St Joseph's Church

Lincoln, New Hampshire

Category: Meet the Flock

Meet the Flock: Ronnie Comesana

by Denise Rush

Unbeknownst to even himself, Ronnie Comesana has a superpower—his self-proclaimed “goofy” sense of humor. Day-by-day, throughout his entire life, it has empowered him to get through the tough times. More recently, as he ages, it has been a godsend to help deal with the pains of his multiple medical diagnoses. When doctors tell him: “Ronnie, your body is like an old, beat-up Ford pick-up truck,” Ronnie’s response with a big laugh is: “That’s okay cuz I’ve got one!”  When his legs just give out without warning and he falls down, friends say to him: “Ronnie, when are you getting a cane?” Again, he jokes, “Well, my Dad, bless his heart, was 72 when he used a cane, I’m only 70. I just may have to wait 2 years, and use a ski pole if I have to…Oh Lord!” His present-day health crisis is one of needle-like pain jabbing at him in—of all places—his “funny bone.”

He inherited that great “sense-of-humor-superpower” from his father, who, like Ronnie used it to laugh away his own diabetic pain. Both his Cajun born mother and, for that matter, Ronnie’s entire extended family seem to possess it— they all know that trick to happiness. It is the Cajun code: “Life is just better when you’re happy. I always try to make people laugh and make them happy like I was,” says Ronnie, who really did have a happy childhood. This admittedly not-so-po’-boy was raised in New Orleans (or, as Ronnie says it: “NuAwlins”) with his father’s family. They all visited frequently the Cajun land of Vermilion parish on his mother’s side, land that has been in the family since the 1700s. It was there that rowdy, friendly, brotherly wrestling matches and extended family gatherings (served Southern-style with po’-boy sandwiches, juicy fried catfish, and other Cajun delicacies) took place. These happened especially during the 11 days of Cajun Mardi Gras festivities. Yet, as joy-filled as his childhood was, Ronnie, the runt of Mary Jane and Clement’s five boys, had a needling to leave the flatland of Louisiana and head for the proverbial hills.  My mother always said, “At some point, I had to be vaccinated with a gypsy needle.” Ronnie’s strong desire for travel and adventure all started as a child. Once, at his godfather’s house, he eyed a rocking chair with a quilt draped over it of crocheted leaves. He knew right then and there that he had to go in search of those leaves that didn’t exist anywhere in Cajun country, and when he was told they could only be found in New England, his “thirst” for this area was born. Another time, as a 10-year-old, it snowed just outside “NuAwlins.” Ronnie was literally captivated by this new and strange phenomenon. He enjoyed it so much so, that he forgot all about his two younger brothers who were with him as he played away the day in the fresh powder. That’s when he knew the mountain life was in his future. The way it became a reality for him was that, at one point in his life, he went to visit his brother in Vermont, staying there with him for 5-6 months. Since it was always his wish back then to work at a ski resort, he quickly sought and found a job at the front desk of Loon Mountain and then made the move to Lincoln. While here, he made many friendships and began hiking (Mt. Washington and other 4000-footers). He also biked, swam, and skied with his local buddies. “Now,” Ronnie jokes, “my body laughs if I even look at skis.”  

Way before his Lincoln adventures, though, in the late 1960s, the tip-top-physically-fit-Ronnie decided to join the Army, thinking that if he enlisted he wouldn’t be sent to Vietnam. He completed his basic training in Louisiana and Indianapolis. Ronnie turned 21 in ’Nam, serving in the Artillery unit there for a year. Interestingly, he missed seeing a Bob Hope U.S.O. show because he drew the short straw (Ronnie’s luck) and was assigned to guard duty that day instead. He did have one bit of luck while there, however. He was sent on R&R to Japan. There, he climbed Mt. Fuji, this time not while hiking, but from the luxury of a cable car. Post-Vietnam, he was sent to Washington, D.C. for 1-1/2 years.

