A Time Of Innocence
Children are treasured gifts from God! In our culture, it has become challenging to protect their innocence, as well as their abilities to grow up and enjoy the full potential of God’s plan.
The 2018 Season of Lent began on Valentines Day – a day to express love, and recognize the value in sacrificial love turned into tragedy. Many students’ lives were lost in a high school shooting in Florida. As the news began to unfold, I was reminded of another Valentines Day, when sadness became very surreal. It was Feb. 14, 1969, and I was a sixth-grader attending morning Mass at Sacred Heart parish in Vincennes. The excitement of our Valentines Day turned into heartbreak. The church was filled with children from first to eighth grades as our Pastor, Father Henry Doll, began the liturgy. Father Doll slumped over the altar and began reciting the Hail Mary prayer. The adults came to his assistance and helped him to the rectory, where we learned he had passed away.
On this day in February 1969, there was no violence; the events that took place were natural, yet the fragility and preciousness of life became real. The Benedictine Sisters led us in prayer, and candles were lit for Father Doll. When we went out for recess that afternoon, there was a missing presence. We shared memories of Father Doll – like the day he rescued several hundred squealing kids who were playfully being chased on the playground by a man who had spent the morning in a Second Street bar. We all wondered what Father was saying to the man as they entered the rectory. My guess, now, is that coffee and confession were involved.
Father Doll’s presence at the school was a blessing. He played whiffle ball with the kids at recess and was always available to bless and pass out the report cards each term. He provided monthly catechesis after Mass, teaching us about the lives of saints, the Mass, and the Sacraments. These memories have impacted my life tremendously. Father Doll is the reason I can accurately name all the sacramentals, vestments, and items used for Mass.
Father Doll spent 46 years as a Catholic priest in Vincennes. He coached basketball at Central Catholic High School, worked with youth, and was a friend to comedian and Vincennes native Red Skelton. I heard stories about a circus and a monkey that Father Doll owned, but was not privileged to witness this fun side of him. I have a vivid memory of Father Doll asking my little brother, who was serving Mass, to leave the altar because he stuck the paten in my throat at the Communion rail.
Children will never-again experience the innocent Catholic grade school days of the 60s and 70s. They were uniquely special times in my life. I obtained an excellent education from Sisters who most likely did not all have degrees. The faith and commitment of priests and religious were very much a part of our day, and my parents expected the same degrees of respect and hard work from us at home. I am so grateful for the discipline and faith that were introduced in my formative years. It was a very simple life, not perfect by any means; but I knew sacrifices were being made to give me the best life had to offer in my little world. The Church played a big roll in every aspect of my life, and still does today. I am filled with gratitude! Amen!