Last January 1, I composed a post looking back on the previous year and its highlights and noted at the end my hope to make this an annual tradition. In that spirit, here’s a look back at 2014, its highs and lows, in no particular order.

1. Isabella’s First Communion

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Certainly the highlight of the year was Isabella receiving the Sacrament of First Holy Communion. In last year’s roundup, I wrote about how she made her First Confession in a somewhat spontaneous and unplanned circumstance, so once that was done, it didn’t make any sense to wait for First Communion. So we checked with our pastor and then set a date in early February when my mom would be up from Virginia and Melanie’s sister could come up from Texas. It was a beautiful day and she was so reverent and prepared. I could tell that she was taking this event very seriously, on her own initiative saying special prayers in preparation.

2. One Door Closes…

A lowlight of the year would be my departure from my job as Director of New Media for the Archdiocese of Boston. It’s a long story and I don’t care to burn any bridges at this point, but I explained it in a post in May. I was sad to leave when we hadn’t yet reached the full potential of what we could in diocesan new media, even as we’d once been hailed as leaders in that area. Unfortunately there was too much uncertainty surrounding my position and the future of my office and I needed to find something a little more stable for the sake of my family.

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Of course, leaving my job as Director of New Media also meant leaving as producer of The Good Catholic Life radio show, which consequently meant the end of the show, since no one was going to be hired to replace me. After more than 3 years and 750 shows, we’d had a good run. In that time, I’d gone from web guy and transcriptionist to occasional guest to occasional fill-in guest host to producer to co-host/producer.

It was a learning experience and frankly not one I sought out, but I did enjoy the people I worked with, both on the radio show and in my my role in new media, and I do miss seeing them regularly.

3. … Another Door Opens

Thankfully, just as I was thinking about leaving another opportunity opened. I’d been discussing my predicament with Fr. Chip Hines, with whom I co-hosted The Good Catholic Life on Fridays, when he said that he might have an opening at his new assignment as pastor of a collaborative of three parishes in Sharon and Walpole, Mass., operating under the archdiocese’s Disciples in Mission pastoral plan. As we discussed the idea, my role became defined as communications director for the collaborative, and I started officially on July 1.

In the following six months, we’ve been very busy as we developed a unifying identity as the Matthew 13 Catholic Collaborative, created four new web sites including one brand-new one for the collaborative, created a combined collaborative bulletin, revamped the email newsletters, and implemented a new process by which all of our marketing materials took on a new professional appearance. We’re still in the early stages of bringing the parishes together in the collaborative and I look forward to creating a communications strategy as part of the future pastoral planning process that serves an evangelization plan to raise up more intentional disciples in Walpole and Sharon.

As part of my new job, I’ve also made a return to the airwaves. Since November, I’ve been co-hosting on Mondays with Fr. Chip Hines Calling All Catholics, a one-hour call-in show on the Station of the Cross network that covers upstate New York and the Boston area.

4. Who

In 2013, I was excited to start co-hosting a podcast with someone who’s podcasts I’d long listened to, Fr. Roderick Vonhogen. The Secrets of Star Wars is a lot of fun with just me and Fr. Roderick geeking out over the fact that the movies near and dear to both us from our childhoods would be returning to the big screen along with the actors from them. And so when Fr. Roderick asked me last summer to join him in another podcast, I leapt at the chance.

I’d only recently become a fan of Doctor Who, catching up on the rebooted TV series most recent 7 seasons over the course of about a year or so. With a new incarnation of the Doctor imminent, the time was right for a new podcast about him. This time it would be an ensemble podcast including Fr. Roderick, Jimmy Akin, Fr. Cory Sticha, Stephanie Zimmer and me. Despite the challenges of coordinating all those schedules and managing such a large conversation each week, I think these podcasts have been both fun and informative and I look forward to many more of them.

5. Vacation at the Capital

At the end of July, we took a week to drive down to Virginia to visit my mom and sister who’d moved down there in 2013. We loaded all seven of us into the minivan, piled all our stuff under, over, and around everybody and set off on our 13–1/2 hour road trip. In addition to seeing my mom and sister, we visited George Washington’s boyhood farm, where Isabella was entranced by the archeologists and even found a brick that she altered the scientists to; visited the National Gallery of Art, where among other things we saw an exhibit of works by Cassatt and Degas, then found an amazing Texas barbecue restaurant down the street; had dinner at the home of one of Melanie’s college friends and her husband in the Navy; and saw the National Shrine of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception with one of our friends from Facebook.

