Farewell to Father Ernie

When asked to reflect on his last 10 years serving in the Archdiocese of Denver, Oblates of the Virgin Mary Father Ernest Sherstone replied: “I’m not sure where to begin.”

Father Sherstone, founding executive director of the Lanteri Center for Ignatian Spirituality, has received a new mission in his congregation and will move to the Boston area in about two weeks. Beginning March 1, he will serve as director of St. Joseph Retreat House for the Oblates of the Virgin Mary in Milton, Mass., a Boston suburb.

“I will miss the people in Denver a lot,” he told the Denver Catholic Register. “I hope serving at the retreat house will be a new challenge for me.”

The native of Manitoba, Canada, has served the archdiocese since moving here from Montreal in 2004 to open the Lanteri Center, housed in a historic 1880s building at 22nd Street and Tremont Place. The center launched the first year by providing spiritual direction — guidance and advice — in deepening one’s faith life based on the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. In spiritual direction, a “directee” forms a long-term relationship with a “director”—for a timeframe that could vary from one year to five to more than 10—and the two meet on a regular basis.

One of his longtime directees is Wendy Sue Curley.

“I’m going to miss Father Ernie,” she said. “No matter what my life looked like, whether I was single, married, and now with kids, he was like a gentle father guiding me though each phase.”

When starting spiritual direction eight years ago, she was single and now is married with two young daughters.

“His primary concern has always been my relationship with the Lord,” she added. “What I love about him most is his authenticity… and I’ll miss his dry, witty sense of humor.”

Curley is also a participant in the center’s formation programs for spiritual directors  established in 2005.

“We have graduated two classes from the five-year program,” Father Sherstone said. “And there are two classes going on right now.”

Lanteri Center staff consists of priests and laity, as well as graduate students that accompany Christians while growing in their relationship with God through prayer, Scripture and spiritual exercises.

The ministry has now expanded to include a satellite program, offering the formation program over three intense courses over a year.

“With the satellite program, staff will go anywhere in the nation,” he said.

The center has also added a summer residential program that allows participants to come to Denver for two to three weeks each summer over the course of three years, and receive the equivalent of the five-year formation program.

“It allows us to reach people in different ways,” Father Sherstone said, adding that the program reaches beyond the Catholic Church to other Christian denominations.

“It’s an enrichment to our program,” he said of the wide reach. “It provides a wider view of things.”

As of Jan. 1, Oblates Father Greg Cleveland took over as director of the Lanteri Center. Father Sherstone will leave Denver Feb. 28. A farewell gathering is set for Feb. 23. It will begin with noon Mass celebrated by Father Sherstone at Holy Ghost Church at 1900 California St., followed by a reception from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. All are welcome.

“Come and thank Father Ernie for his nearly 10 years of faithful service to the Lord here in Denver,” said Father Cleveland, “and wish him well for the future.”

For more information, contact the Lanteri Center at 303-298-1498, lantericenter@aol.com or visit www.lantericenter.org.


COMING UP: Moral courage and the many cultures of death

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CRACOW. Thanks to the pandemic, it’s been two years since I was last in Cracow, where for three decades I’ve done extensive research and taught great students while forming friendships with many remarkable people. It was wonderful to be back in one of the world’s greatest cities, and soon after I arrived in late June, I took a long walk to see what had changed. The first major difference I noticed was that the plaza in front of the central railway station (named for my late friend Jan Nowak-Jeziorański, a World War II courier for the Polish Home Army and the man from whom the future John Paul II got real news via Radio Free Europe’s Polish service) has a new, strikingly modern memorial, dedicated to the memory of Colonel Ryszard Kukliński.

That name is not well-known throughout a western world that has largely forgotten the meaning and lessons of the Cold War. But if Jan Nowak-Jeziorański was right when he spoke about the Polish colonel in the mid-1990s, Ryszard Kuklinski was a genuine hero of the long, twilight struggle against communist totalitarianism — the man who helped prevent a bloody Soviet invasion of Poland to crush the nascent Solidarity movement.

An accomplished officer in the communist-era Polish Army, Ryszard Kukliński began to doubt the truth of what he had been told about the West when, as a member of an international commission, he met American military men in Vietnam in the mid-1960s. His doubts about communism and its purposes intensified by orders of magnitude in 1968, when the brutal Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia ground the Prague Spring to dust under the treads of Soviet tanks, and in 1970, when the Polish army shot Polish workers during labor strife. Privy to some of the Warsaw Pact’s most confidential strategic plans, he became convinced that, if the Cold War turned hot and the east bloc attacked the West, the Soviets would sacrifice Poland as retaliatory western tactical nuclear strikes hit the second wave of Warsaw Pact troops pushing west. So, in 1972, Kukliński, risking his life and his family’s safety, offered his services to the United States and for the next nine years was the West’s most important intelligence asset behind the iron curtain.

His greatest service to Poland and the cause of freedom came in the later months of 1980. Thanks to his efforts, the United States knew the entire order-of-battle the Soviet Union had organized to stamp out Solidarity, which had held its first formal congress in September 1980. With that information, and working in concert with the incoming Reagan administration, outgoing national security adviser Zbigniew Brzeziński, with the help of the AFL-CIO’s Lane Kirkland, was able to organize a comprehensive western response to a potential Soviet invasion of Poland: an international economic blockade that would have severely damaged the already-staggering Soviet economy. Faced with economic ruin, the Soviet leadership backed down and the Warsaw Pact divisions that had surrounded Poland withdrew.

Colonel Kukliński and his family were exfiltrated to the West; two of his sons later died under dubious circumstances that may have involved Russian retribution, and Kukliński lived out his life under an assumed name in the United States, dying in 2004. There was public controversy when he returned to his native Poland for a 1998 visit, with some charging that he had violated his officer’s oath by working for American intelligence for a decade. John Paul II, through various intermediaries, quietly passed the word that Kukliński was to be regarded in Poland as a national hero. Zbigniew Brzeziński, who held the exact same view, put it brilliantly, in a comment that appears on the Kukliński Memorial in Cracow: Colonel Kukliński was “the first Polish officer in NATO.” 

Communism was a distinctive form of the culture of death, for the effort to create “Homo Sovieticus” was a lethal assault on souls. Colonel Ryszard Kukliński took a courageous stand against that particular culture of death, knowing as he did that freedom is never cost-free: freedom lived nobly always requires sacrifice. His example should be pondered by Catholic citizens and Catholic public officials throughout the West today, who are called to resist, with similar moral courage and effect, that form of the culture of death that masquerades as the ideology of “choice.” May we and our elected officials be as principled and brave as the Polish officer who took what John Paul II described at the United Nations in 1995 as the “the risk of freedom.”