Norwalk had three local connections to the recent visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the United States — music written by a St. Paul graduate was used in both New York City Masses and a former associate pastor at St. Paul was a con-celebrate of the service at St. Patrick Cathedral.
For the Mass at Yankee Stadium, another SPH grad now a priest was chosen to be a Eucharistic minister.
Mike Hay, a 1971 graduate of St. Paul High School, was active in music ministry his entire life. He died in 1999, but his faith lives on in the many liturgical pieces he wrote over the years.
Grace Hay Whitehurst, his sister, said she was surprised when she found out Hay's composition called Trilingual Intercessions was used at services at St. Patrick Cathedral and Yankee Stadium. She said he wrote it in 1994 to be sung in English, Latin and Spanish.
“He's still remembered,” Whitehurst said. “We always knew he was very talented and in the Chicago area he was well-known, but to think that nine years later his music was chosen for the official Papal visit is pretty amazing.”
In 1973, Hay was severely injured in an automobile accident. The first time he made it back to sing again at St. Paul was for the graduation ceremony in 1974.
Hay was able to walk with braces and crutches for a time, but in 1995 had to start using a wheelchair. That didn't stop him from earning a bachelor's degree in English from St. Meinrad College in Indiana or earning two masters' degrees to further his ministry in music from Loyola in Chicago and DePaul in Philadelphia.
“His music was everything to him — how he expressed his faith and his love of God and it was a way to reach other people,” Whitehurst said. “He loved to teach music also. When he returned to Norwalk as his medical condition worsened, he helped with liturgical music, with the band program and also helped with vocals for students in the high school musical.
Hay was a musical prodigy even as a high school student. He played trombone in the band and helped start what is now called the folk group for the 4:30 p.m. Saturday Mass.
Whitehurst said his family still has all of his original compositions and it brings them some sense of peace to know that Hay still lives through his music. He gave all royalites from his music to the church in his will.
“He had a mission and a purpose throughout his life - his music,” she said.
The Rev. Dave Reinhart, former associate pastor at St. Paul from1998 to 2002, won the “lottery” of priests from the Toledo diocese who traveled to New York for the Mass at St. Patrick.
Reinhart is the president at Cardinal Stritch High School in Oregon, Ohio and also teaches a theology class. He said every diocese in the nation was given two tickets for clergy and he was lucky enough to have his name drawn for the Toledo diocese.
“I was in the very back row, side aisle, next to a pillar,” Reinhart said, “but it was where he came and I could have reached out and hugged him.”
Reinhart had a camera and planned on taking pictures, but put it down as the Pope approached him.
“I thought ‘I don't want a camera between him and me,’” he said. “When he walked up to me I just bowed and he blessed me. Than I took a picture as he walked away.”
Getting into the city and finding parking was an ordeal, Reinhart said, but it was worth it to attend the Mass.
“It was an experience to see several thousand priests and religious (leaders) gathered to listen to their shepherd,” he said, since the St. Patrick Mass was for members of religious orders and various dignitaries.
“It was interesting to see grown, educated people electrified by this one man,” Reinhart said. “There were people with different viewpoints on theology, but everybody was excited and clapping. The feeling when he walked in was something between a great prayerful event and the arrival of someone much bigger than a superstar. It was a mixture of reverence and electricity.”
When the Pope approached each section, however, Reinhart said everyone in that area became quiet.
“When he would approach you, everyone would fall silent and bow,” he said. “For me personally, I found the whole Mass very prayerful. There was something about being there in that moment when you knew he was addressing Catholics of America and the entire world.”
Reinhart said he read a comment by a columnist during the Pope's visit that accurately summed up the difference between Benedict and his predecessor, John Paul II. “John Paul II made us cry and pulled on our heartstrings. Benedict is making us think and think deeply,” Reinhart paraphrased.
“There was a sense that American Catholics feel a new connection with the Pope that we hadn't felt before,” he said. “I believe he was really enjoying himself. He enjoyed the American people and he enjoyed the hospitality.”
“I was blessed to spend a couple of hours with Pope Benedict,” Reinhart said.
The Rev. Eric Schild, who was ordained a priest last June, is a 1998 graduate of St. Paul. He is now associate pastor at St. Wendelin in Fostoria and also teaches in the parish school. He led a group of 14 high school students and 14 adults to New York to the Mass at Yankee Stadium.
“It was just me and 60,000 of the Pope's closest friends,” Schild, adding it was an honor to be chosen as a Eucharistic minister for the Mass. “We had to send a list of all the people who were going to the Archdiocese of New York and they called and asked various priests to distribute. I said yes, of course — what an honor.”
Schild said the group crammed quite a bit into the two-day trip.
“We caravanned in five minivans,” he said. “We left at 3:30 a.m. on Saturday and got there at 1:30 in the afternoon and did some sightseeing. Pretty much the whole day Sunday was taken up with the Mass. It was an all-day extravaganza and quite a fantastic trip.”
Schild said he was “way up in the nosebleed section,” but was moved by the reverence of the people in the crowd. “Such reverence, such piety - even though they were in a baseball stadium,” he said. “It was amazing. It went from this secular stadium to a cathedral of worship.”
When the pope mobile appeared, Schild said, the entire stadium erupted in cheers.
“Everyone wanted to get a glimpse of the man we call Benedict,” he said. “A great quality of Pope Benedict is, as an 81-year-old man, he captures the attention of youth. You could see the transformation that took place in them.”
Schild said the young people in the stadium were amazingly intent on Pope Benedict.
“The youth look up to him, they listen to him, they want a glimpse of him and they cheer for him,” he said. “I think they realize he is a man of sincerity and truth in a society that doesn't value some of those things. He gives the youth something to hope for.”
Schild said Pope Benedict mentioned his mentor - Pope John Paul II - a number of times and Schild believes Benedict wants to continue to focus on youth as his predecessor did.
“He challenged them to live their lives and do it with great excitement,” Schild said. “Our kids came back charged up and energized and ready to go.”
Though Schild didn't get to personally talk to the Pope during this visit, they met when Schild was in college and the Pope was known as Cardinal Ratzinger.
“Little did I know he would be Pope Benedict. When I met him he struck me as a gentle soul,” Schild said.
“It has been interesting to see him as Pope and for me to be ordained under his spiritual leadership,” he added. “I've been very struck by his gentleness and his humility.”
Schild said Benedict focuses on “simple things that have profound meaning - love, hope - things that are a challenge for all of us as a society.”