|Our heavenly Father, the Lord of the living and the dead, has called to Himself Reverendissimus Dom. Ladislas Francis Keresztesy-Parker, Abbot Founder and First Abbot of St. Michael’s in Orange, on Sunday, 3 January, A.D. 2010, at 12:05 A.M.|
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Memories of Abbot Parker
By His Sons and Daughters in the Canonical Life
“His father's honor is a man's glory.” Sirach 3.11
The following are seventy-four personal recollections of Abbot Ladislas by his successor Abbot Eugene and all the living members of his abbey community with the founding sisters of the Norbertine canonesses who knew him personally. They are offered in great gratitude and joy for all the world of good he did us , in the hope that they will encourage and inspire all the clergy and faithful who read these truly heartfelt lines. All together, these reminiscences compose a comprehensive picture of his character, achievements, influence, personality, and grace-filled old age, and peaceful death in the abbey he founded.
THE CONFRERES OF ST. MICHAEL’S ABBEY
Trabuco Canyon, California
In the late summer or 1978 I had begun my first regular weekend (Sunday) assignment at a parish in Orange County . At supper on Sunday evening Fr. Parker would always ask me about what I had preached saying: “So what was the good word?” He would listen to an answer which usually was too lengthy (TMI) as I would attempt to give every possible nuance to everything I had said. He then asked “What was the response at the door of the Church?” I was usually able to say that at least one person commented favorably things saying things like “great sermon” or “I enjoyed listening to your talk,” “I really liked what you said.” After a couple of weeks he said “Good, they liked it. Now the next time you hear something like that, ask them what was it they liked or enjoyed or what part especially hit them.” It was a real exercise in humility as the usual responses were: “it was real short” or “I understood every word” or “you didn’t repeat what was in the readings.” Not too lofty accomplishments in my reasoning, but in his inimitable way he tried to teach me not to preach for praise but rather preach the Gospel.
—Fr. Abbot Eugene
I would write a book and I have only three hundred words! When I was sixteen and a convert my Passionist confessor directed me to Abbot Ladislas. I was amazed and disappointed when he backed my mother (my Episcopalian priest father was in favor) who did not want me to enter as a minor seminarian, and more amazed when he said to go ahead a get the university education my parents wanted. He did let me help in the summer camp, after seven weeks of which he offered my astonished father his observations for my improvement. When I finally entered, he always challenged me intellectually and morally, correcting my faults with his acute asides. He was a man with no illusions about human nature, even in those with high ideals. Then I began to realize that in spite of his being so direct and stern with me, especially in private, that he really loved and trusted me, and that the freedom with which he corrected me was a sign of that love and trust. Abbot Ladislas was a man who really took to heart the best of all he had received from others his whole life long. He had the central European’s churchman’s culture and historical sense which was not usually understood by the clergy of our own region. He refused to dichotomize either persons or ideas, a man of unity and comprehensive insight, much like Benedict XVI, happily reigning, whose election was in so many different ways the vindication of all he had experienced and striven for in his ninety-four years of earthly life. May you see the light of Christ the Lord, my sweet Father!
I met Abbot Parker when I was 10 years old (in 1960). He came to our house in Fullerton for dinner. At that time he was teaching at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, a school which my older brother attended a few years later. During dinner, he told my family about his exciting escape from Communist Hungary ten years earlier (in 1950). He also shared his dream of re-starting the old Hungarian St. Michael’s Abbey right here in Orange County, California! It was fascinating and inspiring to meet someone who had left behind his family, friends, homeland, possessions – everything – to follow God’s call and continue his vocation as a Norbertine Priest of St. Michael’s Abbey. Requiescat in pace!
Abbot Parker was a man with a mission. He knew God was calling him to establish a new foundation of the Order after his Mother Abbey of Csorna was suppressed by the communist. He was called to do this at a time of social and ecclesiastical upheaval. When other religious communities were into dissent and breaking away from their sound traditions, Abbot Parker held fast in loyalty to the Vicar of Christ and the Church’s traditions. He represented something bigger than himself and was in humble service of that mystery. This made him truly a great man. There are many good men, but few who are really great. I thank God for placing my formation as a priest into the hands of a truly great man. No one has more marked my life as a priest. I am also grateful for the trust Abbot Parker placed in me personally. Upon ordination he entrusted me with the formation of our future priests and soon after his blessing as Abbot I was able to serve at his side as Prior. Abbot Parker taught me many lessons that books cannot teach but can only be acquired by imitating one greater than oneself. I can never repay him for what he has done for me personally. Finally, what makes him so great is that I know I am only one among many whom he has influenced and brought to the Altar of God. Ecce Sacerdos Magnus.
When the topic of the virtue of magnanimity comes up, the person that immediately comes to my mind is Abbot Parker. Abbot Parker was a born leader, one who could inspire, gently correct and firmly stand fast, all without losing a charming simplicity of life and sense of humor. I am sure all of us recall many things that he said or did which were impressed upon our memories, whether as part of the Sacred liturgy, or while in his office, the dining hall, or out in the rose garden. While overseeing the common good and fostering the unity of the community, he demonstrated a personal love for the individual confrères How often I was blessed by his affectionate greeting, “Istvan Király”, and with encouragement received from him, even after moving to Rome (written with his classic type writer). At a celebration marking the end of his time as superior of St. Michael’s several persons spoke about Abbot Parker. Here I will recall just two of the things I remember. Fr. Paul Gelenscer, his confrere from Csorna, said something like this: “Abbot Parker is someone you want to be with at a time of emergency; somehow he will know exactly what to do.” And when the Abbot General Van de Ven spoke, while addressing Abbot Parker he suddenly interjected, “You are the most distinguished Abbot in our Order!” At those words the whole room burst into applause, delighted to hear from the abbot general himself something I think each of us understood to be true, and because of which we felt extraordinarily blessed. And his example of prayer, right up to the end when he was capable of little else. It is no small consolation knowing that we now have such a father, a real patriarch, as our intercessor in the next life.
During a visit to St. Michael’s Abbey in the year prior to my transfer to the Norbertines I met Fr. Abbot Parker who said to me that he was very interested in promoting “my project” (transferring to the Norbertines). It was a difficult time for me. I felt that I no longer belonged in my former community. Fr. Abbot made me feel that there was hope for my application to transfer. I was always impressed that Fr. Abbot Parker continued to have such a tranquil countenance and great fidelity to common prayer during the recent years, even as his condition deteriorated. In general, it seems that Fr. Abbot cooperated with many graces that produced wonderful fruit for the Church in southern California. May the angels lead him to paradise.
In 1945, the Second World War was ending. The German troops were retreating, as the Russians were advancing from the East. In Hungary the Soviet Communist soldiers took over the territory town by town, disarming the citizens and terrorizing everyone. The Russian soldiers were very wary of German resistance attacks, and so were on their guard against any German-speakers, who might be enemy soldiers in disguise. On Wednesday of Holy Week, they arrived in the town of Csorna. When they reached St. Michael’s Abbey, several trembling confrères and laypeople were gathered in the corridor leading to the church. A group of soldiers burst into the corridor, shooting the ceiling with their automatic rifles, shouting and looking for Germans. In the midst of the chaos, when others with greater seniority were losing courage, Fr. Parker, just 30 years old, spoke up to assure Russians that there were no German soldiers there. He said some phrases in Russian, and bravely risked speaking German, when he realized that one of the intruders could understand that language too. Later, I was a student of Fr. Parker in moral theology and always enjoyed his classes. I have spent 70 years living in the same community with Fr. Parker, and I found him to be very humble, never drawing attention to himself, never raising his voice, and always a gentleman. When a decision was to be made he would carefully consider the matter, and act on his decision. He was diplomatic in his dealings with the great and small alike, and quite helpful to anyone who approached him. If the problem was not so small, he would often say, “Let’s think it over, sleep on it, and tackle it tomorrow.”
Fr. Parker was my novice master when I entered the abbey of Csorna in 1943. I had just come from the gymnasium; I was an idealist. Fr. Parker had just come back from Rome, was also an idealist, and was appointed novice master. German was his mother tongue, and I learned the language during summers with my relatives in Austria. Needless to say we got along. I was his first and only novice that year. He was ten years older than I. One of my problems was that I wouldn’t sing, so Fr. Ladislas told me that if I wanted to be a Jesuit, it would be OK for me not to sing, but a Norbertine canon regular has to be able to sing a High Mass. So I learned to sing the preface, and so was fit to be ordained! When I was sent to Innsbruck for further studies, Abbot Parker wanted me to finish my studies as soon as possible. I finished a year early and Abbot Parker was pleasantly surprised. When we came to America, we eventually reunited in California. After we taught at Mater Dei High School for a couple of years, Fr. Parker arranged to acquire the land where St. Michael’s is today. We began the junior seminary there, while Fr. Parker continued to serve as superior of our small Norbertine community in Santa Ana, and often to travel about in order to raise funds for our first “expansion project.” We worked together on the Hilltop for many years before the other confrères began to join us. Since the land was rather bare, we planted the trees together and watered them with buckets every day. He was tireless in doing his tasks, and humbly fulfilled his responsibilities as prior and then abbot. St. Michael’s would not exist if it were not for him.
