Right after college I did a year of service at Casa Juan Diego. If you’ve been reading my posts for any length of time I’m sure you’ve heard me talk about this amazing place. The mission of CJD is to live out Matthew 25:31-46. They do this by serving undocumented immigrants.
Every year at CJD there would be a huge party thrown for the Feast Day of San Juan Diego. The year I was there, was the same year Houston got a new Archbishop — Cardinal Daniel DiNardo. Mark and Louise — the couple who founded and continue to run CJD after 30 years — invited Cardinal DiNardo to say Mass on this beloved feast day. Maybe Mark and Louise were used to this year after year but I was in total awe of this request. I’m sure the Archbishop’s calendar is always full; we were such a small crowd compared to what I’m sure he is used to. But very quickly we heard a reply. The Archbishop would be coming to celebrate the Mass of the Feast of San Juan Diego at Casa Juan Diego.
We were all excited. The women in the house took to making paper flowers for decorations. We workers tried to get through the overwhelming amount of donations we received especially as Christmas drew near; Mark and Louise prepared for the Mass and called the Mariachis that would come to do the music.
Casa Juan Diego, with the work they do, is obviously a place where the Holy Spirit dwells but the night that Cardinal DiNardo came was really special. This very important man in the Church hierarchy came to spend time with those who, while very important in the eyes of Christ, are mere shadows in our country.
Right away the first thing that stood out to me about Cardinal DiNardo was his homily and his voice. He has a very distinct voice. One I can still remember almost seven years later. His homily was awesome. It had some deep and profound theological points but also made deep connections with immigrants. He didn’t dumb anything down. He took seriously our attention and made us all feel like he was engaged in a personal conversation with each of us. (Apparently homilies are his thing.) Also, what made a big impression on me was his singing. He is not one of those priests that sings loudly at the beginning of the hymn and then trails off. Even with the mic off, you can clearly hear him belting out those notes. His voice is filled with so much joy and energy, like Mass is the most fun thing in the world to him.
But what really cemented my love for Cardinal DiNardo was this. January 1, we put a sign on the door saying, “Gone to Mass” and Mark, Louise, and three of us Catholic Workers jumped into a minivan and headed down to the Co-Cathedral to celebrate the Solemnity of Mary. We had no idea he’d be presiding but we were all pleasantly surprised when Cardinal DiNardo processed down the aisle. The homily was superb and then after Mass we all piled back into the van. I was sitting in the way back seat and as I looked out the window I saw Cardinal DiNardo hurrying to his car. He stopped and noticed Mark and Louise getting in the van and he came over to shake their hands and say hello. He saw that two of us were in the back of the van. He proceeded to climb into the van’s middle seats so he could reach far enough to shake our hands too. He wished us all a blessed new year and then was on his way.
It was not until later that I learned from this article that the Cardinal’s hometown parish priest was Fr. John Hugo, the priest who all ran the “Famous Retreat” that Dorothy Day made more than 20 times. What amazing formation Cardinal DiNardo must have received at such a young age.
Honestly, I haven’t kept up with much of what he’s been up to — other than hanging out with Mark and Louise again at this event — but I will always have a love for Cardinal DiNardo. He is a scholar but never condescending, he has a deep commitment to the poor and marginalized, and he would climb into an old minivan to shake your hand even if he doesn’t know you. He’s a good man. I am eager to see what he does at the new vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
I thank God that we have shepherds such as him guiding the flock.