I won’t bother trying to recap the last month in MH, as I don’t have time to write it, nor you to read it. But this week in Madonna House was dominated pretty much by one thing and one thing only, namely the funeral rites for Fr. James Duffy, MH priest.
Fr. Duffy, for those who may not know it, had died between midnight and 1 a.m. on Christmas Day, slipping away peacefully in his bed at Our Lady of the Visitation wing of St. Mary’s that his caregiver didn’t even notice. It made me think of the carol verse “How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given. How God imparts to human hearts the glory of his heaven.”
It was decided for a wide range of practical reasons to defer the funeral until after New Years. MH is pretty much a do-it-yourself community – we don’t hire caterers or rent other facilities for our events, so these big events (and we knew this would be a big one) are quite labor-intensive for us.
So we celebrated Christmas in our usual fashion—extra time off, special foods we don’t otherwise have (bacon!), long leisurely meals punctuated by carol singing, longer extended evenings when people could play cards, visit, watch movies. The weather unfortunately was mild, wrecking our otherwise beautiful swamp-side skating rink and melting the snow, so no cross country skiing or toboganning, either, but somehow we got by without those winter sports options.
Christmas over, the MH organizational machinery clicked into high gear. Extra funeral meats were cooked. Arrangements were made for the Duffy family. Estimations were made of the crowd we would be hosting for the reception. Displays were prepared of Fr. Jim’s life. A beautiful poster was made, Kelly green in color, with his memorial card verse and grave epitath on it: “He lived in Mary’s heart.” The liturgies were organized, a wake service the night before and the funeral itself. The grave was dug by our men, the day before.
Meanwhile, we had a marginally simpler celebration of the New Year, only taking the day itself off. I led the community in a prayer vigil to usher in 2015 with adoration and intercession. We pray a ‘litany of the nations’ to coincide with the countdown to midnight; as much of the world engages in revelry and (perhaps) excess, we lift up each country of the world for prayer and mercy.
The next day, Jan 2, we received Fr. Duffy’s body to the St. Mary’s chapel, as is our custom, keeping vigil with him from that point on. At the wake service that night, which I led, I spoke of him, briefly, as a man of Gospel joy coming out of his deep faith in Jesus Christ.
Then Trudi Cortens, the director of MH Toronto, who lived and worked with Fr. Duffy for 40 years there and in the West Indies, spoke of his priestly zeal, his profound love for people, his love of Our Lady, his work as a pioneer of the charismatic movement, and much else. Shatzi Duffy, Fr. Jim’s niece who is also a member of MH, spoke of his humor, his faith, his contagious joy, his simplicity of spirit. Fr. Duffy was a great man, a big man with many aspects to him, but hopefully the three of us at least scratched the surface between us.
The funeral the next day was huge, easily one of the biggest we have ever had in MH. Quite a few people came up from Toronto where Fr. Duffy had ministered the last 20 years of his life; many local people came as well, since he had worked much with families in the local area for years before that. There were easily 300 people here for the funeral, including many families with young children, some of whom attribute their marriages to Fr. Duffy’s wise counsel and encouragement at the right moment.
Fr. David May was the celebrant and spoke very beautifully of Fr. Jim’s ministry of prayer and healing, his deep awareness of human suffering and weakness from that, and his unshakable conviction that Christ’s victory can overcome any human tragedy, all communicated with simple faith that anyone could receive.
Fr. Jim had a great love for families and for children, and he would have loved the whole event (even though crowds were not his thing, too much)—dozens of little ones tearing around at the reception, babies in arms everywhere, old people, young people, all us in-between people all chattering away at high velocity and volume.
There was a genuine spirit of joy and gratitude—while his death is a great loss, especially for the many people who were still coming to him for spiritual direction (Fr. Duffy was 88 years old, and still very active in ministry right until the last month or so), it was hard not to rejoice at the passing to eternity of a man who lived most of his life, as Fr. David put it, ‘with one foot in heaven already.’
We had a funeral supper and a memory night (where we gather to tell stories about the departed) that I cannot report on, because I missed it. Unfortunately, all of the above has been accompanied by me by being really quite sick with a bad chest cold, hacking cough, general lousiness. So I took to my bed after supper last night, and am feeling much better today in consequence.
So as I always say in this column around this point, I know that there was lots else going on in MH this week, but that was most definitely the Main Event, and what an event it was. Today we celebrate Epiphany (I’ll tell you about it next week), and the plan is to give everyone Monday morning off, as we are all pretty pooped from the whole thing.
And that’s the news and views from here, this time.