Redemptorists logo
Our Mother of Perpetual Help Icon
Since 1732, the Redemptorists — a congregation of missionary priests and brothers — have followed in Jesus’ footsteps, preaching the Word and serving the poor and most abandoned.
Redemptorists logo


Articles

Monthly Archives: May 2011
Sunday

Redemptorist missionary, Father John Virgil Caskey, C.Ss.R., remembered as the very dedicated priest who stuck to his principles, died early on the morning of Sunday, May 22, 2011, at the St John Neumann Residence at Stella Maris in Timonium, MD.

Father Caskey was born on August 2, 1917 and professed his first vows exactly 22 years later on August 2, 1939. He was ordained a priest on June 18, 1944 at Mount St. Alphonsus in Esopus, NY.
 
He began his ministry as a professor at the Redemptorist seminary in North East, PA where he taught Spanish and Ancient History. However, early in his priesthood he developed serious health problems and had to receive treatments for arthritic and respiratory ailments in Tucson, AZ. These physical concerns prompted his doctors to recommend a more temperate climate. The result was a career of more than 50 years as a missionary in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
 
“He was my high school teacher,” recalls Father Carlyle Blake, C.Ss.R. “When I returned to St. Thomas many years later, our roles were reversed and I became his pastor for six years. He was always serious-minded. He worked hard and he also enjoyed a good round of golf. He was delighted when I asked him to give conferences to the nuns in the village of Charlotte Amalie. He preached at St. Anne’s Church, which sits on a hill overlooking ‘French Town.’
 
“He enjoyed this assignment because he loved working with the people and the fact that there was an 18-hole course nearby,” Father Blake continues. “But what I remember most about him was how dedicated he was to the sick. He visited the hospital daily and — this was so typical of his personality — he covered it thoroughly. If you were in the hospital, you received a visit from Verg.”
 
In addition to his work in the Virgin Islands, Father Caskey also served for many years in Puerto Rico. Among the communities that received his dedicated ministry were Ponce, Caguas, Fajardo, Aguas Buenas, and Guayama.
 
“He loved to travel with his family when they took a vacation,” recalls his then vice-provincial superior, Father Tom Travers, C.Ss.R. “But he was also economical in a very ingenious way. For example, he would scour the newspapers in New York for ads searching for people who could chauffeur a car from New York to California. In this way he would take the family on a leisurely excursion to the west coast at a minimal expense and then reverse the process when it was time to return to the city.”
 
“The people out in the campos of Aguas Buenas really loved him,” continues Travers. “He was patient with them and extremely understanding. And even more so, he learned their customs and wasn’t afraid to immerse himself into the heart of their celebrations. For instance, on January 6, which is a very big feast of the Three Kings there, the custom is to visit any sick people who are confined to their homes and to bring gifts and play music for them. And Verg would join in this practice by going with the musicians and playing any simple percussion he could manage, even if it was only the Maracas. But he was always with the people and that meant everything to them.”
 
“Like so many of us, he was easy to live with,” chime in several other confreres who knew him. “As long as you didn’t discuss religion or politics. He lived by the principles of the Catholic Church and he kept to those principles and practices in his daily life.”
 
“I visited with him just before he died,” recounts his twice provincial, Father Kevin Moley, C.Ss.R. “He had been reading from the bible and was preparing to finish his Liturgy of the Hours for the day. He was exactly at the end of his life as he had been throughout the whole of his Redemptorist priesthood: diligent and prepared.”
 
“He did good work; parish work and hospital work,” concludes the former San Juan Province archivist, Father John Gauci, C.Ss.R., “so now he may rest in peace.”

 

Rev. John Virgil Caskey, C.Ss.R.

  • Born: August 2, 1917
  • Professed: August 2, 1939
  • Ordained: June 18, 1944
  • Died: May 22, 2011

 

Services

Viewing
Thursday, May 26
10 a.m.
Main Chapel, Stella Maris
2300 Dulaney Valley Rd.
Timonium, MD

Friday, May 27
3 p.m. to 8 p.m.
St. Gerard Church
240 W. Robb Ave.
Lima, OH
Wake service beginning at 7 p.m.

