Pastor Gladly Hosts Thanksgiving Dinners

Posted: 11/8/2015

Glenmary Father Vic SubbOn Thanksgiving Day 2014, Father Vic Subb, the pastor of Glenmary's Lafayette and Celina, Tenn., missions, was the cook and host for a holiday turkey dinner, paid for out of his own pocket, at his modest Lafayette home. And it wasn't just any dinner: between 1 and 10 p.m., he welcomed and fed a total of 77 guests (that's not a misprint) who arrived throughout the day.

It also wasn't the first time that he's organized such a celebration. "Another seminarian and I held a Thanksgiving dinner in 1980 for people in the town while we were on our first mission assignments in Gate City, Va.," says Father Vic. "The Glenmary pastor gave us his go-ahead. It was just a wonderful experience."

Ever since then—except for a period of seven years when he worked in Glenmary's formation department—he has organized and held some kind of large Thanksgiving get-together for most of the other 28 years.

"I'm known to some people here as the turkey priest, because I fix turkey for Thanksgiving and bring turkey to Christmas potluck meals, too!" he says, laughing.

He has many good reasons for keeping up his Thanksgiving tradition. "The day is all about gathering together to say thanks to God, to celebrate his generosity toward us, and to share our blessings with each other. We have received so much, and we are called to give much back," he says.

"Also, we don't do enough celebrating in our lives, and just having and witnessing people come together to celebrate is a real blessing for me. Thanksgiving is an ideal day for this celebration because, as a priest, I don't have many other obligations that day. And among those I invite are people from other cultures for whom Thanksgiving is a new tradition." He's planning to host a 2015 Thanksgiving meal later this month.

Last year on this holiday, he roused himself from sleep at 5 a.m. to put the first turkey with stuffing in the oven. Around 11 a.m., just before he left home for a noontime infant baptism at the Lafayette mission, he started cooking a second turkey. And he began roasting the third and final one at about 4 p.m. In the meantime, Father Vic says, he was preparing the rest of the food, including green bean casserole and corn. He also served bread, tortillas, assorted pies and ice cream.

"The baptized child's parents are restaurant workers," he says. "And people with these jobs often schedule their children's baptisms on Thanksgiving because most restaurants are closed that day."

The first group that responded to his dinner invitation was a 20-person choir from Lebanon, Tenn., which had provided music at the baptism because some choir members were friends of the parents.

As each successive group or individual arrived at his house and sat down to enjoy the dinner, Father Vic said a before-meal prayer or invited a new guest to lead the prayer.

The people who came to his door that day included many mission members. And at his invitation, migrant workers who toil in the area's tobacco fields came, too—men whom Father Vic had befriended during his periodic visits to their camps. They received rides either from their employers or from mission members who volunteered to transport them.

"Guests cleaned up after finishing their meals, so that was a big help," he says. "Since Thanksgiving is a holiday, I didn't want people to cook. That's why I did the food preparation myself. But people don't have much experience with a priest fixing a meal for them!

"The adults had time to socialize and the kids played. There were extra chairs from church, and people sat wherever they could. It worked out really well. There was a lot of laughter. Anytime you can share in this way, there's a lot of love going around. For me, it is one more way that I'm reaching people and sharing the Gospel message.

"People expressed their gratitude to me for inviting them. I do have to say it was very nice to sit down at the end of the day..."

In Father Vic's earlier years as a pastor, the annual Thanksgiving meals took a number of different forms. During his time at the former Swainsboro, Ga., mission, for instance, "We would have more than 100 people come to our dinner at the parish hall."

And at the former Crossett, Ark., mission, local volunteers would take Thanksgiving meals to people who were homebound and those who depended on Meals on Wheels. "Then afterwards, we would provide the volunteers with a dinner at the church," he says.

Father Vic is looking forward to November 26, 2015, in Lafayette, when he can again help many people gather together, reflect, share, celebrate, laugh and give thanks.