Yesterday saw two notable funerals in the Archdiocese of New York. Geraldine Ferraro, the first vice-presidential candidate in U.S. history was buried from Manhattan’s Church of Saint Vincent Ferrer, the Church where Regina and I were married eighteen years ago. Awe-inspiring beauty doesn’t even begin to describe this church. It is without parallel. Filling the pews were politicians of every stripe, including the Clintons and Walter Mondale.
There were eulogies as soaring as the giant vaulted ceiling of the Gothic church, and the stained glass windows whose height seem to defy gravity. Ferraro was a giant in her day, and stood for the equal treatment of women in a time when women truly were second class citizens in many quarters of society. Here at Coming Home, Ferraro’s quest for equal rights is not in question. It is laudable.
How one gets there matters, and that is where our paths diverge.
Ferraro broke with the Church and advocated advancing women on the ever-growing pile of babies’ corpses. In advancing the rights of women on such a blood-soaked platform, Ferraro and her peers chose the innocent on which to vent their righteous rage. In so doing, they surrendered the moral high ground and made of themselves victimizers whose atrocities made their male tormenters’ pale in comparison.
What might our nation look like today if Ferraro had stood at the Democratic Convention and proclaimed that women could get to the promised land without making war on their babies, their bodies, or men? In truth, candidate Ferraro and her message were not the fulfillment of the founders of women’s suffrage, but a repudiation of their values concerning children and family. Ferraro was a grotesque implosion, and the resulting Reagan landslide, the biggest in history, buried her. American women spoke, and proclaimed that Ferraro did not represent them.
So, yesterday Ferraro was lionized by the lions who, like her, are committed to eating our young.
At the same hour, one hundred miles to the North, I sat in the tiny Church of Saint Colman in the sleepy hamlet of East Kingston, New York, as Archbishop Dolan presided over the funeral mass of Father John McGuire. Father McGuire was none of the things that Ferraro was, and was everything she was not.
He wasn’t famous. He wasn’t a household name all over the nation. He was a quiet, humble priest.
Jack began his life of service to the Church as a boy in the early 1940’s when he joined the LaSalle Christian Brothers. He professed final vows in 1949. Jack would go on to earn several master degrees, including one in social work, and he would spend years working in a boy’s reformatory as the head of a cottage, as well as the admissions director.
Jack felt the call to priesthood and left the brothers in the mid-70’s and entered seminary, being ordained for the Archdiocese of New York on November 3, 1979. I didn’t know Jack then, but was in attendance at his ordination to see one of his classmates who was a deacon in my parish.
I met jack in 1981 through Father Luke McCann, another brother in Jack’s community who left and was ordained with Jack. At the time, Jack was struggling with alcohol, went to recovery, and spent the rest of his life helping others with addictive disorders. He became pastor of Saint Colman’s parish and would remain there for the rest of his active ministry.
When I struggled with leaving the seminary and pursuing science, Jack told me to “get the hell out of there and become a doctor. The Church needs your voice in science and medicine, Gerry.”
I never looked back.
Jack busied himself with all of the pastoral duties of a small town church. There was a community of developmentally disabled adults in the area, and when any one of them died, he waked them in the church. He was missing on the altar at Saint Vincent Ferrer on my wedding day, so he could preside at the funeral of a saint with Down Syndrome.
If nothing I am saying about Father Jack seems remarkable, that’s what was so very special about him. He was a priest’s priest. He loved the people, and saw them as far holier than he ever hoped to be. He was an ardent supporter of the pro-life movement and worked tirelessly for the disenfranchised. He spent the last two years of his life living back among the brothers in their nursing home, anointing the dying, hearing confessions and saying daily mass. Jack had come home to live with the boys of his youth.
So yesterday his archbishop and about twenty priests joined the people of the simple little (very little) country church to bid farewell to the man who knew the depths of human despair from his own alcoholism and lifted the weary with his own huge heart and the assurance of God’s love and mercy. We laughed and wept simultaneously at the remembrances of this Irish rogue with a quick smile and a kind word for everyone.
Jack saw the beauty of simplicity, and the strength contained within human frailty and imperfection. He saw through the eyes of faith, through the eyes of his Divine Master what Ferraro could not, did not, and never did see. Jack’s response to injustice was not blame, or death, or anger such as the wicked fury of modern feminism. Jack’s response was love, and prayer, and identifying the real target for change. As Jack always reminded me,
“You need to pray for them, Gerry. You won’t change anything without prayer.”
Nobody knew that better than Jack. He was a great friend and mentor through the years. Yesterday in the small church that he filled with his love we said goodbye to a humble giant, a saint as sure as there has ever been one.