At another brother’s recommendation, my youngest brother Brian, who lives in Arizona, visited The Catholic Messenger website. While visiting the website, Brian discovered a column written by a priest who taught him during his freshman year at Assumption High School in Davenport 33 years earlier.
Then-seminarian Bud Grant, a student teacher, taught World Civics class. Just seven years older than most of these students, Bud took time to get to know them, cracked jokes with them and encouraged them to remain committed to their faith, Brian said. “He seemed like one of us.”
Until then, Brian viewed priests as set apart from the people and who purposefully kept their distance. Brian said he and his friends considered Bud to be a friend as well as teacher and mentor. And Brian, a Minnesota native, couldn’t help but appreciate a future priest who had the same name as the legendary Minnesota Vikings Football Coach, Bud Grant.
The freshmen were impressed that Bud, a seminarian at St. Ambrose College (now University) in Davenport, had the privilege of serving at Mass for Pope John Paul II during his historic visit to Iowa that fall of 1979.
Brian doesn’t recall whether Bud encouraged him and the other Assumption freshmen to consider a vocation to the priesthood. But Brian distinctly remembers receiving encouragement to remain a part of the Catholic faith and to embrace it.
At the end of the school year, Bud told the students he would be leaving for Rome to continue his studies for the priesthood. They were sad to see him go. Brian took up Bud’s offer to write to him, and the two corresponded several times over the course of a year or so.
Brian said he still has a couple of letters from Bud, one of which included a description of his travels in Europe and a succinct Church history lesson. Bud mentioned the Apennine Range in Italy and reminded Brian that it had been a question on a test. “I think it’s cool that he took the time to write back,” Brian said.
I emailed Fr. Bud, now an assistant professor of theology at St. Ambrose, to share my brother’s story. Fr. Bud appreciated the note and said he had been deeply touched when the students, as seniors, had written and asked him to be their graduation speaker. He had to decline, reluctantly, because he was still studying in Rome.
Learning how much my brother appreciated Fr. Bud as a teacher, mentor and friend all those years ago, I wondered why Brian had drifted away from the Church. This fall begins the Year of Faith that Pope Benedict XVI is launching in an effort aimed at helping baptized Catholics to deepen their faith and lapsed Catholics to return to it.
Brian told me that his family stopped attending Mass for a variety of reasons, but most importantly, because they didn’t feel welcomed. Last month, he decided to attend Mass at the encouragement of an unnamed relative. The pastor recognized the regulars (by the pews in which they habitually sit) and acknowledged the newcomers. It was a good experience, Brian said.
I’m praying that this experience, and the revival of memories of Fr. Bud’s welcoming attitude, will help Brian begin to find his way back to the Church.