Funeral
Thursday, May 26
11 a.m.
Main Chapel, Stella Maris

Saturday, May 28
10 a.m.
St. Gerard Church

Burial
Immediately following funeral at St. Gerard

Friday

Wednesday & Thursday, May 18 & 19
Prague, Czech Republic

At our last Mass together on Wednesday, at the church of the Infant Jesus of Prague, Monsignor Bastress recalled his ordination 60 years ago the following day (Thursday). How honored we were to help him mark the occasion.
He humbly recalled lying prostrate before the altar, the bishop’s hands on his head … and suddenly he was a priest of God. It’s not that one always feels worthy of a vocation, Monsignor Bastress said. When God calls, he said, we set our compass in his direction and set forth.
Such a call and response also serve as an apt summary of the two men we have crossed an ocean to honor.
St. John Neumann of Bohemia and Blessed Francis Seelos of Bavaria set their respective compasses for the New World, crossing the same ocean under conditions far more perilous than our own.
Not least among the lessons we’ve learned during this pilgrimage is to persevere in the face of hardships. Our own journeys in life may not involve 40 days at sea nor plagues of yellow fever, but they are fraught with perils nonetheless. To persevere means less reliance on self and more trust that God will light our way.
To reach the church where we celebrated the end of our pilgrimage, officially known as the Church of Our Lady of Victory, we took a stroll through Prague’s past — from Josefov, the historic neighborhood of a once thriving Jewish population; into Old Town, graced by Italian Renaissance architecture and flooded with tourists; and across the centuries-old Charles Bridge over the Vltava (Moldau) River.
Hearing how the bridge and other buildings became populated by statues of saints suggested another answer to the question I’ve asked of several guides: Why Czechs and their next-door neighbors in Poland (home of Blessed Pope John Paul II) differ so sharply in professions of faith.
Not only did Bohemians adopt an early form of reform Protestantism under Jan Hus, they fought and lost the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) for the right to practice it. Then, under the Austrian emperor, Bohemia was forcibly “re-Catholicized.” The story called to my mind other abuses of power: forcing Jews to be baptized in earlier centuries and forcing Christians to empty the churches under Soviet occupation.
And yet there are signs that faith in God is awakening once again among Czechs, as if Christianity in general, and Catholicism in particular, is emerging from a long period of dormancy. Distant relatives of mine tell me some churches in Prague are full for Sunday Mass, including one attended by university students.
Traditional devotions are also reviving. Pilgrims, especially from Latin America, flock to the shrine of the Infant Jesus. For centuries, pilgrims have venerated the statuette of a young Jesus brought to Bohemia from Spain in the 16th century. Plaques attached to the wall on either side of the shrine attest to miraculous powers of intercession.
We also visited Loretta, a Marian shrine near Hradcany Castle that resembles in structure the complex at Svata Hora. It contains a replica of the Santa Casa (Holy House) in Loreto, Italy.
Our final stop: the soaring Gothic-style St. Vitus Cathedral. Construction began in the 1300s but halted with the Protestant Reformation. Half the interior was sealed off and services held in the other half. Finally completed in 1929, its rear stained glass windows were designed by some of the finest artists of that time.
The Wenceslaus Chapel contains the tomb of St. Wenceslaus (903–935), the patron saint of Bohemia and the Czech Republic. Also here: The tomb of the beloved St. John Nepomok (1340–93), for whom St. John Nepomucene Neumann was named.
How blessed has been this pilgrim experience.
Thanks for reading,
Martha

Martha H. Fitzgerald of Shreveport, LA, is a former journalist who has written a series of columns about vocations that were recently republished on catholicexchange.com. She is also blogging about her studies in the four-year Catholic Biblical School: Catholics & Bible Study: Sharing Our Journey through the Wilderness. Fitzgerald is editor and publisher of the award-winning novel, Letters to Luke: From His Fellow Physician Joseph of Capernaum, written by her late father Dr. Joe Holoubek.

Thursday

Tuesday, May 17

Prachatice & Svata Hora, Czech Republic
 
When Prachatice (38 miles from Budweis) celebrated the canonization of its native son, John Nepomucene Neumann, in 1977, secret police were in attendance. Our city guide said many young people had no idea who the man was or why he was important. But many of the older people knew, and they attended the celebration despite the political intimidation.
 
