Father Cummings brings the Gospel to Russia
The young priest in the photos looks smiling and happy, but there is a noticeable gap between his clerical collar and his neck
Always slim, Fr. McLean Cummings is now unmistakably gaunt.
And no wonder, says Miriam Lademan, who snapped the pictures when she and a nurse-friend visited Father Cummings in Russia last August.
At the rectory in St. Petersburg, where Father was living with missionary priests from various countries, she found a minuscule refrigerator with almost nothing in it.
"They live very poorly," says Miriam. "And Father was so busy! He wasn't taking the time to eat."
Inspired by a friend in the seminary, in January, 2002, Father McLean left St. John the Evangelist Church in Sevena Park to become a diocesan priest in Russia, where, since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Catholic Church has been struggling to re-establish itself.
Shortly after Miriam's visit, Father Cummings moved to Moscow. He now lives in a home run by six Missionaries of Charity nuns who see to it that he is eating a lot better.
Father offers Mass every day for the sisters and once a week in Russian for everyone in the home.
On Saturdays he travels to Vladimir, a town three hours east of Moscow, where he offers Mass Saturday nights and Sundays in a Catholic Church built by Poles.
On Sunday evenings, he goes to the town of Ivanovno, offering Mass in an apartment because the former Catholic Church there was turned into a bank
Father Cummings has been the only priest in Vladimir for two months, because the pastor and assistant pastor are being kept out of the country by the government, which refuses to renew their visas.
"There's still a lot of animosity toward priests over there; the Russian Orthodox don't want Catholics coming in," explains Miriam.
Father performed his first baptism recently, and oversees religious education and aid to the poor at the two parishes.
He also helps in translating tasks at the Curia in Moscow. He took a few weeks of Russian classes before "he went over, and attends language classes three days a week in Moscow.
His Russian is "coming along," he said in a December 3 email: "People seem to understand me, and I understand them in confession. So that's the main thing!"
The need for the Church is great in Russia, says Miriam; "The alcoholism and sense of hopelessness are certainly results of having been denied the faith for so long."
Father Cummings told her that because there is no value for life, infanticide is common, and there about 8 million abortions a year.
"The only people who have more than one or two children are alcoholics, who then abandon their children, so there are a lot of street children."
There are a lot of orphanages; St. Petersburg alone has 15 "baby homes," or small orphanages.
The Missionaries of Charity have one orphanage in Moscow and would love to open more, but the government won't let them; they accuse them of proselytizing, says Miriam.
But the nuns are allowed to offer a home and care to 25 to 30 former "street people," mostly amputees or other adults with physical handicaps.
Miriam's sister, Joan Andrews Bell, and her husband Chris have adopted several handicapped children from Russia, with the help of a nonprofit group called the Man Foundation, and Miriam hoped to be able to visit an orphanage while over in Russia.
But plans fell through due in part to difficulties created by a government inimical to adoption by foreigners.
Animus against Catholic priests in Russia has occasionally turned deadly: one Catholic priest was poisoned in Southern European Russia in 2000, and another was beaten to death in Yatsevo, Siberia, in 2001.
But Father Cummings has been blessed to meet many holy souls, says Miriam; not only the nuns and priests he has worked with, but many of the Russian people themselves.
He mentioned one young Russian woman who walked off the street after the fall of Communism when she was only in her teens and asked to be baptised. Now she is teaching CCD.
"I'm sure Russia will be converted, perhaps even in our lifetime, considering how God is leading real saints to work there!"
Niece's prayers aid Father Cummings' vocation
When McLean Cummings priestly vocation was hanging precariously in the balance, the prayers of a determine young Parisian girl tipped the scales.
Audrey Stevenson was an extraordinary little girl. When she was 3, at a visit to the birthplace of St. Therese of Lisieux, she had announced to her startled parents, "I want to enter the Carmel and offer my life to Jesus."
At the age of 7, Audrey was stricken with leukemia. The disease quickly ravaged her body, and the fun-loving little girl was soon unable to play with her friends.
But through painful chemotherapy, radiation, and even a bone marrow transplant, Audrey maintained her cheerful disposition. She offered her sufferings for vocations -especially for the vocation of one particular seminarian, her Uncle McLean.
But that vocation was not going well. McLean was not happy in the seminary. The rector told him he didn't think McLean had a vocation, and the young man left the seminary in despair and returned home to
News of her uncle's defection reached Audrey's ears in Paris. Upset at the rector's appraisal, she exploded, "It's not for him to say, it's for Christ to say!"
When Audrey's illness became grave, her mom McLean's sister, Lillian phoned him and begged him to come see her.
He boarded a plane for Paris. As luck-Dr something else-would have it, he was seated beside a Legionaries of-Christ priest, who told him about the Legionaires seminary in Rome, the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum, that trains diocesan priests.
After McLean visited Audrey, instead of heading back to Chicago, he went straight to the Legionarie's seminary in Rome.
When Audrey learned the good news, she sighed and said, "Oh, then I can rest now."
With a contented smile, she slipped into a semicoma. In August, 1991, at the age of 8, she passed into eternity.