It is certainly my pleasure to be a part of this tribute to our wonderful teacher. I’m sure I speak for all in saying that we know the one, true Faith better because of him. And for that we are all deeply grateful.
You may wonder why it is that I am up here speaking on this wonderful occasion. Well, I’ve been wondering about that too. I’ve come up with a possible answer. It is that I was chosen because I’m the only person in this room — other than Brother himself — who has ever been to Lebanon.
I went there with the U.S. Marine Corps in 1958, and what I remember most about his native land is being shot at — twice. I’m delighted to report that Lebanese are poor marksmen. I even learned a few words in Arabic, like “Yankee, go home!” and “Coca Cola, $1.00.” I even encountered one very enterprising Lebanese who spoke English. He offered me $50.00 for my pistol!
One of my fondest memories of being in Lebanon was serving Mass on a hot August Sunday in 1958. The chaplain created a makeshift outdoor chapel on the hood of a jeep. The Gospel was about Jesus passing through Tyre and Sidon, two cities which are in Lebanon. It was quite a thrill to realize I was in a country that Christ Himself had once visited, the only country outside of the Holy Land where he travelled as an adult.
But that was in 1958 and our good friend had already been gone from his homeland for about two decades. I can be absolutely certain that it was not he who shot at me.
After graduating from the American University in Beirut and then teaching physics there for five years, he left Lebanon to accept a scholarship at the University of Michigan. And it wasn’t a football scholarship! On his way to America, he stopped in Paris to meet a friend named Gabriel Malik, a convert to the Faith who was studying to become a Jesuit priest. This man’s brother, Charles Malik, later became a high official at the United Nations. Charles seems to have discovered the truth about the UN in later years. We hope that he will also discover the truth about the Faith.
Gabriel Malik took our Fakhri Maluf to Notre Dame Cathedral and other religious sites in Paris. We have to remember that Fakhri was not yet a Catholic. Gabriel Malik was concerned about his friend’s eternal destiny and made Fakhri promise that no matter where he was, he would seek out and become friendly with a Catholic priest.
On the boat to America, Fakhri found a Mexican priest with whom he spent some profitable hours discussing the Faith. Once at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Fakhri became friendly with a priest named Father Barry and then Msgr. Babcock who later became the bishop of Grand Rapids, Michigan. He also benefited from some of his students who were urging him toward the Faith. It was in 1941 that Fakhri embraced the Faith on a day that he said was the happiest day of his life. Becoming a Catholic was a big event for him, as it certainly should be for anyone.
The year 1941 saw him receive his Master’s Degree in Philosophy. In 1942, he earned a doctorate with a dissertation on the Philosophy of Science. With his work finished in Michigan, he accepted a fellowship at Harvard University in the fall of 1942. A Harvard student named Father Vincent Flynn brought Fakhri to St. Benedict Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts on a Thursday evening shortly after he arrived at Harvard. After listening to Father Leonard Feeney, Fakhri remarked, “Father Feeney is exactly the priest I have been looking for. It is simply amazing.”
Some of us have heard Brother recount the story of Father Feeney seeking this young man out of that audience. Obviously, Father felt that Fakhri was also what he was looking for. That first encounter almost 40 years ago began a bond of friendship that was broken only by Father Leonard’s death a few years ago. Fakhri lectured every Tuesday at the Center; Father Leonard gave a talk every Thursday.
Within a short time, Fakhri was teaching at Holy Cross College in Worcester, a 45-mile trip. But he lived in Cambridge so as to be near St. Benedict Center where he taught, studied, counseled, and grew in the Faith. When the war ended in 1945 and there was more need for navigation instructors at the Holy Cross V-12 program (soon to become the NROTC), Fakhri began to teach philosophy at Jesuit-run Boston College.
