I am a Jesuit priest of the New England Province who serves as pastor of the English speaking Latin-rite Catholics in Jordan, of the Jerusalem diocese. I lived in Australia and New Zealand, then directed retreats at Eastern Point in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Jordan.
Wednesday, May 4, 2016
Rest in Peace, Fran O'Donnell
During Fran’s Holy Land trips, a
graced moment for her was following in the footsteps of Jesus across the Kidron
Valley and sitting in the garden with her friends, just as Jesus did with his
friends. She gazed upon Jerusalem and marveled at the remarkable life of Jesus
of Nazareth. Her contemplation of this scene filled her with wonder at the
richness of her Catholic tradition and the goodness it brought the world. Her
soul was content. As a contemplative, Fran absorbed the essence of this holy
space and filled it with prayers for her family and friends because this is
where her Lord spent his final hours and poured out his emotions. Fran united
her prayers with his, knowing he would bring them to God.
This Gospel passage speaks of the warmth
and affection Jesus has for his friends. He sees his disciples as pure gifts to
him and his intense desire is to have everyone who believed in him remain close
to himself. Fran was united to her friend Jesus last week. Her fundamental
choice was always to be held in the arms of the one she trusted all her life.
She knew his love would ease her pain and set her free from her failing body.
She knew He would tenderly receive her and wipe away her tears, and that he
would still protectively care for those she loved and cherished. She wanted to
be embraced by his mercy.
Fran recent personal comments to me resembled
the sentiment of this prayer by Jesus. She knew her time was coming and that
she was returning to the God who loved her since the beginning of time, but she
interceded for those that remained behind. She prayed in thanksgiving for her
devoted sister, Alice, who shepherded her to so many appointments, and to
George, who patiently stood by her in her trials. Also, she asked God to
protect Paul, Gerri, Mary Jane, Mimsie, and Paul and Laura, and everyone who
tried to ease her worries. She spoke gratefully of those who walked gingerly
with her during this last chapter of her life and did not want them to be
concerned for her any longer because nothing, no medical cure, no intervention,
could separate her from the love of God. Though her chronic debilitating pain
caused her despair, Fran’s soul was at rest and she trusted in God’s mercy and
believed in the saving work of Jesus. Death would not have the final word; Fran
wanted to be remembered for her gentleness and her trust in God.
Fran prayed often in this church and appreciated
the community of faith that gathered here with its joys and struggles. She was
brought up in the Carmelite tradition of praying, which suited her quiet,
private way, but Fran became an outgoing person when she picked up her recorder
and piped some Irish music. The normally reserved Fran would pick up her
guitar, mandolin, penny whistle, banjo, or fiddle and would join in the
celebrations. In fact, during the offertory, some friends from Cape Ann will
sing a favorite tune that Fran often sang during her Irish jam sessions.
Her disposition was well suited to
her career as a Curator and Archivist at the University of Maine, MIT, and
Harvard’s Divinity School. She often remarked about waking up every morning
with enthusiasm for this type of work and to be with colleagues that made her
feel blessed. And those who made her feel most blessed were her family members.
Her family remembers the time she devoted to her younger siblings to take them out
into the world to broaden their horizons. As they grew up, she attended to her
siblings’ children with the same joy and care as she did her siblings. Fran
always made a special attempt to include her brother in the Northwest in her
The church was Fran’s home. A
faithful churchgoer, she was fed by the Body and Blood of Christ, which fueled
her concern for social justice. At a recent house mass, as we raised the bread
and wine to be consecrated, Fran’s prayer was for the safety of refugees and
for peace in the world’s violent areas. For Fran, the Eucharist was an action
that meant she had to be responsible for alleviating the world’s pain. As a
contemplative, Fran relied upon the power of prayer; as a Catholic, she was
called to act for God’s justice, and she did so in her own special way –
gently, respectfully, kindly, paying attention to tiny details by which
sainthood is made, just like St. Therese, the Little Flower, the revered
Yes, we are sad, and yes, we will
miss Fran. Yes, we will wonder if we did enough to help her deal with her pain.
It is natural for these questions to arise. When Fran’s life came to an end,
she was not in despair. Her soul was still, very calm, because she knew she
would be with her Lord. For years, Fran explained that she no longer felt like
her true self and she longed for the day that God would give her true self back
to her. She has it now. I can imagine that she is sitting in heaven’s garden,
across the valley, gazing over at us as we remember her, and telling Christ
about each one of us, by name. She is sharing her stories and remembrances of
us with Christ, our Lord, and cherishing us as a gift to her. That is who we
are to one another – gifts that are to be shared joyfully.
The souls of the just are in the hand
of God and no torment shall ever come to them. Fran is at peace because she
rests in God’s hands, and she does not want us to be sad for her. Let us raise
our eyes to heaven and let us raise our spirits, but as we do, let us notice
one another because we are Fran’s gifts.We can give great joy to one another. We remember the many blessings on
Fran’s life. How would she want us to celebrate her life? By trusting more
fully in God and taking part of his Eucharist, by picking up a tin whistle and
dancing a jig, by baking scones and sipping tea with each other, by visiting
the archives she loved to research, by stopping by the Carmelite sister’s
monastery and praying with them, by spending time with siblings, nephews, and
nieces, particularly those from whom we are distanced, by supporting refugees
and those displaced by war and violence, by ending divisions and reconciling
sparring factions, by thanking her doctor and medical professionals, by doing
all the little caring things with Fran’s customary gentleness, kindness,
patience, and trust, and mostly by thanking God for being steadfast in her life
and yours. Fran wanted to make Christ’s name known to others because of the
love she received from him. Together, Fran still wants to be part of your life,
through Christ, through the Eucharist, for she wants you to have within you,
the love he gave and is still giving her. Fran has been called home to God, and
her soul is at rest. The God who has always loved her continues to love her in
a new way.
May the road rise up to meet
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again, dear Fran. Until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.