In 1981, he moved from New Orleans seeking employment in the lucrative work of the “awl”/oil fields knowing that he could work 7 days on/7 days off. He worked from Mobile, Alabama to Southern Texas, and all along the Gulf, as a logistics manager where, from Ronnie’s desk, he controlled 19-passenger helicopters, boats, and personnel (130-180 people) switching back and forth at all times of the day from 6-story high oil rigs (if drilling, 6K-7K ft. deep). He worked 7 years, 200 miles offshore in the Gulf, and also 4 years on land rigs, and 8 years on land bases. Ronnie actually knew some friends from the ill-fated Deep Water Horizon oil rig disaster in 2011. Thankfully, those friends all got out alive. For his own training, however, every Saturday there were fire and abandon drills, survival training, where they would muster and board a lifeboat without actually leaving the rig. It was practice to know exactly what to do in order to escape in an unfortunate event like that. Also, every 2 years, he would have to undergo underwater training where he was strapped inside a makeshift helicopter for 10 seconds (upside-down and blindfolded) and would have to memorize where the window was and feel around for it in order to escape. As for his employment, he continued on in that line of work on the rigs, as he was offered (and accepted) a position in the frozen tundra off the northern slopes of Alaska in Prudhoe Bay where he sling-loaded containers onto helicopters. (What that means is to attach hooks to a hovering overhead helicopter flying out to the oil rig that carries supplies to the personnel on the rig.) Ronnie was one of those men who literally stood on top of those containers doing just that. He explains, “I worked in 40 degrees below zero in the frozen Arctic where your gear is only good for 20 minutes before you freeze to death.”  In the 1990s, when the oil field industry tanked, and the economy was hurting, Ronnie switched gears and set out for Glacier Park in Montana. He spent 5 months there, hiking seven days a week both there and into the Canadian Rockies. He also worked as a “Dorm Dad” to the male students housed in the Park. “It was the best summer of my life,” he adds. That gypsy needle had been fast at work, as his adventures continued. In fact, when he was 52, Ronnie was, as he puts it, “flat-footed in all 50 states,” something that was on his bucket list to achieve.

Now, keep in mind that that bucket, though filled with a litany of good times and travels, also contained a few mis-adventures during his life, and they continue to affect him to this day. The heavy cigarette smoking of get-togethers with his chain-smoking friends that took place in his younger days of the ’70s, have now resulted in a diagnosis for Ronnie of COPD, even though he (and his parents) never smoked. It is that second-hand smoke back then that is the culprit of his scarred lungs today. Also, while helping his cousin raise a porch on the Cajun homestead, the propped-up porch fell on his head as it collapsed. In 1967, he was involved in a head-on car accident. These last two traumas, Ronnie believes, are the probable cause of his present-day back, leg, and neck injuries, of which he has had to receive shots (needles!) to attempt to relieve the neuropathy pain. He has had spinal compression surgeries in his back. As mentioned earlier, sometimes his legs give out from under him. He has vertigo too, and has had cervical (neck) disc removals, where his disc came out in 3 pieces.  This, he believes is what may be the cause of his present day symptoms, as Ronnie has stabbing jolts and jabs of needle-like pain (up to 50-60 times a day) that run down into his “funny bone.” Ronnie laughs it off, however, “Gee, I sound like a wreck!” But wait; as if that’s not enough in the Ronnie Comesana saga, he had yet another wrecking-type event that happened to him in 2005—Hurricane Rita destroyed his home in Louisiana. It was just after Katrina hit New Orleans and the tidal surge from Rita threw several hundred pounds of marsh grass and mud into the walls of his and other’s homes on the family’s Cajun land. He was turning 60 at the time, so he raised the land up 5-6 feet on a hill, bought a mobile home there, and later sold it to a cousin’s son. Yet, he carried on, and, later in life, returned to Louisiana to care for his parents in their failing health (attending to their every need, and being there for their respective funerals.) In 2013, he retired to Lincoln and his beloved mountain area on a permanent basis, adding, “I can’t imagine living anywhere else.” He loves our parish and the people; particularly those at the 4:30 Mass. He participates there as a greeter, collector, and usher. He is also a money counter, and serves on the budget committee. His favorite hymn is Day-By-Day, which coincidentally, he listens to daily. It helps him to stay cheerful. Ronnie lives to help others. One example of this is that he takes out trash for some of his elderly friends (though he, himself, could use a hand, as his hands tingle with nerve endings firing up and down, literally jolting his arm away from his body.)

Thank God Ronnie learned the Cajun code for happiness: be happy, cherish your family and friends, help others, take problems Day-By-Day, and never, ever “cage-in” your sense of humor. Ronnie personifies that mantra. His positivity is plastered all over his beaming face, just check out his broad smile (even when he’s in pain). “I’ve had the best life of anyone, but my hobby now,” as he laughs, “is getting up in the morning!” There’s that “goofy” sense of humor again! Not only is it Ronnie’s superpower…it is his saving grace.

Meet the Flock: Paula King

by Denise Rush

Here’s a riddle: When is Paula not a King?
Answer: When she is a Queen.

You see, Paula is a cross between a Queen of Hearts and a Queen Mother. Though her surname might hint at royalty in the lineage, the comparison ends there, for Paula is not the slightest bit pretentious or uppity. If you want proof, just watch her little “subjects” who gather at her side. It is those children entrusted to her care as an educator to whom she is their “Queen Mother.” She gives her heart and soul to teaching the sweetly innocent and young upon whom she showers love, and to whom she provides nurturing comfort, guidance, discipline, and equaled compassion. Paula always stresses a rule of respect to the little ones she teaches. It is her life’s credo: “Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You.” Yes, it is this “Golden Rule” that she brings to the ‘kingdom of the classroom setting’ and to her personal life. In fact, this universal truth is so prevalent in her mind and strikingly important in her estimation, that she has a Norman Rockwell poster displayed in her home that has those same sage words of wisdom superimposed upon faces of peoples of all nations and races. She has also gifted this core belief to her own children: Tyler, Cameron, and Nathan, as well as to her grandchildren: Tyson, Zana, and Zina. “It’s something we taught our kids,” Paula says. “I try to live by the teachings and rules that I learned through my religion and through my faith.” Actually, at one point in her life, she thought she wanted to be a nun, adding “I was determined I was going to be a missionary, but life took hold and took me in a different path.”