During the first five years after the foundation of St. Michael’s in 1961, all of the seminarians came from homes in Southern California. Then, in 1966, Father Parker (the name by which he was addressed at that time) took the “risk” of accepting into the novitiate a candidate from outside California, an eighteen-year- old high-school graduate from Columbus, Ohio. My parents drove the entire family to California to drop me off. Father Parker was most gracious in receiving the family and making everyone feel welcome during the week that they spent at St. Michael’s, so much so that my brother John returned the following summer to work for Father Parker in the summer camp. And throughout the years that I was blessed to know him, Abbot Parker showed a genuine interest in my family, frequently asking me how my parents and brother and two sisters were doing. In this and many other ways, he was a father figure to everyone who knew him. In the late 1960s or early 1970s, there was a fire that threatened to engulf St. Michael’s in its flames. Father Parker had picked me up at the airport and was driving me home to St. Michael’s, not knowing if there would even be anything left if and when we arrived there. As we drove, we anxiously watched the dark cloud of smoke in the distance, hoping and praying that St. Michael’s would be spared. In this state of uncertainty, Father Parker, with a sigh of resignation, quoted the famous words of Job: “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh; blessed be the name of the Lord!” ( Job 1:21 ). Even in the face of the prospect of seeing his life’s work literally go up in flames, he was ready to accept God’s Will.
It was in the summer of 1967 when a mutual friend invited me to meet Fr. Ladislas Parker, the Prior of St. Michael’s Priory. In our meeting I revealed my seemingly shaky and shady past. Five years earlier, at the age of 29, I decided to leave a lucrative real estate business, break an engagement with my Swedish fiancée and enter my first Catholic school, St. John’s Major Seminary in Camarillo to pursue studies for the priesthood. I wanted to serve the Lord Jesus as His priest. When at the end of school I was requested not to return due to having done poorly in Latin, I chose to resume studies elsewhere, this time in Boston at Pope John XXIII National Seminary. As Providence would have it, once again at the end of the school year I was requested not to return, this time for ideological reasons. The Church was undergoing some changes as was the nation in the ’60’s. After listening (as only Fr. Ladislas could so well do), he came up with a question that was the beginning of a warm, fatherly relationship for the next 42 years, “Why not try us?” Our relationship was bonded in his referral to me as his “first born son.” May he, my first born father, rest in peace along with his friends in heaven, the angels and saints.
I’ll remember: strolls with him on the covered walk, his hand firmly gripping my elbow, everybody was “Sonny,” his habitual deference to Mrs. Chabafy, who took care of the kitchen before the arrival of our dear Rosarian Dominican Sisters, cigar ash on his clerical vest. In his later years I once drew his attention to a gravy stain on the front of his scapular. He dismissed my concern: “Privilege of old age.” Sometime in the 1970’s Fr. Parker visited my family home in upstate New York. My sister, Maria, persuaded him to ride one of our horses. I will never forget his expression of dignified alarm when the animal started cantering more briskly than he’d anticipated. Fr. Parker was outside tending his beloved roses when a first-time visitor came up. “I’m looking for the superior. You the gardener?” “Yep,” replied Fr. Parker and went right on working. Before ordination I was struggling with something regarding my vocation, and Fr. Parker encouraged me to persevere with the simple words of St. Paul from Rom 11:29: “The gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.”
I first met Abbot Ladislas at the 1982 General Chapter. Amidst the various confrères lobbying, he was a voice of sanity, sense, orthodoxy and subtle humor. While he supported the notion of a substantial unity in the Order, he was suspicious of moves to “synchronize”; the leveling out of variations in the traditions and observances of canonries. He was a wise guide to an inexperienced capitular! I saw the fruits of his work at St. Michael’s on my first visit later that year, and I saw St. Michael’s become an Abbey, and grow and flourish over the years since. The visitation Abbot Ladislas conducted of the Irish Canonry and its (then) dependent house in Queen’s Park, Western Australia, was the most incisive, charitable, and useful of the visitations I have experienced in the Order since I entered as a postulant in 1972. To have known Abbot Ladislas is one of the greatest blessings I have been given as a Norbertine.
—Fr. William (Holy Trinity Abbey, Kilnacrott, Co. Cavan, Eire)
I felt the calling to join the abbey (priory back then) already as a summer camper. During the summer before 8th grade I approached then Fr. Parker (Prior) and asked how to become a seminarian. He was delighted and encouraged me to sign up for the entrance exam during the next year. Then he gave me a broom and had me sweep the walkway to the refectory - his abbot to my St. Hermann Joseph. Somehow both of us persevered!
When I was a student in our Prep School, Abbot Parker visited the classrooms every quarter for the oral exams. While there, he always mentioned the Latin exhortation, “Age quod agis” (Do what you are doing), as a reminder that work is best when it is focused. This advice not only helped me with my studies, but was also exemplified by him in his own indefatigable work for the abbey. He continued to help me focus throughout my seminary years, and during these first 28 years of my priesthood. I pray that he will continue to do so from heaven.
Dear Abbot Ladislas: Thank you for putting a shovel in my hand on June 28, 1975, the day I arrived at St. Michael’s. You prepared me for all the sweat and labor which lay ahead in the service of the Lord. Thank you for not giving up on me that one time during my formation when I was in the valley of darkness and had given up on you and the community. Thank you for the occasional books which you discreetly slipped from behind your scapular to mine, and over which we then shared some laughs or even serious discussions. Thank you for helping me through my father’s death and sending me home for Christmas to be with mom that year, even though I didn’t want to go. As usual, you were right. Rest well in heaven, for you labored hard for the Lord here on earth. Love,
It’s raining in Rome as I type out this reflection. The gentle rain reminds me of one particular afternoon in the early 80’s when my room in the cloister looked out over the courtyard; I watched Fr. Parker reseeding the lawn. Wearing a beret and his London Fog coat, Fr. Parker walked to and fro with his pants cuffed high; he carried a small black trash can under his arm. From the container Fr. Parker pulled out handfuls of rye and gently released the seed as he swung his arm out in an arch. Again and again I watched him release a spray of seed as they scattered evenly across the wet grass. Later Fr. Parker told me that he learned from his grandfather how to sow the seed so that the plants would grow evenly and how to use the scythe for the best advantage at harvest time. Fr. Parker was always good at bringing the old world to the new and balancing them both. He frequently said that one should keep the old but don’t shy away from the new either.
Although I still remember my first meeting with Abbot Parker when I was six or seven years old, a memory with a little more significance for me dates back to the summer of 1977, when I was a new, eighteen-year- old postulant suddenly immersed in the daunting responsibilities of being a camp counselor. I had never been away from my family for any considerable amount of time, and now I was eagerly trying my best to get off on the right foot at St. Michael’s. After a week or so, I was called into Fr. Parker’s office to get instructions on some grounds keeping work I was supposed to help with. He explained it in detail and asked if I understood. After applying in the affirmative I was hurrying out of his office to get to work when, without looking up from his desk, Fr. Parker asked, “Are you homesick?” Taken by surprise by suddenness of the question, I candidly replied, “Sometimes I am.” To this Fr. Parker gently responded, “It will get better.” It did get better, and as the days and weeks went on, I often took consolation from the fact that my superior took the time to acknowledge how I felt and encourage me.
What always impressed me about Abbot Parker was how a man who was so busy, with much on his mind, could attend to and notice detail. As a novice in 1980-81, I had a watch that my father had bought me. Abbot Parker noticed one day during class that it had stopped working. He asked me for it and said he would take it downtown to have it fixed. The next day he handed me a watch that kept perfect time. A few weeks later, my fellow novices and I were having an Italian class with Abbot Parker. He started asking us questions in Italian to see if we could answer. He turned to me and ask “Chi ti ha comprato quel’ orologio?” I responded: “Il mio padre mi lo ha comprato.” He got kind of offended and said: “Ha! Il tuo padre! Ha! Io, Io ti ho comprato quel’ orologio!” It turns out he had simply bought me another watch exactly like the first one and put the old wrist band on it. I was impressed how a man with so much on his mind, could notice a detail like a simple novice’s watch not working, and in the middle of his busy schedule, go down and buy another one. This also showed me how in his own way he looked out for us.