Today, 22 years after the Velvet Revolution ended Communist rule in this country, this Czech town’s pride in its native son is palpable and it underscored the significance of our visit, the climax of our Neumann Bicentennial Pilgrimage.
 
There’s a Neumann chapel in Kostel Svatého Jakuba (Church of St. James), at the site where Neumann was baptized. Commemorative art includes a portrait of Neumann in his bishop’s robes, a small statue at a front altar, and a colorful mural created by schoolchildren depicting his episcopal seat of Philadelphia.
 
His birthplace today is a hospice. And the city’s historical museum houses a special exhibit room covering his early home and family life as well as his missionary work in America. Even the burial site of Philip and Agnes Neumann celebrates their son. Nestled against a wall in a cemetery well above the town, the grave notes John Neumann’s episcopal position in a mural and a gilded footstone inscription.
 
At Mass in the simple chapel — despite a chill in the air and a cat meowing during the readings — we pilgrims experienced a spiritual warmth and depth of feeling. Monsignor Bastress placed a relic of Neumann on the altar, and Father Daniel presented a list of special intentions for healings of soul, mind, and body.
 
Father Daniel likened Neumann to the description of Barnabas in that day’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles — a good man, filled with the Holy Spirit and faith, encouraging others in firmness of heart. The happy result, outlined in the reading: "And a large number of people was added to the Lord."
 
Neumann overcame many obstacles in pursuing his vocation, Father continued, and on occasion felt a deep sense of despair. In our own moments of darkness, he said, Neumann is someone we can turn to for understanding and intercessions.
 
Neumann was not a martyr, nor one of the early Church Fathers or a similarly spectacular personality. In fact, he was dismissed as too ordinary by one of those studying his life for evidence of sanctity. Such a judgment misses what Neumann embodied — the holiness of living out our day-to-day lives with unwavering trust and hope in God.
 
In declaring Neumann’s heroic virtue, an early step toward canonization, Pope Benedict XV said, "For true activity does not consist in mere noise, it is not the creature of a day, but it unfolds itself in the present, it is the fruit of the past and should be the seed of the future."
 
May the attention to Neumann this bicentennial year be the seed to renewal of faith in Czech Republic, especially among those young people wondering who Neumann is and why he’s important.
 
Svata Hora
 
Our day was not yet done. We had one more stop before reaching Prague, our final destination.
 
Svata Hora (the Holy Mountain) arises outside Pribram, about 62 miles northwest of Prachatice. Housing a miraculous statuette of the Blessed Virgin, the basilica with chapel has been a place of pilgrimage since the 1600s. Redemptorists were entrusted with its care from 1861 to 1950, and again beginning in 1990.
 
The sanctuary comprises a terraced ballustrade akin to a fortress protecting a small Baroque church with outdoor and indoor worship spaces. The colors of the outer chapel have been faded by the elements, but the inner chapel glitters in gilt and silver, boasting a new altar and ambo. On the ballustrade, wall and ceiling, murals tell the history of the complex and of 100 major miracles — largely dating to the 1600s and 1700s.
 
Once again we were invited into private Redemptorist quarters for refreshment. The offerings: European or American coffee and kolaces — or kolaches as they’re called in Nebraska. To my delight, these country-style fruit-daubed pastries were much like the ones my grandmother used to make!
 
Ahead is one more day of sacred sights, including Prague’s St. Vitus Cathedral and Loreta shrine
 
Until later,
Martha
Martha Fitzgerald is from Shreveport, LA, and will be blogging her experiences during the pilgrimage.
 

Previous posts
We’re all pilgrims (May 12, 2011)
A hero’s homecoming (May 13, 2011)
Austrian charm (May 16, 2011)
In the footsteps of St. John Neumann (May 17, 2011)

Wednesday

Monday & Tuesday, May 16-17
Part I: Budweis, Czech Republic

In 1950, five years after the Soviets occupied Czechoslovakia, the 17th century Redemptorist cloister in C eské Budjovice (Budweis) closed. Priests and brothers were imprisoned or forced into secular labor. The Redemptorists returned in the 1990s and re-opened the Church of the Blessed Virgin’s Sacrifice. It’s adjacent to the school St. John Neumann attended as a boy, and he likely assisted at daily Mass, according to our Redemptorist guide.