Thankfully, for our parish, life did take hold and took her to Lincoln on a different path, and with a different mission…it just took a while, and it was a circuitous path at that. Paula was born in Pennsylvania, the oldest of five children with one sister and three brothers. Up until the age of 12 when her family moved to RI, Paula and her family were part of a vibrant Catholic parish, St. Alphonsus. In RI, she attended a public junior high and then attended and graduated from a Catholic high school, Prout Memorial, so named for Sr. Mary Prout. It was there that she participated in many clubs, such as drama and music, and shared in many other activities associated with another local Catholic boys’ high school. She also enjoyed being a member of the Metronomes, a marching team, performing in local and state parades.

Paula continued to march onward with her studies, attending Holy Cross College in Worcester, starting in Pre-Med, before switching to Psychology as her major. Eventually, she earned her B.A. there, and later received a certificate in teaching. Her Master’s in Special Education from Rhode Island College was her next achievement, graduating diploma in hand from there in 1981. Upon entering the work force, she was first employed at Bradley Hospital (a psychiatric hospital in East Providence Rhode Island, well known for being on the cutting edge of autism research) before moving to Meredith in 1986. It was there she was afforded the opportunity to teach and create a Special Education preschool program at the Inter-Lakes Elementary School, a position she then held for the next 11 years. This entire time, Paula was commuting from Lincoln to Meredith, as she was then living in a small apartment in the condo that her parents owned at The Village of Loon. It was at that point in her life that she reached out to a family friend and acquaintance that they had bonded with over many ski trips to the area. That friend soon became Paula’s future husband, Bart. They married, settling in North Woodstock as their home. Then, as luck and fate would intervene, a job at Linwood Elementary School opened up for an Elementary Special Education professional, a position she has held for the past 21 years. It is there where she presently teaches the little ones she loves: preschoolers through third graders. Paula also brings that expertise into the voluntary ministry she chairs here at St. Joseph parish as the Faith Formation Director, a role which she has been involved in since Fr. Dave has been the pastor. Prior to that, she was one of the volunteer teachers in the program for approximately 20+ years, starting when her own children were in Religious Ed. At the beginning, she admits, “It gave me an excuse to be a part of their lives, but then, I really enjoyed it.” She thoughtfully muses: “God gives us certain gifts and we need to ask, what, in turn, are we going to do with those gifts? I think the gift God gave me is a passion for working with kids, and so to turn that around and continue to give it (back) is how I see it.”

She has done that—and so much more—is the way we all should see it. Just take a look at the list of her involvements and accomplishments for our parish, not to mention the fact that she juggles all of that with the duties and demands of her day job. Paula serves as the Parish Pastoral Council Chairperson, as well as being the chairperson of the annual parish Christmas Festival (a gargantuan duty in-and-of itself!) And, as if there were not enough responsibilities in those appointments, she serves as Religious Education/Faith Formation Director, coordinating activities and events for the children in the program—and there are many. Students, under her direction, have gotten to bond with the elderly residents of Lincoln Green, playing Bingo or baking and sharing seasonal cookies alongside each of them. Paula creates and organizes these happenings and others, such as the students’ annual bus field trip, this past year’s to the Shrine of Our Lady of LaSalette, in Enfield, NH. She also coordinates the bake sale fundraisers that help to financially enable an event like that to take place. Her goal for the children in the Religious Education program is simple, “I want to instill in them a love for how to live your faith, not just learn about it.” This is the reason why she also loves to see them participate in other faith-based activities such as the Living Stations at Lent, or the children’s Christmas Pageant. A prime example of this is how she feels about this year’s performance, “The Christmas Eve Mass really warmed my heart because the kids are learning about all of this, and they are participating, and they all have Elves on the Shelves and they all believe in Santa…but this is really what the story should be about, and the fact that so many of them wanted to be in that little pageant meant so much.” Also, seeing so many Moms and Dads at that Mass who went to Religious Ed with her own children gave her that same warm feeling for the faith, “It is my prayer or my hope that there is still that thread that some of them will reconnect with the Catholic church.” She continues, “So, when I see kids and families embracing an idea that we have to get the kids involved in X,Y, or Z, I’m like, YES!!! This is what it’s all about—and that’s where I get my energy from.” The goal, she explains, is “to keep the kids and families invested.”

