Stephen Hodges (Fr. Robert)

Profile Updated: October 25, 2018
Stephen Hodges (Fr. Robert)
Residing at: San Pedro, CA USA
Occupation: R.C. Priest of the Norbertine Order (O.Praem.)
Yes! Attending Reunion
Grade School Attended:

St. Agatha School, Columbus, Ohio

What did you do after Watterson?

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I am the oldest of the four children of Dr. & Mrs. Willis & Rita Hodges. (Mom passed 6/26/14, age 90, and Dad 11/23/17, age 96. May God reward them both abundantly for all of their loving care!) My siblings also graduated from Watterson: John '67, Kathleen '69, and Susan '72. After 12 years of Catholic elementary and secondary education in Columbus (St. Agatha School '62 & Bishop Watterson High School '66), I entered the seminary of St. Michael's Abbey in Orange County, California. St. Michael's is an abbey of the Order of Premontre (abbreviated in Latin: O.Praem.), which is also known as the Canons Regular of Premontre or the Premonstratensian Order (after the name of the French valley, Premontre, where the order began in 1121) or the Norbertine Order (after the name of the founder, St. Norbert, 1080-1134).

"Canons regular" are "monk priests," as our late Founding Abbot Ladislas Parker (1915-2010) used to say. A "canon regular" is a priest ("canon") officially attached to a particular church or community (canonry) which follows a "rule" (Latin "regula," hence "regular") of life in a religious order with monastic traditions of living and praying together as a community (in distinction from the "secular canons," who are diocesan priests attached to a particular church [e.g., "cathedral canons"] and living in community, but not under the public vows of a religious order).

Central to our lives is the daily celebration of the Holy Eucharist, especially the daily Community Mass (also called the Conventual Mass) attended by all the confreres living in a particular house of the community, in addition to a daily Eucharistic Holy Hour and the communal singing of the Liturgy of the Hours.

"The Liturgy of the Hours, which is the public and common prayer of the Church, is the prayer of Christ with his body, the Church. Through the Liturgy of the Hours the mystery of Christ, which we celebrate in the Eucharist, sanctifies and transforms the whole of each day. It is composed mainly of psalms, other biblical texts, and readings from the Fathers and spiritual masters." - Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, #243.

Norbertines (among other orders of canons regular) follow the Rule of St. Augustine (354-430), the famous Bishop of Hippo who lived with his priests in the bishop's house as, in his words, a "monasterium clericorum" (monastery of clerics). Originally, monks were mostly laymen with a small minority of priests to provide the sacraments for the community, and priests did not originally live in large groups together, because they were needed to spread out in different directions to bring the faith and sacraments to the people. St. Augustine helped to popularize the ideal of the apostolic life of Jesus and the Apostles (the first priests of Christianity), living and praying together and sharing all things in common according to Jesus' evangelical counsels of poverty (gospel simplicity), chastity (consecrated celibacy), and obedience (as monks do), but also attending to the faith and sacramental needs of the layity under their care (as priests do). Some seven centuries after St. Augustine, St. Norbert helped to revive the ideal of canons regular through the order he founded in 1121. St. Norbert is also called "Apostle of the Holy Eucharist" because of his special devotion to the Eucharist and his successful defense against a heresy which denied the Real Presence of the Body and Blood of Jesus under the appearances of bread and wine in the Eucharist.

After a two-year novitiate (1966-68), I was sent to Innsbruck, Austria, for seven years (1968-75), studying philosophy and theology at the University of Innsbruck and residing at the Norbertine abbey of Stift Wilten. During that time I enjoyed playing basketball for the Turnerschaft Innsbruck (Innsbruck Sport Club) team, traveling to games in various parts of Austria and surrounding countries. Other trips in Europe included a short beginner's course in French at the University of Caen in Normandy and a short course in Spanish at a university in Santander on the northern coast of Spain. I made solemn profession of final vows in 1972, was ordained a priest in Vienna in 1974 by Cardinal Joseph Mindszenty, and received a master's degree in theology (STM) from the University of Innsbruck in 1975. My parents and my sister Susan were able to attend my ordination in Vienna, and afterwards we traveled around Europe together for several weeks, a very memorable experience.

I served for ten years (1975-80, 1982-85, 2004-06) as a parochial vicar, caring especially for the English-, German-, and Spanish-speaking parishioners of St. Stephen Church in Los Angeles. During the first eight of those years, I also taught philosophy to seminarians of St. Michael's Abbey and, from 1975 to 1980, English to students of St. Michael's Prep, the abbey high school for boys. In 1980, I was sent to Rome for two years of graduate studies in philosophy at the Gregorian University, also serving as a local superior for the abbey's seminarians who were studying in the Eternal City.

