Funeral Homily for My Dad
Providence Nursing Home
Feb. 27, 2020
First, a word of thanks to all of you who have come here today from near and far. My Mom, my brother Joe, and I are very grateful for your presence here at Providence as we commend my dear father to the Lord of life and love. Your presence, your support, and above all, your prayers mean to the world to us! To all who have reached out to us with their love, condolences, and prayers – including those who could not be with us today, our warmest thanks. And with my Mom and my brother, I also want to say a word of heartfelt gratitude to all who provided loving care for my Dad, especially in his last days.
My Father was blessed with a long life – 98 years – and a long marriage – 73 years – and today we give thanks to the Lord, the Author of Life and the Lover of our Souls, for all the blessings of those years, both the joys and the challenges. Today, we remember some of those joys and challenges, and more than that, we give thanks for that which gave coherence and direction to my Father’s life, namely, his faith in Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, “the way, the truth, and the life,” his faith in the Church, and his faithful participation in the Mass and the Sacraments.
A Sturdy Generation
Dad came of age during the Great Depression, an experience that few are old enough to remember. When people compare the 2008 Recession to the Depression, then I am certain they have never read much history. Dad and his family lived that history – his brother and five sisters – While still young, they lost their dear Mother, Genevieve, in death, but with grit and determination and the love of their Father, Mike, the family stayed together, worked hard, and did well. At the heart of Dad’s upbringing was a strong faith – including weekly Mass and Confession at St. Mary’s in New Albany, as well as a stint at St. Vincent Orphanage in Vincennes (now closed). There, in the 6th grade Dad was taught by a religious sister, Sr. Mary Viator, who also taught me in the 3rd grade at Our Lady of Perpetual Help. And, you know, she lived to tell about it!
During World War II Dad enlisted in the Navy and found himself near Okinawa on an LST loaded with ammunition. Dad was on deck when his ship was attacked by a kamikaze – (happily the attack was unsuccessful, else I wouldn’t be standing here!). Dad did not talk much about his wartime experience but I know it was seared in his memory until his last days. When I visited him in the hospital two weeks ago, even though he was impaired, he tried to talk about his wartime experiences. Among them were the chaplains who ministered in the midst of war. Long ago, when I was thinking of becoming a priest, Dad spoke about the importance of those chaplains in his own life, the importance of going to Mass and the peace of soul he gained in Confession. Faith was a unifying thread in his wartime experience.
Marriage and Family
In 1946, my Mom, at age 26, was still looking for the right man to marry. My grandma made a novena to St. Joseph that Mom would find the right husband. Sure enough, on March 19, 1946, the Feast of St. Joseph, Dad took Mom on a 1st date; Dad was henceforth known as “the man St. Joseph sent!” And their idea of a Saturday night date? Why, it was going to Confession before going dancing! Mom and Dad were married less than a year later, on January 17, 1947. The day they were married, the Pastor, Monsignor Yokum, asked everyone to pray for this young couple just starting their new life together. Evidently, those people did pray for my parents and their prayers were answered, for Mom and Dad built their home on the bedrock of faith.
And it’s a good thing that they did so, because there were many challenges, not the least of which was finding a way to care for my dear brother with special needs, Frankie. Some of you may remember that his funeral was celebrated here, several years ago. Mom and Dad loved Frankie and took care of him to the end of his days. There were hard decisions to make, heartrending moments, huge sacrifices, but always there was love, always the desire to do what was best for Frankie. My parents relied on their faith, on prayer, and on the best advice they could find. In doing all of this, they gave me and my brother an example of selfless love. For them, faith was not a matter of words. They put their faith into action.
Dad and Mom were pretty handy with power tools, paint brushes, & gardening tools, and I assure you, none of that rubbed off on their second son, yours truly. But for Joe and me, it was always fun to be with Dad, to go places with him, even if it was only to get the car fixed or to go to ACE hardware store. I also enjoyed going to church with Dad – his was a quiet but very real faith – and seeing him at prayer left a deep impression on my heart. With Mom’s encouragement, he became a Secular Franciscan, prayed the Rosary daily, and renewed his membership in the Knights of Columbus. Over decades, both in Henderson, Ky., and here, Mom and Dad visited nursing homes and brought Holy Communion and a word of love to many elderly and infirm people. Dad actually witnessed one of my first visits to the sick, when I was a deacon. He told me that, with a little experience, I might improve.
Dad was good provider for his family and he loved his job. He worked for Bell South for 38 years and enjoyed everything about telephones. When he retired in 1984, we wondered how to wean Dad away from it all. As it turned out, it wasn’t too hard for Dad to leave the telephone company behind. Mom and Dad had a wonderful retirement based on daily Mass, the daily Rosary, an apostolate, and time, care, and concern for Joe, for me, and many others, both in the extended family and far beyond. Mom and Dad grew ever closer in times of illness, including Dad’s bout with cancer, and especially in these final days of my Father’s life. As Mom sat by Dad’s bedside, I saw in summary form a lifetime of love, a love rooted in faith, a love rooted in hope. Dad went home to the Lord with every prayer in the book and some that aren’t, and three Masses celebrated right in his room here at Providence. So it is that we commend him confidently to the Lord.
Faith the Unifying Thread
Even so, Dad would be the first to ask for prayers for the happy repose of his soul. He wholeheartedly agreed with today’s reading from 2nd Maccabees, namely, that it is a good, holy, and wholesome thing to pray for those who have died. Dad would want us to commend him to the care of the Good Shepherd as he traverses “the valley of the shadow of death” and makes his way toward the eternal banquet which Christ in his love has prepared for him. Dad would also ask us to reassess the sufferings of his life, especially his last illness, so that we would not see those last difficult days as futile or cruel or useless, but rather as an expression of that “groaning” of which St. Paul today spoke, that groaning deep within us “as we await the redemption of our bodies.” And Dad would tell us in his firm but gentle way to trust in Jesus, for more than any of us in this Chapel, he has encountered the Lord who is the way, the truth, and the life, the only One who leads us to the Father.
So my prayer for my earthly Father is that he would enter into the rest of the heavenly Father, where freed from the pangs of sin and death, with every tear wiped away, surrounded by the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the angels and saints, he would rejoice for ever to see the Thrice Holy God face to face. Thank you, Dad, for everything. Travel safely.