Thirty-five years ago, when I was young and carefree – probably too carefree for my own good – and had a full head of hair – I met a man who became a lifelong friend. And then, it seems, I blinked and the years had passed by. My friend just celebrated 50 years as a priest, which is a remarkable achievement when you consider we live in a culture where permanence and commitment, in marriage or religious vocations, is often an anachronistic virtue.
Thirty-five years ago, when I was young and carefree – probably too carefree for my own good – and had a full head of hair – I met a man who became a lifelong friend. And then, it seems, I blinked and the years had passed by.
My friend just celebrated 50 years as a priest, which is a remarkable achievement when you consider we live in a culture where permanence and commitment, in marriage or religious vocations, is often an anachronistic virtue.
Father Len Kvedas, pastor of St. Michael’s Church in Beacon Falls, joined a select group of priests in the Archdiocese of Hartford who had reached that milestone, so we went to his anniversary Mass and then joined members of the parish later for a lunch in the church hall.
On a table at the entrance to the church was his ordination photo, the photo of a thin young man, with glasses and a prematurely serious look on his face, his hands clasped in prayerful reverence after his ordination in France.
Years passed and during those years, he touched many lives.
When he talked about his vocation during his anniversary Mass, he said with characteristic humility that God works through sinners and ordinary people like the Apostles.
But, in the end, God can do great things through the ordinary sinner who turns his will and life over to God’s care. It reminded me of Saint Paul, who seemed to revel in his weaknesses because they helped him remember that all power comes from Christ. God doesn’t choose the champions to do his work, I’ve been told. He chooses the weak and makes them strong.
I first met Father Len when I was 24 and, over the years, through the momentous events in my life and through the crises, he was there. He officiated at my marriage to Sandy and he baptized our four daughters.
He visited my father when he was in a rehab program and made sure he got help from people who could help him. Because of that, my father lived the last 25 years of his life sober. And that’s just one person in one family, so imagine the effect over 50 years of what one "sinner" can do who trusts in God.
And he said the funeral Masses when my mother and father died. Isn’t that the role of the priest: to bring Christ to us in our joy and in our sorrow, during our triumphs and tragedies, on the many occasions of our lives?
I suspect that the lowly paid priest, the often unappreciated priest, does much more to change the world for the better than congressmen and politicians, than corporate executives and celebrities, because when you’re doing the will of God, you don’t need a title or the power of an office or fancy degrees hanging on your office wall.
Many a time when I had a crisis or problem at work, even though I could be living in Florida or New York, I would get on the phone and call him, and he’d give me advice, and it was always the same advice but it always worked – take it a day at a time. When you take it a day at a time for 50 years, the results are astounding.
True friendship, I believe, is more than the result of a chance encounter; it’s more than people randomly stumbling into each other at a particular moment in time at a particular place on the planet.
Enduring friendships seem to be governed by a fundamental principle someone once shared with me: "Dio li fa e poi li accoppia," which means "God makes them and then pairs them." It’s as if God puts people in your life for reasons beyond your understanding. Certain people, who arrive during our darkest hours, when we need them most. It’s as if I looked up, and they were standing there with a forgiving smile, a kind word, a little compassion or an outstretched hand.
I count myself as blessed to have Father Len as a fellow traveler on this strange and wonderful journey we call life, walking with us along the hardest and steepest sections of the trail or standing between us and the edge of the cliff.
I’m sure I’m not alone; I’m sure that view is shared by countless others who met him over 50 years of service and are much better people because of it. God bless you, Father.
J.F. Pisani is a writer who lives with his family in the New Haven area.