Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Remembering Two San Francisco Giants: Father John Ring and Archbishop Niederauer

This past week the Catholic community in San Francisco has mourned the loss of two holy men, Father John Ring and Archbishop George Niederauer. Father Ring was a true shepherd—I knew him as the pastor of St. Vincent de Paul in the Marina District and Archbishop Niederauer was a "shepherd of shepherds,' serving as the eighth Archbishop in the City of St. Francis. Both priests lived up to the words of Pope Francis: they smelled like sheep. 
Father Ring sat in the back corner of every Young Adult gathering I ever attended at SVdP. He listened to the comments and questions of those men and women in their 20s and 30s in his parish and offered his own ideas, input and of course, prayers. Though I did not always agree with him, I never questioned his commitment to the priesthood, knowledge of his flock or love for the Church. Countless friendships, marriages, job leads and opportunities for service were born of this group that he valued and supported. 

Bishop George Neiderhauer once spoke at the SVdP YAG on Faithful Citizenship. He addressed the Church's position on many issues on the November ballot. Never before had I heard someone teach so thoughtfully or didactically about tough, critical social issues. While SF Gate may remember him as a "leader in the contentious 2008 battle to pass Proposition 8 that banned same-sex marriage in California," I do no. I cannot. I knew him as so much more...

As written in Catholic San Francisco, 
Archbishop George H. Niederauer as a gentle shepherd who led the archdiocese with wit, intelligence and a thoroughly pastoral but at times unapologetically countercultural proclamation of the Gospel. 
“To follow the Gospel is to swim against the current,” Archbishop Niederauer told an October 2008 gathering of young adult Catholics at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in San Francisco, two weeks before an election that included church-supported Proposition 8 on the California ballot.
I can say with confidence this man knew what it meant to engage in true dialogue, an art...that may be lost. CSF added, 
At his inaugural press conference on Dec. 15, 2005, Archbishop Niederauer said he sees the role of bishop as “priest, prophet and shepherd” and was immediately asked by reporters how he would reconcile the “conservative” positions of the church with the “liberal” city of San Francisco, the National Catholic Register reported at the time. “I want to get past labels,” Archbishop Niederauer said. “I think the ministry of Christ, the ministry of Christ in his church is to meet men, women and children everywhere ... to teach the good news which is good news for right, left, and center.”
This Bishop was also a true teacher; he convened a gathering of the chairs of Theology Departments of the Catholic secondary schools in the Archdiocese on a regular basis. As a former high school English teacher, I would like to think he felt at home with these shepherds of another ministry. The Archbishop knew the importance of these workers in the vineyard. Again, his ability to dialogue yielded great fruit...fruit that has borne knew life in the graduates of our schools.

And yet, what I want to remember about both men is more than their vocation, and thanks be to God for their ministry. No, I want to remember their humanity.

Father Ring
Father Ring was an Irishman through and through. He often wore an Irish wool flat cap and on those rare warm days in San Francisco, his complexion would glow to a near red from the collar on up. I knew that wilted look of the Foreign Born Irish, as my mom is one. He loved to tell a good joke be it at the beginning of a homily or the end of a YAG meeting. There's a song entitled "When Irish Eyes are Smiling" for a reason. If you knew Father Ring, at his best, you could see that tune incarnate. Please raise a Guinness for this man.

Archbishop Niederauer had a wonderful and precious gift that is as human as it gets: a great voice. This man had what many people refer to as a "radio voice." It was deep, resonate and clear. I loved to hear him preach the gospel and listen to his homilies because that voice was a delight to the ear. 

Those who know me, know that I appreciate a good voice. People like the Giants broadcaster, Jon Miller or Morgan Freeman immediately come to mind. Our voices are as unique as we are. My favorite baseball player Will Clark was once called "Will the Shrill." My God daughter and niece Grace is just that much more awesome/lovable/adorable because she has a deep voice for a little girl. To have a rich voice as a priest is an asset for they are called to preach, teach and speak to the challenges of our time. Archbishop Niederauer did all three and much more. In fact, I saved a hard copy "Flannery O'Connor's Religious Visionbecause I loved it so much. This article, featured in America Magazine is one I have passed on and shared with my five favorite words: You should check this out. Please do!

I first met Archbishop Niederauer at the Hibernian Newman lunch on St. Patrick's Day, March 17, 2006. This group honored the newly appointed Archbishop with a jersey in his honor. I look at this photo and, that was before three World Series titles....and back when the Young Adult Group at SVdP was robust. So much has changed in the City by the Bay where both priests served the faithful. We are better for their ministry and ever more in need of their leadership. Father Ring, Archbishop Niederauer, pray for us.

Eternal light grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace.

Photo Credits
Father Ring

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