Clearwater, Fla. — For the past few days I have been in quasi-hiding here. (No, it’s not exactly a hardship.) I’m at a place called the Cenacle of Our Lady of Divine Providence, and just about all roads here are summed up by the title of a book by a few Dominican priests about the Catechism of the Catholic Church: Love That Never Ends. (There is, of course, a copy in the library here.)
I’m thinking about Love That Never Ends as I’m here at the School of Spiritual Direction, which is affiliated with the Franciscan University of Steubenville. Its teaching is based on St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises — beloved by Pope Francis. The book is on my mind particularly because of the love between the husband and wife who are among the founders of the school, love shared with their children and grandchildren and every person who steps through the doors of this sacred place.
Ron and Adrienne Novotny, so beautifully and faithfully in union with God’s will for their lives, have clearly been the lifeblood of this school. But they were far from alone, working alongside their community of the Marian Servants of Divine Providence, and a Louisiana woman named Diane Brown. The Novotnys’ marriage fueled much of the energy of the school, and it still does, although Ron died this past spring. You see this in the references everyone makes to Ron — recollections of his wit and wisdom, and especially of his faith. You see the complementarity of man and woman, the different approaches, the fullness of the insights when offered together.
As the school reworks some of its instructor load, occasionally a taped instruction from Ron is offered — just enough to make me feel I met him. His fatherly presence is seemingly as alive as ever here, even as his wife and family, and the community of friends and fellow Servants, mourn the loss. The love remains alive as we hear Ron on a video from last October ask Adrienne, off camera, a question, and she responds, “Yes, dear,” with a love that doesn’t end.
‘Meeting’ Ron, even though posthumously, has been a gift, as his love for the Catholic Church, her hierarchy, and her priests is evident.
“Meeting” Ron, even though posthumously, has been a gift, as his love for the Catholic Church, her hierarchy, and her priests is evident. He himself was a spiritual director to many priests, as Adrienne has been and continues to be. That love is important, because it’s exactly what is needed to rebuild the Church today, as St. Francis, the namesake of the current pope, was once instructed to do by God Himself.
As the priest who delivered the homily at Ron’s funeral Mass put it: “His love for priests was profound, and he could speak of the goodness of priests in ways that I have never been able to see in others. He could speak about a lot of things about priests, but he was unique in that he could always see in a priest the goodness. Oftentimes when I would be with him for spiritual direction, he was in the midst of counseling a priest who was in a time of difficulty in his ministry, and the way that he spoke about priesthood and how those men were struggling with priesthood, and how he was trying to evoke from them their priestly heart, showed very deeply his love and care for the Church, and his care and love for the Church’s priests.”
Ron Novotny knew how painfully we were in need of fathers (and mothers).
As does the bishop of Phoenix, Thomas J. Olmsted, who just issued a plea to men to step “Into the Breach” in a society that has forgotten just how crucial fatherhood is. And every man is called to do this in his own way.
In keeping with Pope Francis’s constant theme of mercy, a message from Christ Himself, Olmsted writes: “I want to offer a special word for those men who know that they have failed in their fatherhood. This is true to a greater or lesser degree in each and every one of us. This can happen through addiction, abandonment, marital conflict, emotional and spiritual detachment, failing to guide the family in faith, abortion, physical and/or emotional abuse, or the countless ways that we obscure the image of God as the loving Father. I stand with you as an imperfect father, asking God the Father to make up for the ways that we fail in this greatest of masculine missions.” I imagine Ron Novotny may have said something similar many times, to many varieties of fathers.
All these things came to mind, too, as Hillary Clinton, in the first Democratic debate, talked about why she should be chosen as the Democratic nominee for president. A chief reason, she said, is that she is a woman. I would have patience with that line of campaigning if she showed a different kind of leadership: the kind that would keep women from feeling as if they have to deny their motherhood and end the lives of their unborn babies, pitting individualism over stewardship of creation.
I’m here with the Marian Servants instead of being at the Synod on the Family in Rome, where leaks and speculation seem the name of the game in media coverage. Bishops and experts are meeting, as many of us did in Philadelphia late last month, to discuss how best to help the families living in the world today. That’s some tall order at a time when what a human person is, what it means to be a man or a woman, all seems up for debate as we talk about termination of pregnancy and reassignment surgery.
Here in Clearwater, I’ve had an opportunity to have a little glimpse into a family fully alive, including through the eyes of a man who, from beyond the grave, continues to teach and inspire. The Marian Servants are dedicated, as their name implies, to humility and service. Their self-sacrifice and gratuitous generosity are evident in the very air here.
What we need is the kind of leadership Olmsted encourages and the Novotnys extraordinarily witness to still — even after Ron’s passing. We need families and bishops — and everyone else who values virtue in civil society — to join together in leading a counterrevolution.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, directing its new Center on Religion, Culture, and Civil Society, and editor-at-large of National Review Online. She is co-author of the new revised and updated edition of How to Defend the Faith without Raising Your Voice (available from Our Sunday Visitor and Amazon.com). This column is based on one available exclusively through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.