A Thanksgiving Experience at a Glenmary Mission

Posted: 12/12/2016

Fondly known as the “turkey priest,” Father Vic Subb, pastor at Glenmary’s mission in Macon County, Tenn., hosts a Thanksgiving meal every year for his parishioners. This tradition began when he was just a young priest on his first mission assignment. He has continued it at every Glenmary mission he has been blessed to serve. This year, I decided to spend Thanksgiving with him.

In order for Father Vic to cook four turkeys and prepare the side dishes, he had to put the first turkey in the oven at 5:30 a.m. When I arrived at 11:30 a.m. and started cooking with him, he instructed me how to make his famous green bean casserole. I asked him if ever he feels overwhelmed by hosting such a big dinner. He simply resounded, “I’ve been doing this for many years. It really is a lot easier than most people think.” Reflecting on those humble words and my delightful experience that day, I recognized three uniquely Glenmary charisms displayed at their best.

Pastoral creativity and adaptability

Of the many members of different religious communities I know, Glenmarians are the most creative in their ministry. Father Vic does not need to take on another task especially on a holiday when everyone prefers not to work. But he sees Thanksgiving as a precious opportunity to gather everyone and celebrate as a faith community. The informal setting made it easier for parishioners to visit with others in a more personal way: A military retiree who is a parish council member asked a Hispanic mother about religious apps or websites that might be helpful for her children; a 13-year old boy told everyone in the group that he wants to be a priest. This personal interaction is one goal this gathering tries to achieve.

In addition to serving turkey dinners to the people in his mission, Father Vic celebrated baptisms on Thanksgiving Day, because his parishioners work long hours and are rarely given time off. Thanksgiving affords them time to see their children baptized without missing work. Father Vic pastorally adapts to their life circumstances and gladly welcomes their intention to be first teachers of the faith to their children.

Reaching out to people in the margins

Glenmarians do a significant outreach to the marginalized. Father Vic exemplifies it. When the first group of guests – members of the choir that sang at the baptisms – had eaten and left, there was a break before the next arrivals. Father Vic started calling and Facebook messaging other people to remind them of the meal. I noticed that his first three calls went out to migrant workers. By 7 p.m., I saw another van of hungry guests pull into the driveway. It was the first of three that arrived throughout the evening. The passengers were on their way home from work in the tobacco fields that started at 4 a.m. It was wonderful to see these Hispanic men enjoying turkey, stuffing, gravy and green bean casserole. Most of them were celebrating Thanksgiving for the first time. Seeing Father Vic sit down and interact with them at the table, I could not help but think of Jesus reaching out to those who feel isolated and bringing them into the community.

Outpouring of personal generosity

Glenmarians embrace a spirit of generosity in their ministry. Father Vic embodies it. Though he receives a small monthly stipend from his community, he pays for everything to put together this Thanksgiving dinner. His personal generosity inspires me. That day, I got to help prepare the food, serve beverages and clean up. I saw the same generosity inspiring others. Guests took upon themselves to wash the dishes and sweep the floors. Father Vic joked that his house looks much cleaner after a party!

By 9:30 p.m., more cars and vans were parked in his driveway. The young people were watching a movie in the living room, the elderly chatting in the dining room, and the kids playing on their tablets. Father Vic was in the kitchen by himself, bent over to see if the fourth turkey in the oven was done. He had a big smile on his face. Right then, I immediately understood why he hosts this Thanksgiving meal every year: Serving gives him so much joy!

If you are thinking about the priesthood or brotherhood, if you have a gift of creativity; a compassionate heart that goes out to everyone, particularly to people in the margins; and if you value personal generosity, I invite you to consider Glenmary Home Missioners in your discernment.  If you want to see these same experiences in the mission for yourself, I invite you to join us on a Come & See Mission Trip weekend.