Today we buried Brother Jim Fitzgerald, who served our community in Union CIty for many years. I took this picture from our residence in Union City one December morning last year when we were reading from Luke’s gospel and Zechariah’s canticle which says “the dawn from on high shall break upon us.”
Jim loved this place. I preached this homily at his funeral Mass today:
Brother James Fitzgerald, CP +December 15, 2012
A year or so ago, Bro. Jim Fitzgerald and I were taken by Father Jerome Vereb on a “mystery ride” in Pittsburgh. We went to Knoxville, not far from our monastery in the Southside, where Jerome pointed out streets and homes that some of our priests and brothers came from. At one street he announced dramatically the purpose of our mystery ride. Pointing to an old decrepit building, he said “That’s where young Jim Fitzgerald got his start in the world of media at the King’s School of Oratory.
I remember Jim qualifying that claim. He didn’t graduate from the King’s School for Oratory where many of early radio’s future stars trained, but– yes it was true– his mother brought him there, as a young boy of 6 or 7, to get some elocution lessons for a career in radio. It was the 1930s and radio was going nationwide; Pittsburgh was the center for the new media.
Jim did commercials and acted on the radio as a child. Then as a young boy at Central Catholic High School he was an announcer. For almost 46 years he had a distinguished career on radio in Pittsburgh and later in Ocean City, Maryland. He was a familiar voice on WWSW, one of Pittsburgh’s premier stations.
His radio career became secondary after Jim made a retreat in high school at the Passionist Monastery of St. Paul of the Cross in Pittsburgh. He heard Jesus inviting him: “If you will be perfect, sell what you have and give to the poor, and come follow me.” In the Passionists he saw the way to follow Jesus and for the rest his life he found his friends and spiritual guidance in our community.
He took vows as a Passionist in 1947 but had to leave formal studies in 1949 for reasons of health. He resumed his career in radio, but the Passionists kept drawing him like a magnet. He helped out regularly at St. Paul’s Monastery and later St. Michael’s residence in Union City, NJ, and in 1984 became a member of that community, and eventually took vows again in December 2008.
Jim was a deeply spiritual man. In his room the other day I noticed near his chair books he was reading: a book on prayer, on the theology of history, on the spiritual life and some crossword puzzles. He was a lifelong learner who never lost his desire to know God more. His room is empty today; it’s as if he got his wish.
He was deeply committed to the Passionist life. Jim was the only one I know who read everything that came from our superiors in Rome or here in the States or from Passionists anywhere and kept records of what they said in his files. All you had to say was, “Jim, do you know where I can find something on those Spanish Passionists killed during the Spanish Civil War?” In 20 minutes something would be there. He was devoted to the Passionist life and to its ministries. For years, he dedicated himself to our publications and put his considerable talents into our various publishing efforts.
At the same time, as anyone who lived with him in Union City knows, Jim would do anything for you. If you needed anything from the store, he’d get it. He kept the kitchen stocked; he cleaned the guest rooms, so many ordinary things. He was a humble man, a friend, who served us all.
So we remember him.
Our gospel today recalls the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus, in which we remember another life and another death. “Those who knew Jesus,” Luke says, “stood at a distance, including the women who had followed him from Galilee and saw these events.” (Luke 23,49) Like us here, they looked on at a death and remembered things of his life.
But our reading does not stop at death and neither should we. It goes on to describe something more: the mystery of Jesus’ resurrection: “He’s has been raised,” the angels say to the women who come to anoint the body of Jesus and don’t find it. He is “the Living One.”
Jim is living. He’s sharing in the risen life of Jesus, so he’s not just a memory. His life is changed, not ended.
Often after funerals, Jim would quote from the marvelous hymn “For All the Saints.” “We feebly struggle, they in glory shine.” “Let’s get back to the struggle,” he’d say.
Now, he goes towards the promise of glory. Is that life detached from this one; are those gone before us oblivious to our world? If the Risen Jesus is the model, those sharing his risen life carry this world with them into the next, and they bring from that world wisdom and support for ours and for us. They bring what they loved into eternity, and with the clearer vision they have now, with a surer knowledge of God’s plan, with the power of the Risen Christ, they walk with us, as the Risen Jesus walked with his own. Unrecognized, they’re still here.
It’s the communion of saints that we celebrate here in this Eucharist where earth is joined to heaven. Now, a good man joins that communion. We don’t lose him. You, his family, do not lose him. We, the Passionists, do not lose him. He’s with us in another grace-filled way, a strengthening way, a real way, as the ancient hymn says:
“And when the fight is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.
O blest communion, fellowship divine,
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
Victor Hoagland, CP