Updated: Feb 12, 2021
Nothing is timeless. With a remarkably soft, sliding sound, the beautiful coast live oak that had rooted in the hillside between the St. Joseph and the St. Robert buildings collapsed onto the roadway and, reaching across the roadway, damaged the roof of St. Joseph. It must have been 150 to 200 years old and it had watched the property become a Retreat House and buildings put up on either side of it. Many of us, year after year, had admired its shape and the silent way it testified to the beauty of nature, the gracefulness that God sows in the natural world, its strength and seeming unchangeable timelessness. Now the chain saws, hoping to open the roadway blocked by tons of wood, are at work reducing this beautiful, once living, creation to a patchwork of logs.
Nothing is timeless. As this tree unimaginably fell after a particularly bountiful rain, so, unexpectedly, we lost Fr. Bernie Bush, SJ and Fr. Joe Fice, SJ to COVID. We have had many an inspiring conversation talking about the impact that Fr. Bernie had on our lives and the lives of people here at the retreat house and beyond. I have all of Fr. Joe's retreat preparations done here at El Retiro on my computer -- testimony to his assiduous dedication to the work here. But we will not see them walking the property here any more. There is a crater that their absence brings every bit as great as the crater left by the mangled tree roots thrust grotesquely out of the soil.
Something is timeless. There will never be another tree exactly like the much admired oak that came down. The Retreat House will never harbor the same combination of wisdom and love that Fr. Bernie and Fr. Joe brought. But we will plant and we will tend the trees the Lord gives us and we will remember that giant oak and its beauty. And we will turn in prayer to Fr. Bernie and Fr. Joe, asking that all those who continue their work may share a bit of their kindness, their diligence, their wisdom and their sanctity. And we will trust that God who so generously blessed us with them, will continue to generously bless the staff and all the retreatants of our Retreat House so that we may all may grow strong, beautiful and graceful in the Spirit! Timeless Spirit, hold Fr. Bernie and Fr. Joe in Your eternal love and make fruitful the work of El Retiro to which they dedicated so much of their lives.
Fr. John Auther, SJ is a Jesuit for 42 years and a priest for almost 30 years. In his pastoral ministry he has devoted a good deal of time to Spanish-speaking work, detention facilities and retreats. He began working at JRC in January 2020.