My first impression of Fr. Abbot Parker when I met him in 1982 was that he was born to lead by nature and by grace. Some men are born to lead by nature. Think of Alexander the Great, think of Napoleon, think of Gen. Patton. Others are destined to lead only by the mysterious workings of grace. Think of the Minor Prophet Jonah, think of St. Peter, think of the Twelve Apostles. But a special few are destined to lead by both grace and nature. Think of the Rt. Rev. Ladislas K. Parker, O. Praem. Abbot Parker was one of those men who would have made his mark anywhere. It is easy to imagine him as a great businessman, statesman or soldier. In the end he became all three. He kept St. Michael’s afloat when other Abbeys floundered. He steered us through dangerous political waters both within the Church and Orange County. But most of all I will remember him as a fierce Warrior Norbertine. He was a true son of his hero St. Michael the Archangel. Fr. Abbot was a man who fought with great zeal for his Church, his God and his adopted country. He was a little bit of John Wayne, Charleton Heston, George Washington and the best of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire in a white Norbertine habit. He was a great man. May he rest in peace.
I came to the Abbey as a very young man. I found in Abbot Parker a man I could trust, respect and emulate. At significant junctures in my formation he provided me with sound and clear advice that has helped me persevere through the years. As plant manager for many years I worked with Abbot Parker on many projects. He was always concerned about cost since money was short. When we were confronted with some plant issue or emergency he always liked it when I would say “No problem.”
My fondest recollections of Abbot Parker weren’t witnessed by me personally. One comes from his former novice, the late Fr. Tancsis Adorján, O. Praem. of Csorna. During his visit to California, Fr. Parker was driving him around Pasadena when their car broke down. After finding a mechanic, Abbot Parker took action: he lay down on the grass alongside the busy boulevard and fell asleep. The sleeping cleric proved a spectacle for many passers-by. When a curious cop also happened along, Fr. Adorján --who didn’t speak English-- finally woke up Fr. Parker. Eventually, they were on their way again. Following Vatican II, Abbot Parker did something similar: sizing up the situation, he self- confidently staked out the middle ground and waited. It didn’t matter that he became a spectacle to many theological “pedestrians,” who were sheepishly veering hither and yonder; Abbot Parker’s petrine faith remained unshaken. During the founding fathers’ great escape from Communist Hungary, dressed as day laborers, they were walking down a country road toward the Austrian boarder. A soldier was coming toward them in a horse drawn wagon. The Norbertine fathers -- in a restricted area without papers -- were understandably alarmed. They were contemplating flight, when Fr. Parker did the unexpected. He boldly flagged down the wagon and asked if they might ride along in the back. Notwithstanding such boldness, Abbot Parker became the master of deference. While giving advice, abbot emeritus Parker meticulously avoided critical second-guessing. As superior, his tersely uttered commands never failed to generate anxiety, but later as an invalid his humble resignation was even more awe inspiring. Succisa virescit: pruned physically, he flourished in the Spirit.
Returning from my home visit in August of 1993 wearing a full beard, Fr. Abbot told me “Fr. Francis, I welcome you back, but not your beard!” I remember how careful he was to teach me to obtain permission from local pastors before engaging in any ministry. This is how my home school ministry began, with the permission of Msgr. Martin and Fr. Louis Knight. At one summer camp registration there was a little boy who was crying and so Fr Parker told him “It’s OK to cry, but don’t cry in front of the other boys or they will tease you. If you are going to cry, come ask for me and we can be sad together.” The little boy stopped his homesick crying and had a great time at camp, returning many times in the following years.
As a priest I have the opportunity to meet many good men; perhaps some of them are great men. Fr. Abbot Parker is one of those great men. He had the ability to see the potential talents of others and to move them to actuality. He saw in me the potential to be summer camp director; I saw no such ability in myself. I feared to perform this ministry; Fr. Abbot Parker pushed me to accept this cross seeing the potential for my personal growth. It was a great blessing for me which I owe to him. In his humble, affirming manner he would always praise me for the job I was doing as camp director. The success I had and the growth experienced I owe to him and his confidence in me.
Abbot Parker was a father, an abbas tried and true. I dare say he loved each one of us dearly. He regarded each one of his sons with a shrewd eye, discerning our hearts, our desires, and our limitations. Abbot Parker nudged each one of us in directions where we would grow, thereby building up the community and allowing us a sense of accomplishment as faithful religious. Abbot Parker was a humorous man. The closing of each week of summer camp found us in the abbey church for Mass. The parents sat on one side of the nave, while the campers squirmed on the other. After the Mass the parents were to reclaim their children’s luggage, while their children ate a quick lunch. To prevent chaos Abbot Parker, like Moses, spoke thus, “Parents should go to the right while the campers go to the left, parting like the Red Sea...with no Egyptians in the middle.” In Abbot Parker’s final hours, as if I were one to pass judgment upon a man whose epithet arguably includes the title “Great,” I said to him, “Good job, Abbot Parker. Bravo. Well done. Eccellente! A beautiful man having led a beautiful life! A man who loved many, and looked out for many. You have done all you need to do. Rest now. When you get to heaven, pray for me.”
Even though I lost my father at a young age, I was blessed with several father figures in my life. When I joined St. Michael’s Abbey, Abbot Parker treated me like a son. Abbot Parker extended great kindness and support to me all through my years in high school and seminary. My earliest memory of Abbot Parker is from summer camp. His early morning exercise was memorable. Each day he ended the exercises with his “O Swish!” His traditional exercise program was like this for many years. All through my years as camp director, Fr. Abbot extended great support and encouragement. Many boys have great memories of St. Michael’s Summer Camp. Abbot Parker perceived from the earliest days of St. Michael’s what a great potential that camp was for many young men to come to know Christ and His Church.
He began to be taken away from all of us as the Parkinson’s disease and old age advanced, and so Abbot Parker’s final departure was prepared for by years of patient suffering. Asked to write some thoughts of a memories or stories which come to mind, it is difficult to choose only one. What I find is that I miss the concrete things that manifested Abbot Parker’s presence to us, gestures that began to disappear years ago as he became increasingly invalid. These include liturgical things like his “Ite Missa est” from the Missa Magnae Deus Potentiae, the way he used to sing “Mortem autem crucis” at Tenebrae, the double alleluias of the Paschal octave, the Latin incipits to homilies, followed by a clearing of the throat and the beginning of a completely unrelated (generally contemporary news related) topic...all these little things recalled years of formation in the novitiate and juniorate. They also recalled a young man finding an oasis in the Church in the United States in the 80s, a place where the heritage of the Church was esteemed and cherished. Later after he retired, our most common meeting was in the garden as he passed by and I was working there. He had a love of gardening and horticulture, and beamed with joy when he saw others tending the roses, after he was unable to do so. Since the gardens had come recently to include varieties of rose that are pretty much ever-blooming – it was a delight to bring him bunches of roses throughout the winter months, and see his eyes light up. I will miss picking those flowers for him very much, and the inadequacy of words to convey any of this frustrates even in the writing.
Quemadmodum desiderat cervus ad fontes aquarum (As the deer yearns for running streams... — Psalm 42). Fr. Abbot Parker was wont to recite this opening verse of the 42nd Psalm when he would pass by my room and see a confrere at my door requesting some funds. I was the Canonry’s Bursar for fourteen years as a result of Fr. Abbot Parker’s keenness for discovering the few talents that I have, and using it not only for my benefit, but also, I hope, for the benefit of the community. As a seminarian, Fr. Abbot Parker occasionally summoned me to his office to write checks for the abbey’s bills. Upon completion of my studies in Rome, and the time had come for me to return home to the abbey permanently, Fr. Abbot gave me the task of being the treasurer, telling me that my legible penmanship was the sole reason for the appointment. And I am grateful to have received the task because it guaranteed that I would meet every confrere since his pocket would eventually run dry of funds and make his way to my door (That’s the Quemadmodum desiderat cervus ad fontes aquarum). I am fortunate to have become acquainted thus with every confrere. I hope that Fr. Abbot Parker was pleased with my service. Several confrères have been afflicted with some illness a few weeks before the death of Fr. Abbot Parker. I see the providence of the good God in this, wishing us to suffer much so that we can return our gratitude to our beloved Founding Abbot, who suffered much for the establishment of St. Michael’s Abbey, by assisting his quick entrance to heaven by our sufferings.
Abbot Parker will always be “tagged” as a grandfather in my mind. His wise and deliberate bearing, his regal gait, his inquisitive looks as he listened attentively while smoking his pipe. Abbot Parker always wanted what was best for us even when we didn’t know it was even good for us. I remember the many times, he tried, perhaps in vain, to correct my posture and nervousness, usually expressed in very visible and perhaps annoying ways. He used to say to me, as I rushed headlong from one scheduled event or prayer at the abbey to another, “You must slow down, stand up and walk straight like Fr. James.” Then he would demonstrate to me with his shoulders back, chest out, and deliberate walk. “Make it a Lenten resolution”, he said, so that I would remember to practice it daily when going from the sacristy to the refectory. One time, while teaching us a class, he stopped and said that there was a “frog leg” in the room. We all looked around to see what he was referring to, including me with my one leg shaking a-mile-a-minute under my desk. He was always very kind and very humble to all of us, whether we be priests, seminarians or novices. I remember always being very proud of being in his company while we had events that take us away from the abbey because then others would have the chance to meet him too. I hope that he will be proud of us as we carry on, building up the Norbertine community at St. Michael’s Abbey in his name.
