moment. We have a few more days at the retreat house to share our stories with our brethren. On Monday, we leave for Adelaide where we will have dinner at Archbishop Phillip Wilson’s house. Bishop Greg O’Kelly (a Jesuit) will join us. From there, four others will join me as we depart for Uluru (formerly Ayer’s Rock) in central Australia west of Alice Springs. Five others will travel to Melbourne via the Ocean Drive and then return to Sydney. One will tan himself on the Sunshine Coast and another will go to Cairns to see a friend of his. I will miss this retreat house because it is so lovely. It is quiet, bug-free, mosquito-free, away from the main activity of the College, and I have two very silent brothers in the house. I lucked out!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Happy Easter

Happy Easter! Alleluia!

I am soon to finish my long retreat. I have many reflections to share, but I want to wish you a happy season of the Resurrection!

Easter peace,

John