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placeholder October 27, 2014   •   VOL. 52, NO. 18   •   Oakland, CA
Rev. Vince Mesi, OFM, releases a dove at the Oct. 4 blessing of animals.
Dominique Mintz/

A new director takes over at San Damiano

For three weeks, between the time he left his post as pastor and rector of St. Mary's Basilica in Phoenix, Arizona, and beginning his new one as director of San Damiano Retreat, Rev. Vince Mesi, OFM, made a three-week pilgrimage, with 43 people, to Assisi, Lourdes, Rome, Prague and Lisieux and Paris.

San Damiano Retreat
710 Highland Road, Danville
With that pilgrimage complete, Father Mesi is settling into his new home in the hills of Danville. He officially began at San Damiano on Sept. 1, after the retirement of Father Ray Bucher, OFM. Father had been director since 1996. This is Father Mesi's first time directing a retreat center.

"It's a very different kind of work," he said, adding that after even such a short time at San Damiano, he finds "I enjoy it."

"God help me," he said, "I do want to do a good job," he said.

"At 70, I would like to do a good job and contribute something to the Franciscan Province of St. Barbara," he said. "I do have a lot of energy."

"I was 11 years at St. Mary's," he said, "ordained 42 years, most of that time in parish work."

In that time, he has given a few retreats, and, as a pastor, has encouraged parishioners to take part in them.

In parish work, "we would offer days of recollection in the parish," he said. Those days would include "prayer, study and planning for the future of the parish."

The assignment at San Damiano is something of a homecoming for the Franciscan priest, who was born in San Jose. He has relatives in the South Bay as well as in San Francisco.

Growing up, he attended public schools and took part in religious education classes at his home parishes, which included St. Lucy Parish in Campbell and St. Frances Cabrini Parish in San Jose. He was graduated from Blackford High School.

A retreat, Father Mesi said, is just that — a retreat. "It's an opportunity to retreat — to get away, to reflect, to spend some time looking at one's life or the broader picture." It can also be, he said, "a time of learning."

Coming for a Franciscan spirituality retreat, for example, offers the opportunity to reflect on: "What does St. Francis have to offer to my day-to-day life."

A retreat is also a getaway from the hustle and bustle. Father Mesi is finding the Bay Area has a good deal of hustle and bustle.

A recent trip from San Damiano to San Francisco for dinner took two hours, he said.

He is also learning about San Damiano from the people who attend retreats there. "People tell me what an opportunity it is to relax, to receive God's grace, to be in this beautiful setting," he said. It gives people, he said, the opportunity to "focus on things that really matter."

"We don't have a lot of time to do that," he said. The working and commuting that make up life in the Bay Area leave not much time to "reflect more for internal part" and perhaps "get some input."

Preparing for a retreat takes some time. It can be as simple as making a phone call.

Father Mesi said, "I think you need to look into your heart and ask yourself, 'What do I need from God, the church or other people?'

"You honestly have to ask that question. It's not so much about giving. What will God give to me and how am I open to that?"

Those questions might be answered while reviewing the retreat offerings. San Damiano, for example, publishes a newsletter, as well as putting a calendar and retreat descriptions online.

Also ask yourself, Father Mesi suggested, "What will speak to me? What will make my heart sing?"

Keep looking. "Something will speak to you," he said.

Father Mesi suggested some offerings on the San Damiano calendar. "A lot of people may be suffering the loss of someone dear to them," he said. Father Padraig Green will present a grief retreat Nov. 21-23.

Dec. 12-14 Franciscan Brother Jeff Macnab will present "Advent: A Place in the Stable." This is a silent retreat, which will feature a conference or two, Father Mesi said, and participants will engage in prayer or other directed activity. The retreat leader will also be available to the participants.

Meals, too, will be taken in silence.

A recovery retreat will be offered over Thanksgiving, from Nov. 28-30, led by Franciscan Father Philip Garcia.

A New Year's retreat, Dec. 30-Jan.1, led by Father Patrick Foley, offers time to reflect on the past year, and anticipate the new year.

In the new year, a Franciscan spirituality retreat, "Proclaiming the Gospel in a Wounded World," will be presented Jan. 9-11 by Father Michael Crosby, OFM Cap.

Father Mesi said he looks forward to leading his first retreat as director of San Damiano, perhaps as early as spring, in liturgy of Franciscan spirituality.

San Damiano will continue to offer weeks and days of reflection. In addition, Father Mesi said, there may be additional offerings, such as Taize prayer and Stations of the Cross.

As for the retreat center itself, renewal continues in the sanctuary, with new flooring, carpets and paint. New chairs are on the schedule.

Heating and air conditioning has been updated in all rooms; a new sound system has been installed and in the dining room, new tables and chairs are expected.

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