This year's missionary speaker at our church was an Oblate of St. Francis de Sales. My wife and I were eager to talk with the visiting priest to see if he knew the Oblates who were associated with our former church, Holy Cross.

The four we mentioned included three former pastors, the Rev. Joseph D. Bowler, the Rev. Walter R. Dean and the Rev. Nicholas C. DiIenno, and a frequent visitor, the Rev. Joseph A. Connolly. The missionary speaker knew them all - he had even been a Latin student of Father Bowler's - but he sadly noted all four men are gone.

Of course, their earthly missions are completed, but in some ways the four priests are very much with us.

We can still feel the no-nonsense faith of Father Nick, a straight-talking guy with the clichéd "heart of gold," who was the pastor when I returned to the church after a decade of being spiritually adrift.

We can still sense the gentleness of Father Dean, who introduced me to the writings of St. Francis de Sales. It is a spirituality founded on love, a balance of virtues and the belief that we are all called to lead holy lives. He said more in a five-minute homily than is found in sermons many times that long.

Father Dean is also present anytime we hear or read the verse he read at Jo Ann's and my wedding, "Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another… And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection" (Colossians 3: 12-14).

We can still see the twinkle in the Irish eyes of Father Connolly, a wee, white-haired man who preached so well at many St. Jude Thaddeus Novenas at Holy Cross.

Finally, we can still hear the resonant, baritone voice of Father Bowler, who was the last pastor at Holy Cross. We remained friends with him until his death in 2012. He was also the celebrant at the Mass at which I was consecrated as a member of the Sons of St. Francis de Sales. (He completed the job begun by his seminarian classmate Father Dean.)

All four Oblates of St. Francis de Sales are no longer physically with us. However, we remain connected to them spiritually by a love of God - "the bond of perfection."

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God's love connects us with those who went before us and those who will follow us.