And, to achieve that goal, requires a lot of creative ideas. “I let God sort of help me figure out ways to make that happen.” she says. Strangely, she finds that inspiration comes during Mass a lot of the time. She explains, “It is one hour a week where I just sort of let go of everything, and that’s when He inspires me. There are no distractions, no TV, no screens, or black “Day-Timer” calling me.” She definitely puts that big, black day-organizer of hers to good use, with the current enrollment in Faith Formation as it stands now at 12 families and 19 children. It certainly is a challenging task trying to keep all the kids on track for them to make their Restored Order sacraments. Yet, even with all the work and organization required of that, Paula admits she doesn’t mind staying on as the current Director, “I don’t mind doing it, unless somebody else comes along with better ideas and more energy.” She adds, “I’m always looking for ways to rejuvenate things.”

As for Paula, she rejuvenates and re-energizes her own spirit when she gets the time to relax. And, even at that, she excels, as she also brings that “Midas touch” of hers to those activities: painting, making dollhouses, gardening, and exercising at her hip-hop class. She also enjoys traveling, cooking, and watching TV and quality films with her husband, Bart, a self-professed movie buff. Oh, and, one more thing—she teaches piano—mainly to children at her home, or theirs, if, and when, appropriate. That is our Paula King, always the teacher, whose “kingdom” is the classroom, no matter where that room may be, and one whose little “subjects” always learn the Golden Rule. It is her mission in life. Guess she did become a missionary after all!

P.S. If you would like to stay at the Kings (and Queen’s) castle, Paula and her husband, Bart, rent out a room within their home through the web-site Air B‘n’B.

Paula’s artwork: Paula’s credo poster (reads at the bottom “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”)

Meet the Flock: Rita Tamulonis

by Denise Rush

Rita Tamulonis is a treasure trove of love and wisdom through the ages. She is our parish’s cherished keepsake. And, as is the case with all precious heirlooms, they unlock “secrets” of the past to teach lessons for the future. So, too, does our Rita.

Born December 15, 1918, a month after the Armistice agreement was signed (the document that officially ended World War I), Rita, at now 100-years-young, holds keen, eyewitness knowledge of a century’s worth of historical significance for all who wish to listen and learn. She recalls the stock market crash of 1929: “My parents lost their savings. I remember standing in line with them at the bank.” Then, there’s the aviator, Charles Lindbergh, his historic flight overseas, and the kidnapping and murder of his son: “He flew his plane over Lowell where I lived on his way to Paris. And, oh, I remember seeing the Boston Advertiser magazine covers about his son everywhere.” And, then, of course, there’s World War II: “I remember the ration books for sugar, flour, and butter.” We can all learn from the history of time.

That is a true statement. There are many important, good and bad newsworthy events that took place throughout Rita’s lifetime, ones that she experienced on a firsthand basis. And, they all can teach. But, it is not only those event-filled happenings over the decades that contain history lessons for us all, but, rather, it is her past that holds the hidden one or two “secrets” (or maybe even as much as 7) that hold the more important spiritual knowledge. In fact, her entire lifespan, at every juncture, teaches us all how to age with grace, by way of faith and devotion to the love of God. You may wonder, why the #7? Well, during the course of my interviews with Rita, she generously gifted me an extra copy of a book she had ordered entitled The 7 Secrets of Divine Mercy, by Vinny Flynn. That’s the type of book she reads. And, it is that book, that gift, which provided the inspiration for me to realize that Rita’s life story holds secrets, as well.

As for the main secret that she is frequently asked about, the one that would offer the key to unlock the mystery as to what to attribute her 100-year longevity…that one, she cannot answer in one simple sentence. In my opinion, it takes a lot more than a one-sentence synopsis. To that question, though, she gives her sweet characteristic little laugh, “If there’s a secret, it’s a secret to me!” Then, she adds, “I never smoked, never went on a diet, no drinking a lot of water, had whole milk. I just went along.” And, she does just that to this day, as Rita is a marvel at 100.

Imagine…she still drives! (Locally, that is). “I passed the test with flying colors,” she beams. She has an account on Facebook! She has The Holy Rosary with Mother Angelica (the EWTN nun) downloaded onto her computer, so she can recite it along with her and the nuns of the monastery! Rita does her own laundry! She completes her own light housekeeping and cooking! (Breakfast consists. alternately of oatmeal one day and an egg on toast the next). She drinks a cup of coffee only every other day. She performs her own personal hygiene (something most elderly need assistance to complete at her age). She keeps her mind sharp with word jumble puzzles and reads voraciously, sometimes even without glasses! Oh, one little trivial secret I found out about Rita—she’s not particularly fond of chocolate! These are just a few of the lesser known things about her present, everyday life that I discovered during our talks. However, if you take a stroll with me throughout the chronicle of her life as outlined below, you will, perhaps, glean even more insight, and maybe uncover for yourself the 7-or-so more “secrets” that I spoke of earlier.