To more than anyone I owe my vocation to Abbot Parker. He personally made the decision to accept me one summer afternoon in 1987. He visited my parents to help them understand the religious life. He chose and gave me the name by which I have been known ever since. I felt he took a personal interest in me and brought me with him on many errands as a driver and assistant, and on those occasions he taught me the values and lessons of his long lifetime of experience in religious life and in the world. For all these things I will always be thankful to Fr. Abbot Parker.
Sitting in front of Fr. Abbot Parker at his busy desk piled high with books, papers and an intermittent cigar stub during the last day of my come and see visit to the abbey January 1987 framed for me the first impressive picture of a man dedicated to founding, guiding, and building up St. Michael’s Abbey into a community of priest-canons faithful to the Magisterium and dedicated to the service of the Church. His concise explanation of the Norbertine way of life coupled with questions about my seminary experience pressed me to consider the priesthood with greater seriousness and resolve. That impression has only but deepened over the years of my novitiate, juniorate and priesthood. I recall fondly his paternal concern for us during his visits to Rome, his characteristic and friendly greeting “Hey” when he first caught sight of us that brought joy to my heart and the meetings we had with him to discuss our studies, struggles and strife towards holiness. These and many more experiences bring to light the qualities and virtues of a man of God. Three incidences particularly highlight his fatherly affection, one when he admonished me to greater courage in the face of difficulties with the words, “young men never get sick!” The second, when he visited with my parents and me to share with us his plans for my ordination; and lastly his interest in my apostolic work with vocations that prompted him to ask me often “how many fish did you catch?” He leaves us with important lessons of fidelity to the Church’s tradition, the priesthood and the common life of canons. May we have many more like- minded faithful and wise stewards tending to the vineyard of the Lord.
Although I do not have any one specific reminiscence about Abbot Parker, I do have vivid impressions about his person. The thing I will remember the best about Abbot Parker was his nobility. From the way that he spoke, walked, preached and lived, everything he did showed forth a greatness of person. Whether he was acting as the prelate of the community or on an individual basis, he always exuded a cultured and realistic view of the world. His education, upbringing and adventurous life prepared him to “do every good work”. The second thing I will remember fondly about Abbot Parker was his ability to treat each person he met with great respect and dignity. Never acting arrogantly, he always acted with great humility and humanity to those around him. I will dearly miss his words of comfort and concern. May he rest in peace.
My most heartwarming memory of Abbot Parker concerns how I was accepted into the Abbey. While I stood in his office he telephoned St. John’s Seminary. Having somehow got hold of Sr. Hilary who taught me English; he said to her “all I want to know is did he kill anyone while he was there?” While she was answering (I could hear her voice) he said “Thank you very much!” He completed this phrase while hanging up the phone and while she was still speaking. Another memory that stands out in my mind is when I was in formation. (I think I was a postulant or maybe a novice) another confrere and I had taken an old T.V. into the old double apartment to look at something we were going to show the summer campers. One of the older confrères was not happy about this and corrected us in, what I felt was, an over- condescending manner. I stopped him and said, in almost these words: “Look! This is America and I am not your slave, so do not talk to me like I am your slave!” Later I was called into Abbot Parker’s office and he asked me to repeat what I had said to the confrere. I repeated the exact words, which only made him laugh in his typical way. That was the end of that. He always understood us Americans!
Friday afternoon was check-writing day in Abbot Parker’s office back in the late 80’s. The sliding glass door off the courtyard had the blinds partially drawn, to let everyone know: work was in progress, better not to knock on the door just then. Then again, if you wanted a check in a hurry (as I often did for library book purchases) that was the walk to walk, the knock to knock. Invariably my knock would be answered by an invitation to “come to the window,” the window sandwiched between his desk on the inside and thick, scratchy shrubs on the outside. There at a teller-like window, I pled my financial- needs case. As he considered the merits of the request I tried to recall what time the pop-up sprinklers would come on. Abbot Parker was a great book-lover himself so my shrub visits often met with success, but at a cost. I learned from my novice master I was developing an abbatial reputation for “being a bit pushy.” Soon after, my Friday afternoon work assignment switched from library work to check-writing on the comfy and dry side of the shrub-window. Pleasantly wrapped in aromatic pipe smoke I was interviewed at length with old-world ease and charm. Family, studies, Wisconsin and St. Norbert College memories were all were reviewed as I scribbled, perforated and enveloped the outgoing checks. Concerns must have been partially allayed because several months later I found myself back in the library, and, with more prudence, back at the shrub-window. Abbot Parker, I hope my prayers and Masses will help to settle your last account, and that we might again converse at peace, enveloped with the sweet incense of Eternity.
Three things come immediately to mind when I think of our dear Abbot founder. First is as a boy when heard my first Confession, at which he gifted me with first sacramental absolution. What most struck me was the great kindness with which the then Fr. Parker anticipated my nervous state and began right away, “Now, Sonny, I will help to make this easy for you...” and he proceeded to help me with an examination of conscience which was at once both simple and instructive. It was Holy Thursday, 1972. A second thing that has often come to mind in my recollections of Abbot Ladislas is something that was frequently a theme in his homilies for Easter: Per crucem ad lucem. The way in which he emphasized these works struck me deeply, even as a boy. It has equally come back to mind countless times in what has been the journey of my religious life. And a third gem which I am sure, or at least I hope, I will carry with me until my own dying day is the example he has left all of us during his own pilgrimage of faith in his last years of his convalescence: his silence, undoubtedly the most precious memory I will have of Father Abbot Ladislas How a man with such a stewardship to his merit could so completely step down and remain in the background as a new generation moved forward is a great example to cherish. How one of his stature could receive so gracefully the care given by those so much his juniors, is a virtue to pray for. Thank you, Abbot Ladislas! Requiescas in pace.
One of the qualities I remember most of Abbot Parker is his respect for perseverance. An example of this that influenced my life was when my classmates and I had a choice to enter either the Italian or English section of Theology during our studies in Rome. We chose the Italian section. We struggled a bit the first year. During my second year in Rome my classmates felt that perhaps we could get a better classroom experience if we moved to the English section of Theology. My classmates wrote Abbot Parker asking to switch to the English Section. I also wrote Abbot Parker asking him to make a decision for all of us in my class, and not just for some. I said that I was happy to stay in the Italian section, but was still struggling with the Italian language and that I was still a bit dependent upon their notes. Abbot Parker personally wrote me back. He thanked me for my letter and said that it was my letter that helped him to make his decision. He said “you all three made a choice to do your studies in the Italian section, now you must follow through with your decision. It will build your character not to quit half way through.” I deeply thank Abbot Parker for this lesson, and for his own example in perseverance.
My first contact with any priest from St. Michael’s Abbey was a personal note from Abbot Parker, neatly typed on his old typewriter, inviting me to make a “come-and-see visit” to the abbey in the spring of 1990. I had sent a note to the Norbertine community expressing my interest in visiting, and I was both amazed and encouraged that the Abbot himself took the time to respond to my brief letter. When I first met Abbot Parker in person, I experienced immediately the warmth, the intelligence and the charm of a true priest for the people and a father to his community. What I remember most from my first few days of knowing Abbot Parker was the remarkable way in which he reminded me of the two most important men in my life up until that point, my dad and the venerable pastor of my home parish in Milwaukee, Msgr. Joseph Emmenegger. Throughout my years in the community growing closer to Abbot Parker, I understood that this remarkable similarity was God’s way of allowing me to experience very easily in Abbot Parker the best qualities of both a father and a priest. He was always there for me when I needed a few words of gentle guidance or hopeful encouragement; and, with every new responsibility that I assumed in and for the community, he graciously and humbly took the time to give me his personal words of wisdom and confidence. By his own extraordinary life and example, he has shown us all how much good God can accomplish through the faithful life of just one man, a priest and religious in love with Christ, in love with His Church, in love with the Norbertine Order and in love with the abbey community he established.
I count knowing Fr abbot Parker as one of the greatest blessings that I have received during my life. Fr. Abbot saw that each of us at the abbey are individuals that god has blessed with different strengths and abilities. He tried to give us assignments that took advantage of our individual abilities. He cared for each member of the abbey. When I was a postulant and approached him with physical ailments I had he immediately called a doctor to see that I was cared for. At times as a postulant he would have me walk with him and hold my hand while he offered advice to me. His care and affection for all of us showed the greatness of his heart. As founding abbot he established, with God’s help (he always reminded us of this), a great Catholic abbey that will continue to touch the lives of thousands throughout history. A great man of God, with a great heart established this great abbey through his great love and affection for each of us and those we work for, the members of God’s Church.
