An Evening with the Oblates

An Evening with the Oblates

Please join us for our inaugural event, An Evening with the Oblates. This gala formally known as Black Tie for White Collars, will be held at the DuPont Country Club in Wilmington, DE and will feature dinner prepared by acclaimed chef, TV and radio personality, Fr. Leo Patalinghug, followed by dancing with the Midnight Hour band. All proceeds from the night go to advance the mission of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales.


Mass of Christian Burial: Homily

Rev. John F. Kenny, OSFS
August 14, 2019

Our Lady of Light Chapel, Childs, Maryland
Celebrant: Fr. Lou Fiorelli, OSFS
Homilist: Fr. Bill McCandless, OSFS

The Book of Lamentations can seem so depressing and deprived of hope. This is certainly understandable when one considers it was written after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. Why would we choose to read from such a book in a funeral mass to celebrate our brother John passing from this life to his eternal glory?

I think it is an important reading because it is a true reflection of what the Israelites were feeling and a true reflection of what we all sometimes experience in this life. It’s reality, and it is not always easy to face. This was the case for John, especially in these past few years when his health was failing.

The last heart-to-heart conversation I had with John was two days before he died. I was walking down the corridor as he sat on his scooter at the door to his room. He looked distressed. I said, “Are you ok, John?” He responded, “I’m mad at Jesus” and he began to cry. What a heartbreaking expression of lamentation.

John was upset because he was feeling so weak, he was losing his eyesight and was just tired; physically, emotionally and spiritually. He was mad at Jesus, not because he was looking to be cured of these afflictions, but because he wanted Jesus to come take him home. He thought maybe Jesus didn’t want him.

I don’t tell you these things to make you sad or to feel sorry for John. As a matter of fact, I’m sure he would not have liked me to share these things at all. As anyone who knew him could tell you, John was a bit of a macho-man and not given to sentimentality. Maybe this was a result of his years of military training. However, I wanted to share these things with you because they are real, and we all feel this way from time-to-time. If that was all there was to life, then it would be sad, and we would all be lost in lamentations.

There is more to John’s story, and to the story of every Christian who truly believes in the teachings of Jesus Christ. That’s why, although we began the readings with Lamentations, we end with the Gospel of St. John. It is in this Gospel reading we heard today, and the other teachings of Christ, that we find our hopes and joys that lift us up even in the face of situations that seem hopeless.

Jesus does not want us to despair, be worried or full of anxiety. He tells us, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me.” As most of us know, John did suffer from anxiety and he found great comfort in this Gospel passage. I know this because we had a lengthy conversation about this message of Christ sometime last year and we revisited it a few times since. It’s a message that is appropriate for us to hear yet again.

Jesus said, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there where not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?” And here, just as important for us to know, “I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be. Where I am going you will know the way.”

John intimately knew this Gospel and truly believed it. It was this faith that kept John going and, as St. Timothy said in the second reading, John’s belief that, “If we die with him, we also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him.”

This word “endure” is purposely used by Timothy, and its not the only time he used it. The word “endure” was also used by St. Paul in the Letters to the Hebrews, the Thessalonians, the Colossians, and Corinthians 1 & 2. Endure was used in the Letters of St. James, St. Peter, the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, as well as other passages.

John endured a lot, and let’s face it, we endured a lot from John. Father Vince Smith shared with me that his dear niece Beth, who was so faithful to her uncle, referred to John a her “quirky uncle.” Yes, yes indeed. John certainly had his human side. Sometimes this human side even spilled over into his living of the Salesian Oblate charism which is built of what we call DI-CAR-VI (directory, charity and visitation). It was particularly the third part. John was known to have more visitations with his superiors and provincials then any other Oblate. Legend has it that these visitations were filled with many spirited exchanges of ideas.

Father John was only human, as are we all. Sometimes this humanness gets in the way of our faith and spiritual beliefs. Yes, these things not only happen to priests and religious, they have also been known to happen to saints.

