Forty-five Years of Washing Feet - David J. Norris, Fresno, CA (AC ’72)

Each year on my priesthood ordination anniversary, I take out the book of memorabilia of that day: photos, ordination program, scratchy audio recording (cassette tape from 1974!) and recall the joy and blessing of that day.  I do the same on the anniversary of my diaconate ordination, March 30, 1972, in Louvain.  That special day marked not only my entrance into ordained ministry but also the nearing end of my studies at the American College and that significant phase of my formation in education, spirituality and humanity in that wonderful environment. It also initiated my impending return to my home diocese of Providence for diaconal ministry a few months later. May I presume to share a few reflections on this year’s 45th anniversary of my class’s ( ’72/’73) diaconal ordination.

The liturgy of ordination took place at the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper on that late March day, which was Holy Thursday in 1972. Archbishop Eugenio Cardinale, Papal Nuncio to Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg, ordained us in the Kliniek Chapel across Naamsestraat since the large number of ordinands (14) and other seminarians, families and guestscould not be accommodated in our College chapel. In the wake of the Second Vatican Council, the order of Sub-diaconate had been suppressed but, since the formal notification had not been relayed to the American dioceses at that time, we underwent the ordination to the Sub-diaconate during the same ceremony (to fulfill all righteousness!), before the second reading. We would remain Sub-deacons for all of twenty minutes, as the rite of Diaconate ordination followed after the Liturgy of the Word concluded.

Archbishop Cardinale, as I recall a very genial and friendly bishop, who had often visited the American College, performed the Washing of the Feet of the newly ordained. Though most of the liturgy and the rest of that day are mostly a blur, the humble rite of this distinguished prelate kneeling before us young and inexperienced clerics proved to be a moment I wouldremember and value. In the many ups and downs of my ministry since, this memory calls me back to the reason and purpose of my vocation: “I have not come to be served, but to serve.”

As I prepare to return to Louvain this summer for our reunion, I remember with great joy and gratitude that long ago day and those who shared in it: the entire theology class, the deacons and sub-deacons, family, friends, guests, the American College staff and university faculty who participated.  I commend to God’s great love those still living and “those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith”: Clem Pribil, Sister Jean Whitley, Frank Sokol, Ross Legere, Hugh Crean and others in this great cloud of witnesses.  O Sodales!

~March 30, 2017