Secret #1: Lessons in Her Ancestry and Early Years

Rita was born in Nashua, NH, as mentioned, on December 15, 1918. She is the eldest of her parents union: (Rita, Ruth, and Clare), all the children of Ann and John, both Lithuanian immigrants. Her parents arrived separately from Lithuania to America. They did not speak English, but learned the language, customs, and soon became citizens. The household was one of rented rooms to immigrants for 50 cents to $1 a week. Water closets (the toilets) were built as just that, closets, under the stairways, and shared with the tenants between the floors of the residence. Children bathed in aluminum tubs between chairs on Saturday nights, just to be squeaky clean for church on Sundays. It was a time when every little girl dressed accordingly for that, she said, “You wore a hat, you had gloves, you had a little pocketbook, and special shoes.” The family had moved to Lowell after Nashua, so her father could open a barber shop. Their rented house was in a courtyard. Rita continues, “All roads, not just ours, were lined with lanterns that required the job of a lamplighter to come and light the lanterns with oil on a nightly basis to illuminate the streets.” During the day, however, Rita walked those same streets on her way to her elementary schools—and church. (My take on the secret here: Parents, take heed: getting your kids to school—and church—matters, no matter the hardship. It will pay-off in the future.)

Secret #2: Lessons in Education

As the family’s parish did not offer parochial school instruction, she then attended public schools in Lowell from grades 1-9: The Lakeview Avenue School from first grade to the third. It is important here to note that Rita, the child of Lithuanian immigrants, did not speak English until she got to the first grade.

(FYI: For fun, as a young child, Rita played a Lithuanian board game, similar to Chutes-and-Ladders, with ladders of charity leading up, and chutes of penance, well…down. The game itself is illustrated strictly in Lithuanian. It is called Dangus, which translates to the English word as the game of Heaven. She still has it to this day! It is all worn and tattered.)

Continuing on in her education, she attended the local Moody School from grades 4-9. She later went away to a boarding-school-high-school, St. Francis Academy in Pittsburgh, PA, where tuition with room and board was a whopping $20 per month. She was taught there by Lithuanian nuns. After receiving a scholarship, she left to attend the University of Detroit in Michigan, when, in 1938, she received her teaching degree. She came home during the depression and took a job in the woolen mill in Dracut, MA for all of $12 a week! She worked there for only about a year, turning over the large majority of her earnings to her mother, as was commonplace in those days. (My take on the secret here: Keep and honor the 4th commandment.)

Secret #3: Lessons within Marriage

Word from a family friend had filtered out that she had returned to the Lowell area, and Rita’s secret admirer, a gentleman named Walter Tamulonis, knocked on her door. They began dating and within a year were married in St. Joseph’s Church in Lowell in 1941. (Her husband was a graduate of St. Anselm’s College.) When first married, they rented an apartment in Bennington, VT. Later on, he worked for American Locomotive in Schenectady, NY, and then they moved into an apartment in Amsterdam, NY.

Much later in married life, after all her six children (1 girl and 5 boys) were born, Rita kept busy being a good wife and mother. She did lots of cooking when the whole family was together. She explains: “I always made meals for 8 every day. Families always came down to eat with each other, and kids always came home for meals.” When her eldest child, Ann, went to kindergarten, Rita returned to her educational background and went back to work as a teacher. Rita’s mother, who lived two doors down from them, helped watch the children during that endeavor. (My take on the secret here: Family sticks together; meals shared as a family are important!)

Secret #4: Lessons from the teacher, A.K.A., Miss Black

Around the time of 1949, married women could not be appointed as a teacher in a school system, “You had to be a permanent sub.” Therefore, she took that position as a sub for a year at the Middlesex Village School in Lowell, making $10 a day with absolutely no benefits to teach an entire class of children. It seemed there was a color-pattern of names of the teachers there at that school: Miss White (kindergarten), and Miss Brown (first grade). When Rita filled in for Miss Brown, who was out sick with arthritis, she didn’t want to confuse the kids with them learning the long name of Tamulonis, so she called herself Miss Black! When Miss Brown didn’t return, the name, Miss Black, stuck. She stayed with that alias, Miss Black, for the rest of the school year.

Later, thinking that she would make more money in a different field, she left teaching to work at Raytheon in Cost Accounting, where she handled the ledger and spreadsheets. But, after 3 years of traveling and wear-and-tear on the car, she realized it wasn’t worth it, and she returned to her true love, teaching. She continued to teach at various schools in Lowell, and to differing grade levels.” She even taught Title I and pupils with learning disabilities, long before people knew how to best help them, or even what caused their problems. So, she researched the subject herself at the library. “Two of them had eye problems,” she discovered. But, she says, “The nicest feeling for a teacher is that by Christmas the children are reading, and by June, they were reading 2 books!)