Two days ago, we celebrated the Feast of St. Jane de Chantal. At the celebration, our resident Salesian scholar, Father Neil Kilty, reminded us that, “throughout her life, St. Jane was never free of the sense that she was deserted and abandoned by God.” This was typical of other saints, like St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. Although Father John may not have been a saint, he sometimes shared this same spiritual affliction. To be fair, I think we all do at some moments in our lives. That is why the ending of today’s Gospel is so important. We see St. Thomas, “doubting Thomas,” once again questioning Jesus.

When Jesus said, “Where I am you also may be. Where I am going, you will know the way.” Thomas responded, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” This fear and doubt are common for us humans, which Christ knew well. He doesn’t try to explain his message with some intellectual discourse. Instead he simply says, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” It’s like Jesus is saying, “relax and don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of everything. Just believe and follow me.”

This was the culmination of the final conversation I had with John in front of his room two days before he died. I didn’t have to say much, only listen as John came to his own conclusions. Beginning with being mad at Jesus and why, to working all the way around the circle to saying, “but I know Jesus loves me and I’m going into my room right now and pray that he will forgive me and that tell him I know he is with me. I’m going to pray that he will take me home.”

The power of prayer is a funny thing. Sometimes the Lord answers in his own time and for his own reasons, which are often a mystery to us. But last week, Jesus aligned God’s time with John’s time. Twenty-two hours after that conversation, I was with John in his room administering the last rites of anointing. Twenty minutes later, Jesus took John to where he was, and so fulfilled the promise he makes to all good people of faith. “Where I am, you also shall be.”

We commend our brother John to the Lord. We rejoice in the certain hope, as we hear in the prayers of this liturgy, that John’s life is changed, not ended. We Oblates will continue to not only pray for John, but to pray for his family which was united with ours when John professed his religious vows. We thank his nieces and nephews that are present with us today. I’m certain your uncle John is so happy to know you are here. Please assure those who couldn’t make it today of our continue prayers and support.

May God be praised!

Mass of Christian Burial: Homily

Rev. Thomas J. Gillespie, OSFS
July 31, 2019

About a year into my time with Father Tom at Saint Ann Parish in Naples, I received a letter in the mail from the Bishop of Venice, a letter in which he asked all Pastors to consider offering varied and additional time for Confessions. This came from a general pastoral concern that some people just could never, especially because of work schedules, make it to the traditional times. I went to both Father Tom and to Father Steve Shott who ministered there with me and asked them to consider the possibility of offering Confessions Wednesday afternoons. People could take part of their lunch hour or stop into the parish office while running errands downtown to see the priest who was assigned that day. I thought we might just give it a try and Father Tom and Father Steve were enthusiastically on board. I think much to our surprise, it was an instant hit. People really took advantage of this opportunity. We had many stop in and we were delighted that our parish could fill a need for those in the area. While this was universally popular, I say without exaggeration (and Father Steve can verify this) that when Father Tom had the Confessions the line was out the door. We had to find extra chairs and bring them to the lobby. For many of the penitents, when Steve or I offered to hear their Confession, they made it plain. They were waiting for Father Tom. Because of this, I came to call him the Curé of Naples and I would get a laugh from him on that one. And that was a great laugh.

I was always so moved by this response to Tom. I don’t think that he was any more lenient or went softer with penances. I think, in the end, the reasons why people were drawn to Tom were his clarity and his authenticity. He had an incredibly strong but simple faith. When I say simple, I don’t mean, of course, lacking understanding. Quite the opposite. It was simple in the sense that it was clear and it was to be lived today. He knew that his Redeemer lives. The children at Saint Ann School heard every time he preached that God truly loved them. It was not merely the standard children’s homily. It was what he believed. It was how he lived. He conveyed it in every interaction, that as Saint Paul says in our Second Reading, nothing whatsoever can separate us from the love of God. I saw people come to Tom time and time again broken and through him they found that the Lord would make them whole again.

