October 24 is the birthday of my beloved brother Bud. Six years ago he died from the complications of a stroke. He left behind a powerful memory of his love of life, of family and friends, and of the people he served in his role as a Jesuit priest. Born in 1932, Bud was seventeen when he finished high school and entered the Society of Jesus to begin his priestly studies. Shortly before Bud left for the seminary my parents hosted a party for him and his friends who were also headed down the path to priesthood. They were twenty two in number!!! For me at age thirteen who was just starting to focus on life outside my family and friend circle, this was a lot guys who had made a very dramatic life decision.
The night before Bud left for the seminary we had our family good byes. Because of travel connections Bud was going to be leaving very early in the morning. My brother Pete was two years older than me and Bud was four years older. It was so early in the morning my parents wanted Pete and me to sleep in. When finally I awoke I found his high school ring on my finger. Bud had slipped in my room and put it there. I was incredibly touched.
In the different stages of Bud’s seminary training he was assigned to various houses of study in Pennsylvania, Maryland and New York. I loved going to visit Bud both because I missed him and because I enjoyed the trips to see him. In the post Depression era we were not a traveling family. Now all that changed. The trips to visit him at the seminary in Wernersville, PA where he did his novitiate and the later trips to Lake Champlain, NY are the ones that stand out in my memory. The physical settings for both places were incredible. I still remember the first lines of a poem I wrote after one of our Wernersville trips. It was a required English class assignment on any topic we wanted:
We came away from Wernersville, a beautiful place high on a hill
Along RT 422 we sped plotting our course for far ahead
First through the crowded streets of Reading and thence to Pottstown we were headed
I really don’t remember the rest of the poem and I don’t think I got a very good mark, but for me the fact that I wanted to write about visiting Bud demonstrated how important these visits were to me.
Bud was ordained in 1963 at the Jesuit seminary in Woodstock, Md. It was a very happy and spiritual occasion. What also stands out is returning to our family home on Long Island where Bud celebrated his first mass at the church we had attended all our growing years, St Mary Magdalene. Family and friends came together to honor Bud, now Fr. Joe, as he celebrated his first mass. This was a moving and very profound time for Bud and for all the family.
Except for the years when he was working in Samoa and in Chile, Bud became an important part of future family occasions: weddings, baptisms, First Communions, funerals and home masses all were particularly blessed to have Bud as the celebrant. Bud being the priestly celebrant at these spiritual occasions gave them a very special dimension.
As daughter Meg says the home masses were especially meaningful with the singing, the participation by all ages and abilities. As the numbers of our grandchildren increased it was so easy to gather for a home mass. Churches are crowded at holiday time. We knew that was the case but seldom experienced it because we were enjoying our home masses. If one of our precious grandchildren suddenly needed a drink of water or a trip to the rest room it was no big deal. I clearly remember the first Easter mass after Bud died. We arrived at our parish church about twenty minutes early but too late to find a seat in the main church. We went to the community hall which had been set up as a chapel. There were about thirteen of us. We had to spread out in order to find seats. The service was very moving with its community feel but it was different from the family togetherness of Bud’s home masses.
Daughter Maura recalled Bud’s recurrent theme of “the sacrament of the present moment”. Being appreciative of the here and now, not dwelling too much on the past or over focusing on the future. There are many examples of Bud’s ability to focus on the present moment. When my mother lived with us in the mid 1980’s for the last ten months of her life, family and friends frequently offered to help. Bud never asked. He just showed up at our house and started helping. One of his visits that particularly stands out was when he arrived at our door with two bags of fresh vegetables explaining that he was going to fix ratatouille for our family dinner. Bud at that time ran a retreat house outside of Richmond. The squashes and tomatoes and eggplants for the ratatouille came from the retreat house garden. I didn’t let Bud know that ratatouille was not a favorite with me. I was kind of tired that day and not feeling particularly organized. I was grateful for Bud’s cooking expertise. The ratatouille was mouthwateringly delicious.
Jerry and I were in Florida when we got the call that Bud had had a stroke and was in the hospital. At that time he was in residence at Gonzaga High School in Washington DC. His focus was spiritual direction. He was eventually transferred from the DC hospital to the Jesuit care facility located on the grounds of St. Joseph’s College in Philadelphia.
Since Bud was so much a part of our family I tended to forget that he was part of another family – his Jesuit family. I had assumed that we would be caring for Bud in his illness. Not the case – with love and competence his Jesuit family took over.
When Bud died the funeral was at St, Aloysius Gonzaga church next to Gonzaga High School in Washington DC. It was a very fitting location and it was crowded. My brother Pete and I both spoke. We tried to share the love that we and our families felt for Bud. It was not a difficult task. All present in the church had had their lives touched by our Fr Joe / Uncle Bud.