In 1946, the Center began a publishing venture called “From The Housetops.” It was an instant success. In September 1947, the magazine published Fakhri’s “Sentimental Theology” which stirred up a fuss that has yet to die. Father Leonard has put his finger on the root cause of the liberalism in the Church, its denial of the dogma “Outside the Church, there is no salvation.” Fakhri’s article caused the Center to become the eye of a storm that raged furiously for a few years, and promises to rage even more furiously in the future.
In the years ahead, Dr. Maluf and three companions from St. Benedict Center were dismissed from their teaching positions at Boston College and Boston College High School for defending the dogma. Father Feeney was tossed out of the Jesuit order. The whole world was made to think about salvation, a persecution of anyone holding the dogma about salvation was begun by the Church’s authorities, the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary came into being, the Center relocated to Still River, Massachusetts, and a courageous few held fast to the foundational teaching of the Church.
Throughout those years, the Center and the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary had Father Leonard as the leader, with Catherine Goddard Clarke and Fakhri Maluf as co-founders. As you know of those founders, only Brother Francis still lives. There are a great many details about those years, many of which are personal in nature, that could be added here. But it is not my intention to dwell any further on the historical side of this story. I would rather take a few moments to paint a small picture of this man’s character.
Were ten or twenty of the people in this room to stand before this gathering and, in turn, each pay tribute to Brother Francis, we might hear ten or twenty different views of this man. It is possible, of course, that all would focus attention on the same element in his character. We will never know about that, of course, because it appears to be my privilege alone to pay public tribute to our wonderful friend. I do not exercise this privilege lightly. And I truly hope that the words I choose will suit all of you, for I know how highly regarded by each of you he surely is.
We all know that life is a test. If we pass the test, we spend eternity with God in heaven. If we fail, we shall languish in hell — and there’s no second chance. Part of the test amounts to God asking us to seek His kingdom, not the praises and material pleasures of this world. When someone learns that lesson and understands this part of the test, he or she becomes different. Now, instead of idle pleasures and small talk, the person who truly understands the Christian message becomes a zealot for Christ. He or she decides that true friendship is the kind that steers a friend toward heaven by steering him or her to the Church.
Father Feeney was always solicitous of souls. But even Sister Catherine said of him that, for all of his early years of writing, speaking and glad-handing, “he had delighted all and challenged none.” When he perceived what was happening to the Church, and why, he started challenging everyone.
So, too, did our brother Francis begin challenging everyone. Christ once said, “I have come to cast fire upon the earth, and what will I but that it be kindled.” Brother Francis has been lighting Christ’s fires ever since he became a Catholic. The price he has paid for doing so, in material terms, has been very high.
What has this cost him? Well, if you look at the picture through worldly eyes, you would consider him a failure. He certainly isn’t wealthy. He hasn’t won the favor of TIME, NBC or the New York Times. The most prestigious position he ever held saw him fired from it. If he ran for public office, he wouldn’t get elected. And he has spent lifetime seeing friends betray him. But is all of this the way he should be measured? Isn’t there a better way to judge the worth of him and his years?
We who are Catholics know the answer, don’t we! We know that it is impossible to tell the truth and not offend those don’t want truth. There is a story about St. Ignatius who, when he heard that there was no controversy in an area where he had sent some priests, wrote to them to say: “What is the matter? You can’t be telling the truth of Jesus Christ and be getting along so well. You must be compromising!”
But our dear friend has never compromised. Instead, he has challenged here, challenged there, and challenged everyone whom he has ever met. He wants everyone he meets to save his own soul. And the good Lord knows that there are too few issuing that challenge today.
So he isn’t rich; he isn’t famous; he once lost a job; he has lost many friends; and his worldly popularity is virtually non-existent. But he does have other friends. And he can rest assured that the challenge he offers to us has not fallen on deaf ears, or on ears too busy to listen. And, over the past several decades, there are others amongst the tens of thousands he has met while travelling through America who have benefited from the challenge he has given them. Even more, the effect he has caused in us has led to others being challenged by us.</p%3