The Rev. Richard Davis, vice president of community relations for the Franciscan University of Steubenville, did some confessing of sorts when he was the guest speaker at the October meeting of the OFWC Woman's Club of Steubenville.
He gave this group of women gathered for a luncheon and business meeting at the Steubenville Country Club a little insight into the women who've had an impact on his life and for whom he is grateful.
The 66-year-old in his 48th year in the Franciscan order spoke to the theme "This Is My Life," of being born in Buffalo, N.Y., the third of five children.
The Rev. Richard Davis
"Isn't it interesting how we look back over life and have great memories to treasure and some death valleys to deal with?" he began his story after being introduced by program chairman Eileen Krupinski.
Davis said his father's side of the family combined Presbyterians, Lutherans, Masons and Order of Eastern Star. His mother's side, Irish and Catholic.
"You can imagine what it was like in the 1940s to merge those personalities together and all of that history together," he said, expressing gratitude for his mother's love and care and amazement in retrospect for how well she handled the "difficult situation" that a mixed marriage would have entailed in those days.
"It was very, very tough to merge a family together in that way," Davis said.
Born in June of 1946 at Mercy Hospital in Buffalo, Davis said his mother wasn't immediately able to see her newborn until one of the nuns admitted there was a problem.
"Finally when I was brought in, a priest came in with the doctor, the orthopedic surgeon, and as they opened the blanket to show my mother, both of my feet were completely, severely deformed," Davis said.
His very concerned mother was assured, however, that her son would be well cared for by this surgeon despite the family's lack of money. "The priest that was there came in and brought something - which I only found out this part of the story 23 years later - but he brought a relic of St. Francis, and he himself was a Franciscan, and he said to my mother, 'I am going to bless your child with this relic of St. Francis,'" Davis said.
When Davis would take his Franciscan vows more than two decades later, his mother confided that the priest had said at the time to her that "St. Francis will always guide and direct this child's life."
Davis said from the time he was a child, he didn't want to be anything but a Franciscan.
"How do you explain that?" Davis asked, pointing above. "God's plan, wonderful that it is."
Before he reached 10, Davis had undergone 12 surgeries on his feet, his childhood memories ones of constantly being in casts or braces.
Davis said his mother credited him with a will and desire to overcome. "I thought to myself, I only had it because you gave it to me, that will and desire to be who I am."
Several of his teachers, Sisters of Mercy, made lasting impressions. That included a first-grade teacher who returned to carry the crying Davis to a music class when he feared he'd been left behind because a peer had forgotten to bring him his crutches.
"She picked me up in her arms, and she carried me in, and she put me on the piano. I went from being the saddest little kid in the world to being the happiest little kid in the world," Davis said.
"Years later when I was ordained, she came to my first Mass, and she said, 'You know. I've never had a student that had more enthusiasm for life than you did and more clarity in first grade than you did,'" Davis said.
An eighth-grade teacher, he reminisced, was an elderly woman, crippled with arthritis, a "wise lady with insight and wisdom into life, one of those people you never forget as long as you live."
"I was blessed to have someone that moved my life in a very special and loving way," he said of this teacher with whom he would nurture a friendship with in later years.
"In 1968, after I had been in the order for four years, I was preparing for final vows the following year, and I went to see her at Buffalo in the mother house, and she said, 'Richard, my health is failing,' and she said, 'I probably won't be here when you come home for Christmas. I know it's getting close to the end,'" Davis recalled.
When Davis learned of her death, he was told of a message she had left for him, that "she won't forget her promise," what she had told him on their last visit - "When I get before God, I am going to ask him to give you my vocation to strengthen your vocation. And she said, 'I'm going to ask him to take care of you because I know it's so very important,'" Davis said.
"I have felt her presence every day of my life," he assured the club members.
While Davis earned a scholarship to go to college, he surrendered it to join the Franciscan order instead, prompting his father to speak words that Davis said cut through him like a knife.
"He looked at me and said, 'Why in the name of God would you want to waste your life doing something like that?' and I said, 'This is what I feel I am called to do.'"
At a going away party for Davis, his father presented him with a box in which was the key to the house. He offered his support and a standing invitation to come home, no questions asked.
Davis returned the key the day he took his final vows.
When he joined the Franciscan order, Davis said he wanted to be a brother, not a priest.
"I didn't think I was worthy of being a priest and have now been a priest 32 years, and I tell you I am still not worthy, but I am by the grace of God."
Davis said his desire to study for the priesthood came from what he believed to be the Holy Spirit's urging, "what the Lord is asking of me."
Davis, who made his final vows in 1970, referred to a prayer that encourages him daily, to "regret that we have but one heart with which to love God and that this heart is so poor and weak but such as it is, God asks it of us. Let us give it to him constantly and completely. Let him have this poor heart for time and eternity."
At the urging of the Rev. Michael Scanlan, then president of the university, Davis came to Steubenville with some reluctance in 1992.
"It started to unfold a part of my life that I could have never dreamed possible with people, with situations, with circumstances. Now I think if I was asked to move I'd have to say, 'Lord, can't you just let me stay?' I really like Steubenville because you've really got some nice people here, and it's a wonderful place."
Krupinski and Dolores Dooley served as hostesses at the meeting where Lorraine Hazlett was welcomed as a guest and prospective member. Eleanor Weiss offered the reading and prayer.
President Kathy Mills presided at the business meeting where some had been a part of a trip the day before to Mohican State Forest to the Gold Star Mother's Pilgrimage. A memorial and wreath in memory of longtime club member Shirley Mitchell was part of the event where club secretary Beth Rupert-Warren sang.
Marge Bedortha, corresponding secretary, read a thank-you note from Urban Mission Ministries for the club's donation of 500 bags of jelly beans for Easter baskets.
Mills noted the membership chairman's position remains unfilled but that each member serves as a "membership ambassador" and can extend invitations to women to join. The conversation elevated to discussion of a committee being formed to explore a membership drive.
The Nov. 5 noon luncheon and business meeting at the Steubenville County Club will feature guest speaker Louise Holliday of the JB Green Team.
Carole Gaston and Weiss will serve as greeters/hostesses.