I consider one of the greatest gifts I have ever received to be the fact that I knew Fr. Charlie. Granted, I was very young when I knew him and most of my memories are the little “snapshot” memories of a child, but I knew him none the less. He was the priest at St. Stephen in Salado, my home parish, for much of my childhood. He heard my first Confession and gave me my First Communion.
He really was a spiritual father to me in many ways. He was so kind to everyone, but especially children, and I remember how he always called me “Honey.” One of the things I knew about him as a child was his “bottomless pockets” where he would carry all kinds of little trinkets and pins that he would give to people. I have several beautiful crucifixes that he gave to me when I needed a word or two of encouragement.
It was because of his great witness that there was no doubt in my mind where I would go to high school. I was so excited to start at Holy Trinity as a freshmen because I knew it was a place dear to Fr. Charlie’s heart. I didn’t know it at the time, but he was in the last few months of his life when I was just starting my life at Holy Trinity.
I remember commenting to my mother one time, after an episode when it was becoming clear that Fr. Charlie’s health was beginning to decline, “It’s a miracle that he drives himself all the way from his home in Georgetown to Holy Trinity everyday.” Her response was that he could do that because he knew that his guardian angels would get him there safely. I always admired Fr. Charlie for that: his simple, childlike trust in God.
I have one distinct memory of Fr. Charlie’s childlike faith from my own childhood. During a homily at St. Stephen he talked about the goodness and beauty of creation and of each person. To make this point he brought out an old record player and played a record with the song “If I Were a Butterfly” on it. He invited all the children up to the front of the church to join him in singing and dancing during the song, flapping their arms for the butterfly and wiggling their hands for the fish. I still remember the words:
“If I were a butterfly,
I’d thank you, Lord, for giving me wings;
And if I were a robin in a tree,
I’d thank you Lord, that I could sing;
And if I were a fish in the sea,
I’d wiggle my tail and I’d giggle with glee;
But I just thank you Father, for making me – ME!
’Cause you gave me a heart and
You gave me a smile
You gave me Jesus, and
You made me His Child
And I just thank you, Father
For making me – ME!”
I thank God for that memory of singing and praising God with Fr. Charlie. He was always praising God, even when things were hard. It was that knowledge that got me through another time I would sing with Fr. Charlie, because this time was much more difficult.
Fr. Charlie passed away December 18th, 2009, during my freshman year of high school. I remember because it’s the day after my brother’s birthday. For his funeral, before his body was transported back to Iowa to be buried, there was a mass at St. Helen’s Catholic Church in Georgetown. Holy Trinity’s Bella Sona choir, which I was a member of, was invited to sing at the mass.
I remember rehearsing before mass and being unable to sing from all the emotion I was experiencing. Right before mass started Mrs. Fette, the choir director at the time, gathered us around for a prayer. She was also very emotional, and she prayed that we would have enough strength to get through the mass and sing for Fr. Charlie. I remember in that moment, hearing Fr. Charlie’s name, that I suddenly felt a very profound sense of peace. Despite the many emotions I was feeling, I was able to sing the words of Fr. Charlie’s favorite song “Let It Be” at the end of mass:
“…And when the night is cloudy, there is still a Light that shines on me. Shine until tomorrow, let it be…”
There are many “cloudy nights” in life and it can be easy to forget to praise God in the midst of them. However, when I get wrapped up in the stress or anxiety of things there will often be a moment when the grace of God breaks through and I can’t help but hear Fr. Charlie saying to me, “Honey, you can relax. God’s in charge.”
In those moments I am confident that I don’t just have the Light of God shining down on me, but I also have the light of another man too: the light of Fr. Charlie.
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The joyful witness of Fr. Charlie is one that we need to preserve so that he can continue to touch the lives of our students like he did during his lifetime. If you have photos or fond memories of Fr. Charlie, please feel free to share them with us by contacting Alyssa Snyder at firstname.lastname@example.org or Isabelle Brogan at email@example.com. Please limit written memories or stories to 400-500 words a piece.
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About the Author
Alyssa Snyder is a proud alumna of Holy Trinity Catholic High School, graduating from the Class of 2013 as the Valedictorian. She currently works at Holy Trinity teaching Speech and Senior Theology and serving as the Dean of Student Services and Campus Ministry.