I will always remember Abbot Parker as a man who remembered many details about the priests and seminarians under his care—including any special skills or abilities that could be made use of for the community. He was very skillful at giving compliments which would leave one always open to helping him in whatever he needed. His complements were usually adorned with colorful imagery and given in his modest but meaningful way. He was pleased that the abbey had acquired someone who had an artistic background and he had many projects in mind that were just waiting for such a person to do them. Once, as a seminarian, I was working with other seminarians trimming the bushes around the library. Abbot Parker got the idea of giving to the abbey of De Pere an artistic gift for some occasion. We all stopped working and gathered together as he walked toward us as if he wanted to make an announcement. He said simply, “Gentlemen, it is not right that we use a race horse to plow the fields.” With that, he grabbed my arm in his firm grip and guided me awkwardly away from the area, back to his office, to explain to me what he wanted done.
One of the things I will always remember about Fr. Abbot Parker was his love for music--and the fact that he was always listening more attentively than you thought! For instance, I remember practicing the organ one morning as a novice. Fr. Abbot must have been walking through the sacristy. He peeped into the church, looked at me, raised his eyebrows, smiled and gave me one of his memorable “Aaayyyy’s”. He then walked over to the organ, motioned to me to keep playing and proceeded to sit on the organ bench next to me. He then hummed along as I practiced. I was touched by the fact that, in the midst of his busy life as abbot, he took the time to listen in on a novice and novice organist. I don’t think I can ever play Handel’s Largo (one of his favorites) again without a tear welling up in my eye as I recall this wonderful and loving father. Thank you Fr. Abbot. We miss you already. Ex animo,
Abbot Parker used to quote lines from a poem to me as he was retiring for the evening, “When I was born, there were no special indications,/No Messianic star-sign in the heavens. / But only my mother knew I was a prince.” Well, here are some rays of starlight that indicate we had a prince among us all along. When he wanted to correct someone for a fault, he would try to be very discreet, so as not to injure a person’s pride. Sometimes he would praise you for the opposite quality, especially in front of others. At other times he used another technique. When I was a novice, he corrected me for a fault that was not actually mine. He asked a certain priest to bring the matter up with me. In fact, I realized later, Abbot Parker wanted that priest, himself to stop the bothersome habit. He persevered unfailingly to attend prayers and Mass in the church, even later years, even when it was physically difficult, and he could not hear, or see to read, or was sick. As each of the founding Hungarian fathers began to suffer the ravages of old age, he showed great fraternal concern for each one of them. He arranged for their care at the abbey, and said Mass with them every morning, prepared their plates for breakfast, and visited with them. I remember in particular his devotion to his fellow novice, Fr. Paul, when he was dying. Abbot Ladislas, by then in a wheelchair, asked to be brought close to Fr. Paul’s bed and to pray with him, while the rest of the confrères went to Vespers. Abbot Ladislas urgently invoked Jesus and Mary for Fr. Paul when he began to breathe his last, and was with him when he passed away. Not only Abbot Parker’s mother should see that he was a prince.
Little did I know when I requested the name Chrysostom just how much Fr. Abbot Ladislas loved my patron and the Greek language. Although it was my third choice for a name, I came to suspect over the years that once he saw it, the first two names never had a chance. In fact, time and again he would come up to me and recite the opening lines of the Odyssey in Greek. And on his birthday one year, as I was helping him vest for Mass, I stretched my own linguistic abilities and told him “Happy Birthday” in German. Whereupon he immediately replied, also in German, “I thought you only spoke Greek!”
Early on in my formation Fr Thomas explained to us novices the difference between having, what he called, an “open” spirit and a “closed” spirit in community life. The “closed” spirit is one who seldom reaches out to others or who shows by his demeanor that he is unapproachable. The “open” spirit is one who does just the opposite: he is always looking out for others’ interests and never appears aloof. Of the latter spirit, Fr Thomas held up Abbot Parker as the model. He said that he had never seen Father Abbot conduct himself in such a way as to keep his confrères at arm’s distance. His bearing was always genuinely kind, his interest in others completely unaffected and sincere. This was consistently borne out by my own experience of him in Abbey life. In the relatively brief time (fifteen years) that I lived and prayed with Abbot Ladislas Parker, there was never an occasion when I encountered him and his eyes did not cheerfully light up, nor when that kindly expression was not followed by some genuine, affirming remark or question about myself or my apostolate. He took an interest in each member of the community, from the youngest postulants to his fellow elders among the founding Hungarian fathers. Something that he himself once said during my interview with him for simple profession is emblematic of his devotion to his community. He said, perhaps referring to St Augustine, that every time one passes a confrere, he should bow his head and say a silent Deo gratias! –thanking God for the gift of his brother. That was certainly the spirit which animated our founding Abbot and Father, Ladislas, and it is the spirit which he magnanimously communicated to us all.
—Fr. John Henry
Fr. Abbot Parker before my first simple profession encouraged me in the following way, “Some religious gauge their progress and prowess in the religious life by their strict observance of the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. They do well to observe them and guard them safely as they are what constitute the essentials of religious life. However, we must always remember the end of these vows, and that is, my dear frater Xavier, growth in charity. The vows are like a three pronged stool upon which charity the queen and sweetest of all virtues is to be seated. So when you find the observance of these vows difficult, respice finem, look towards the end, look towards charity, and your heavy load will be lightened.”
Having entered and lived in the house and the community built up by Abbot Parker, I share with all confrères sentiments of gratitude for all he did in that regard. A particular aspect, among others, however, that personally touched me is that, having retired from the governance of the community, Abbot Parker did not retire from our common life: he faithfully joined the community’s daily liturgy in spite of physical difficulty. I am certainly not alone in being edified by this wonderful example of his (which confirms that the elderly are not useless in the family, but play a crucial role, that of giving good examples to the youngsters). Abbot Parker used to mention to me a similarity between us: we both taught science without previous formal training in science (he did not think another would (have to) follow in his footsteps). On such occasions, I reminded him that he was much better than I, since he stayed a chapter ahead of his students, yet I only a paragraph ahead of mine. His legacy lives on in his confrères, but I will surely miss the giant figure of our community.
Although I had entered St. Michael’s Abbey a couple of years after Fr. Abbot Parker had retired as the Abbot, he still took great care to get to know each seminarian in formation. He learned where I was from, what I had studied in college and other personal facts about me, which demonstrated a real interest and concern as to whom I am. I was impressed by what a true paternal figure he was as was shown by his compassion and empathy, especially when it was evident that I was struggling to adjust to the life as a young novice. His consistent attendance at the liturgy even when he was weak provided me with a model of a true priest and religious; he was the embodiment of a Canon Regular. Fr. Abbot Parker preached with authority and a sense of humor which I pattern myself after now that I am a priest.
My second year in Rome, fraters Xavier, Andrew and I visited Csorna as part of our Easter visit to the Norbertine houses in Europe. The Morning after we arrived, I was informed that there was a phone call for me. I was a bit concerned, thinking who would want to reach me here unless it was an emergency. I picked up the phone and it was Fr. Abbot Parker who wanted to know what our impressions were of Csorna, and to ask me about our trip so far and the condition of the confrères I was very touched that he even knew we were there. Later that week Fr. Theodore took us to the house where Fr. Abbot was born and to the farmhouse where Fr. Abbot and the other the refugee confrères hid overnight before escaping across a minefield into Austria. We even spoke with the woman who lived there, the daughter of the original owners who, as a little girl, remembered seeing Fr. Abbot Parker hiding in the hayloft attic above the house. On another occasion, I took Fr. Abbot to the hospital and asked him about the day the Russian soldiers came to Csorna. He told me that at the time, he was celebrating mass with the faithful in the Abbey church, while the other confrères were in the other part of the abbey. The Russians first shelled the bell tower, thinking it would be a hideout for snipers, then they came to the abbey church with guns in hand. The major pointed a gun right in Abbot Parker’s stomach. Fr. Abbot told me that he simply offered him a drink, so the major put down his gun and they went and had some vodka together, after which he rejoined his confrères on the other side of the abbey.
