A Journey to Econe
A Personal Journal
by Reverend Father Daniel Cooper
AS OUR PLANE descended into Geneva's airport, the first thing that struck me was the beauty of the countryside—it was so green and all the homes looked so clean and bright. Father Bourmaud and I still had a long way to get to Ecône; by train, it's another two hours from Geneva. Along the train route the majestic mountains caused me to gasp—I didn't think a country could have so much natural beauty.
The train stop for Ecône is the town of Martigny. We were met there (much to my surprise) by my father who had taken an earlier flight to Europe and had rented a car. As we drove up the road to the seminary I felt I had been there before. This was my first trip outside of North America, but I had seen so many pictures of the Society's first seminary that it was not entirely new to me.
We arrived just at lunch time and two American seminarians, James Doran and Timothy Pfeiffer, introduced me to several seminarians at Ecône, especially those who spoke English. (I spoke only English; two years of high school French did not help me much at all, though the longer I was there the more I began to recall the little French I had learned.) It was rather surprising however, how many did indeed speak English. I had one slightly embarrassing moment when I asked an Irishman if he was British. Since he was good-natured, I escaped unharmed. It's a good thing I didn't speak French too or I might have caused several international uprisings.
Another thing that we Americans might find surprising is the way they eat at Ecône. They eat and drink out of the same bowl at breakfast. At dinner, soup, salad and the entree are also eaten in the same soup plate. For me, that was not any problem, but I did miss cold drinks of orange juice or milk at breakfast (they always drink hot milk and coffee). And all over Europe it was difficult to get ice water. I might have raised a few eyebrows at how little wine I drank, but like most Americans I prefer water at my meals, a horror to the French, I'm afraid.
During the five days before my ordination I tried to spend the time in a private retreat. It was not easy as Ecône is a bustle of activity during that week. Those days became increasingly tense for me. I suppose as the day of my ordination approached I realized better the great responsibilities of the priesthood and my own weaknesses. The retreat I had made under Father Snyder in Boston, Kentucky before going to Europe had helped me considerably to prepare myself, but I still felt somewhat afraid.
THE ORDINATION DAY dawned sunny and warm as I rather expected. The reason I expected it is that I was told every year the local people make a novena in honor of Padre Pio for good weather. Since 1978, the good Padre has not failed them—always good weather. This year, some said they should have prayed for overcast skies as the sun was brutally hot and caused a few to pass out during the long ceremonies. We knew there was a huge crowd but we kept our eyes lowered as we progressed to the huge outdoor tent where the ceremonies would be held. The clicking of cameras and the organ music was all I really heard. The procession seemed endless. I had never seen so many priests gathered together in one place. All that day I marveled at the number of priests united in their love for the traditions of the Catholic Faith and later, when we sang Vespers together, I felt very proud to be a member of such a Fraternity, joined with so many good men. Though the ceremonies lasted four hours it all went rather fast for me. I thought I would be shaking like a leaf but instead I was calm and resigned to whatever responsibilities God would ask of me in the priesthood. After Archbishop Lefebvre placed his hands on the head of each one of us (the matter of the Sacrament), so did all the priests in attendance. Just this part of the ceremony probably lasted twenty minutes or more. All during that time I invoked every priest in heaven I could think of by name from Sts. Peter and Paul to Sts. John Bosco and Pius X. I included also some priests not canonized but most probably in heaven, like Padre Pio, Pius XII and Father Solanus. I asked Our Lord to make us priests according to His Own Heart as He made all of them. Soon afterwards, Monseigneur Lefebvre sang the preface of the ordination and said the words that are the form of the Sacrament. We were priests. I was slightly dazed as I kept saying to myself, "I am a priest." Then I could only add, "Please make us good and holy priests." The rest of the ceremony seemed to move quickly. Father Bourmaud knelt next to me as I, along with the other ordinands, celebrated with the Archbishop the Holy Mass. That was a great joy for me, and during the distribution of Holy Communion I had plenty of time to thank God for such great graces and joys given to me on that day. Father Hannifin was right. He had told me back in Kentucky, "This will be the happiest day of your life." At the time I thought I'd only be very nervous, but he was right, happiness and joy came over me.
The next day, June 30, we would offer up our first Masses. Monsignor Hodgson had come all the way from Pittsburgh to attend the ordinations and assist me at my first Mass by preaching. When I was fourteen he had been one of our priests in the Detroit mission, so it was quite a pleasure to have him here now to assist at my first Mass. Father Brandler, an American professor at Ecône was also there and Father Bourmaud again assisted me at the altar. Though I kept trying, it was difficult for me to realize the greatness of this moment because I was rather distracted trying to get all the ceremonies correct.
On July 1, I was in Ars, France, saying Mass on the same altar St. Jean Vianney once did. I had asked the sacristan there if I might say Mass and he allowed me to, not knowing I was going to say the Latin Tridentine Mass. He also said I could celebrate Mass on the altar where the body of St. Jean Vianney lies, but in that case, I would be concelebrating with an English priest. I said, "No, thank you," and went to say Mass privately. I probably made a mistake in wearing my own vestments for this Mass, as their bright red color and Roman cut drew too much notice, including the sacristan's, who then realized I was saying the old Mass. But it was the Feast of the Precious Blood and I didn't want to wear the single white cloak he had laid out for me. However, he didn't interrupt me and I nervously completed the Holy Sacrifice.
I enjoyed very much the town of Ars and its sights. After dinner that evening, I went for a walk with my family and we saw a sign saying "Recontre Monument—2 Km." Not knowing much French at all, I thought it meant "resistance" or something similar and said, "must be a war monument of some kind." Well, we walked there and were very pleased to find it was the monument of the meeting of the young Cure' of Ars and the little boy who came out to greet him. "Show me the way to Ars," said the saint, "and I will show you the way to heaven." I didn't think I would see that statue as I had no idea where it was, so perhaps that little boy came again to show us the way. My family and I also visited Paray-le-Monial where the Sacred Heart appeared to St. Margaret Mary; Nevers, where St. Bernadette lived as a nun and the city of Paris.
After my family returned to the United States I traveled to Rome and spent nearly a week visiting the beautiful basilicas and shrines there. I walked almost everywhere I went and sometimes in Rome it can be difficult to cross the street. I'm used to cars stopping for pedestrians, but in Rome its more like everyone goes where he likes. They do have traffic lights, just a lot less than we do. So I started getting behind big Italians who just walked out in front of oncoming traffic. Its amazing how they all avoid collisions. Still the most frightening was the cab driver who drove backwards. When I arrived in Albano I had no idea where our Society's house was, so I showed the address to a cabbie. He had me get in, but since the house was just down the street (and his cab was facing the other way) he didn't bother turning around. He just drove backwards in the face of oncoming traffic! My gripping the dashboard and screaming "turn around!" didn't phase him at all. We just went backwards, stop and go, all the way to the house.
I would have to say the greatest delight for me (besides the ordination) was the unity among the priests of the Society. Everywhere I went to say Mass—Paris, Saarbrucken, Basel, Albano—I was treated very kindly and hospitably by my fellow priests, even though I had come without previous notice. Everyone went out of their way to be friendly, even though my lack of foreign languages made it rather difficult to communicate.
I was grateful for my Latin in the Seminary which enabled me to speak with a professor from Brazil who was visiting Albano and also to communicate more easily with my fellow priests. Who said Latin was a dead language?