For 19 years, from 1985 to 2004, I taught senior religion at two co-ed high schools (16 years at Mater Dei HS in Santa Ana, and then three years at Mary Star of the Sea HS in San Pedro), assisting on the weekends with Masses and Confessions at various parishes: two years at St. Timothy's in Laguna Niguel, 14 years at St. Cecilia's in Tustin, and three years at the Fort MacArthur AFB Chapel in San Pedro. A little bit of trivia about that last assignment: I was the first civilian (non-military) chaplain to be contracted by the Department of Defense. Previous to my assignment to Fort MacArthur AFB, only military chaplains were contracted to serve at military bases. Then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had to approve my contract personally.

After a third tour of duty at St. Stephen's in L.A. from 2004 to 2006 (see above), I served from 2006 to 2008 as a parochial vicar at Saints Peter & Paul Church in Wilmington (a southern suburb of Los Angeles near San Pedro and the Port of L.A.), helping out as a school chaplain in the parish elementary school (K-8). From 2004 to 2018, I served part-time (two days each week) as the chaplain at Junipero Serra HS, a co-ed high school in Gardena (another southern suburb of Los Angeles). The 2009-2010 school year was a banner year for the Gardena Serra HS. Among other achievements, Serra became the first high school in any division in California to win state championships in football and basketball in the same academic year. Also that year, the school's math team won the National Catholic Math League competition, with one of the students on the team winning the top individual trophy. From 2008 to 2018, I lived at St. John the Baptist Church in Costa Mesa (Orange County), serving part-time (three days each week) as the chaplain of St. John the Baptist School, our parish K-8, helping with the Sunday and weekday parish and school Masses, and continuing to commute to the Gardena Serra HS two days a week. Since 2018, I have been residing in San Pedro in the same priory where I lived from 2001 to 2008. However, my Sunday Mass assignment is back in Orange County at Holy Spirit Church in Fountain Valley. Weekdays I help out in the San Pedro area at local parishes and schools, something like a utility player on a baseball team.

Tell us a little about what you've been doing lately:

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I live with seven other Norbertine priests at the Norbertine Priory in San Pedro. The residence is called a "priory," because the head priest in the house has the rank of a "prior" (a minor superior next in rank below an abbot in an abbey), similar to the reason for our motherhouse, St. Michael's Abbey, being called an "abbey," because the head priest is a major superior with the rank of an "abbot" (from the Aramaic word "abba," meaning "father").

One of the characteristics of an order of canons regular such as the Norbertine Order is common prayer, celebrating together the Community Mass and singing together in choir, in Gregorian Chant, the Divine Office. The Divine Office has this name, because it is the sacred ("Divine") duty ("Office") of clerics and perpetually-vowed members of religious orders to pray it each day (either in common or in private) for the needs of the Church and the entire world. Since Vatican II, the Divine Office is also called the Liturgy of the Hours, because it is part of the liturgy, meaning the public worship ("public" in distinction from "private" devotions such as the Rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet) which the Church offers to God ("Liturgy") and is ideally celebrated at seven different times ("Hours") during the day - "Seven times a day I praise you" (Psalm 119:164). The Liturgy of the Hours sanctifies various hours of the day with common prayer, which we celebrate mostly in English at the priory, with a few exceptions such as the hymns and gospel canticles sung in Latin. There is also a mix of English and Latin at the weekday Community Mass, which is concelebrated in English on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and in Latin on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, with all of us celebrating Masses in different parishes on Sundays. Although only clerics and some perpetually-vowed religious are morally obligated to pray the Liturgy of the Hours each day (either alone or communally), the rest of the faithful are encouraged to do so as well.

A typical weekday here at the San Pedro Norbertine Priory begins for us at 5:15 a.m. in the chapel, four of us on one side of the choir and four on the other side. We begin the choral Divine Office with the chanting of the Invitatory, the introductory prayer, "inviting" those present to pray with the chanting of a psalm (traditionally Psalm 95). We continue with the Office of Readings, formerly called "Matins" from the Latin word for "morning," because this "hour" of the Liturgy of the Hours was originally celebrated in the early morning but now may be celebrated at any hour of the day. This "hour" is completed in about 20 minutes and combined with the singing of Morning Prayer, traditionally called "Lauds" from the Latin word for "praises," the second of the seven "hours" of the Liturgy of the Hours. Morning Prayer also lasts about 20 minutes. After these two combined "hours," amounting to a total of about 40 minutes in choir, we take a break from praying together and prepare for the Community Mass at 6:30 a.m. From day to day, we rotate among us the roles of Presider/Homilist and Concelebrants. After Mass we can eat breakfast, which is optional, and prepare for whatever parish or school duties we may have. Lunch, which is also optional, is usually eaten wherever we happen to be working.