I was often greeted by Abbot Parker in Croatian: “Dobar vecer!” “Good evening,” and it was always a good evening when one was in the presence of great soldier for Jesus Christ. Abbot Parker had many talents; one of them was his powerful preaching. One of his missions in life was to fight against a pernicious error of our time, which has taken over 100 million lives and caused countless sufferings: atheistic Communism. He preached often about the dangers of a godless and tyrannical oppression. In particular, during the Cardinal Mindszenty Conferences in Anaheim, I was very moved to hear him share his deep convictions and love for his Roman Catholic faith, for his family and for his country. When I listened to him preach, it inspired me to want to give my best for God and neighbor. Abbot Parker’s life experiences and preaching especially resonated with me since my parents and my ancestors suffered much from Communism and Islam in Europe. In fact, his father fell fighting for the Austro-Hungarian empire when he was only one, not far from where my parents were raised. His suffering and the desire to fight for Jesus and His Church influenced me greatly and has played a role in my vocation as a Catholic priest in ways which are difficult to articulate. I eagerly look forward, God willing, to the day, to that eternal day, when the sun of will not set for there will be no evening, no suffering but the fullness of heavenly bliss. We will be in the presence of the Sun of Justice and we shall thank Abbot Parker for being such a great warrior for God. Pater Abbas Parker, thank you and help us to: “keep punching!”
Lifting up his hands, the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Father Abbot Parker is him lifting up his hands. He would stand against a post in the breezeway outside the refectory before the Morning Office and do some calisthenics with his arms, trying to keep the crippling effects of old age at bay. Very soon he would need all the mobility that remained in those arms, first for the Holy Sacrifice, and then for his much-loved work in the rose garden. I loved to visit with him during our shared work afternoons in the garden. By that time in his life he couldn’t cover much ground, but each turn of the shovel was careful and efficient – even as his words were not many, but each was packed with wisdom and listening and love. He taught me how it’s not so much what a man does in the garden that counts, but rather how he does it; with what intention, with what deliberation, with what care. And that principle applies not only in the rose garden, but in every task to which we might have to lift up our consecrated hands. Thank you, Father Abbot. Regina Ordinis Nostri, Rosa Mystica, ora pro eo!
Father Abbot Parker has shared with me words of wisdom at all the key moments of my vocation. Back in 1999, when I was a sophomore in college and discerning entering the Abbey, Father Abbot Parker pulled me aside and encouraged me to pray and trust. The following fall, Father Abbot kept tabs on all of us postulants and encouraged us to struggle through the difficult moments of life in God’s service. Besides, however, the many words of wisdom spoken over the years, our beloved abbot founder has demonstrated the importance of prayer, trust, and perseverance through his example of faithfulness to our Norbertine way of life.
One of the things I remember of Abbot Parker comes from a philosophy rigorosum. I had prepared to give an elaborate and drawn out explanation to one of the questions in order to impress the panel. As soon as I began Abbot Parker interrupted me and forced me to cut down my answer to 2 sentences. I was extremely frustrated at the time but looking back I can laugh and appreciate how Abbot Parker always got to the point.
My most fond memories of Abbot Parker are of the evenings when Frs. Paul, Clement and he would visit together after dinner in Fr. Clement’s room. I would sometimes be asked to help Fr. Paul to his familiar chair and linger as long as I could to listen to their conversation and laughter. Occasionally, Abbot Parker would inquire about an event that occurred that day at the abbey, thank me for the report and send me on my way. On feast days they might have something sweet to eat or drink that I would prepare for them and be offered a small portion to partake of myself. It was a privilege to see these three confrères sharing each other’s company in the twilight years of their lives and hoping that my fortune would afford me with a comparable solace.
I was edified by him in many ways, but particularly the following. First was the simplicity of his room. I knew from fixing things how his original room off the office looked, and although he was not very organized, the only things you saw were books and papers and his basics (clothing, etc.). He would gladly share with others, as he would go to Fr. Clement’s room for the news. When I helped him move after he retired, I saw this even more clearly, seeing how ready he was to throw things out or give away. On more than one occasion when i was fixing something in his room, I showed interest in a book or holy card. Immediately he told me to take it and keep it. The above paragraph covers his honesty as well as fatherly support. I wish I could express these better. The strongest point I recall is how he always turned the attention away from himself. He always referred to Fathers Hubert and Siard when it came to the founding of the Abbey. This was even with personal conversation I had with him. Of course the patience he showed when I would help him move towards the end is heroic in my sight. I feel completely incapable of expressing how I admire him, but I tried.
It was the morning of my first profession. Being the youngest of my group, I was last to kneel before Abbot Parker. I don’t recall ever being so nervous for anything before in my life. I can still smell the cologne and pipe tobacco. When I finished reciting the formula of profession, Father Abbot handed me his pen and I realized I could not sign—my hand was shaking uncontrollably. Father Abbot noticed this, grabbed my hand, steadied it, and guided it through the necessary strokes of autograph. I could at last sign my name. I had just been reassured that here before me was my Father Abbot who would always stand ready to lead me in the way of peace. A second memory was the occasion of his birthday. He had been given several gifts, but the one he appeared to relish the most was a biography of General George S. Patton. The smile on his face as he held up the book for all of us to see was infectious. It soon became quite evident that I was beholding a man who had sprung forth from the same stock as Patton. A man who would’ve been right at home in the company of Julius Caesar, Charles Martel, Thomas Jonathan Jackson. A part of that noble line of unequaled commanders, ready to lead his sons in battle against the spirit of this age. Father Abbot Parker—my captain!
When I entered the abbey in 2002, at the age of 87, Fr. Abbot Parker was still faithfully attending the Office of Readings, Morning Prayer, and Vespers. Walking with a cane, he would wait until the community had entered the Church and then he would climb up the three steps into his choir stall. Abbot Parker always made sure to get to know the new members of the community. As we reset the refectory after meals he would remain drinking coffee. One by one he would call the new postulants over to get to know them. He asked us our family name and from that moment on, until we received the habit and a new name, he dubbed us “Dominus Spectabilis,” in my case “Dominus Spectabilis Drogin.” Fr. Abbot Parker’s speeches on feast days or anniversaries were always memorable. The one I remember best was just last year. He couldn’t stand anymore and it was already very difficult for him to speak; nevertheless he raised his voice loud enough that we could all hear him clearly. He called our attention to the prayers that we say after Morning Office for vocations and the prayers after night prayer for faithfulness to the Magisterium and for the recognition of the sanctity of human life. He asked us, admonished us, to never stop praying these prayers. Thank you Fr. Abbot for your wonderful example of love for Holy Mother Church and of courage and commitment in building the Kingdom of God.
Dominus spectabilis! A remarkable gentleman. This title was often applied by Abbot Parker to postulants before these received their religious names, but especially to those of us who, being the youngest in our class, were charged with taking out the trash. “Domine spectabilis... O-ka-pal. I have never heard of the name ‘Okapal’. You say it is Slovak? I shall write to the Abbot of Jasov....” Sure enough, a few weeks later, he handed me an envelope emblazoned with the St. Michael’s return address and motto, Ad omne bonum opus parati. The envelope was empty; on its front, Abbot Parker had typed (with his typewriter!): “Message from the Abbot of Jasov in Slovakia: Okapal is a verb in the 3rd person past perfect and means: ‘He has cultivated it with a hoe.’” This envelope is on the desk in front of me. Abbot Parker delighted in the meaning and etymology of names, and he understood the necessity of cultivation for growth. Succisa virescit!
Fr. Abbot Parker truly was a great man, a saintly man. First, Abbot Parker was a great leader, and utilized his leadership skills out of love for Jesus Christ and His Kingdom. Because of his work as our founding Abbot, we at the abbey have a strong community in which to live. Thus, we, along with the many souls who are aided through the apostolic works of this community, have Abbot Parker (along with the other Hungarian founders) to thank! Also, in my experiences as a care-giver to Fr. Parker during the last years of his life, I saw this man’s holiness shining through. Abbot Parker was such a kind, humble, and grateful man! He was so often grateful for even the smallest things which one would do to aid him (the words which he very often uttered were, “Thank you, thank you, thank you...”). His great affability, kindness, and humility, made spending time with him nothing but a blessing (while, as a caretaker of Abbot Parker, helped him in some ways, it was really he who helped me, and in ways much greater than I could ever aid him). Also, up to the last time I saw him (a few months before his death), his mind was still pretty sharp, and he would often share with me some of his “pearls of wisdom”; or an interesting story from his past; or one of his classic jokes!; or just some kind, fatherly words of encouragement (indeed, he was a father!). Fr. Parker will be missed; but, his life is one that can inspire us, and give us another reason to rejoice and glorify the Lord! Let us pray that our beloved Abbot Ladislas may now enjoy the eternal bliss of the vision of God (the One Whom he so faithfully praised, loved, and served). May Fr. Abbot, God-willing, also intercede for us until we, with him, likewise enjoy this same vision of our loving God. Thanks be to God for Abbot Parker, Requiescat in pace. Amen!
The past two years, as I was working in the prep school teaching and coaching, Abbot Parker, with a smile, loved to greet me by my greater title, “Coach,” because, as he would relate, “Fr. Clement used to say to his dying day, ‘The coach is paid more than the history teacher’.” Once I put Abbot Parker to bed; after he instructed me step by step, I asked him if he was comfortable, to which he responded with his ever gracious, “Thank you, my dear.” At such times, he seemed to me a very great and gentle- hearted patriarch.
