Homily from the funeral Mass for Msgr. Donnelly J. Fitzpatrick
Following is the full text of the homily at the funeral Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria on Feb. 9 for Msgr. Donnelly Fitzpatrick, a senior priest in residence at St. Augustine Manor in Peoria. Msgr. Fitzpatrick died suddenly on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2012, while attending a Focolare priests convention Italy. He was 78.
The homilist was Msgr. Paul Showalter, P.A., vicar general of the Diocese of Peoria.
Msgr. Fitzpatrick had on his funeral instructions that there be no eulogy. I’ll probably get time in Purgatory for doing this.
To his sister, nieces and nephews, grand nieces and nephews, family, to the community of the Focolare, to the community at St. Augustine Manor, and especially my brother priests, and all today, on behalf of Bishop Jenky and myself we offer our prayers and sympathy.
Msgr. Fitzpatrick was ordained here in St. Mary’s Cathedral three years ahead of me, and was three years ahead in the seminary.
He had a number of assignments. He was certainly a good and holy priest. And as many of you who remember him maybe in the earlier days know -- he also had kind of an “edge.” You might say he might have lacked some patience sometimes. He might have had a little temper. None of that anybody who’s known him the last number of years, except for maybe an occasional slip, would ever know.
The way he became to be a priest, he was in the United States Army. It was right before he finished his two years in the Army that he was visiting a post chapel and had a religious experience that led him to seek to become a priest of the Diocese of Peoria.
In the mid-1970s he was introduced to the Focolare Movement. He went over to Italy a number of times. He spent a couple of months there being introduced. It changed his life.
Our whole life of faith is about the dying and rising of Christ. The core of our belief as church is the Paschal Mystery. It’s expressed especially through the sacraments and in particular the Holy Eucharist. We come together today to celebrate the life and death of Msgr. Donnelly Fitzpatrick as he spliced, and was spliced himself, into the very mystery of Jesus’ dying and rising.
As I mentioned, though Bishop Jenky had to be out of town for some important meetings, he told me last night that he certainly is with all of us and all of you in prayer and spirit.
Msgr. Fitzpatrick, throughout his priesthood, had a deep devotion to Mary, the Blessed Mother. And so it’s beautifully fitting that on this 40th day after Christmas on the feast of Mary presenting Jesus in the temple we gather as a praying community to pray and to bury him.
He was truly a good and holy priest. Especially these last few years with the community at St. Augustine. I often kind of likened him to Padre Pio. The reason so many priests are here today (may be) they had planned to have Msgr. Fitzpatrick cover for them the next few weekends. I’d talk to some priests and they’d say “I was able to get away because I had Msgr. Fitzpatrick cover for me.” He was that way with family. He might have covered for a given parish or priest and then, like on Christmas, driven to be with family, then finally returning that night to be at St. Augustine.
What I want to read to you is a beautiful letter the Bishop and I received from Father Hubertos Blaumeiser, who is a central responsible of the priest’s branch of the Focolare Movement in Italy.
Bishop Jenky, first of all I want to express to you our gratitude for the great gift Msgr. Donnelly Joseph Fitzpatrick has been all over these years in the Focolare Movement and especially in the midst of the priests who are living the Spirituality of unity, promoted by the Movement.
Furthermore I want to share with you something about the last days of his life, which Father Don (as we called him) spent at the Focolare Center.
As you know, Father Don was a priest member of the Focolare Movement who came to Rome each year to participate in a Priests Retreat at the “Centro Mariapoli,” our Convention Center in Castelgandolfo. This year he came a few days earlier than usual to spend some time with us. He also decided to stay on after the retreat to participate at Grottaferrata (Rome) in a session of communion and formation for priests who came from overseas and have been involved with the Focolare for at least ten years. The purpose of this session was to offer them the possibility of sharing their rich experience of life with one another and to help them grow in the spirit of communion and unity with one another and their diocese.
Father Don lived these days with a special joy and active participation in a way we had never seen before.
Three days ago (Wednesday), during an extended lunch break, Father Don was walking with some of the other priests toward the Center of the Movement. Without any warning he had a cardiac arrest and passed away immediately. It was 3.40 p.m. By chance two nurses were passing by and assisted him. A short time later a doctor arrived and he was taken by ambulance to the Hospital of Frascati (Roma). They verified that his death had been instantaneous without any sign of warning or suffering. Indeed, five minutes prior to his heart attack the accompanying photograph (shown at the top of this page) was taken as he walked.
Chiara Lubich, the Founder of the Focolare Movement, on Father Don’s request had once suggested to him a personal “Word of Life.” She chose for him the phrase “Here I am” (Exodus 3,4) taken from Moses’ exclamation in front of the burning bush.
Looking at the photo and listening to the witnesses of other priests of the group about what they had experienced with Father Don in the days before, I had the impression that these words were completely fulfilled in the moment of his passing. And I could not but think on the “Word of Life” all the Focolare Movement is living during this month: “If you are risen with Christ, think of the things of above…” (Collossians 3, 1). My impression is that Father Don was in complete contemplation of these words as he passed over to “the things of above.”
There were several beautiful moments with Father Don in these weeks. For example, Wilson Moreno, a young priest from Colombia who is studying Biblical Theology at the Gregorian University and lives here with us at Focolare Centre, went to pick him up at the airport on his arrival. On their way back in the car, Father Don said to Wilson solemnly: “I will pray for you and your studies. And you too could pray, not for me, but for vocations in the United States and especially for vocations to the priests Focolare.”
Shortly after his arrival in Rome, he was deeply moved on hearing a recording made in 1975 when for the first time diocesan priests engaged as Focolarino Priests in the Focolare Movement promising to conduct a deep life of unity with one another and with the whole Movement, supported by the evangelical councils of poverty, chastity and obedience, as a means to become true builders of communion in their local Churches. That meditation was such a special moment of renewal for him that throughout the days that followed he continued to speak of “rebirth.”
After the retreat in Castelgandolfo, together with some other priests, he visited Loppiano (a small Focolare town and formation center) near Florence. During a moment of prayer in the chapel of the Priests’ School Vinea mea, a review of his whole life passed before him. “My sin is always in front of me,” he shared the next day, with tears in his eyes, specifying that Jesus in His Forsakeness and Mary Desolate had gifted him with a new life. Again, in Loppiano, after a festive evening, he stayed up late so that he could at all costs wash the dishes for his fellow priests.
Indeed, his life appeared to have truly reached a climax in recent days. When Maria Voce, president of the Focolare Movement, heard what happened, she commented: “It was the Love of God for him to pass away not being alone by himself but in the midst of so many brother priests. We accompany him festively to Heaven, and pray through his intercession for many graces. He will continue to help us carry forward what he was already carrying forward . . . ”
In the words of Simeon from today’s Gospel, we would say, “Now Lord, you can dismiss your servant.” We remember Father Donnelly in our prayers, and ask his eternal life with the risen Lord forever in heaven.