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 prayers.
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 Carmelite saint.
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 you.
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.


  1. Beautiful, John. Thank you for posting it.

    1. I'm glad you saw it, Mary. You would have liked to see everyone who gathered for Fran.