Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Guardians Have Gone

Oh God, the Guardians have come home to you and I am at a loss.

I found out last week that both of my Guardians at Saint Elizabeth's Friary, who helped me with my religious formation and the establishment of The Community of All Angels, have both passed away and entered into their reward.  Spiritually, I am delighted for them but emotionally I am at a loss.

The first Guardian in 1988 when I moved to Saint Elizabeth's was Brother Patrick who provided a very warm welcome and was very kind to me throughout our time together at Saint Elizabeth's.  Patrick later went back to Little Portion, the Society of Saint Francis' motherhouse here in the United States on Long Island in Mt. Sinai, close to Port Jefferson in New York.  While Patrick was at Little Portion, my friends and I were always welcome when space permitted to come out and make our quiet days and enjoy the hospitality of the brothers.  I went by myself for a Lenten retreat one year and made many trips with Ricardo who lived next door to Saint Elizabeth's and was a close friend to me when I received my HIV positive diagnosis in 1991.  I also made a few trips with friends from Lifespring (The Forum) and friends from Saint Christopher-Ottilie where I was working as a children and families social worker in foster care.  Patrick was very easy-going with me and always fun to be around.  However, he later left the Society of Saint Francis and I lost touch with him altogether.

My second Guardian was also my spiritual guide and mentor, the Rev. Donald Sullivan or at the time, the Rev. Brother Donald Sullivan.  He left the Society of Saint Francis but we stayed in touch for many years.  He was later in Kendall, Florida, as the priest-in-charge at Saint Faith's, where I was part of their faith community until I went to Maine.  Father Donald was also there when I entered the novitiate, through my days at Union Theological Seminary and wrote my letters of introduction to Bishop Chilton Knudsen and Rev. Jean Austen in Maine after I bought the convent in Jay, Maine, for The Community of All Angels.  Donald was in AA and I didn't know it at the time, but I, too, was an alcoholic but didn't come to terms with that until my days in Florida around 2001 and September 11th.  When I moved from the convent to Augusta, Donald also came up to visit me to comfort me in the loss of the convent.  I was extremely brokenhearted and drew into myself after the loss of the convent and threw myself into my work and graduate school and volunteer work and even a bit of gambling.  It was during this "isolation" period that I lost contact with Father Donald and only just learned of his passing.  Donald's nickname for me was "Trixie" and I was fine with that.  He was very, very kind to me and its the little things that matter in the end.  When my grandfather died, I came home to find in my mail slot a note, addressed to Trixie, it just said thinking of you at this time and praying for your loss.

My third Guardian and by far the most influential in my formation and spiritual development was Rev. Brother Derek Ford, S.S.F.  Brother Derek had been a Benedictine at Alton Abbey in England and was directly supervising my formation of The Community of All Angels, which is Benedictine and not Franciscan in those terms.  Derek was also my best friend during those years and was my companion for most major outings and doings and we got along just fine.  Derek was at that time the head of the Protestant Chaplaincy at Goldwater Memorial Hospital (now closed).  Under him, I did my chaplaincy volunteer work and with a tough group up in the secured TB ward.  My times at Goldwater with Brother Derek and the patients were very special to me and I'm very grateful for those experiences and the subsequent memories.

All three of the Guardians were older than me and Donald and Derek being much older, like father or grandfather figures, while Patrick was more like an older brother or fun uncle.  I do miss them and many of the other brothers from those years and I should really find something to say about my memories of those years at some point.

Because, I have been encouraged to make reconciliation, I am returning to Church work and have had my letter of transfer sent to Trinity Episcopal Church in my hometown of Michigan City, Indiana.  I went in search of Brothers Donald and Derek to write a letter of introduction for me to the Bishop and the priest-in-charge and discovered they had both passed away.  Depression, isolation and separation come with their own grief.  Nevertheless, assuming I was doing the best as I could, I have to have enough compassion to say to myself that I would have been more communicative if I had been able (or less selfish).

My stories shape my story and my story is much richer because of my friendships with these men.  I am deeply grateful and simply at a loss.