Recently, some of Rita’s first grade parents (and pupils) have looked her up in Lincoln, and knocked on her door. “That touched me,” she points to her heart, “It really touches me.” (FYI: In 1965, Rita took the exam for married women to become appointed when it opened up for them—she passed.) Rita continued to teach in the Lowell school system until she retired at the end of 1978. (My take on the secret here: You never know the impact you make on someone’s life.)

Secret #5: Lessons from the Retirement Years

On January 9, 1979, Rita was the guest of honor at her retirement party. The time had come now for Walter and her to enjoy life together. For years, they had been residing as a family in what she called “The Big House” in Lowell, MA. She explains, “After selling that, we bought a place in Gilford and a place in Florida in Tampa, and then at Pinellas Park.” They went back and forth for 18 years, but Rita, didn’t really like it in Florida due to the heat. Nevertheless, she made the best of it, availing herself of the many courses for seniors taught there. The tables now reversed, Rita became the pupil. She took many craft classes: knitting, quilting, crocheting, macramé, tatting, and ceramics. She continued to keep busy doing all this and traveling back and forth to Florida until the day Walter surprised her, saying, “Let’s go back home.” That’s when they moved back to the area to be near relatives. They then purchased the mobile home on the lot where she has lived for the past 22 years. “When I came to Lincoln, I felt welcome, and I felt very much at home, finally.” (My take on the secret here: Sometimes you sacrifice for your spouse, make the best of it. Keep busy. Keep learning.)

Secret #6: Lessons from Loss

It was only 5 weeks upon returning to Lincoln when tragedy struck. Her beloved husband, Walter, had a heart attack, right in the kitchen of their new abode. It was all a devastating haze to Rita. Yet, she picked up the pieces of her life and carried on in Rita’s typical way of strength through faith: “God had a plan for me.” She needed to rely on that faith again when she encountered the loss of her eldest son on 9-11-2017. He had COPD and passed away in the backyard, again, right here in Lincoln. Rita continues to have her own health challenges, losing some of her physical vitality due to growing older. She still walks surprisingly fluidly, in spite of her physical ailments. They do not stop her. She still can’t believe she is 100-years-old. “My Dad died at 69 and my mother at 88,” she ponders. Her two sisters have also passed on. She gets help these days from her “choir of angels,” as she calls them. Her son, Mike, Rita’s other children, and extended family members help her out on a regular basis by visiting, delivering meals, fixing things around the house, or calling with reminders for her to take her medication, etc.

At present tally, she has 20 grandchildren, 31 great grandchildren and 2 great, great grandchildren. Between all of them, she pretty much has an “expert” in just about any and all professional fields. However, she remains as independent as possible, relying on local friends to help her in a pinch too. (My take on the secret here: It is true, you can get by with a little help from your friends (and family). Be thankful for your “choir of angels.”)

Secret #7: Lessons from Rita’s Spirituality

This last secret, I believe, defines Rita Tamulonis, and may just hold the key to her longevity. She credits so much power to prayer. “It’s proven to me as I went along that prayer matters. It’s our survival kit. God takes care of us, I found that out, I have little miracles that happen almost every day.” Rita adds, “Talk to God about it. I always say, ‘God, I’m asking.’” Every day Rita prays the Rosary. As mentioned earlier, she recites the Chaplet of Divine Mercy anytime during the day that she remembers. (She can talk at length about St. Faustina and the famous painting of Our Lord.) Her favorite prayer is For the Virtue of Faith, which seeks out enlightenment from the Holy Spirit. She faithfully attends church weekly and Adoration every Wednesday here at St. Joseph’s, missing only twice in 12 years!

FYI: A little story, actually… About 7 years ago, after a long day with friends at the Community Center, playing cards, etc, Rita drove her last friend home who lived near St. Joseph’s church. She, on the spur-of-the-moment, decided to pay a quick visit to the Blessed Sacrament. But, it was a Wednesday, and Rita’s assigned day for Eucharistic Adoration was a Monday. A woman, who had already been there for 1-1/2 hours who was alone in the church, left abruptly upon Rita’s arrival, thinking that Rita was her “adorer” replacement. Now, Rita was alone in the church. She didn’t want to leave the Blessed Sacrament alone, so, she sat, walked around, lit a candle, talked to God, and repeated that routine until she sat down some more, and…well, after being very tired from the long day, ended up dozing off in the pew! At around 6 o’clock, Fr. John, pastor at the time, arrived with some church workers. He tapped her on the shoulder and said, “Are you all right?” She jumped! Rita had been there for about 2 hours herself! “You see, it wasn’t my time to be there,” she said, “but I think either myself or Fr. John (Rita can’t exactly recall) gave me the nickname: ‘The Sleeping Disciple,’ Peter, James, John…and I was the fourth!”