Fr. Abbot’s cheerful gratitude was a constant source of edification for all. Even the smallest favors were received with a smile and a heartfelt “thank you”. Those of us who sat on his side of the choir were blessed to be greeted daily by his smile. Occasionally, in spite of how painful and difficult the most ordinary tasks had become for him, he would reach out his lovingly paternal hand toward one of the brothers. Having called him over to himself, he would ask how he was doing, offering words of encouragement, a firm hand shake, and a piercing gaze of steady and deep affection. Spending time with him always left one feeling refreshed and strengthened.
Upon the departure of our beloved Abbot Parker to his eternal reward, many of my thoughts turned to past experiences I have had with him. I am fortunate enough to remember the first time I met Abbot Parker. This took place when I was eight or nine years old at the Abbey’s summer camp. Father that year was in the registration line at the point at which the campers say ‘goodbye’ to their parents and start the camping week. The first thing Abbot Parker wanted to know was my last name. “Fritz,” I told him. “Where is your father from?” was the follow up question. I only knew that my father was from Austria, and he seemed a bit disappointed when I told him that I did not know any German. “What town in Austria?” he asked me. “St. Stephan,” was my answer “it’s near the Italian border.” He was very pleased to know that I knew something of where my father was from. As I have gotten to know Fr. Abbot, I now realize how important family ties are to him. Later that week, on the feast of the Assumption, Father was celebrating mass, and he was wearing his miter I asked one of the other campers why he was wearing that hat (I had never seen a miter before). “He’s a bishop. Bishops wear that hat during mass.” My eyes widened, and I felt very pleased to know that I had met a “bishop!” I told Abbot Parker this story two days before he passed away, and his face lit up when I told him that as a camper I thought he was a bishop! Requiescat in pace!
Whenever we entered the church when I was helping care for him, I would pass off holy water to Abbot Parker and he would say: “Asperges me hyssopo, et mundabor...” (Psalm 50). When he was in his cell he would request the heat on, when it was below 70o F, by saying, “make the atmosphere more friendly.” There is a story behind this. He was traveling one day and saw a sign at a diner: “Great meatballs and friendly atmosphere.” Abbot Parker said the atmosphere was not very friendly and the meatballs were the worst he had had in his life. Before taking Abbot Parker to Office on a cold day, I would heat up his beanie by the heater until it was really warm and then place it immediately on his head. He always responded with, “ahhhh good Canadian invention.” And once he even said, “ahh that’s heavenly.” He asked me where I learned this. I told him my mother. He said, “You have a good mother.” Once as I was helping him walk I reminded him, as I often tried to do, to unite his sufferings to the cross of Christ and for the Holy Souls in Purgatory. He responded: “That is my prayer. Let me suffer in this life and not in the next.” Gratitude. For everything you ever did for him – great and small, he always said: “Thank you (my dear).” He always put himself last. He preferred to wait patiently and let others be served first. He would always say, “At your convenience.” When we prayed the morning offering together he would say the last part with a vigorous volume in his voice: “...and for Norbertine vocations.” Perseverance. His attendance at choir was an example to all in persevering unto the end. He even insisted on going to choir when it was clear he was not well.
—frater Herman Joseph
The memories of Abbot Parker that first come to my mind are those tied to the refectory and those tied to the Abbey Church. In the refectory, I would very often wipe down the tables. Since Abbot Parker would take longer to eat his breakfast, I would have to wipe around him. He would always say “peritus,” a word that took me the longest time to learn what it meant. Finally, I learned that it meant expert, and that he was using the Latin word to refer to my table wiping. I will never forget this word’s meaning! Also, in the refectory, there was a time when Father Abbot Parker would be wheeled out of the refectory. He would always raise his hand in the air to greet the seminarians. It was a happy custom that happened every morning which showed his great love for the seminarians. In the Church, the memories that I have of Father Abbot Parker are that he would very often ask who the organist was. The organists played so many loud preludes and postludes right into Abbot Parker’s ear as he sat there before and after Vespers. My favorite memory of Abbot Parker is when he made a speech saying that we his sons should keep faithful to the prayers that we say after Compline, that is, for the recognition of the sanctity of human life and for our community’s faithful adherence to the Magisterium of the Church. I have always heard of his great love for and obedience to the Pope and Rome and that this love and obedience attracted so many vocations to the abbey.
As I walked through the Abbey courtyard one afternoon I came upon a struggling and sweating Father Abbot Parker. He was struggling with a shovel and sweating in the August heat of 2000. I was unobservant and inconsiderate, as most teenagers are, and so did not think to stop and talk to the elderly Father, but that did not stop him from looking up at me, out of the corner of his eye and over his glasses, or from asking me how I was doing. Soon I was reaching into the hole he was digging and removing the dirt he was turning up with his shovel. He spoke to me about the abbey, and monastic life. Perhaps it was at this time that I first began to think about living as a son of Saint Norbert. However, now that my uniform was covered in enough dirt to earn a wide eyed stare and loud inquiry from Father Gabriel latter that afternoon, I thought Father Abbot would send me, a clueless kid, on my way. After all, he had had to remind me several times to make the hole wide enough, and to clear the dirt far enough away so he could keep digging. But he wanted me to finish the job! So next thing I knew I was holding a rose bush in my hands, thorns pricking my skin, while he filled in the hole and told me how important it is to ask Our Lady for grace everyday. Once he had finished I patted down the dirt and he took a step back, into the shade of the patio cover. Father Abbot Parker told me that every time I passed that bush, I should remember to pray to Her for him and the Abbey. Ten years latter, I know what it is to persevere in prayer. Not so much on account of my own efforts, as from observing his patient struggling and long endurance in the monastic life. Regina Ordinis Nostris, ora pro eo, ora pro nobis.
A few nights prior to the celebration of our Lord’s Nativity in 2008, I was asked by Fr. Augustine if I would assist with the care of the elder fathers. Recognizing this apostolate as a source of abundant blessings, I accepted his request without delay. This fruitful work allowed me not only to work with the founding fathers of our canonry but also allowed me to grow in several virtues, particularly humility and patience. Fr. Abbot Parker’s holy life was evident to me far before I began assisting the older fathers. At the age of 91 (Fr. Abbot Parker’s age when I entered the community), his unfailing attendance at Morning Office and Vespers exemplified a model religious, founded on both common and personal prayer. When he was unable to follow along during the community’s praying of the psalms, Fr. Abbot Parker would lift up the our prayers to Our Lord through the Blessed Virgin Mary as he fingered through his Rosary beads unceasingly. His most edifying quality was instilled by Our Holy Father, St. Norbert, as he displayed the greatest reverence and devotion to the Most Holy Eucharist. Similar to the Divine Office, Fr. Abbot Parker showed the greatest fidelity to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and Holy Hour by his daily attendance. And yet still, I have been especially blessed these past months while helping the older fathers to hold special memories of Fr. Abbot Parker close to my heart: his sigh of comfort as I put a warm beanie on his head, his insistence of taking care of his ‘black monks’ (the birds outside his window), his weary ‘thank you’ as I pulled his blanket to his chin before he went to bed and his eyes fixed heavenward as the seminarian helpers prayed the Rosary when he no longer had the strength. Father, may you soon behold our most fervent prayer. ‘Te cum prole pia benedicat Virgo Maria!’ And as she does, please remember and intercede for us! Requiescat in pace!
I talked to Fr. Abbot Parker for the first time as a postulant. After dinner, I went up and introduced myself to him. Looking straight into my eyes, he greeted me with a warm smile, and asked me one simple question: What is your name? After giving him my full name, he then asked again. It was not until my third attempt, that I realized that he was only interested in my last name. After listening diligently to my pronunciation, he then disclosed many interesting facts about the name of “Ceja.” Then, he surprised me by asking about my alma mater, Servite High School. He told me how well he knew my teacher, Coach Toner (who was a Norbertine seminarian at St. Michael’s for ten years), both a legend at Servite, and a man whom I hold in highest esteem. Aware of my Servite ties and love, Fr. Abbot Parker always addressed me as “Ceja...from Servite.” In addition to this memorable first meeting, I shall always admire Fr. Abbot›s silent yet powerful presence at every Mass and Holy Hour. I recall his attendants wrapping layers of blankets around him just so he could survive the chilly outside air. Seeing his arrival with his usual ‘lifted hand greeting,’ always brought tremendous interior joy to everyone in the statio. No weather could not stop him for being with his brothers and our Lord. What an amazing religious and example for all of us to follow! —frater Vianney
During this last year, it has been my privilege to help care for the Older Fathers of our community. Among them was our beloved Father Abbot Parker. This man was very intelligent, he had a great sense of humor, and to say the least, he was a spiritual pillar and model for our community. Over time, my interaction with Father Abbot Parker began to increase and he began to give me descriptive titles. First I was the “strong man like Fidel Castro”. This was something I never fully understood, but I was happy to see him get a laugh out of my initial response. Then I became the “Big Texan”. Finally, somewhere along the line I received the title of “peritus” (expert). This title was one to express that you were qualified at giving proper care. At this point, I was honored to know that he trusted me as one to care for him. For the time that I have been with the community and caring for Father Abbot Parker, words will not suffice to express how blessed we all are to have had him with us. Even in his old age, he was constant with his effort to attend office and daily mass with the community. He was patient and charitable without reserve toward all the confrères And even to his last breath, he was a model of holiness. Looking into his eyes, one did not see fear and anxiety, rather, one saw peace, tranquility, and total abandonment to the Will of God. May he rest in peace!
