My favorite spot on the Stonehill Campus is our Holy Cross Community Cemetery. The cemetery is located in what was once the formal rose garden of the Ames Family estate. The cemetery is like an oasis of peace surrounded by a high red brick fence. I find the green lawn and symmetrical rows of tombstones a wonderful place to walk, mediate and pray among my brothers in Holy Cross who have gone home to the Lord.
Some of these men I knew well in life. So I am able to pray with and for confreres like Fr. Robert Griffin, C.S.C., who presided at the 5:15 p.m. vigil Mass at the Sacred Heart Basilica at Notre Dame for much of my youth. I remember him having a heart as big as his body and being one of the kindest men I ever met. Other men I knew a little bit, like Fr. Tom Campbell, C.S.C., who left the local community at Stonehill just before I became superior here to return to our retirement house at Notre Dame. Fr. Tom, a longtime theology professor, was known in his later years by his confreres at Stonehill as the postmaster general, because he sorted the mail every day and thus was able to know exactly what was going on in everyone’s life. He also loved MAD Magazine, certainly a surprise because I’ve loved that magazine since I was a little kid.
And then there are most of the priests and brothers buried here who I never had the pleasure of knowing. Men like Fr. Patrick Peyton, C.S.C., “the Rosary priest,” who founded Holy Cross Family Ministries which promotes the praying of the Rosary throughout the world. Fr. Patrick was such a dynamic priest that hundreds of thousands of people would come to his Rosary Rallies. He has been named a Servant of God, an initial stage in the process of canonization. Or like Fr. Frank Grogan, C.S.C., who spent 46 years of service as a priest in our colleges, high schools and parishes. Fr. Frank died on 9/11/2001 on United Airlines Flight 175 on the way out to California to visit his sister. I imagine him offering comfort to other passengers in those last horrifying moments. Or like Br. Jim Madigan, C.S.C., who spent many years caring for the practical needs of this local community so that others could serve as teachers and staff on campus.
Among other duties, I serve as the Alumni chaplain here at Stonehill College. At the alumni reunion last summer we had a prayer service in our community cemetery to honor deceased Holy Cross religious who served here. A good number of grads showed up and I offered them a chance to share some memories of a Holy Cross priest or brother that had an impact on their lives. The stories they told moved many of them to tears. I heard tales of a priest who went out of his way to tutor a student who otherwise would have flunked out of school, a brother who could see that one young man didn’t have enough money to eat and brought him food from the community kitchen and priests who went out of their way to offer comfort in times of sorrow and blessing in times of joy.
So, now as I walk through our cemetery, I feel as though I know these men and I think of their stories as I pray with and for them. It reminds me, as our Constitutions say, that I am walking in the footsteps of a great band of brothers. Their lives encourage me to stride and not trudge as I strive to be true to my calling as a Holy Cross priest and religious.
Fr. Tony Szakaly, C.S.C. is the local superior of the Holy Cross community at Stonehill College, and previously served as an assistant provincial for the United States Province of Priests and Brothers. A South Bend native, he received a Holy Cross education at every level of his schooling, from the C.S.C. sisters in grade school, the C.S.C. brothers in high school and C.S.C. priests at the University of Notre Dame. He took final vows in 1991 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1992.