Cute story, right? It perfectly illustrates Rita’s devotion to Jesus, as she didn’t want Him to be exposed and alone in the church. Her eyes twinkle and she beams excitedly as she recalls a picture she once found of Jesus on the Internet: “He was in a purple robe, stooping down, and I thought to myself, “Now, that is what Jesus looks like.” Even more profoundly, Rita points out a lesson here for us all: “Think about it…Christ was born 2,000 years ago. Take 20 people at 100 years, and that’s me. That isn’t long. I’m one of the 100 years. One might think Christ is so far removed, but he’s only 20 people removed…only 20 people. They can fit right here in this room.” (My take on the secret here: This is a very important and powerful lesson for Rita to teach us: Jesus is closer to us than we think.)

Yes, that’s our Rita, she is and always will be a teacher. Her entire life is a lesson for all those who are willing to learn from the past for the sake of the future. Actually, it’s precisely that which concerns her. “Technology is moving too fast. Kids today have relationships with little boxes. Friends text each other instead of talking.” As for our country’s fate, “They took God out of everything,” she laments. She actually says she is glad she is at the tail-end of her life, as she worries for the future. As for hers, however, she continues to “keep plugging along” working her way up the ladder on the road to Dangus, reminiscent of the now worn and tattered board game still in her possession that she played with as a child. As you recall, the English translation of Dangus is: Heaven. That’s the end-game for Rita. She is optimistic she’ll get there: “I hope!” she giggles. Then, she thoughtfully muses, “I thank God He’s merciful.”

In closing, last April, Rita received the Boston Post Cane, a tradition started in 1903 by the newspaper, The Boston Post that bestows the ceremonial cane to a town’s oldest resident; Rita received it for being Lincoln’s. (My take on the secret here: Something tells me, she’ll never need any cane to reach Dangus.)

Our Parish Keepsake: The Beautiful Rita Tamulonis
A Treasure Through the Ages

Happy 100th Birthday, Rita!!!

Meet the Flock: Introducing Fr. Dave

by Denise Rush

Recently, an attempt to provide our parish with a “photographic yearbook” fell through after the company’s pricey and strict regulatory demands stopped its progress in its tracks. The thought then occurred to me that there had to be another alternative way to document and introduce “the flock” to each other. After all, this is our spiritual home and we, the members of St. Joseph Church, are its true support beams, upholding it in fellowship, both in the true physical and financial sense of the word. Therefore, after approaching Fr. Dave for his approval, I have volunteered my services to write a quarterly column entitled: “Meet the Flock-ers.” So, every 3-4 months, I will interview a parishioner who wishes to have a short biography printed about themselves placed either in the bulletin as a column, or as an inserted article within its pages. And, since, Fr. Dave is our pastor, I thought that it would only be proper for him to be featured as the first subject/guinea pig to be interviewed in my endeavor. With that said, let me introduce you to Fr. Dave Kneeland, “The Leader of the Flock”…

“A shoe polisher.” Yes, if chosen as the 13th apostle in the time of Our Lord, that is the task that Fr. Dave says he would do. “And, it wouldn’t be that bad of a job either, because they washed their feet a lot back then.” (Insert Fr. Dave’s hearty laughter here.) I have to say, I agree with his choice of what his profession would be when I posed the question to him during our interview session: “What would you do if you were alive during the time of Our Lord?” Though Fr. Dave was, of course, characteristically kidding around with his answer, I do think a shoe-shiner is probably the job he would be most suited for, and, certainly, one consistent with the well-known quoted sentiment of St. John the Baptist about the Messiah: “I am not worthy to unfasten the sandals of His feet.” Likewise, the hypothetical and future official “sandal-shiner” of the day, Fr. Dave, would have to possess the same unquestionable virtue of humility as well. Let’s face it, obviously, there’d be a lot of on-the-job humble kneeling at the feet of the “Big Boss” ascribed to that job description!

Personally, however, I think Fr. Dave’s better job choice would have been to serve his “ultimate employer” as our Lord’s opening act during the Sermon on the Mount. Fr. Dave would warm up the crowd with his sense of humor, get them to seriously pay attention, heap praise upon the “real star of the show,” and then disappear backstage behind a boulder as the unknown comic—the humble, but holy 13th apostle. (Cue here, Fr. Dave’s serious side to shine): “I want to bring souls to Christ,” he somberly states.

That pretty much describes the two sides of our Fr. Dave. Lucky for us, we get two priests rolled into one — a hysterically funny, joy-filled preacher and a seriously prayerful, never-seeking-self-praise pastor. “Maybe,” he jokes, “it’s because I’m a Gemini. My birthday is May 27th.”

