The Funeral of Brother Francis, in Thoughts and Pictures

The obsequies of our beloved Brother Francis were an appropriate finale to his long and fruitful life in this tearful vale. This Ad Rem is a series of more-or-less random reflections on Brother’s wake and funeral, followed by a photo gallery of the same.

There is nothing in this world so sublime as the Church’s liturgy. The reason is simple. While Catholic liturgical rites take place in this world, they are not of this world. They not only represent, but effect a singularly supernal reality. In the Church’s liturgy, heaven is come down to earth so that we Christians may have conversation there (cf. Phil 3:20), rendering worthy homage to the Father through His Son, and in the unity of Their Spirit. The Exequial Mass, or funeral Mass, is no exception to this judgment. It also has the distinction of joining all three parts of the Church in a way that no other rite does. Militant, suffering, and triumphant Catholics are all there, adoring the Trinity, crying for mercy, and receiving every best and perfect gift from the Father of lights (Jas. 1:17).

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 takes place).

Present in the church were many clerics and religious, including eight priests who were “in choir,” seated close to the altar during the entire Mass, and assisting with candles in hand at various times. One of these priests 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. An old friend of mine, Father Carlos Casavantes, FSSP, was also there.

It was a wonderful display of the Church’s Catholicity to behold: Roman Rite secular priests in cassock in and surplice, Benedictine Monks in habit and cuculla, and Maronite priests in their distinctive Oriental cassocks, 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 conlude that the angels must have been with us, for the ceremony went off virtually flawlessly.

Now for some truly random notes.

Who is Next? Because we have a chapel and cemetery, we are on familiar terms with the funeral directors, the father-and-son team of Randy and Mark Cournoyer. In our conversations surrounding the arrangements, Randy 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 I graduated from high school with 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 came 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 to Brother. With the funeral now over, 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 a Logic book. Brother considered the study of philosophy integral to the work we do, and we have all of his lectures on the eight courses, plus the notes that he had prepared for logic and others. 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 dreamed of.

In a subsequent Ad Rem, I hope to give an outline of Brother Francis’ intellectual patrimony, or at least of his academic priorities. These are so integral to our Crusade that we must never neglect them.

Hopes for Unity. Present at the wake and/or the 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 of sending condolences and prayers — were the Brothers with Brother Leonard Mary in Arcadia, California. (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.