Dozens of people filled the bar of J.D. McGillicuddy’s in Havertown on a recent Monday night for Sacred Heart Parish’s semi-annual Theology on Tap series titled, “Three Priests Walk into a Bar.” Among them were Fr. Henry McKee, Sacred Heart’s pastor; Fr. Mike Speziale, of Archbishop Carroll High School, and Fr. Jim DeGrassa, of Resurrection of Our Lord Parish in Philadelphia.
This marked the fourth time Sacred Heart held this night of faith, fellowship and fun. It was an opportunity for “church” conversation in a casual atmosphere and there was time for asking questions and sharing stories. Everyone was welcome, not just practicing Catholics.
Held just days before Super Bowl LII, the Eagles race for the trophy was on the minds of many in attendance, so McKee gave his prediction for the outcome: the Eagles’ defense would win it in a low-scoring game. So much for his handicapping; the Eagles blew the Patriots away 41-33.
Folks could email questions to the priests ahead of time to be answered during the discussion. Some wondered why a “Theology on Tap” was being held in the first place and so Speziale shared his core belief.
“In order to bring people into heaven, you have to meet them where they are at,” he said.
Another reason for this informal talk is because many people have turned away from the church in recent years for various reasons. To bring them back, it is important to try to do so without being adamant about it.
“You have to be lighthearted,” said DeGrassa. “You can’t be too serious.”
Fr. Stephen DeLacy, vocation director for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, was a guest. Among his main roles is to recruit young men to the diocesan priesthood but Bridget Catherine, of Havertown, and a parishioner of Sacred Heart, understood that it is to help people realize their calling from God.
“I help them to hear and respond to that call,” said DeLacy. “God is providing plenty of vocations. We want to listen to God.”
Entering the priesthood or another religious order means not getting married or raising children of one’s own, but it also means that it is a call that God wants him or her to live a life of celibacy while serving the church and others. DeLacy shared that he wanted to run away from celibacy but learned how great it is.
“It’s an amazing gift for the man or woman who is called to it,” he said. “It’s the drawing force for prayer life and ministry.”
During the question and answer session, Donna Glatts, of St. Dorothy Parish in Drexel Hill, was curious about why it is crucial to go to the sacrament of reconciliation. Speziale reminded her of how priests have to receive the sacrament themselves.
“Confession is not an easy thing,” he said.
The precept is that nobody is perfect, so going to confession is important. Jesus is said to love people too much to keep them only where they already are.
“Jesus comes to you and so the church has to come to you,” said DeGrassa.
Other topics included thoughts about an annual event and some humorous momemnts in the lives of priests.
Every year on Oct. 4 is the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals, and traditionally pets are blessed. The celebration generally takes place outdoors, but Christina Schwab, a parishioner and soloist of Sacred Heart and a freshman at Merion Mercy Academy, inquired about having animals directly brought into the church building for a blessing.
Priests have embarrassing moments as well. DeGrassa recalled a time when he was running late for a funeral. It was for a man named Francis but because he had limited time to talk to the family before the service, he kept referring to the late Francis as a woman. The family let him continue for about 10 minutes before correcting him with humor. He gracefully apologized and they immediately accepted.
Speziale’s first assignment in 2009 was parochial vicar at St. Anastasia in Newtown Square. One day shortly after he was ordained, the weather was gorgeous and as he was driving his car he opened the windows and was playing music. An elderly woman overheard and was shocked to discover that the driver was a priest when she saw his collar. He simply closed the window and continued on.
The gathering traditionally ends by worshiping God in song. It concluded by singing the hymns “All Are Welcome” and “Let There Be Peace on Earth.” Mindful of the times, and just prior to Super Bowl Sunday, the crowd sand to venerable Eagles fight song, too.
“You always want to be welcoming no matter what,” said McKee.
Many people who came out truly enjoyed the evening whether or not they had come before. Among them was Jim Glatts, a parishioner of St. Dorothy’s.
“It reaffirmed my faith in the Catholic Church,” said Glatts.
Kyra Waldron, a member of Sacred Heart and a junior at Delaware County Community College, came for the second time with her father, Fran. She found it especially upbeat.
“It was funny,” she said. “I like how they told jokes to keep the crowd alive.”
Sacred Heart hopes to have another Theology on Tap session in the fall.