I love my job. Sure, it’s not all that exciting to write checks, do bookkeeping, meet with vendors. But what IS exciting are THE PEOPLE. St. Mary’s is blessed with wonderful parishioners who give themselves wholeheartedly to the service of the Lord. I have come to know many on a personal level and have found them to be beautiful people of God. Even when a parishioner complains, I accept it gratefully because it means that they care and want things to be better for everyone.
It’s not just the parishioners that I enjoy, but the visitors as well. Over the years, we have had many visitors come in and tell me that their parents were married here. Usually the story goes that their dad was stationed at Camp Pendleton and came into town to get married before being shipped out to the war (World War II). I always take them into the church and then bring them back to the office where I look up the marriage record. It always fills them with joy. That is why, when we renovated the vestibule years ago, I created the display that shows the active-duty service men and women who were married here during WWII. It also showcases our on-going association with the military.
Last week, a family was visiting from the East Coast and asked to see the inside of the church. The wife (we’ll call her “MARY”) and teenage son (“JAMES”) walked out of the office and the husband (“JOHN”) stayed behind. He said he wanted me to know why they came here to see the church.
He said that his dad (“DAD”) had completed boot camp in San Diego and was then moved to Camp Pendleton to wait to be shipped out to the Korean War. The year was 1950.
FAST FORWARD TO 1997. John and Mary were living in Southern California and had just had their first child. Dad came to visit to see the grandchild. He tells John that, while he was at Camp Pendleton, he and his buddies would go into Laguna Beach and he wanted to see it again because he enjoyed it so much. So, off they go to Laguna. Then Dad asks John to drive him down to Oceanside. “Why? What’s in Oceanside?”, John asks him. “Please just take me there.” When they drive into town, Dad remarks that everything looks very different, but if John would just drive around the downtown area, he will find his bearings. They drive down Hill Street (now Coast Highway) and Dad tells him to turn onto Third Street (now Pier View Way). That’s when he spots the church! He instructs John to wait for him in the car and he disappears into the church for about an hour.
By the time Dad returns, John can’t stand it any longer and asks “What was that all about?” Dad tells him that he was, understandably, very worried about going into the War. The night before he was to be shipped out, he snuck off base, and came to our church. He prostrated himself on the floor and begged God to let him come home alive. He promised that, if he came home alive, he would come back here and “thank Him in person”. It took 47 years, but his promise was kept!
FAST FORWARD TO 2018. John and Mary and their family now live on the East Coast again (where John grew up). Over the years, Dad’s story became almost a legend in the family. So, while they were in Southern California on a family vacation, they went out of their way to bring James to see the church where God and Dad had their meeting that night. Dad’s folklore now becomes a reality to James who will pass down the story to his future children.
I am certain that Dad thanked God profusely when he came home and probably every day thereafter for sparing his life and allowing him to have a wife, children, and grandchildren. But he clearly held in his heart that he had a specific promise to keep and it brought him back here.
When moments like this occur, I am humbled. I am reminded that we have a very special gift here and that we are caretakers of the past and guardians of the future.