There were 232 email addresses on the initial distribution list, but mine didn’t make the cut. Instead, I learned of my dear friend’s death only when the message was forwarded to me by one of the original 232.
So I guess it would be fair to ask, just how “dear” a friend was Fran?
In truth, the term is wholly inadequate. Fran and I certainly enjoyed each other’s company, but the miles between Chicago and St. Louis kept us from seeing each other all that often in recent years. Hundreds of people traveled more closely in his everyday orbit than I did…family, friends, fellow parishioners, Stateville Kairos brothers…just to name a few.
All, I imagine, held him dear: It was impossible not to love Fran — his impish sense of humor, his indefatigable spirit, his energy for leadership, his optimism, his utter trust in God’s providence, his engaging personal presence. Fran exuded life and love and compassion and loyalty. Truly, we lost a star when he claimed his place at the heavenly banquet table earlier this week.
And I said farewell, not to a dear friend…but to an Anam Cara: A soul friend. Which means, I suppose, that it’s no farewell at all. Fran will always be in my heart, because he knew my heart. He nurtured my heart. He helped me grow…and I hope, in some small way, I returned the favor.
Make no mistake: On this count, Fran is the sensei…and I am the grasshopper. Fran, you see, was personally responsible for ushering Kairos Prison Ministry into my life — first, at Menard in 2010…and a couple of years later, when he led the first-ever Kairos Weekend at a supermax (solitary confinement) prison in Tamms, IL.
Seven years on, that experience at Tamms remains one of the most profound spiritual encounters ever to have been poured out into my life: the chance to see Christ offering — and five men receiving — forgiveness…and yes, even freedom…deep inside a supermax. The Participants were literally bound to the floor in chains. And yet, Christ’s love had the power to penetrate this restrictive setting, and transform their hearts (and ours). (You can read more here.)
Christ and the Holy Spirit did the heavy lifting that weekend, but it was Fran’s wisdom and spiritual experience that prepared us to be instruments in the process. Months before, at our very first team meeting, Fran had set the tone for our work by reminding us what discipleship is all about: “We come as foreigners in a strange land,” he said. “We come with no agenda, except to be servants. We humbly acknowledge that, as team members, we are a tiny part of a much bigger picture. We are drawn into a profound mystery: that somehow, Christ can use the broken vessels that we are, and mold us to become an answer to someone’s prayers.”
I came to see Fran as a spiritual giant throughout those months of formation, precisely because he understood who the true Giant is. “This work,” he said, “is about Christ’s love; not my love. It’s Christ’s love, being delivered through me.”
Fran had a rare gift among the people I’ve been blessed to know through the years: He knew Christ’s promises, intimately…and he also knew how to stir them into flame in another’s heart.
I know I will miss Fran’s wisdom and spirit, dearly. So it’s only fitting, I suppose, that I give him the last word today – the final greeting, in fact, he ever extended to me…in a comment to a blog post from earlier this year.
April 27, 2019
What a wonderful place to be, caught up in the same net with all the guests, and having Jesus holding you all. Prayers for the Kairos weekend for all of you.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.