June 26, 2022 Essay: A Bittersweet Farewell
This is the toughest aspect of Jesuit life. One year is just enough time to get settled, develop a new routine, get to know people, make friends, gain a feeling of confidence and something roughly resembling competence…and then leave.
When I was preparing to move from Chicago to New York in 2016, I was talking with my spiritual director about the difficulty of leaving people and a place I had come to love. He said, “At times of departure, there are, at most, two things to say: ‘Thank you’ and, if appropriate, ‘I’m sorry.’” As always, he was correct.
I’ll begin with the latter by quoting George Washington’s farewell address: “Though, in reviewing the incidents of my administration [“pastoral year” in my case], I am unconscious of intentional error, I am nevertheless too sensible of my defects not to think it probable that I may have committed many errors.” Whether it was forgetting your name despite having already been introduced, a moment of distraction and not engaging you in more meaningful conversation, a line in a homily that didn’t sit well, or anything else, for any and all of my shortcomings this year, I do apologize.
The “thank you” portion of my leave-taking, if done properly, would fill many bulletins. Over the course of my life, I have found God to be bafflingly, comically, abundantly, inexplicably generous and gentle with me. He has continued this undeserved trend this year through you, the wonderful people of the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola. When I arrived in August I had celebrated perhaps a dozen Masses, heard a handful of confessions, and presided at one wedding and zero funerals. Your generosity in getting to know me, responding to my homilies, welcoming me to baptize your children and bury your loved ones, sharing your human weaknesses and deep, profoundly holy desires in the confessional, and dedication to this parish community are God’s grace made real to me. This parish has been a welcoming, supportive, joyful place in which I’ve been able to stretch and grow into priesthood. As I’ve told several of you this year, the reason newly ordained priests keep getting sent here is that you take good care of us.
Thanking particular people or groups runs the risk of unintentionally overlooking others, but I’d be remiss to not express my gratitude in some specificity. To the whole parish staff, thank you for your tireless work, your generous spirit of collaboration, and the many laughs we’ve shared. To the facilities and sacristy team, without whom nothing would get done, mil gracias por todo su ayuda y diligencia. To the Friends of the Border, our trip was a fortuitous surprise and one of the highlights of the year for me. To IVC, youth group, IYA, ISJ, and the other groups with whom I’ve spent time, thank you for the energy you bring to this community. To all of the musicians, your talent adds so much to the life and prayer of this parish. If left to my own devices, I wouldn’t have processed out of a single Mass until your final notes had finished echoing in the farthest corners of the church. To my brother priests, your support and encouragement of me and your genuine care for the people of this parish have been deeply edifying and are among the key lessons I take away from my time here.
I depart for my doctoral studies at Boston College as a better priest, a better Jesuit, a better Christian, and a better human being because of my time here and the blessings all of you have been to me.
This is not goodbye, but see you later. Until then, thank you.
— Rev. Daniel N. Gustafson, S.J., Pastoral Year Priest