He embodied this love not only when people came to Confession or to talk out a family problem. He showed it in his presiding and preaching. And it was seen when the few dollars he had went to the large family in Naples with many children or were sent off to his former missionary area in Africa or given to the homeless man who came around on his bicycle. It was in the way, he reached out in true care during the hundreds of visits he made to the hospital. I received this email on Monday: “My name is Andrew. I’m from South Africa. I heard Fr. Gillespie passed away. He was like a father to me and he helped a lot of people here where I stay. He helped the poor and obtained clothing for a lot of children, especially school children. Fr. Gillespie was a good man. I saw him as a Saint. Please pray for his soul. We will continue to pray for him here. I met Fr. Gillespie as a boy in Nababeep here in South Africa and he changed my life. I’m very proud and grateful that I met a man of God of his stature. He was always humble, prayerful and a good listener.”

Tom did these good works without any fanfare, with no particular need to be in charge or to be recognized, always ready for any good work. That’s where I think the core of who Tom was as a Christian minister, as a priest came through. He never let himself get in the way of the work that God wanted to do through him.

I selected the Gospel today because I thought of the countless times that Tom took another by the hand and promised them that they would be in Paradise with God, a promise that we pray and know is fulfilled for him as well, a promise made through His baptism, affirmed by the blessings that Tom received and he accepted in the way he said Yes throughout his entire life. But Tom was also like the repentant thief himself, the first to call himself imperfect and to acknowledge himself as a sinner. He relied on the promise and today, he would want you and I to do the same.

This past Sunday’s Gospel was all about persistence in prayer. I can’t think of another person I knew who was that persistent. Those who heard Tom preach knew he would often implore us to “Pray! Pray! Pray!” so much so that parishioners in Naples made up a post card with his picture with that mantra printed underneath. He understood that it is in prayer that we remain near and aware of a God who is always near to us, who always answers our prayers and yes, who always loves us, that we don’t make God closer through prayer. He is always close to us but we must choose in our prayer to remain close to Him. That Tom did. That Tom modeled for all who knew him.

I want to acknowledge his sisters, his sister-in-law, his nieces and nephews. We are sorry for your loss- We know that you lost a giant in your family, a pillar. We pray with you today and extend our love and support. However, we know something of this. We truly lost a member of our family too, a pillar for us, not because of the leadership positions he held but because he got what it means to be an Oblate of Saint Francis de Sales; he was a model for so many of us. Mother Mary Chappuis, told us that it would take 30 years to be a good Oblate. When I was a new Oblate I thought “Good, I have some time.” Well I am coming up on 20 years and I am not sure I will have this all figured out in 10 more. But Tom had it figured out. He would be upset with me if I made it sound like he was perfect. But what made him a good Oblate was that he loved God, knew he needed God and that he was no better than his neighbor who needed God too. He brought comfort and joy in his approachability and his true concern. Some present here and throughout our province and some Oblates in South Africa had the blessing of having Tom as their Novice Director or the head of some other part of their formation. And these men universally, they acclaim his as wonderful. It is because they saw his authenticity, his true care for them and it became a model for how to live their Oblate life. Novice Directors and Formators are chosen not ultimately for what they preach in words but in how they model the life we are called to live.

Most of us here have known Tom for many years. He was my high school guidance counselor! And then when I was sent as a young priest to Naples, Florida and made a Pastor, he was there to be a cheerleader, mentor and guide, to help me keep perspective. When I would get worked up as a parishioner came up after Mass to complain about something he would tell me not to become discouraged but to simply look at the person and say: “Thank you for that information” and would remind me that we should neither give nor take offense at another’s words. The last time I had a visit with him, he got up out of his chair and for a person struggling to stand, It was a leap with true joy. He exclaimed: “Michael Vannicola! I am so happy to see you!” You all know the tone; you know that love. It’s how I know he will greet us all when we make our way home.

Tom, like us all, had crosses in his life. One of them was anxiety. And each time he faced it, it was his prayer that brought him back. He was a model for me not because he was perfect. He was a model for me because he was real and he was true in his trying. And his trying produced beautiful results, a trying that blessed the Church with a wonderful priest and religious. And for a person who suffered from anxiety at parts in his life, his quest for holiness brought him peace. When I last spoke with him, he was joyfully awaiting the promise of Heaven he had always anticipated and hoped for.

