“Perhaps truer words have never been spoken: ‘Be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come’ (Mt 24:44),” preached Father James Fitzpatrick, pastor of St. Bernard’s Parish in Assonet, at the wake last Sunday of Father John Perry (please see story on page two).
Father Fitzpatrick was describing “what we are all feeling in the sudden death of our friend,” but he also had a message for everyone praying with him at the wake in St. Joseph’s Church in Fall River. “So, be prepared for at an hour you least expect, the Son of Man will come.”
Father Fitzpatrick described how Father Perry prepared for the coming of the Son of Man by how he looked forward to receiving Him in Holy Communion. Father Perry was recuperating from surgery and Father Fitzpatrick would call and ask him, “John, would you like Holy Communion today?” And the answer came back over the phone line, “I would love Holy Communion.”
Father Fitzpatrick added, “Father John did love the Lord as he loved the Church. During his healing, Father John relied on the Eucharistic Lord to give him the grace of healing.”
The Sunday prior to his death, Father Fitzpatrick again brought Our Lord to Father Perry, who then said after sitting quietly, “You know, this time of recuperation has been a time to think about how short life is and to cherish the people who you love.” So, Our Lord’s visit on Sunday in the Blessed Sacrament helped Father Perry prepare for Our Lord’s coming to call on him on Tuesday morning, when he left this life.
Father Robert Oliveira, pastor of Holy Trinity Parish in Fall River, preached at Father Perry’s funeral on Monday. Like Father Fitzpatrick, he discussed how Father Perry liked to be connected to people via the telephone. He wondered aloud if Father Perry was connected to a phone cord, instead of an umbilical cord, when he came out of his mother’s womb.
Father Oliveira used an acronym to discuss Father Perry’s life and priesthood: FACE — Fidelity, Acceptance, Courage and Encouragement. He described Father Perry’s fidelity to his priestly call, being open to the people he served, how he accepted the various people he came to meet in his assignments. Looking around at the large assembly of clergy and laity at the funeral, Father Oliveira noted that it was a motley crew that Father Perry had brought together at Mass that day.
Father Oliveira noted that Father Perry had to have courage to face the various assignments that he had been given over the years. He explained that Father Perry was not crazy about change, but his relationship with the Lord gave him the courage he needed to meet new people and new situations.
In terms of encouragement, Father Oliveira spoke about how the late Father John Murphy had been such a fatherly figure to Father Perry (Father Murphy had been his pastor when he was made a parochial vicar after ordination) and how Father Perry then returned that love later in life, always being attentive to Father Murphy’s needs until he died. This priestly encouragement Father Perry shared with other clergy and laity, throughout his assignments.
Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., celebrated the funeral Mass and spoke about Father Perry after Communion. He also mentioned the telephone in regards to Father Perry, how nonchalantly he would take a call from the bishop. “‘Oh, hi bishop,’ I can still hear him saying,” said the bishop, whether he was calling the priest for electronic help or for something more serious. The bishop thanked Father Perry for his faithful service to God’s people here in the diocese.
This gratitude was also expressed by Bishop da Cunha’s predecessors: Archbishop Daniel A. Cronin, archbishop emeritus of Hartford, who came to the wake and presided at the funeral; Bishop George W. Coleman, who was not able to come due to recuperation from a recent fracture; and Séan Cardinal O’Malley, who was away in Rome on business.
Whatever our vocation is, we are all called by Christ to be ready for the (unknown) time of His coming. We get ready by living our vocation as well as we can — always realizing that it was God Who called us and it is God Who give us the strength that we need to be faithful, to accept whatever comes, to have courage in the face of difficulties and to encourage other people in their struggles.
Father Oliveira discussed how priesthood is about connections: working to bring people to be connected to each other and to Christ. Sometimes that is done via the phone. Sometimes it is done in person. For us Catholics, that connection is made strong and full of love through our Communion with Christ in Mass.
Father Thomas King, S.J., a late professor at Georgetown University, used to quote a former president of GU, Father Edward Bunn, S.J., who explained to someone why he didn’t leave the Church, since he could see all the problems it had. Father Bunn’s response fits well for Father Perry, a priest who loved working with wires and electricity. Father Bunn said, “I find myself in a circuit of grace and I don’t want to pull out the plug.”
Father Perry helped many people remain connected to that circuit of grace and in his illness he felt the love of so many people connecting him to them and to Christ. May we keep that circuit of grace flowing, praying for him and for each other, until we can reconnect in Christ’s presence, we know not when.