It can be easy to forget to thank someone. When Jesus healed the 10 lepers, only one came back to thank him. Today, do we thank his priests for what they’ve done for us, especially in hard times?
Anne Hughes and her sister Teena Adamick have found a way to help everyone thank a priest publicly and show their deep gratitude through their website LetterstoPriests.com, whose tagline is “Thanking the Men of the Catholic Church.”
It’s actually an interactive book being written one letter at a time to thank priests for their ministry, especially their “golden nuggets” — their words of healing — during difficult times.
“The book,” says Hughes, “will show people how other Catholics have been guided from grief back to joy by the ‘golden nuggets’ of priests.”In fact, it was just such personal circumstances that led her to write a thank-you note to a priest and that ultimately planted the idea for this worldwide effort based in Michigan.
In 2008, her father was dying, and she had not told him her husband had left her and their children months before. “Father had been too sick to confide in,” she says, yet she needed to make decisions about selling her home and really had wanted to talk to him.
Looking through the family’s photo album she suddenly noticed a photo of “John Paul II standing with the priest of my childhood, Father David Harvey,” she says. It was such a connection to see Father Harvey as a part of the family. “The picture led me to believe I would be okay,” she recalls. “I had the strength of the Catholic Church behind me.”
She called Father Harvey. She had known him since she was 10, but hadn’t seen him in 20 years.
Father Harvey dropped everything on his schedule, and made the drive to see her father the next day to comfort him and his wife of 68 years, Eileen. Father Harvey came back for the funeral and spoke about her dad’s lifelong devotion to Catholicism and work for the Church.
“I wrote my first thank-you note after that,” says Hughes. She included her fond memories of Father Harvey from grade school at St. John the Baptist’s in Ypsilanti, Mich. “I realized then that just writing a note from gratitude is a very healing experience.”
Soon after, she poured her heart out to Father Harvey about her divorce and difficulties, and absorbed his words of courage, comfort and healing.
“I realized the words a priest tells you when you’re in grief are ‘golden nuggets,’” she says, “because they are healing words.”
Hughes launched “Letters to Priests” in 2008 as an e-mail account, and by 2009, it had become a website and interactive book.
Letters started coming in thanking priests for help through family illness, guidance back to the Church after abortion or comfort after losing a job or home. Some thanks go back to events 25 to 30 years ago. Most people thank unsung heroes, but occasionally, thanks come in for a well-known priest like Venerable Father Solanus Casey, who was of the Capuchin Order in Detroit and dedicated his life to serving others.
Father Harvey, longtime pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Fenton, Mich., says this project shows the influence of our lives on each other: “It’s not just a passing acquaintance. Something deeper has happened. It’s part of the work of the Spirit, for sure.”
One story after another on the website is a moving tribute.
Peggy Clores of Huntington, N.Y., thanked Marianist Father James Williams, president of Chaminade High School in Mineola, and “his army of Marianist men” for the support she and her husband, Peter, received when their son Michael was suffering with cancer.
She wrote, in part:
God used your priesthood to make Christ himself manifest to us in that grave hour, and, through you, I felt his immense love for each and every one of us in our sorrow. It is the memory and witness of your extraordinary acts of service that has inspired each and every one of us to … boldly serve a world in need with all of our strength. There is no question that we are better people for having had all of you by our side. God bless you, dear priest.
Apart from thanking Father Williams and the Marianists, Clores says her greater purpose was to show gratitude for the incredible gift priests have been to her faith journey since childhood. “With every cross and joy, they’ve been there by my side,” she says.
“Especially when the Church is being vilified and misrepresented after all the Church has done to address this (scandal) issue,” she explains, “I truly felt very protective of the heroic priests who serve so selflessly and honorably. We love these men, and believe in them, and have no doubts about what they’ve given.”
Father Gilbert Levario, who advises Hughes and Adamick, finds Letters to Priests very encouraging for men serving the Lord because they “see the effect their ministry has had on people.”
“It’s really humbling to see some of these things that have been written,” he says.
Hughes noted the tremendous comfort Father Levario was to her sister Teena in Vacaville, Calif., when her son Jeff died. This priest’s spirit and guidance were essential to her healing.
Father Levario points out that the letters are not only healing for the writer, “but people who read them may identify with some of the letters and healings.” The letters, then, “can truly be healing for others who have had similar experiences.”
This effort also encourages vocations by being so positive about the priesthood. Hughes knows of young men who want to be priests and love how this project is shining a light on the priesthood. Another young man, Lukasz Wieczorek, volunteered to design the website because of its mission to honor priests.
Already, more than 100 moving letters have been sent to the project from around the world.
“It’s a whole world coming together to say, ‘We’re Catholic, and these are words that have guided us through our lives,’” says Hughes.
As they continue showcasing letters online and compiling them for the book, she hopes encouragement is the take-away message.
“You know there are going to be hardships, struggles and challenges, but this is the way we get through them,” Hughes says. “These are what other Catholics found comfort in.”
All from saying “Thanks.”
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.
To submit and read letters, visit LetterstoPriests.com. Letters may also be submitted to:
Letters to Priests, Thanking the Men of the Catholic Church
P.O. Box 482
Ada, MI 49301