Michelle Martin

Ministry of presents

June 15, 2022

If you read the listing of women and men religious celebrating jubilee anniversaries in this issue of Chicago Catholic, you’ll see that many of the elderly sisters, brothers and priests minister “in prayer and presence.”

I suppose you could take that as an attempt on the part of their religious communities to avoid saying they are retired, or to make it sound like they are not doing much of anything. They are, of course: They are praying, and they are present — present for their families, present for their communities, present for those with whom they live for those in senior care.

We celebrate Father’s Day on June 19, and one of the things we are celebrating is the presence of fathers: fathers who are there making dinner and washing clothes, fathers who are there listening to problems and dispensing advice, fathers who watch the TV shows and movies their children choose, but occasionally drag the kids to something they never would have chosen.

Tony, my husband, drove our daughters and me to the northern suburbs earlier this year to see “Automat,” a documentary about the Horn & Hardart chain of self-serve restaurants in New York and Philadelphia. The automat is the kind of mid-20th century cultural artifact that fascinates him, and the film featured Mel Brooks, Elliott Gould, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Colin Powell.

I’m not sure either of my daughters will remember that one of the main draws of Horn & Hardart’s was the coffee, a loss leader for much of the chain’s existence, or that it was fast food that really spelled the demise of the automat. But they will remember the rainy Friday night when Dad drove us a half-hour to watch a movie in theater where we were four of the six people in the audience.

They’ll remember that their dad, always difficult to buy presents for, said he absolutely did not want a new Weber grill, despite the rusty patch threatening to give way. He said he wanted a new electric bass, a nod to his teen years playing in a basement band.

Then he went out and bought new casual shoes and said, “Never mind the bass. These are my Father’s Day gift.”

He bought those shoes on a day out with Teresa, going from her guitar lesson to lunch to shopping mall, while I went with Caroline to a baseball game.

Relaxing in the evening, he pointed out that one of the benefits of us spending the whole day with the girls was that by the time dinner was over, they were tired of us, and we could spend the evening together, before doing it all again the next day.

I get it, though. It’s not really about the presents; it’s about the presence, the gift that everyone can bring to their families, friends and the people around them.


  • family life