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It was a whirlwind trip and we didn’t get to do nearly as much as I’d hoped, but everyone had a great time and it was worth it. Perhaps we can do it again this year.

6. Family Visits

Speaking of visits, we once again welcomed Melanie’s mother, father, and sister to our home from Texas, and Theresa even came twice! It’s always such a pleasure to have them here where they can enjoy the kids and experience all that New England has to offer. I do miss visiting them in Texas, but traveling with five little kids is both unwieldy and expensive and thus unlikely to happen again soon.

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7. Looking for a Parish

July came with some bad news on the homefront, namely that our beloved pastor, Fr. John Currie, would be getting a new assignment. For several months, Fr. Matt Williams, who was in residence at our parish, had to become temporary administrator before returning to his work at the archdiocese, but eventually a permanent administrator was assigned in the form of the pastor of a neighboring parish. Because of the necessity to juggle two parishes, the Mass schedules were changed and we lost the Mass we could attend at our parish. The reminaing 7:30am Mass was way too early and the 11:30 Mass would result in kids getting hungry for lunch halfway through, which would be a disaster.

We find ourselves back at St. Edith Stein Church. They have this lively statue.

So we decided to make lemonade from the lemons and start visiting the surrounding parishes on Sundays. This is the Archdiocese of Boston, which means that within a 5 mile radius of our house there are 15 parishes and many of them had a Mass that fell within the sweet spot of 9am to 10am. And so, over the course of the fall, we became the Mystery Worshipper family, giving us interesting insight into what it’s like to be a newcomer and stranger in six different parishes.

We might continue our wandering and visiting, but we seem to have settled into a new parish home at St. Edith Stein Parish in Brockton. It’s a very pretty and well-kept parish in a community that has experienced some rough times. The people are nice, the priests are good, and importantly there is no aggravating fluff in the liturgies, i.e. children’s Mass accretions such as childish songs, hand-waving and the like. It is good and homey.

8. A Tasty Ale

Another high point of the year came from via the monks of St. Jospeh’s Abbey in Spencer, Mass., who began distributing the product of their new brewery. The monks are Trappists and prior to last year, there were only eight Trappist monasteries brewing the famous Trappist beers, all of them in Europe. But recently two more were given permission to open, one in Australia and the other Spencer Brewery.

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At first, Spencer Trappist Ale was available only in limited quantities from certain specialty retailers and only in Massachusetts. It was nearly as much fun hearing friends from outside the state clamor for this long-anticipated ale as it was to try it. Nearly, because Spencer Trappist Ale is an amazing beer, unlike anything else I’ve tried. It’s not what most people think of when they think of Belgian abbey beers, but is a lot lighter and tastes of cloves and other spices. I know that many people who don’t like beer have tried it and really enjoyed it. Certainly the beer aficionado press has gone crazy for it.

Now the ale is available in 8 more states, most on the East Coast, but also in northern California, yet it remains as amazing as when it was first released. And it got me more excited about trying other craft beers, especially those brewed locally, which is only a good thing.

9. Field Trips

2014 was another year in which we took a bunch of field trips as a family. We continued our custom of buying family memberships to two local museums, this year transitioning from the Franklin Park Zoo and the Museum of Science to the New England Aquarium and back to the Museum of Fine Arts.

In the first half of the year, we made it to the zoo several times, and it became clear that this was an attraction we could reach very easily if we had a last-minute notion to go there. And we also realized that a trip to zoo in the winter can be nearly as fun as in the summer.

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We’ve been the MFA several times this year, seeing special exhibitions on quilts, where I got same great photos of these textile works of art, and on the works of Francisco de Goya, as well as their permanent collections of ancient Roman and American art. Unfortunately, we’ve only been to the Aquarium once because for six weeks in August and September, Melanie was in a walking cast. A day of walking on a field trip wasn’t going to happen. I hope to get another couple of visits there before our membership expires in July.

Looking Forward Again

Those are just a few of the highlights of the year, not including the usual birthdays and anniversaries, or our weekly trips to the farmers market, the holiday get-togethers with family and more. It is good to look back occasionally and New Year’s Day provides a good excuse to do so, but we also look ahead. In 2015, there are several events happening outside Massachusetts, which I’d love to attend and we’ll see if somehow I can attend at least one. We’re also looking forward to Sophia’s First Confession and First Communion this year and maybe another fun family vacation. Personally, I’m very much looking forward to the new Star Wars movie next December. We can sure there will be much else that’s unanticipated, for good and for ill. I wonder what next year’s retrospective will look like.

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