June 27, 2020
by Br. Sixtus Roslevich
As I sit down to write this update for the July issue of The Current Online, we have just been blessed with beautiful weather on a weekend of two back-to-back special days. Saturday, June 20, marked the summer solstice, the longest day of the year for us in the Northern Hemisphere, and the beginning of summer. For our friends and students in Chile, Peru, Colombia, and assorted other points in the Southern Hemisphere, it is the beginning of their winter. Saturday would have been my father’s 100 th birthday (6/20/1920). Having the harsh reality of a milestone of that proportion staring you in the face from a large-print desk calendar certainly reminds one of how short a time we actually have on this earth to get anything accomplished.
The next day was Fathers’ Day and we were elated to have 50+ people in the Abbey Church for the morning Mass, along with many others who joined us through Br. Benedict’s live-streaming efforts. In the introduction before Mass, we acknowledged “all who are fathers with children of your own, and also those who have been fathers to children and young people who needed the influence of a father figure in their lives.” In a similar vein, and almost simultaneously, a former college student of mine, and a strong Catholic soulmate, was teaching his Sunday morning cycling class in Kansas City. He e-mailed later, “At the end I reminded them that not only fathers, but men that feel like fathers, because of the resounding impact they have on one’s life, need calls today.” These are sentiments we should remember every day of the year, not only for fathers and father-figures but for mothers and mother-figures.
The following weekend of June 26-27-28 was lining up to be an equally special time until the Covid-19 pandemic forced the cancellation or postponement of so many events, including the Major League Baseball season. I had been invited by a close friend and his wife to join them at Fenway Park in Boston for the 3-game series between the Boston Red Sox and my hometown team, the St. Louis Cardinals. It would have been my first visit ever to Fenway, sweetened by the anticipation of a very rare weekend stay in a hotel. For the time being, the offer is off the table.
Perhaps it was my “seeing red” at the thought of not seeing the Red Sox or the (red) Cardinals that turned my attention away from baseball and the Sox…to socks. Bear with me here.
At Eastertime a medium-sized but weighty box arrived from my niece (my godchild) and her family in Virginia. Besides the delectable Eastern-European home-baked goods, it held 2 t-shirts and 2 pair of Eddie Bauer…socks. Great-nephew Jacob works there when he is not studying at William & Mary; he has been trying to convince me for some time of the high quality of their clothing (which I now know is comparable to my almost-vintage E.B. suitcase and backpack).
All of those Easter gifts were much appreciated, and especially the shirts and socks. Jacob knows that most of the clothing in my current state of monkhood comes second-hand from the St. Vincent DePaul Thrift Store, Plato’s Closet, Goodwill and the thrift shop run by my Lutheran friends in St. Louis. Plus, I get freebies from lost-and-found bins and from the “dead-monks-closet.”
I have a dear friend in the D.C. area who is a Site Specialist with the AIDS Clinical Trials Group in Silver Spring MD. She and I were in Zimbabwe several years ago at exactly the same time, but near different border crossings, and involved in different types of missionary and humanitarian work. There was no way for us to connect. We are both fans of Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and my friend has been to a number of his presentations and lectures. I have told her that if I lived inside the Capital Beltway I would want him as my primary care physician, even though he turns 80 this December. Two weeks ago, my friend surprised me with a beautiful colorful pair of Tony Fauci…socks!
During Lent as I was doing some spring cleaning in the sacristy I came across a small box containing mostly soft cloths being saved for polishing candlesticks and other liturgical paraphernalia. At the very bottom of the box appeared a matched pair of men’s 1950’s black…socks. Upon further inspection I saw that each undarned sock had a white cloth name tape carefully and neatly whip-stitched inside the top edge, the kind that was required when kids went away to summer camp or boarding school. The name, in all caps, was ALEXANDER C. CHILDS.
This was my first tangible introduction to Alexander Crimmins Childs, born in 1940 into a family in the Upper East Side neighborhood of Carnegie Hill in New York City at Park Avenue & 95 th St., just up 5 th Avenue from today’s Cooper-Hewitt Museum. In September 1952 he entered the Portsmouth Priory School and graduated with the Class of 1957. Turns out he was no ordinary schoolboy. A carved stone plaque inside the main doors of the Abbey Church contains the family name, in all caps: CHILDS. His name and photos appear throughout the senior yearbook, and not only because he was its editor-in-chief. To me, he seems to have been the kind of guy you’d want to drive with into Newport, the top down, just to sit by the ocean and watch the waves break over the rocks. He wrote of himself in the third person as being in the school’s production of Gogol’s The Inspector-General: “Sandy Childs proved a nice foil as a guy who gets away with it all.” He graduated magna cum laude in 1961 from Harvard and immediately entered the community at Portsmouth where he took the religious name of Brother Luke. He attended Blackfriars at Oxford and was ordained a priest in 1968.
Father Luke’s life was cut short in 1976 after suffering a brain aneurysm at age 36. Dom Gregory Floyd eulogized him in the 1977 yearbook, The Gregorian, as “readily approachable, probing in his questions, earnest in his search for truth, often frank to the point of embarrassment about so many adolescent issues. Many suffered bruised shins from his misplaced kick.” Missed sadly were “his quiet, good humor, his inimitable voice and laugh, his warmth,” along with “his energetic gait,” no doubt propelled by those black…socks. “May he rest in peace.” He is buried on campus in the Monks’ Cemetery beneath a simple carved headstone. The name, in all caps, R.D. LUKE CHILDS.
It’s impossible at this point, with the number of restrictions still in place from Bishop Tobin and Governor Raimundo, to try to second-guess when we might be able to assemble again on campus as the Oblates of Portsmouth Abbey. I had thought of jumping on the Zoom bandwagon, as so many others have for business and academic purposes, but with a group as large as ours I was advised that it would be difficult to facilitate.
Rest assured that the monastic community has carried on much as monks anywhere are supposed to do, by staying close to home, limiting our contact with staff who come onto campus from elsewhere, and by engaging with each other in prayer, liturgy, conversation and recreation. It has been gratifying to see the response to our efforts at live-streaming daily Mass and Vespers and we plan to continue that ministry for as long as possible.
God bless you all. Please stay safe, healthy and cool this summer. Be assured of our continuing prayers for you and your families, and we beg yours for us.