DE PERE — Deacon David Parker gazed at the small, four-way scapular medal in the palm of his hand. He had forgotten about it; understandable considering he had not seen it since the fall of 1981.
“It’s very sentimental. It’s very cool,” he said. “It looks like it’s been in the ground for 37 years. I’m surprised there is this much left of it.”
Deacon Parker lost the medal during a football game on the St. Norbert Abbey grounds only weeks after he entered the Norbertine Order at age 21.
“I got to my room and realized it was gone, so I figured that I lost it during the game,” he said. “I headed back out and looked for it, going back and forth, but I didn’t find it.”
Deacon Parker wore the medal, a gift from his family, on a chain around his neck. The chain survived the game, but the medal had been missing until Mike Counter recently discovered it.
Counter, director of media relations at St. Norbert College, has been metal detecting on the St. Norbert Abbey grounds for a special project in cooperation with the Norbertines. Once he is finished searching the property, Counter will give his findings to Norbertine Fr. James Neilson, who will create an art piece in recognition of the 900-year anniversary of the Norbertines (Order of Canons Regular of Prémontré) in 2020.
“I didn’t find a lot of medals out there, maybe three or four,” said Counter. “I’ve spent 50 to 60 hours so far. I’m waiting for the crops to be removed out of the field, so I can get down by where Minahan Stadium used to be located.”
Following a television story about the project on WBAY Channel 2, Counter posted a photo of some of the items he has found. Norbertine Fr. Shillcox, pastor at Resurrection Parish, Allouez, recognized the medal.
“When we heard that Mike was going to be searching the grounds — the abbot told the community — I wondered what he would find. I was reminded of Dave’s medal,” said Fr. Shillcox. “We were classmates in 1981. Nothing can be lost forever.”
Fr. Shillcox sent a message to Deacon Parker and his wife, Denise. They initially didn’t think it was the medal, but upon further review confirmed that it was indeed the gift Deacon Parker received from his family as a teen.
“I don’t recall exactly when they bought it, but I do recall them giving me a medal,” said Deacon Parker. “I’ve always worn medals since I was a kid. I’ve lost several of them.”
Counter presented the medal on the Abbey grounds on Aug. 31. The date brought back another special memory for Deacon Parker.
“Thirty-seven years ago, yesterday, Aug. 30, I met my wife here,” he explained. “She was the telephone receptionist.”
Deacon Parker and Denise, who have seven children and 18 grandchildren, officially met during coffee and donuts after Mass.
“I just noticed that she was very pretty,” said Deacon Parker, who serves at Assumption BVM Parish, Pulaski; St. Stanislaus Parish, Hofa Park; and St. Casimir Parish, Krakow.
“She invited us to stop down and say ‘hi’ when she was working. So I started doing that,” he added. “Three months later, I left.”
Deacon Parker was ordained to the diaconate along with his son, Legionary of Christ Fr. David Parker on May 7, 2016, at Assumption BVM Church. Fr. Parker was ordained to the priesthood in Rome on Dec. 10, 2016. He currently serves in Hermosillo, Mexico.
The medal will be placed on a chain and once again worn around Deacon Parker’s neck.
“I won’t lose it again. I’m not as active as I used to be,” he said with a laugh.
“We were all just fodder for (Bishop Robert) Morneau and (Norbertine) Fr. (Joel) Garner,” said Fr. Shillcox, reminiscing about the football games. “Bishop Morneau was the vicar for religious, so he lived here a few years. He and Fr. Garner (now abbot of Santa Maria De La Vid Abbey in Albuquerque, N.M.), novice master, were the captains. It was a custom for the fraters to play football every Saturday in the fall because we couldn’t leave the grounds.”
The former classmates returned to the grass area near the labyrinth, which served as their football field. Deacon Parker offered his appreciation to Counter.
“Thank you very much, that’s awesome,” he said. “It’s been a lot of years.”