I don’t know when I first met Fr. John, but I knew that I liked him right away when I did.
I’m sure I had met him at Mass when he had just arrived. Our parish was going through some tough times, with two pastors coming and going and a lot of conflict internally about too many matters. Then, the Boston Archdiocese sent Fr. John in 2006, and I feel that they sent the right person for our situation.
He was a calm and calming presence at the parish, but also a clear leader, who knew when to make decisions and when not to. He managed the parish with a hand that was neither too heavy or too light. Fr. John was a very caring and genuine person, and you could just feel that.
I’m writing about this because Mrs. T. and I yesterday attended a Memorial Mass for him. The church building, one of the largest in the Archdiocese, was absolutely packed. It was a beautiful and heartfelt service. His father, sister, nephews, niece and cousins were there, too.
And, it was such a fitting way to say goodbye to him because we didn’t have a chance to do so.
You see, a few months ago, he had a fall and suddenly left the parish. Fr. John had been suffering from a neurological disease for the past four years, and it was no longer safe for him to live without help.
During Holy Week last week, on Wednesday, we learned that a stroke placed him into a coma. Then, at Easter Sunday Mass, we learned that he had passed away that very morning.
People in the parish talked about how those events didn’t seem like coincidences. His coma started at the cusp of the Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday), which are the holiest days on the Church calendar.
And, that he passed away a few hours before dawn on Easter Sunday, well, that didn’t surprise us either. You see, he was a person who just seemed holy; it’s hard to explain, but he was calm, kind, genuine and very giving.
During the drive back from the Mass, Mrs. T. and I talked about how Fr. John was a great pastor, a fatherly figure, who always seemed glad to see you.
And, when you met him for advice or Confession, he had the best perspectives. He never seemed rushed, listened intently, and gave very deep responses. So many parishioners had stories about how Fr. John helped them. He certainly helped us.
At Mass, they handed out prayer cards that featured Fr. John’s favorite painting. It shows Jesus carrying the cross with help from another person. There they are, holding onto the heavy cross and to each other, as they slowly make their way to the place where people are executed. The scene is from the New Testament: The Roman soldiers drafted another person to help Jesus carry the cross because He was too exhausted from the beatings and whipping to carry it Himself.
I remember Fr. John saying that the spiritual walk is about being willing to be interdependent with others, to be willing to help others as they struggle and to be humble enough to accept help when we in turn carry burdens that are too great to bear alone.
He also said that it is during the darkest times that God is most evident in our lives, walking with us, step by step, sharing our burdens, as we approach our own crucifixion, if we give God permission to help us.
Fr. John was full of wise perspectives like that. I believe that we were insanely fortunate to have him as our pastor.
I know I can say that thousands of people feel that way, too.
Fr. John, words cannot express my thanks to you. Thank you for being a great shepherd, for laying down your life for your parish each and every day, for serving us and showing us that each day, no matter how easy or dark, can be and should be filled with hope and peace.