Christened David Lee (“Roth,” he jokes here), he was raised in Lawrence, MA by his parents, Lorraine and Michael, along with his three older brothers, Mitch, Glenn, and John. “I was the baby…the baby whale!” (He wails in laughter at this comment.) Anyway, while tending to her boys in between housework, his Mom would watch TV’s Mother Angelica, the public television celebrity — who did have and still has — a following on the EWTN Catholic network. One of those followers was the child, known as the future, Father David. Mother Angelica was, in fact, his childhood idol. He roars with laughter at that, “It even cracks me up!” However, unbeknownst to that nun, and the many other Sisters of St. Anne’s who taught him throughout grammar school, they all profoundly influenced him on his chosen vocational path. Between their holy teachings and his Catholic upbringing, he heard “the one true voice” speak to him.

“It was during religious class in first or second grade. I felt like God asked if I would be one of his priests. We had a religious book open, and I almost had the feeling like He talked to me, like with a little picture of a priest holding up the Eucharist.”

That was how his calling began. “I thought I would rather have been an evangelist like Jimmy Swaggart, you know, some get their own plane and tour the world!,” He lets out a real hearty laugh at that one. “But,” he continues on in a spiritual tone, “it was very specific — would you be one of my priests? (Then, he quickly breaks into laughter before delivering his next punch line.) “I tried to avoid it ever since.”

And, that he did. After attending and graduating from Lawrence High School and Northern Essex Community College in Haverhill, MA, he later studied to be a chiropractor, following in two of his brother’s footsteps, attending pre-requisite courses at Scott College and then graduating from Palmer Chiropractic College in Davenport, Iowa. “But,” he states in a heartfelt, serious manner, “God talked to my heart.” That’s when he enrolled years later in St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, MA, going on to his Deacon year in Exeter, NH, until becoming ordained in 2006. He was then assigned to two other parishes in Bedford and Rochester, NH, respectively, serving as Associate Pastor in each. Then God delivered him to our doorstep in the tiny town of Lincoln, NH as our spiritual leader. He enjoys it here. “I love my leather chair,” he jokes again. “No, seriously, I love the people, parish events, the White Mountains, celebrating Mass, and the community.” What he doesn’t love is the paperwork that comes with the job.

When he is not doing all of those paper-filled priestly duties, however, he can be found attending to his other loves. Eating is #1. He loves all food, particularly Arabic, and sweets — but it’s much easier to say what food he doesn’t like, that being string beans and waxed beans. “I eat mostly roasted vegetables lately.” He also loves music, not the rock ‘n’ roll of Van Halen or Ozzy Osborne that he listened to as a teen, but the much-loved hymns: Let All Mortal Flesh be SilentPange Lingua (the lyrics are attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas), Ave Maria, and, of course, Christmas carols, his favorite being What Child is This? As for bible verses, the one near and dear to his heart is: I am the Vine, You are the Branches. When it comes to TV, his preferred shows on PBS to watch are: The Brother Cadfael Mystery Series and the Fr. Brown Mystery Series. As for more popular shows, not on PBS, he likes Deadliest Catch, Alaskan Bush People, North Woods Law, or Survivor.

Fr. Dave could not survive, however, without his constant companion, Bear, his eight-year-old Border Collie/Mutt. He takes her for walks or she can be found just sitting by her master’s side at his feet in the parish rectory when Fr. Dave is at work or when praying. His most beloved prayer is one that he recites on a daily basis, and which, I feel exemplifies Fr. Dave’s humble nature. It is called The Litany of Humility by Rafael Cardinal Merry DelVal. In my opinion, one of those lines best describes Fr. Dave himself. It reads as you pray: “Jesus, grant me the grace that others may be praised, and I unnoticed.”

Although, you can’t help but notice the joy in Fr. Dave’s laughter, or be entertained by his sense of humor during his homilies, he never takes credit for himself. Any job that is accomplished within the parish, he credits to others. That pretty much describes who he is. And, those great gifts of his — jocularity and humility — do, indeed, help draw souls closer to Christ. In fact, some people may not realize the similarities between Fr. Dave and his favorite saint who also brought souls to Our Lord when he was alive — St. Lawrence of Rome. He, too, had a good sense of humor, and like Fr. Dave loved food. In fact, he is the patron saint of chefs and cooks. (How ironic!) St. Lawrence preached during Roman times and, when martyred on a gridiron, he proclaimed, “I am well done on this side, you can turn me over now.” See, even, he had two sides!

As you can now surmise, it is precisely those dual personality traits of the one-and-only, Fr. Dave, the opening act at our parish, who is working hard, trying his very best, using his grade-A material as he subtly, yet seriously and humbly, teaches us all as companions on the journey to salvation to have a little fun and a few laughs along the way. That is his comedic “shtick,” his signature style that he employs, all for the purpose to bring souls to Christ. We are the lucky ones to have him here, and I hope and pray that he is on the job in Lincoln for years to come. If not, there’s the other kind of soles he could work with…after all, he’d make a great shoe polisher!