More than 100 people filled the bar section at JD McGillicuddy’s in Havertown for a Theology on Tap event with the three priests from Sacred Heart Parish in Manoa Tuesday night, Jan. 31.
Father Henry McKee, the pastor, plus Father Mike Speziale of Archbishop Carroll High School and Father John Masson of Cardinal O’Hara High School led the night of faith, fellowship and fun.
The priests shared personal stories and answered questions from the young adults gathered. Many topics were discussed including what a priest does besides celebrate Mass and perform priestly ministries, the role lay people play in the church and how young people can strengthen their faith.
Discussing how he spends his leisure time, Father Masson, the youngest of the priests who was ordained in 2012, said every Friday night he meets up with two priests friends with whom he attended the seminary, usually for dinner and/or a movie. Movies they’ve enjoyed together include “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” “The Passion of the Christ” and “Lord of the Rings.” Father John has also read those books and enjoys watching the television show, “The Office.”
“It’s an opportunity to help each other and talk,” he said.
Father McKee said movies he’s seen recently are “Fences,” “La La Land” and “Hidden Figures,” but one of his all-time favorites is “The Sound of Music.” He also likes watching sports, particularly football and college basketball.
Msgr. Philip Cribben, pastor emeritus of St. Anastasia Parish in Newtown Square, made a special guest appearance at Theology on Tap. Ironically, when Father Speziale was ordained in 2009, his first assignment was parochial vicar at St. Anastasia while Msgr. Cribben was pastor there.
The Theology on Tap event was a wonderful time for the two priests to reminisce about the experience of working together.
Father Mike recalled the time he had to make a sick call at the Broomall Nursing Home and was pulled over by a Marple Township policeman. The hooded sweatshirt he wore over his clerical shirt covered his collar and so the officer did not know he was a priest. When Father Mike was asked where he lived and told the officer that his residence was St. Anastasia, the officer thought he may have been playing a game. However, it became clear who he was and where he was going and the officer simply asked him to reduce his driving speed.
Another experience Msgr. Cribben and Father Mike retold was when they were helping to prepare the second graders for first penance and holy Communion, the students had only seen priests in their official capacities. Therefore, one girl was curious enough to ask if they have to wear black all the time.
Priests have embarrassing moments as well. During Father McKee’s early years as a priest, he saw a broken window and a school boy holding a rock in his hand. This was the first time he noticed the window was broken and he took the boy into the rectory and grilled him for two hours. Due to the boy’s denial, the priest wondered if the window and/or the rock in hand was something he just imagined but the boy confessed what he did.
“It’s a different world now,” said Father McKee. “I did stuff that a priest couldn’t do today.”
The transition from high school to college can be a challenging time for students as well as their parents. Katie Sparacino, a recent graduate of the University of Delaware, wondered how priests play a role in helping them to make decisions about college.
While Catholic high schools require students to take four years of theology courses as well as attend school-wide religious events and perform community service, once the students enter college those activities become their own choice.
But the opportunities do exist — Catholic colleges and universities have campus ministry programs that include Mass, penance services, retreats and service trips but non-Catholic campuses have Newman Centers that offer the same opportunities.
Each year, Father Mike invites Father Tom Gardner, Newman Chaplain for West Chester University, to visit Archbishop Carroll and talk with the students so they can get a feel for the religious atmosphere on the university’s campus. That can also influence their decision to attend West Chester.
“At Carroll, I let the kids know about the Newman Center on non-Catholic campuses,” said Father Mike. “Father Tom from West Chester makes a visit and talks more about it. I’ve seen kids want to step up.”
During her years at the University of Delaware, Sparacino was very active in the Newman Center on campus.
“It’s important to have Christian friends around you but you cannot limit yourself to one group,” she said.
Lisa Grandinetti, a young adult parishioner of Sacred Heart Parish, makes a point to attend Mass each Sunday and holy day of obligation but there are occasions when she can’t do it and when that happens, she wants to receive the sacrament of reconciliation before returning to Mass and receiving Communion.
If someone unable to attend Mass becomes concerned that they should go to confession before they receive the Lord, Father McKee advises them to make an Act of Contrition.
“It’s not a sin if you can’t go,” said Father McKee. “God only asks us to do what we can do.”
Participants in the Theology on Tap discussion told how sometimes people do not quite see the point of coming to Mass, especially after they have been fully initiated and have had many years of learning about the Catholic faith.
What role can young people play in shaping the future of the Church? Vanessa Grandinetti of Sacred Heart attended Sacred Heart School where she received an outstanding education from Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary as well as lay teachers. She spent the last several years of grammar school serving at the altar. Now in her freshman year at Haverford High School, she attends Mass each weekend and hopes to volunteer her time to the church in the future.
“I think it’s good for people to be involved,” she said. “Being a server made me closer to God and the priests gave me a good understanding of the church.”
Planners at Sacred Heart hope to offer another Theology on Tap session in the coming months.