However, the pews mostly are empty here and at other churches. Three generations of young Czechs (Bohemians and Moravians) have been raised outside of the Faith. Today, the Czech Republic has one of the highest populations of self-professed atheists — roughly 40 percent.
 
I find this such a tragedy — particularly because Bohemia was my father’s ancestral homeland. But on this pilgrimage, the irony is inescapable: Young John Nepomucene Neumann, named after a Bohemian martyr, could not be ordained at the nearby Cathedral of St. Nicholas because of a overabundance of priests. There were no church posts available.
 
He traveled to the United States to bring Christianity to the Indians and to the German and Irish immigrants who had been so long without the sacraments that they were in danger of losing their faith. Within four weeks of his 1836 arrival in New York, Neumann was ordained and given his first assignment.
 
Today, despite the shortage of priests in the States, the demand for missionary work is far greater in the land of Neumann’s birth.
 
This town is only 120 miles from Vienna. So much of the landscape looks familiar — with one significant difference: vast fields and few farmhouses in sight. Germany and Austria had clearly marked boundaries between separately cultivated plots of land. The vacant feel here is undoubtedly a holdover from the days of socialization when private property was nationalized and farmers became commune workers on what may previously have been their own property.
 
Blooming at this point is rapeseed, which is grown to produce diesel fuel. The effect, in some areas, is a bright-yellow ocean as far as the eye can see.
 
We noted two active nuclear power plants in the distance (Germany has shut its plants and turned to alternative energy sources). Southern Bohemia also boasts a number of solar-panel farms, one as large as a football field. But we have not yet spotted the mammoth wind turbines that rose above fields in Bavaria.
 
To our surprise, there are a number of roadside shrines, mostly at the crossroads of country lanes — crucifixes on pedestals or images of the Madonna and Child.
 
eské Budjovice boasts a handsome collection of Renaissance-era houses, thanks to rebuilding after a 1641 fire.
 
The site of Neumann’s early schooling now includes a bicentennial year display. Upon request, our Redemptorist guide also led us down several streets to the site of the Budweis diocesan seminary Neumann attended.
 
We celebrated Mass at the cathedral. "Each of us has a vocation," Monsignor Bastress reminded us. "We’re called to lead … our role is to pray, our role is to lead and to preach the word of the life."
 
Neumann understood this call to lead. He became the first professed Redemptorist in America and, five years later, the first superior of the North American Redemptorists. He mastered a total of nine languages (Bohemian, German, French, English, Spanish, Italian, enough Gaelic to hear confessions, and he could read Latin and Greek), in order to serve the melting pot of peoples in America. Named bishop of Philadelphia in 1852, he established 25 new parochial schools and 80 new churches in the eight years before his death.
 
Msgr. Bastress exacted a promise from us. When we return home, we’re not to just kiss our loved ones. "Bless them in the name of the Lord,” he said. “So they will know you’ve received a special grace."
 
Coming next: Our stop in Prachatice, Neumann’s birthplace.
 
Until later,
Martha
Martha Fitzgerald is from Shreveport, LA, and will be blogging her experiences during the pilgrimage.

 

Wednesday

Congratulations to the novices who received the Redemptorist habit for the first time May 15. Nine men from the provinces of Baltimore, Denver, Edmonton-Toronto, and London were invested during a Mass Sunday at St. Patrick’s Church in Toronto, Canada. The year-long novitiate is a special time of prayer and reflection on Redemptorist spirituality and our charism, all in preparation for first profession of vows.

Two novices from the Baltimore Province and two novices from the English-speaking Region of the Caribbean are scheduled to profess their first vows as Redemptorists in August.

Please keep all of them in your prayers, and pray that more young men will join us in our mission to the poor and most abandoned.


Calvin Auguiste
(Caribbean)

Gerard Carroll
(London)

Carmelo Gonzalez
(Edmonton-Toronto)

Anthony Michalik
(Baltimore)

Peter Morris
(London)

Charles Randall
(London)

Ashford St. Romain
(Caribbean)

Son Tran
(Denver)

David Verghese
(Baltimore)