When I first spoke to Abbot Parker, he was already in the eve of his life. As I gather, he was a shadow of the physically active and robust man he once was. Yet, it seems, no less than the heart of a lion beat within him. It was October 2009, and I, a new seminarian, cleaning the table near him after dinner, and responding to his query about my particulars, told his caretaker to tell him I was the “Italian postulant”. He then proceeded to speak to me in Italian, welcoming me and telling me of the time he spent in Italy. Instantaneously I saw his warm and friendly heart. Only months later he was bedridden and barely able to speak, a man who seemed to embody patience, exemplify humility and epitomize perseverance. Though he could still mumble certain intelligible things, he spoke mostly through his eyes; emotion from his eyes. This became a significant source of consolation for my recently stricken heart at a time when I, ironically, planned to console him with my presence. Going to visit him on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, to tell him of the consecration I had made to Mary that morning, I went also with the news of my father’s death, which I had known earlier that day. When I told him, asking for his prayers, I received what I recognized instantly as a look of pure sympathy and compassion. With glossy eyes he mumbled to me... “requiescat...in pace.. requiescat... in pace”. This man, this servant of God, who had waited so long, who was on the threshold of his eternal rest, had still to give, when it seemed rather from my view he had only but to expect what he awaited, rightfully. A true servant, a true man of God. He will remain forever in my heart. Requiescat in pace.
It was a joy and a blessing for me to know Fr. Abbot Parker. When I was in college I would come to the abbey for compline and holy hour; every night that I came Fr. Abbot was there, manning his position, adoring Our Lord. Abbot Parker was an inspiration for me, a man of God who took his religious life seriously. He was a man who didn’t let frailty, illness, and old age become an impediment to the faithful, rigorous and exemplary practice of his vows. I had always admired him from afar and knew only that I had hoped very much to meet him and that I expected great things. I was most certainly not disappointed. When I entered the abbey in 2009, he was already very ill and wasn’t able to speak with any ease. We only spoke three times, but I remember distinctly and fondly every word. I only wish I had known Father at a time when he was able to impart more; he had so much to give. I instead had the pleasure and blessing of receiving his unspoken kindness, his silent prayers, and his patient example. I am extremely grateful for them all.
Although I lived with Father Abbot Parker for only a short time here at St. Michael’s Abbey, by the time of his death, I felt close to him as well as deeply affected by him. Seeing him come to the Holy Mass and the Office was an inspiration. Whenever I walked by him in the choir, I was always sure to acknowledge him. He was always prompt in responding with a smile. Later, when I visited him in his room, he always bore a peaceful and kindly countenance and was interested in whoever was present. One day, I offered him my hand, placing it in his. I still remember how tightly he grasped it. I admired his patience in the midst of his many trials. My admiration deepened as I realized the many great things he had accomplished through the course of his life. Truly, it is an invaluable gift to have known this eminent man without whom no one of us would be here at St. Michael’s.
May the soul of Abbot Parker rest in peace! My life with Abbot Parker was pleasant and edifying even though short lived. To see him always joining for choral office as much as possible was inspiring. By the time I joined the community of St. Michael’s, Abbot Parker had been confined to a wheel chair. He would always be wheeled in by a confrere and participate in the major hinge Hours of the Liturgy. Always joyful in his demeanor, sporting a sincere smile, he would wave at those in formation has he passed by every morning after breakfast. The most memorable experience I had with Abbot Parker was the afternoon before he died. I decided to visit him, and when he became aware of my presence he looked at me with eyes full of love and devotion. Probably not recognizing who I was, still he gave me a deep gaze which left a profound impression. Frater Miguel and I started a rosary in Latin and I told Abbot Parker that the third joyful mystery was for him to lead. I placed his rosary into his hands and felt certain that he was praying with us, leading the mystery in his heart. While with him I held his hand, but his grasp of the rosary during our time of prayer was stronger and firmer as he squeezed his rosary beads. May God look upon him lovingly, as he spent his life in the service of His Lord and Master. Father Abbot Parker, please pray for me.
THE FIVE FOUNDING SISTERS OF THE BETHLEHEM PRIORY OF ST. JOSEPH
Fr. Abbot Ladislas Parker was very open, he had a refined politeness, and true thoughtfulness. He had a consideration of others that made him interested in other people. I always knew him to be cheerful and uplifting. My best reminiscence of him was when he came to visit the priory in June of 2005. We were very glad to have him here as the sisters consider him a father, and are grateful to him for his courage and perseverance in founding St. Michael’s Abbey from which we were born. Father Abbot Parker gave us many encouraging words on that occasion. He told us that our task now is to hope, because without hope we are listless, but with hope we have energy, and our steps are springlike, and also, to hope for the future good of profession and building a monastery. With hope, he said, we will say with St. Augustine cantamus in spe: we can sing alleluia all day in hope! He added that we are living in times in which Providence is showing us that we should intensify our faith, and become the salt of the earth. There was always a great wisdom to be found in his words
—Mother Mary Augustine
In early June 2005, on the Feasts of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, we, at the Bethlehem Priory of St. Joseph, had the joy of welcoming Father Abbot Emeritus Parker, who helped our community to prepare for the solemnity of St. Norbert by sharing some of his experiences as a religious and founder of St. Michael’s. When asked to share what legacy he hopes to pass on to St. Michael’s and all the houses founded by St. Michael’s (like our own community), Father Abbot Parker replied: “Hold steadfast of what was good in the old way of life (community life, the common table, the common prayer) and don’t shy away from the good in the new either (just because you are old- fashioned). Finally, in doubt, follow Peter in Rome . You cannot lose. What is good enough for Rome should be good enough for you, too....Father Abbot Parker is a very flexible man, but when it comes to Rome , there is no compromise there.”
—Sr. Mary Joannes Baptista
Some striking events of Fr. Abbot Parker’s life became very vivid for me when we visited Hungary during the European phase of our formation. Fr. Theodore took us to the actual farmhouse where Fr. Abbot was hidden by a family in their attic, as well as to the actual spot (the dirt road) where five of the seven founding Hungarian Fathers made their escape across the Hungarian-Austrian border. Hearing about their staunch faith and determination fills me with gratitude to Divine Providence for having endowed Father Abbot and the Fathers with the courage to make such a bold escape on the night of July 11th, the Feast of St. Norbert.
—Sr. Mary Joseph
Here is my reminiscence favorite memory of our dear Father Abbot Ladislas Parker: After we, the ‘first five’ returned from our two month Norbertine formation in Europe in 1999, Father Abbot Parker and Father Clement came to visit us in our temporary convent in Santa Ana . We visited with them in the convent living room for quite a while. Father Abbot was very interested to hear about our trip and the different abbeys we visited. One thing that struck me was how he came to life when we began talking about Hungary — visiting Csorna, his family vineyard and also the house where he hid out during his escape from the communist occupation. And he was also full of joy when some of the sisters greeted him in Hungarian with the traditional greeting of “Praised be Jesus Christ” which they learned in their short stay in Hungary . He was so touched by all of this that he paused a minute and was lost in thought with a content look on his face. He was really happy, happy to know how we sisters take pride in our Hungarian roots that we are truly his daughters and he our ‘Grandfather’ Abbot.
—Sr. Mary Stephen
The first time I ever got a glimpse of the great Abbot Parker was at my home parish, St. Norbert’s Church in Orange. He truly spoke with wisdom, simplicity and power. I was struck by his homily. Later, when I discovered my vocation, truly born and nurtured by St. Michael’s Abbey, I never forgot the words of Abbot Parker to us first five Norbertine Sisters, as he stressed the “openness and unified spirit” of the First Founding Fathers. I am for ever indebted and grateful for his fidelity and perseverance. There was a beautiful meekness, peace, and harmony about his character. I always recall him smiling, and I found it to be contagious. When he came to visit us here in Tehachapi he said, “I can see here in this beautiful land the footprints of the Almighty God.” He saw God in every thing and in everyone—and seeing the good, he brought it out as one who finds a treasure. May the great Archangel St. Michael bring him swiftly into the everlasting kingdom of God.
—Sr. Mary Emily