Motorcycles Anonymous

            Indy sauntered to the bike lift at the front of the room, feeling every mile of his 26 years on the road.  He looked at the small group gathered in the dimly lit garage, cleared his pipes, and began the meeting.

            “Okay folks, let’s settle back to idle.  Are we all here?  Good.  Let’s go ahead and recite the oath together …”  The group looked up at Indy and, almost reverently, spoke with one voice:

            I am a motorcycle.  I live on back roads and highways, race tracks and trails.  My only purpose is to give my Rider the freedom and joy of the Ride.  Through the curves and dangers of the road, the long nights, the storms, and the long hot days, I will not fail my Rider.  I will protect my Rider with my life.

            “I guess I’ll let someone else start tonight,” said Indy.  “Anyone want to come on up?”

            A newer model Japanese bike rolled forward, and turned toward the group.

            “Hi, I’m Suzie,” she began.

            “Hi Suzie,” responded the bikes, as tradition dictated at these meetings.

            “I’m pretty new off the line,” she said hesitantly, “ … my Rider picked me up about two months ago.”  She gained in confidence as she continued on with her story.

            “Vickie rides me almost every day, except in the rain.  Mostly local miles, like forest preserve runs after work or down to that burger joint half a day south of here.  It’s been just great for us!

             “Now, I’ve also had a few close calls with the four-wheel crowd.  Hard stops and quick turns have kept us safe, and Vickie rides in full leathers with a full-faced SNELL helmet.  She learned how to ride at an MSF safety course, and practices hard turns in a local parking lot once a week.  She checks me up and down before every Ride, from lights to tires.  I am tuned up, gassed up, and ready to rocket!”

             As Suzie returned to the group, the older bikes couldn’t help but stifle a weary but indulgent sigh.  Let the rookie have her days.  There could be precious few of those, they all knew, and even the best Riders could fall victim to the Crash.

             The Crash.  Never talked about even in these meetings, but something on everyone’s mind.  Fault simply didn’t enter into it for the bikes.  It was that split second when joy can turn to terror, when endless Rides can become long-term storage, and when a motorcycle’s entire purpose is laid bare in an instant.         

            It had happened to most of them, as they’d given witness to over the years in this very garage.  Close calls or wrecks, miracles or sad truths.  The gas and oil scent of the air bore mute witness to all the bikes had been through and survived.

            A few others said their piece over the next hour.  Kam (pronounced kam-mu, meaning flower dream), another Japanese import, with the story of his Ride to Alaska with George, who eventually quit Riding in favor of a wife and kids.  The big full dresser was gathering dust, and had recently been put up for sale.  “New owner,” a few of the bikes softly groaned, as Kam returned to his place. 

            Indy himself said a few words about his owner Joe, who was Riding a lot more frequently since losing his job.  Sadly, though, Joe was having more than a few beers every afternoon, and had Ridden twice late at night afterward.  On one Ride last month, Joe had dropped Indy at a red light.  He’d lost his balance and down he went, unable to stop the tipping machine.  Luckily,  Joe got back up and headed home before he was arrested.  Most thought it couldn’t last, but none said a word.          

             The meeting was drawing to a close as Indy finished his sad story and looked out on the group.  “Let’s have someone who hasn’t been up here in a while.  Harvey?”

            The bikes turned around and watched as another older cycle made his way up to the front and stood on the lift.  Harvey, the big American classic.  Indy moved aside as Harvey began.

            “Hi, I’m Harvey.”

            “Hi Harvey,” responded the room.

            “Well, I haven’t been ridden in 6 years.  My rider was Fred.  He, ummm..” Harvey paused for a moment.  “He loved the Ride.  When the weather broke in April or May, he had me tuned up and out we’d go.  Mostly day rides, you know.  Friday after work, almost all day Saturday; but then we’d have a week or two of longer rides, out of state, over the summers.  Man, we’d just blast.  I thought it’d never end.

            “Winters, you know, they got long sometimes for Fred.  He’d sneak out to the garage and just sit, looking at me like he wanted to just Ride through the snow until we hit Florida or something.  He’d start me up and just sit, itching to go, listening to his iPod and dreaming of the road.”   

            Harvey took another long pause.  “We were up on the high plains one summer evening, near the mountains, when the car pulled out of the rest stop without seeing us.  Fred didn’t have much of a chance to swerve, and my front wheel caught the left rear bumper of the car.  Fred did a high side vault over my bars at 75 m.p.h.” 

            The silence in the room was complete as Harvey continued.  “He survived, but … well, he doesn’t Ride anymore.  Fred didn’t believe in brain buckets, and hit his head pretty hard.  He can walk, mostly, but just isn’t the same guy.  They had me fixed up:  something about Fred needing a reason to keep going.  But I stay in the back of his garage now.”

            As he slowly came down off the lift, the other bikes watched in respectful admiration of the old timer.  Most had heard his story before, but all understood it.  They were motorcycles. 

            It wasn’t about safety, or the moral of any of the stories.  Like their owners, they lived for the Ride.  No one thought less of Fred.  Many of their own Riders were the same, and for these bikes it simply did not matter how they were Ridden.  Such things, in the end, were beyond them.

            Philosophy was likewise beyond this group of simple souls.  They got together to share stories of the road for the memories and joys, hardships and pains.  It kept them going.  And for better or worse, in lean times and happy times, they would keep going.  For their Riders.

