WORDS OF REMEMBRANCE FOR BROTHER LUKE WITTMANN, FSC
Given by Brother Christopher Belleman, FSC
January 24, 2014
Mass of Christian Burial
Cullen Center for the Arts, St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute, Buffalo, NY
“To touch the hearts of your pupils and to inspire them with the Christian Spirit is the greatest miracle you can perform and one which God expects of you.” De La Salle, Meditations III, 46, 3
Brother Christian Luke Wittmann, born Richard Leo, on July 8, 1932, graduated from Saint Joseph’s Collegiate Institute in 1950. Apparently Luke didn’t hear God’s knocking on his door during high school, as he attended Canisius College for one year. As many of us know though, what God wants He gets. His knocking must have been more insistent because Luke entered the Novitiate in Barrytown, NY, in June of 1951. He spent the rest of his career as a teacher and guidance counselor in elementary and high schools in New York State and a few years in our “outpost” school in Detroit, MI. In 2002, Luke came back home to Buffalo and spent his time here at St. Joe’s during his “retirement years” as an administrative assistant.
He was Brother Luke to us; Richard, Dick, Uncle Dick to his family. By any name, a son of God and of John Baptist de La Salle, who loved his life as a Christian Brother, his fellow Brothers, and his extended family. Luke was a kind and gentle man who led a simple life spent fully involved in his ministry, prayed often, and was especially concerned about future vocations to our Institute. He did as he was asked, whether that was teaching five classes of English, working as a guidance counselor assisting young men through their high school journey, taking care of the needs in the chapel and caring for the sanctuary lamp, or taking out the garbage at the end of the evening. Luke never complained, he simply did the best job he could.
Luke had a great sense of humor, though often subtle. He enjoyed making a sly remark with a straight face. One of Brother Peter Henderson’s fondest memories was an incident in the Novitiate. In Peter’s words, “Luke had come from Buffalo with more than thirty others, mostly from New York City. I had entered during the previous year. This group would move to Catholic University after two months. There were three novice masters, the youngest of whom was Brother Leo. Richard Wittmann had not been there for more than a few days when he left two work shoes in a cubicle in the toilet room and left the lights on as if he was reading all during the night. Brother Leo did not find it humorous and gathered both groups to a meeting. When asked, Richard walked up and said he did not know they were his. I am not sure Brother Leo ever understood Richard’s sense of humor.”
He was also a great one for puns, those things that make us all groan when we hear them. On any number of occasions in our community gatherings Luke would start something and Brother Joe Reed would add his own pun (bringing groans from the rest of us of course!). This would go back and forth until about the sixth time when one or the other would throw up his hands in surrender and say “enough!”
Brother Luke loved the Yankees, even when they frustrated him by their poor performance. And Father Jim loved to “stoke the flames” at dinner time to get a rise out of him and listen to his commentary. He was often frustrated of late, but continued to watch and follow this team faithfully.
Another passion of Luke’s was the New York Times crossword puzzle. He loved the challenge. He was the “go-to-guy” in the community for copies for each of us and then chit-chat before dinner about this or that clue or the puzzle as a whole. He often started the crossword while working in the office and could be heard asking Laura and Sue, “What does Rex say about that clue?” from one of his favorite websites, Rex Parker Does the New York Times Crossword.
During the past few months, Luke has not felt his best. He has had some ongoing medical issues that caused him pain and discomfort. Yet, as with every other aspect of his life, he never complained and bore the pain silently. Walking became painful for him and he finally gave in to the need to use a walker, not because he wanted to ease the pain, but to allow him to get around the house and the school so he could continue his daily routine of morning prayer, Mass, working in the office, distributing the crosswords, evening prayer, dinner, and spending time with us, his Brothers in community. The clanking and the dragging of the walker annoyed him enough, (and only because it slowed him down) that he was ever so grateful when Paul Mueller, the Director of Facilities, attached a couple of tennis balls to the bottom of the legs. After that there was no stopping Luke!
Luke’s ten days in ICU were both a very difficult time and a graced time to be with him. I say it was a very difficult time because we, as his Brothers, family, and friends, found it difficult to watch someone we love and care about suffer. The difficulty is that we knew we could do nothing more to relieve his pain and suffering. Luke was ever so grateful for the ministrations of all the professionals in the ICU. He praised their efforts, their gentle care of him, and their thoughtful and personable ministrations. Even through all the pain and suffering, Luke kept his sense of humor.
One evening when Peter and I were visiting we had the chance to meet “Meatloaf.” His real name was Gemari and he was helping to care for Luke. Apparently, at some point before we arrived, Luke had asked Gemari if he knew Meat Loaf. Luke was referring to the musical group from the late 70s. Gemari thought he was talking about the food. They were still chuckling about it when we arrived and Luke instantly nicknamed Gemari “Meatloaf.” Gemari reveled in this attention. As only Luke could do – he even managed to “touch the heart” of a young man who doesn’t even know who we are.
I believe it was that same evening that two of Luke’s relatives were visiting. They were getting ready to leave and were saying goodbye. Luke didn’t want them coming too close, claiming he didn’t want them to catch what he had. Ignoring his protestations, they each kissed him on the forehead before leaving. I can’t even begin to describe the faces he made! But when they had gone you could see in his eyes the real appreciation he had for them and the care they had taken of him during their visit.
On another evening, Peter, Joe, and I came up to visit. After about 45 minutes, Luke had apparently had enough and wanted some quiet time. We said our goodbyes and then another topic came up, and then another, etc. Finally Luke looked at us and said in a stern voice “OK for the 20th time, goodbye!” And then he smiled that smile of his.
I say this was also a graced time because during the last ten days of Luke’s earthly life, he taught us much about life, faith in God, and our treatment of others, among other things. As difficult as it was for us to watch Luke in pain, and as much as we might have wished we could do something, he taught us what it was like to place complete trust in our God and to firmly believe that God does truly “hold us in the palm of his hand.”
Some would have us believe that, when we die, that is all there is. We are gone and nothing exists. They are wrong. As long as we continue to hold Luke in our memories and our hearts, he continues to be alive and present with us.
Luke, Richard, Dick, Uncle Dick … We will miss you. God’s speed and Vaya con Dios.
Live Jesus in our hearts … Forever.
Please pray for the happy repose of the soul of Br. Luke Wittmann, FSC
Born Richard Leo Wittmann in Orchard Park, NY, on July 8, 1932
Entered the Barrytown, NY, Novitiate on June 26, 1951
Received the Religious Habit and Name, Brother Christian Luke, on September 7, 1951
Pronounced Perpetual Vows in Barrytown, NY, in 1957
Br. Luke died in Sisters of Charity Hospital, Buffalo, NY, on January 20, 2014
Thursday, January 23, 2014
Viewing from 4:00 pm – 8:00 pm
St. Joseph Collegiate Institute (Brotherhood Commons)
845 Kenmore Avenue
Buffalo, NY 14223-3195
Friday, January 24, 2014
Mass of Christian Burial at 1:00 pm
St. Joseph Collegiate Institute (Cullen Center for the Arts)
Burial at Mount Olivet Cemetery, Kenmore, NY
SUFFRAGES FOR OUR DECEASED BROTHER KEVIN
District: 50 masses
St. Joseph Collegiate community: 30 masses
Each community in the District: 1 mass
Brother Luke passed away peacefully on Monday morning after a brief illness. May he rest in peace.
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