Celebrating a daily Eucharistic Holy Hour is a characteristic of our Norbertine community. We begin our Holy Hour in San Pedro with 4:45 p.m. exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, during which we chant two more "hours" of the Liturgy of the Hours: Midafternoon Prayer (about ten minutes) at the beginning of the Holy Hour, and Evening Prayer (about 20 minutes) before Benediction at the end of the Holy Hour. Evening Prayer is traditionally called "Vespers" from the Latin word for evening. Between the two bookends of the Holy Hour, Midafternoon Prayer and Evening Prayer, we have about 30 minutes for private prayer, meditation, or spiritual reading in the presence of the Eucharist on the altar. The Holy Hour is a powerful source of spiritual energy for us each day.

By the way, there are three so-called "little hours" among the seven "hours" of the Liturgy of the Hours (Divine Office). Collectively, the three "little hours" are called Daytime Prayer, because they are ideally prayed during daylight times of the day between the two "principal hours" of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer. Each "hour" of Daytime Prayer is "little" by comparison with each of the "principal hours." The three "little hours" are Midmorning, Midday, and Midafternoon Prayer. Traditionally, 6:00 a.m. was considered the approximate hour of sunrise. Since Midmorning Prayer is ideally celebrated around 9:00 a.m., the third hour after 6:00 a.m., it is traditionally called "Terce" from the Latin word for "third." Similarly, since Midday Prayer ideally sanctifies the 12:00 noonday hour, the sixth hour after 6:00 a.m., it is traditionally called "Sext" from the Latin word for "sixth." And, since Midafternoon Prayer is ideally celebrated around 3:00 p.m., the ninth hour after 6:00 a.m., it is traditionally called "None" (pronounced like "known") from the Latin word for "ninth." At traditional monasteries such as our motherhouse, St. Michael's Abbey, where all seven "hours" are celebrated in choir, the confreres chant all three hours of Daytime Prayer even though clerics and some perpetually-vowed religious are only morally obligated to pray one of the three "little hours" each day. In other words, they are permitted to omit two of the "little hours" as long as they pray the remaining five "hours" of the Divine Office each day (either communally or privately).

The Holy Hour is followed by the community dinner at 6:00 p.m. After saying grace, we listen during dinner as one of the confreres reads that day's section of the martyrology, a catalogue of the martyrs and saints, the anniversary of whose day of death ("heavenly birthday") is the following day. The rest of the dinner is spent in casual conversation similar to a family dinner or in listening to a recording of a spiritual nature. At the end of dinner, we listen to a short reading from the Rule of St. Augustine, the rule followed by most orders of canons regular. After doing the dishes together, we gather in the common room for recreation until 7:15 p.m., at which time we assemble in the chapel to sing Night Prayer, which is traditionally called "Compline" from the Latin word for "completion," because it is the last "hour" of the Divine Office (about ten minutes). After Night Prayer, we observe a spiritual silence until we begin the Liturgy of the Hours again the next morning. That's my typical weekday and probably a whole lot more than any reader would want to know about it.

Moving now from the sublime to the ridiculous, but perhaps more interesting to the reader, my hobby is watching good movies, and Oscar trivia is a special interest. I have the dubious distinction of having devised and committed to memory (whatever memory I have left) a rather nonsensical, rambling sentence which contains the titles of all the films that have won the Best Picture Oscar from 1928 (the first year of the Oscars) to the present. During the 19 years that I taught senior religion, the first day of class each year, after explaining briefly the course and my class rules, I would spend the last few minutes of class reciting the Oscar sentence, then passing out the text to the students to allow them to quiz me to see if they could give me a year whose Best Picture Oscar winner I could not guess, or give me the title of a Best Picture winner whose year I could not guess. More recently, as a school chaplain from 2004 to 2018, during my last class visit to the 8th graders before their graduation, after giving them some parting advice to prepare them for high school and life, I used to recite the same Oscar sentence with them, allowing them to quiz me as the high school seniors used to do. Each year the sentence gets longer, of course.

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Oct 25, 2018 at 3:35 PM