About Isaac

Drawing of Isaac by Eli Wardi.

In fact it all began in South Central Pennsylvania, in Harrisburg, the state capital. It was in that city in December of 1953 that finally made my appearance in a world that may or may not have been ready for me.

There seems to have been some hesitation on my part, since I was actually expected to arrive around November 25, but didn’t actually agree to be born until after lunch almost three weeks later. My mother used to tell me that, like my father, I was always late. This is a fault that I’ve tried to correct over the years, but I’ve only partially succeeded.

As we are all somehow influenced by our families of origin, I suppose the fact that my father was Hungarian and that my mother was Pennsylvania Dutch (though NOT Amish, I hasten to add) had much effect on me over the years. I love high cholesterol foods, often with little or no seasoning (PA Dutch), fine wood, good chocolate and dark coffee (Hungarian); I enjoy music, can be extremely sentimental but stubbornly realistic yet romantic. The pig and the cabbage are perfect foods, so far as I’m concerned. Among the best ways I know to pass the time are: enjoying food & drink, playing cards, making music, chatting about this and that with friends, and reading almost anything I can get my hands on.

I don’t remember much about our life in Harrisburg. We lived on Liberty Street, and belonged to St. Francis of Assisi Roman Catholic Church, where I also went to kindergarten and 1st grade. In 1960, we moved to Elizabethtown, in the northwest corner of Lancaster County, PA. It was here that I grew up (till the end of eighth grade) and where lots of important things happened. My sister (who is 2 years younger than I [and who happened to arrive in the world on November
26, more or less on schedule, unlike me]) both went to the Catholic grade school in town, St. Peter’s. I was always at the top of my class, and I was also perhaps the most gifted musician in the school. After the Vatican Council changed so much of the Catholic liturgy from Latin to English, I was "forced" (well, not really: I jumped into it with both feet and never looked back) to be involved with church music in a major way: playing the organ, planning music for the services, training other kids to sing in the choir...

From the earliest time I can remember, I had wanted to a priest. When I was in eighth grade, the pastor of our parish suggested to me that I might want to look into going to a high school seminary. I had never thought about that as a possibility; in fact, I didn’t even know there were high school seminaries. But I decided that I wanted to give it a try. My parents weren’t exactly surprised by my decision, but they weren’t overjoyed either when it turned out that I would be going to school in Erie, PA. Back then, it was a very long car trip!

So in August of 1967, we headed out to St. Mark’s Seminary High School, where I ensconced myself for four years. I graduated first in my class, and was once more one of the premiere musicians of the student body. I studied organ at Mercyhurst College, just across the street from the seminary, and one of my teachers was also the organist of the Episcopal Cathedral in Erie.

I still wanted to be a priest and so, for my undergraduate degree, I enrolled at The University of Scranton, in Scranton, PA, a small Jesuit school. There was a seminary near Scranton, located in the small town of Dalton, about 15 miles north of Scranton, where I lived for my four years there. I majored in philosophy, mostly because that was what seminarians did. Actually, by my time, that was no longer true, but it seemed a good option to me: there were few required courses, and that left lots of room in the curriculum for the things that interested me: music and languages.

Since the University itself didn’t have a music department, I took my minor in music at Marywood, the largest Catholic girls’ school in the country, with a fine tradition of scholarship. In high school, I had studied Latin & French; at the University, I continued with those languages (most informally) and also did ancient Greek (both classical and koine). There was a huge upsurge of interest in Greek in those years, and our Greek professor (a Jesuit who’d been around for centuries, it seemed) was overwhelmed with the number of students. We were the largest Greek class he’d ever taught: there were 12 of us in 1st year. But by the next year, there were only two of us.

I took my BA on 1 June 1975. In September, I began graduate studies in theology at the seminary located in Northampton, PA, run by the Vincentian Fathers. However, after a few weeks, I realized that I really wasn’t cut out for the life of a parish priest. For several years I’d been fascinated by the monastic life and had visited several Benedictine monasteries, and was very inclined to choose that way of life.

In October 1975, I entered the Abbey of St. Anselm in Washington DC. My mother was not at all happy, but eventually she came around to seeing that it was a good decision. For the next 15 years, I was a monk and, for the most part, very content. I did graduate studies at The Catholic University of America and at The University of Maryland at College Park, studying theology and musicology. In March 1982, I was ordained deacon at the Abbey; in October of that same year, I was ordained priest at Trinity College, Washington, DC. I also taught in the Abbey School: Latin, music and (for one good awful year only) religion. In the monastery, almost from the beginning of my life in the community, I was music director/choir master. At various times in my monastic life, I served as director of guests, as a member of the abbot’s council and as school chaplain.

I moved to Rome, Italy, in August 1985, to pursue studies in music at the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music, residing at Sant’ Anselmo, the international college of the Benedictine Order. About a year later, in October 1986, I became Secretary of the Abbot Primate (the nominal head of the Order) and Procurator in Curia for the Benedictine Confederation. I held that job till March 1990. I also served as director of the English Language Chapel at S. Anselmo, and as organist and choir master of the Primatial Basilica of St. Anselmo.

I returned to the monastery in Washington in August 1990, and took up duties as development director for the school and monastery. I also assisted in a few parishes, and served as confessor at the retreat house of the Trappist monks near Leesburg, VA.

About a year after my return from Rome, I decided to leave monastic life. Being a gay man in the Catholic church is difficult; being a gay priest is even harder. Eventually, the stress of being something that my Church was not exactly thrilled about took its toll, and I left the ministry in the summer of 1991.

In August of that year, I was interviewed for the position of organist/music director of St. Matthew’s United Methodist Church, Bowie, MD. On the same afternoon, I played a recital at The Washington National Cathedral, then returned to Bowie to conduct a "sample" choir rehearsal. I began my work at St. Matthew’s after Labor Day 1991, and am still very happy working with the wonderful people there.

In September 1992, I took a secretarial position at the U.S. Department of the Treasury, International Affairs. Until I left Treasury in March 2001, I worked in various offices doing various administrative tasks, and ended my tenure with the title "Deputy Director, Secretariat for International Affairs, Treasury".

The same month that I began work at the Treasury, I met Jeff. Without him, the last decade would have been very, very different. In fact, I cannot imagine what my life would be like without him in it. He’s my friend, my partner, my lover, my comfort, my joy and treasure, sometimes a bit of a strain, but always the man I long for, turn to and love with all my heart.

Our family needed to grow after we’d been together for several years, and in June 1999, Dowland came to share our life. He’s a red brindle greyhound, born in 1995; he was joined by Sandy, a red bitch about twice Dowland’s age. Sandy shared our life for 2.5 years 'til she went to Rainbow Bridge in March 2002. Just recently, Arlo, a 5-year old black boy who’s still very much a puppy at heart. He & Dowland are fine friends, enjoying backyard games and the occasional nap in the same bed.

In March 2001, I started my new job in the development office of a wonderful non-profit organization, The Fund for Peace. My duties revolve around public education, fund-raising, outreach and publications. Visit the Fund’s website: http://www.fundforpeace.org.

Truly, looking back over my life, I cannot say that I have anything much to complain about. Sure, there were things that might have been different...but I’m not sure that I’d be any better or better-off. Certainly, my Jeff, my doggie-boys, my music and my work keep my very busy and happy. And I look forward to many years ahead of more of the same!