            They rose again, and solemnly recited their oath:

            I am a motorcycle.  I live  …


                                                –           Pete Murphy                June 2014




Mundelein’s Seminary: Worth the Time

Mundelein’s Seminary: Worth the Time


If you live in the Chicago area, as I do, or have an occasion to visit, I recommend a trip to Mundelein’s St. Mary of the Lake Seminary. Established in 1844, the Seminary was re-charted in 1929 by Archbishop George Mundelein. The beautiful setting, historically significant buildings, and long tradition of religious education of this Institution, would refresh the soul of any Roman Catholic.

I visited St. Mary last Fall during a scout fishing trip, organized through the Chicago Archdiocese Catholic Committee on Scouting (CCS). It was a truly beautiful day, all pleasant sunshine, and still a bit warm for mid-September. We drove a little over an hour north of our homes in the south suburbs, and soon entered the 600 acre campus with its forest preserve atmosphere. After an introduction and short program of prayer featuring some of the seminarians, the scouts were free to find a spot and try their luck at fishing the waters of St. Mary’s Lake.

I should point out that fishing the Lake is not always permitted at St. Mary. The scouts obtained special permission through the Archdiocese CCS, and anyone planning a visit should check out their web site or call to check hours and visitor policies.*

Along with a few of our scout leaders, I brought the recent graduates of my summer-long Ad Altare Dei (to the Alter of God) program. Ad Altare Dei is a Catholic boy scout religious awards program, involving a load of work and study for the four young men who completed their awards last summer.   They each received medals at a special Mass at Holy Name Cathedral early this year, but last September they were at St. Mary to tour the campus and learn about being a seminarian. I learned a great deal as well.

The seminarian who volunteered to show us around was in his first year at Mundelein. He had completed his undergraduate work at St. Joseph College Seminary at Loyola University (formerly Niles College Seminary), prior to being accepted at St. Mary.

I was amazed to learn from him the amount of education required of a Catholic priest.   Undergraduate studies can take 4-6 years, and a candidate can spend the same amount of time at St. Mary as a graduate seminarian, discerning his vocation and earning the knowledge expected of a diocesan priest. More time, certainly, than it took for me to earn my degree in law. I better understand why support of our seminarians is so important a part of our Faith.

Before making this journey, I took some time to ask a few of my colleagues and my parish priest what to expect.   By sheer coincidence, two attorneys I know quite well had spent time at Niles and had visited St. Mary. They regaled me with stories of questionable authenticity. One story was about a haunted dorm room that was home to an exorcist at one time, now long since sealed up. Another legend, this one quite probably true, involved a pair of seminarians who died boating on the Lake several years ago, the robes they wore becoming quickly waterlogged when they fell in.   Whether accurate or not, I was intrigued by this font of Catholic wisdom before I first stepped out of my car onto the campus.

That Saturday, we toured the library and some of the dorm buildings with our young seminarian. He proved quite knowledgeable, as one would expect, about the day to day life at St. Mary. The students rely almost solely on support from their home parishes and the Knights of Columbus, and earn little income even as newly ordained priests. As our guide put it, seminarians do not measure success in terms of money, but in the Grace that comes with serving others.

He had heard his call when contemplating the Miracle of Transubstantiation: that part of Mass when the host becomes the Body of Christ. I’ve often told my scouts to pay special attention during this sacred moment, and humbly pray to the Holy Spirit for His gift of Faith as they receive the Sacrifice Most Holy.

During the remainder of the ground tour, our seminarian also related a tradition that involved placing either a Bears or Packers cap on the statue of a cardinal (I forget which one), depending on which team won over the weekend (or which fans gained the upper hand after dark). I also remember the outdoor Stations of the Cross, and the little grotto being renovated nearby.

The Lake itself was a wonder. Built along its shores across from The Chapel of Mary are great stone piers and a boathouse.   The three adjoined piers jut out into the Lake in somber elegance, and atop the center pier is a tall gazebo of staid columns.

This center pier, called The Belvedere (see below), offers a magnificent view of the surrounding Lake and forest area, and is well worth the short climb to the top. Of all the memories I have of the outdoor campus, The Belvedere remains the most remarkable in my mind. Its majestic prominence reminds me of the prow of a great ocean liner from a bygone era, bravely sailing from shore into the storms and troubles of the world.   Like the seminarians this school trains, nurses, and then casts upon the waters, with the hope they will prove as steadfast.


Also of special note is the Chapel of Mary. Completed in 1925, it was made to honor the Virgin Mother under her title of the Immaculate Conception. This Chapel dedicated to Mary is a true rarity in our western world, and Her numerous titles (in Latin) adorn the upper walls inside. Our seminarian lead us in a prayer service in this hallowed place.   We humbly asked Our Lord, through the intercession of Mary, to support our scouts throughout their lives, and for each to be open to whatever God has in mind for them. It was a moment of special grace to hear again the words of Jesus, encouraging all to follow Him.

After our short prayer service, we left the Chapel and enjoyed a picnic lunch near the soccer field. The rest of that afternoon passed in quiet pursuit of the small fish in the Lake. Quite a few of our scouts got lucky, and one boy caught over 20, releasing each one back into the tranquil waters.

I didn’t land any fish that day.  Yet, I trust that some of the young fishermen I came with will one day, like the Apostles before them, hear the call of Jesus and become “fishers of men.”

–   Pete Murphy                       April 2014

*          The home page of St. Mary of the Lake Seminary is:

Telephone (847) 566-6401