The tragic loss of Father Todd Reitmeyer
By Matt Abbott
The following article was written by Father J. Patrick Serna for "Catholic Men’s Quarterly." It is reprinted with permission from Father Serna and the editor and publisher of CMQ. (For subscription information, please visit www.houseonthemoor.com)
A Son Becomes a Father
by Father J. Patrick Serna
In order to make my high school football coach fly off the handle, all one had to do was make an excuse for a failed block, missed tackle, or imperfect execution. If Coach Slaughter sensed that an excuse was about to blossom, he would shout a dictum which should be etched in the mind of every man: "Excuses are like armpits. We all have them and they all stink!" Three hundred pound linemen would be shaking every time we were given this gentle reminder. But Coach Slaughter referred to a body part which was not the armpit, and even the dimmest light bulbs on the football field knew that certain principles must be maintained in order to be a man. "No Excuses" is one of the principles which every man should stick to.
I was expected to write something up for The Final Blessing and have it ready three weeks prior to my writing of this piece. In many years of school, college, seminary, and teaching, I have never experienced "writer's block," and this is the first time in my life that an assignment has been turned in late. Now, I see that these mental dead ends were Providential. God wanted to teach me, and whoever else will pay attention, a very big lesson through the instrumentality of a very close priest friend. I felt a nudge from the Holy Spirit to get the heart of this essay from Fr. Todd Reitmeyer, but our rendezvous was to take place one week after my deadline for this essay. The editor was gracious enough to give me the extension. No excuses, but better late than never.
Allow me to go back to the year 1999, when I first met the seminarian Todd Reitmeyer. He was a "New Man" that August, and this was the beginning of my third year at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. While in my room unpacking from the flight overseas, there was a strong knocking on my door. Frankenstein might as well have been the perpetrator. After I told the clubber to enter, in swaggered a six-foot plus Goliath, but this particular hulk had a buzz cut and blue eyes. "So are you Patrick Serna?"
"Yes," I answered.
"Well, I heard you're a Texan, along with some other things, and I'd like to be your friend."
"Sounds good to me," I replied. And so the friendship began.
Over the next two years we shared many laughs, pranks, conversations, prayers, and even tears together. While we both loved the privilege of living just a few hundred yards from Pope John Paul II and the bones of so many saints, we would have preferred to experience that privilege via a pilgrimage rather than a four year exile of study and formation. Texas is where country boys like us longed to be, and we'd pal around quite a bit talking about the Hill Country in Texas, where the Frio River runs and people on inner tubes have fun. Todd often spoke of getting a pool of priests to buy some land near the Frio River, and it would be used for retreats or recreation. Some of our deepest conversations revolved around the sadness which was brought about by his dad's stroke and disabilities thereof. Todd would speak of his dad's strong faith, and how he never blamed God or complained. Six years after the first cruel stroke, the patriarch was called home at the young age of fifty-one. This was a heavy cross for the family, and in many ways, Todd the son became a father to his own sister and two brothers.
The cycle of many millennia of sons becoming fathers took place again, but now in the lives of two young Texans. I was ordained a Catholic Priest in 2001, and Todd became "Father Todd" on June 13, 2003. Now, lessons we had learned from our Fathers would become more important than ever as we would live out our spiritual fatherhood, a sentiment which we have frequently shared since ordination. While I was able to exercise my priesthood in South Texas, Fr. Todd was called to serve in South Dakota. We promised each other to meet up at least once a year.
Fr. Todd would celebrate his 36th birthday on May 13, and I would celebrate my 34th on June 5. We decided to celebrate this gift of life, and our upcoming anniversaries of ordination to Catholic Fatherhood, by camping out in the small Frio River town of Concan, Texas. Fr. Todd was bringing along a long time layman buddy named Harry Tajchman, who he was eager to have me meet. So there I was two Thursdays ago at the checkout counter of a small obscure gas station in a little town I know not the name of, running an hour late for the rendezvous in Concan, ...
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