Sacramental moments occur when we least expect them.
In preparing to write a story about Father Matt Guckin, an administrator at Bishop Shanahan High School who doubles as the school’s public address announcer during home football games, there was something familiar about his name and picture on Shanahan’s web site.
After about 30 minutes of discussing how much fun he has had playfully reminding everyone to attend Mass that weekend while simultaneously calling the game and coining inimitable gems such as “Shanahan Sack” from the press box above the field, his clerical background was discussed.
A 1983 Father Judge High School graduate, Father Guckin’s first priestly assignment was at St. Cecilia Parish in the Fox Chase section of Philadelphia, where he served from the year of his ordination, 1999, through 2003.
Having taught sixth grade at St. Cecilia’s years back, I began the always-interesting game of “Do you know so and so” with him.
After a few minutes, my brain fog began to subside.
“Hold on,” I said. “You were at St. Cecilia’s in 2000?”
Then it hit me.
The reason why Father Guckin’s name and picture seemed so familiar was because when my father was extremely ill less than a year before his death, it had been Father Guckin who arrived at Jeannes Hospital to administer the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick.
It was a moment that my nephew Joe and I will never forget. I had called less than an hour earlier, and Father Guckin arrived like a doctor in spiritual garb, only this garb had less to do with healing my dad’s physical maladies than it did cementing one of those “Wow” moments of being a Catholic.
It was something I always mention when lecturing in the Church and Sacraments classes I teach at Archmere Academy in Claymont, Del. I tell the students how Jesus was palpably present in the room that afternoon, how Father Guckin’s calm, confident and accessible demeanor provided sacred nourishment for the collective soul of my family, because knowing how much Dad cherished his Catholic faith, it would be extemely important to him to have received the Sacrament during one of the darkest periods of his earthly life.
Sure enough, when Dad recovered a few weeks later, he was visibly thrilled to learn that he was now only one Sacrament shy of the full seven.
“I have to say that I’m a lot more proud of hearing about that than I am of being a football announcer,” Father Guckin laughed. “I love being a priest. There’s so much joy in every aspect of it, and joy is a beautiful part of life.”
Linda Bee, a longtime member of St. Cecilia’s who raised her children Mandy and Michael at the parish, recalled how, at the eighth-grade graduation, students swarmed around Father Guckin to thank him for being such an integral part of their lives.
At the parish party celebrating Father Guckin’s last day at St. Cecilia, Bee recalled a “huge line of people” standing patiently as they prepared to say goodbye.
“He is one of the most genuine persons I’ve ever met,” said Bee. “Everyone loves him. He did an amazing job at St. Cecilia. He made such an impact on everyone, especially the kids. He was a great influence on all of them.”
Gifted with a gregarious personality and a hilarious sense of humor, Father Guckin was asked if he had wanted to become involved in the field of communications when he enrolled at Penn State University as a logistics major.
“I actually wanted to become a professional baseball player,” he said. “But I couldn’t hit, I couldn’t run and I couldn’t field. I really would have had a great career.”
From one appreciative Catholic to another, my family is thrilled that Father Guckin wasn’t a good baseball player.
Because he sure has become a future hall of fame priest.
John Knebels can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.