Our beloved Brother Francis went to his reward on September 5. What follows in my column are some reflections on his death and funerary rites. Our other writers will also pay tribute to him in this issue of the Mancipia.
A Quiet Passage. Brother Francis had received Holy Communion at about 6:40 a.m. the day he died. Shortly afterward, I gave him some fruit juice to drink, since he had eaten nothing the previous day. We wanted him to have nutrition and hydration right to the end. He was alert at that time. The other brothers and I went to mental prayer and Mass. When we returned, I gave him more liquids, and he was alert enough to say, “Enough!” After that, I went to breakfast with the other brothers. We could all hear him clearing his throat a few times — anyone used to his recorded lectures will know the sound! I remarked to the other brothers that he still sounded strong. After breakfast, the other brothers all went off to their respective chores while I went back to give Brother Francis more to drink. As soon as I walked in the room, I knew he had left us. I cannot say what his last words were, but a few days earlier, he told Brother Louis Marie he hoped they would be, “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, may I breathe forth my soul in peace with you!”
Brother Francis left this world much the same as he entered it: on a Saturday, without noise (he did not cry when he was born, a sign that alarmed the midwife so much that she baptized him straightaway), and, curiously, the day after a full moon. We are consoled that he died on a First Saturday, a day especially dedicated to her that is “fair as the moon.”
Fitting Obsequies. The Mass and other ceremonies were offered in the traditional rite by our local pastor, Father Daniel O. Lamothe, a priest who has shown the Center — and particularly Brother Francis — much kindness. The funeral was a sung Requiem Mass (Missa Cantata), which took place at Saint Margaret Mary Church in Keene, where one of the Manchester Diocese’s regular Latin Masses is offered.
Present in the church were many clerics and religious, including eight priests “in choir,” seated close to the altar during the entire Mass, and assisting with candles in hand at various times. One of these was Abbot Gabriel Gibbs, O.S.B., of Saint Benedict Abbey in Still River. Three other monks were present in choir, two from Saint Benedict Abbey, and another from Saint Anselm’s Abbey in Manchester, New Hampshire. Two were Maronite priests, both long-time friends of Brother Francis: Father Anthony Weiler of the Saint Rafka Retreat Center in Vermont, and Chorbishop Joseph Lahoud, of Our Lady of the Cedars of Lebanon Parish in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. An old friend of ours, Father Carlos Cassavantes, FSSP, was also there, all the way from Texas.
The display of the Church’s catholicity was wonderful to behold: Roman Rite secular priests in cassock and surplice, Benedictine Monks in habit and cuculla, and Maronite priests in their distinctive Oriental exorasons and iconic stoles.
In the loft, the choir of our brothers and sisters was supplemented by priests and layfolk who, with little time together to practice, sung the Gregorian chant and some sacred polyphony most beautifully. The servers were our boys who serve at the Center regularly. The Master of Ceremonies was your humble servant, a detail which makes me conclude that the angels must have been with us, for the ceremony went off virtually flawlessly.
Who is Next? Because we have a chapel and graveyard, we are on familiar terms with the funeral directors. In our conversations surrounding the arrangements, one of them mentioned to me that the same time he was preparing Brother Francis’ body for the wake, he had in his funeral home the remains of a young lady who died in a car accident. A few days later, I was informed that a man from my high school graduation class had also died. He was thirty-nine. When struck with this news, I could not help but think of Brother’s poem, “Who is Next?”
Pray for Brother. Brother Francis revealed to Brother Louis Marie only a few days before his death that he was afraid nobody would pray for him. The piles of Mass cards that have come in tell me that Brother’s fears were unfounded. However, I would urge our friends to pray for him daily. It is our duty in piety to do this for a man we love.
The Best Tribute. With the funeral now quite behind us, and resolved to pray for his dear soul, we think the best tribute we can make to our father, mentor, and teacher is to continue the work which he did, and which he inspired us to do. I mean, of course, our Crusade in all its facets: missionary, academic, and devotional. I’ve already made a promise to a dear friend that, on the anniversary of Brother Francis’ death, we will all be holding in our hands his logic course in book form. Brother considered the study of philosophy integral to the work we do. We have the recordings of all of his lectures on the eight courses, plus his handwritten notes. It will be our duty in the coming years to turn the materials he left to us into the complete set of philosophy books he envisioned. There are other gems in his personal notebooks, too.
Hopes for Unity. Present at the wake and funeral were religious from Saint Benedict’s Abbey, Saint Benedict Center in Still River, Saint Ann’s House, and Immaculate Heart of Mary Convent in Vienna, Ohio. Not present, because unable to be — but most solicitous in sending condolences and prayers — were the brothers with Brother Leonard Mary in Arcadia, California (“Saint Benedict Center West”). Brother Leonard Mary, one of the founding members of the M.I.C.M., has been very ill himself. It is no secret that there have been various divisions among Father Feeney’s disciples. Brother Francis always desired, prayed for, and worked toward unity. Personally, I hope that he is now in light eternal with Father Feeney, Sister Catherine, Brother Hugh, and all our deceased brothers and sisters, asking Our Lady for a greater unity among her Slaves. Ours would not be the first order riven by strife (read Church history if you don’t believe me: Franciscans, Redemptorists, and many others were afflicted with this). But old wounds are healing, and it appears that a unity of purpose, and of charity, is shared by all these groups — each of which has its unique gifts to contribute to the Crusade for Catholic truth and the conversion of America.
Memory Eternal! I have heard that the Arabs say, “Whoever does not have an old man should buy one.” Having the privilege of being close to such a sage “old man,” I very much appreciate this Oriental wisdom, which leads me to my conclusion. I think the following three verses aptly describe Brother Francis, the gentlest, most joyful, and wisest man I’ve ever known. Two of the verses are from the Old Testament’s Wisdom books. The third is from a book that relates wars and memorializes the virtues of warriors. Those who knew Brother will get it.
In the ancient is wisdom, and in length of days prudence — Job 12:12.
The just shall flourish like the palm tree: he shall grow up like the cedar of Libanus — Psalm 91:13.
His memory is blessed for ever — Maccabees 3:7.
Email Brother André Marie at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please read Brother Francis’ Obituary and the Ad Rem, The Funeral of Brother Francis, in Thoughts and Pictures.
The first lecture of Introduction to Wisdom course is below.