July 9, 2015
While Fr. Fred hasn’t been in the best of health these past few weeks or months, his quick demise has taken most, if not all of us by surprise. Life is fragile that way. What appears to be an illness that is bothersome or something we think we should just put up for a few days or weeks, ends up being more serious than we could ever imagine.
Life is short and life is precious. One lesson we can learn from Fr. Fred’s death is to live and love with all our hearts – on this day and in this time, which is God’s precious gift to us.
I would like to publicly acknowledge and thank the staff of Holy Family Parish, especially Fr. Morley and Deacon Peter, for the wonderful care you offered Fr. Fred in his final days. Your care for Fr. Fred serves as a living reminder – a sacramental reminder – of the compassionate and loving presence of God in our midst.
As we gather together today, I don’t think our prayers need to be primarily directed to or for Fr. Fred. Rather, our prayers should be offered for Fr. Fred’s Mother and his family. Let us pray that the Lord will give them his consolation in this most difficult time. And we pray for the communities of Holy Family and Blessed Trinity. May God provide his compassion in abundance to you as you struggle with this loss. Finally, may God help us all to live the many faith-lessons that Fr. Fred so generously taught, shared, and lived while he ministered to us.
As you read Fr. Fred’s obituaries, you might have been struck by a few things you didn’t know about him. For instance, perhaps you didn’t know about his extensive teaching background – a teacher of religion and history for 5 years at Carroll High School in Dayton and his 6 years as Chair of the Religious Studies Department at Mother of Mercy High School in Cincinnati.
Maybe you didn’t know that his date of death was same as his date of birth. Perhaps you were also unawares that his first name was Joseph, not Fred.
Also, I’m not sure you were aware that Fr. Fred was a musician. He mentioned to me once about how he enjoyed playing the organ. During that conversation, I asked if I could listen to him play, and he responded with that stare of his like: you must be crazy.
You also might not be aware but Fr. Fred was a great dancer. During one of our dinner / dances at Holy Family, I believe it was St. Patrick’s Day, the DJ invited the guests to come forward to start dancing. That’s the moment I usually leave such gatherings saying: it’s against my religion to dance. But Fr. Fred stayed and danced the night away. He was a hit among many of the women in attendance and probably the envy of the gentlemen there who, like me, can’t dance if their life depended on it.
There are other items that might surprise you about Fr. Fred, but my guess is that there is more that is known about him than not.
For example, Fr. Fred was a gentleman and a gentle soul. While he and I worked together here at Holy Family, I had countless conversations with him about situations that were challenging or stressful for me. While I would rant about my struggles, he would just listen. He never engaged in gossip or detraction of others with me. He heard me out, offered a simple and brief insight and helped me to move on. He was courteous to everyone. And, he maintained the air of the true gentleman that he was.
Fr. Fred was also a gentle soul. There are countless individuals whom he anointed or visited – either in their homes or the hospital – who spoke of his gentleness and kindness when visiting. He took the time to listen to them, be empathetic with them, and confidently shared the faith with them.
Fr. Fred was dedicated and dependable. Every pastor longs for an Associate Pastor or Parochial Vicar who possesses those two qualities. Fr. Fred possessed them to the nth degree. There is nothing he wouldn’t do when asked. When Fr. Paul retired from Holy Family, I was pleasantly surprised when Fr. Fred offered to take on many of the duties that Fr. Paul performed, and more besides. In particular, he assisted with duties related to Holy Family School, since he had significant experience with and in schools himself.
His dedication also led him to move from Blessed Trinity to Holy Family when asked by our diocesan Personnel Board and Bishop Lynch. I’m pretty sure that Fr. Fred didn’t want to leave his beloved community at Blessed Trinity. But he accepted a transfer to Holy Family Parish because that’s what he was asked to do. He understood that the vocation of a diocesan priest meant relocating even when you don’t necessarily want to go. And he did just that – with complete and utter dedication, because that’s what he committed himself to on the day of his ordination.
Fr. Fred was dependable. He was a member of our Diocesan Liturgical Commission for many years. Whenever our Liturgical Commission put on an event like the Rite of Election, the St. Jude Awards, or our lector and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion workshops, Fr. Fred was the first person to volunteer to attend and assist. I can still picture him helping out at each of the Rites of Election. He would be standing by the doors, guiding and directing the attendees, handing out the worship aids, and doing so with a big smile on his face and a larger welcome that would emanate from his heart.
Fr. Fred’s dependability was also on display as he pushed himself to celebrate Mass, even when not feeling well. I’m sure that were times when we were not aware of just how poorly Fr. Fred was feeling. Nevertheless, he showed up to preside at every Mass, ready to lead, ready to preach, ready to bring all to Christ – despite his pain or his suffering.
Fr. Fred was happy and joy-filled. There was a genuine happiness and joy that always bubbled up from Fr. Fred. It was never put on, never fake. There was a spark, a divine spark of joy that lived in his heart and came through in his words and actions. To be fair, I think that divine happiness and joy came from his mother. Carolyn, you exude that same happiness, joy, and graciousness. And you did a wonderful job off instilling those qualities in your son.
Fr. Fred taught us how to live our faith; he taught us how to die in faith. Fr. Fred took his teaching and preaching responsibilities seriously. He worked hard on his homilies. He wanted to pass on nothing but the best as he preached and taught. And he did that so we could live in and with the joy of Jesus Christ.
Losing such a good priest and person, son and “brother” is hear-breaking, to say the least. Perhaps our feelings and sentiments are best echoed in the beginning verses of the reading from Lamentations and St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians: my soul is deprived of peace; my soul is downcast; I am discouraged. But Fr. Fred taught us and lived those other parts of the Good News that we heard: God’s hope is not exhausted; and even though our outer bodies are wasting away, this is just a momentary affliction. God has prepared for us a dwelling place in heaven which is eternal – where joy abounds, where we dance as sparks through stubble, where the angelic choirs sing and play to our hearts content, where life is eternal, and sin, suffering, and even death are crushed and conquered.
Fr. Fred taught those realities. But more importantly, he lived them. He lived the joy, the faithfulness, and the gentle compassion that Christ calls each of us to live. There is little doubt in my mind, that God who is merciful will welcome Fr. Fred into his loving arms to share in eternal glory from this day forward.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this homily, you may not have known that Fr. Fred’s first name was really Joseph. How appropriate that he be given that name. Joseph was a man of few words. Fr. Fred was the same. Joseph was a man who lived and worked to give the best to Mary and his Son, Jesus Christ. Fr. Fred lived and worked to give the best to his mother Carolyn as well as his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Joseph was a man who listened and acted on God’s prompting, even when it wasn’t easy. Fr. Fred listened and acted to the prompting of God even when it might have been a challenge for him . While we may not have known him as Joseph, there are few other human beings who have emulated the spirit of St. Joseph as did Fr. Fred. While his reunion in heaven with his Dad and brother will be most joyful, I assume that the next one in line to welcome him into heaven is St. Joseph – the man whose name he bears and whose witness he manifest each day.
I’m sure many of you are thinking of ways to honor Fr. Fred – having Mass intentions offered for him, planting a tree in his honor, naming a room after him, or establishing a scholarship in his memory. While those things are good and appropriate, I believe that this man who was small of stature but a giant of faith would agree – the best way to honor him would be to live and love like Christ. That’s the vocation Fr. Fred accepted on the day of his baptism. That is the way of life that Fr. Fred committed to on the day of his ordination. That is the faith that Fr. Fred exhibited in life and even in his death. Honor Fr. Fred by continuing to give honor and glory to God with the gift of how you live and love – faithfully, joyfully, and with all your being.
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord…