My Uncle Jim loved the catholic church and everything about it. He lived a hard life and was alone in his last years. When he was diagnosed with cancer, my Dad moved Uncle Jim from Texas to Wilmington so he would be close to our family. Jim gave me his 1973 Gran Torino so I felt obliged to visit him in his city apartment. At the time, I was studying for the priesthood, which made Jim so happy. Even though I was such an arrogant smartass, Jim loved me very much.
One day I went to visit him and there was a small brown paper bag at his door. As I went into his apartment I said, “Uncle Jim, someone left you something.” Looking into the bag, I said, “It’s a roll! Somebody left a stupid sandwich roll!” Jim said, “Oh that was Father Biad. I was still in bed and I heard him at the door. He said he was leaving me a small gift and that he would check back another time. He is such a wonderful, holy priest!”
“He left you a roll! That makes him holy?” Sarcasm flowed out of me like stink from a garbage dump.
Father Robert Biad was an old priest whom I remember as an assistant at our parish. He had an accent, eastern European, and I thought he was a boring preacher. I never once considered his visiting my Uncle Jim, or bringing him a roll, an act of lovingkindness. I thought it was a silly thing done by an odd priest, an old minister who no longer had anything worthwhile to do.
Recently, my friends Vicki and Jack Corrozi brought me a huge container of homemade Italian cookies. Awesome! I love anything made with anise or almond flavoring. The gift they brought was abundant and I decided I should share it with others. We are all dealing with social distancing and the effects of isolation. More and more I find myself thinking about so many elderly folks I know, especially those who live alone, wondering how they are doing through all of this.
I put cookies in small plastic bags and made some deliveries. To insure the safety of others, I did not go into their homes. I left the cookies in mailboxes or in doorways, along with a note from me. The responses I have gotten have been so uplifting. People have been so incredibly grateful for such a small gift.
Of course, my heart eventually found its way to Father Robert Biad. I looked him up in the Diocesan directory. He was born in 1908 in Austria. His family moved to Italy and he was ordained a Discalced Carmelite priest in 1931. He was forced to leave Europe in 1939 and made his way to Washington, D.C. where he taught at Mount Carmel Seminary and served as community superior for thirteen years. Because he was fluent in French, Italian, Spanish, and German, he also served as chaplain to German and Italian prisoners of war at Fort Meade, Maryland.
He was invited to say mass in a store-front church for the people of Kent Island in 1953. The people adored him. He went to Bishop Edmond FitzMaurice and asked permission to build a church on Kent Island. Bishop FitzMaurice told him to come back when he had $20,000. Not much later, he went back to see the bishop with $25,000 and three acres of donated land. Before I was even born, Father Robert Biad had built St. Christopher Church, becoming its founding pastor.
Father Biad died in 1985, one month before I was ordained.
There is no such thing as a small act of kindness. Everything we do shapes the world.