As part of our message series, It’s Better in Here, each week a parishioner will describe what Saint Brendan means to him or her personally. This week’s article is by our Director of Music Ministry, Mario Balestrieri.
My work for the last forty-eight years as a church musician has brought me to just about every corner of both the San Francisco Archdiocese and the Oakland Diocese. Early on, my life settled in to a spot that can best be described as feeling familiar, and I came to know very well the many blessings in my life. Along the way, I also came to know a few of my life’s challenges. Like Samuel in last Sunday’s first reading, there have been times when I have been rather slow to recognize God’s attempts to get a message through to me.
In 2014, little did I know that God had begun preparing me for a message that would eventually come two years later in 2016: “Mario, I have a change in store for you.”
I was invited in 2014 to be the musician for the annual priests’ retreat. I declined because the thought of driving to Menlo Park every day for two weeks just wasn’t something I wanted to sign up for. I was invited again in 2015, and then again in 2016. While I hesitated, I did accept the invitation in 2016. It was during that retreat that I had the life-changing good fortune to meet Father Roger Gustafson. He would soon become the pastor of Saint Brendan Parish. The change that God had in store for me was set into motion.
Last weekend, January 14, marked my first anniversary as Director of Music Ministry here at Saint Brendan. It was a year ago that I left many long-time friends, co-workers and acquaintances, and began my work in this parish where I knew almost no one. Initially, even with the most incredibly warm and gracious welcome that was extended to me on that first weekend, I felt like a fish out of water—the new kid on the block and certainly out of my comfort zone.
The people of Saint Brendan took me into their midst, welcomed me, introduced themselves and immediately accepted me as one of the Saint Brendan Family without even knowing me. While there are many names that I still do not know, there are many faces that I recognize, even when out and about beyond the parish. I enjoy the occasions during the week when I meet my new parishioners by chance.
Words fall short in describing the chemistry and interaction among the parish staff, those with whom I work. In spite of the absence of a long history together, the staff members share a genuine and mutual respect for one another. We like and enjoy one another even cooking together in the rectory and on retreat near Santa Cruz. There is a wonderful, refreshing openness and honesty among this young staff that have known each other a year and a half at the most.
Today’s world offers many unfriendly instances. By contrast, small and cozy Saint Brendan offers refreshment for the spirit.
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