I can’t go on much longer because I know if I could have asked Tom for guidance or direction for this homily, he would say two words: “Be brief.” If anyone, including myself, made Grace Before Meals too long, he would just start eating before it was over, excited to enjoy his meal while still praying along.

For his liking, I have probably already gone on too long. So I remind you of what he would always say: God loves you. It’s the plain words that Jesus said to the repentant thief, the words that promise paradise and promise it today. They were words that Tom would say with confidence, the Confidence of our first reading, “I know that my vindicator lives” and Tom showed us that we would feel that love and live it out if we were willing to “Pray! Pray! Pray!”, for this good and holy man showed us above all that if we wanted peace in this life and the next, bringing ourselves close to God was the only way for that to be.

Rest well, dear brother and friend. Rest well, dear Father Tom.

May God Be Praised.

One Dollar, Ninety One Cents, and Some Smarties

One Dollar, Ninety One Cents, and Some Smarties

Earlier this week, on Sunday evening, I was going for an evening run through Wilmington, Delaware, just as it was beginning to get dark. As I turned right at an intersection to enter Brandywine Park, two boys standing at the opposite street corner called out to me, “Hello, Jogger!” Wondering what kind of greeting this could be, I stopped, and they came over to me holding a plastic bag.

Providing Life’s Necessities to Those We Love

Providing Life’s Necessities to Those We Love

A tired looking Ted was having lunch with his brother Luke, who remarked. “Geez Ted you look beat. What’s happening?” In a weary tone Ted answered, “It seems all I do is work, work, work, providing food and stuff for Dot plus saving a little for the kids’ futures, but I never seem to make ends meet.” Ted added “Don’t get me wrong Luke, I love my family, but it just isn’t fun anymore.”

Cordiality: Salesian Comity

Cordiality: Salesian Comity

A few weeks ago I read an editorial that suggested that the world today, fractured and combative, needs to rediscover comity. What is comity anyway? An early 1948 edition of Webster’s Dictionary defines comity as “mildness and suavity of manners; courtesy.” A later dictionary speaks of comity in terms of “international courtesy,” which is closer to its meaning in the recent editorial.

We Are All Connected

We Are All Connected

This summer, I have been interning in the pastoral care department of a local hospital, and among the first tasks in my daily routine is to print a list of patients in my unit. Beside the name of each patient is listed information such as their room number, birth date, diagnosis, etc. When I looked at the chart for the first time a few weeks ago, I was somewhat overwhelmed by the number of names on the list: all the information seemed to blur together into a mass of impersonal data.

What God’s Goodness Looks Like - Live

What God’s Goodness Looks Like - Live

Anna is now 86 years old. For years she volunteered as a Bible Study teacher at her small country parish. And she loved it. Now, at 86, her eyes have begun to diminish.

This hasn’t deterred Anna from serving the Lord. As she put it, “After all He has done for me.” She added. “I’ll just look around until I find something else that fits!” And Anna did just that. She found her “What’s next!”

Oblate Motto: Tenui nec Dimittam

Oblate Motto: Tenui nec Dimittam

The motto for our Oblate Congregation comes from Chapter 3, verse 4 of the Song of Songs: tenui nec dimittam: “I have hold of you and I will not let you go!”

The Song of Songs, one of the shortest books in the Bible, was one of Francis de Sales’s favorites. As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has reminded us, scripture scholars believe that before it became sacred scripture, this short work was initially a series of love songs that were sung at Jewish weddings.

Love as Christ Has Loved Us

Love as Christ Has Loved Us

Last Sunday a woman came to Mass wearing a T-shirt with the words: “Kindness is my superpower.” It was very fitting given Jesus’ command in Sunday’s Gospel: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” Notice that the command is to love as he has loved us. How did Jesus love? 1. He loved sacrificially. He laid down his life for his friends.