1928 – 2016
WORDS OF REMEMBRANCE for BROTHER JAMES LEAHY, FSC
Given by Brother Vincent Pelletier, FSC
Mass of Christian Burial
Christian Brothers Academy, Alumni Hall
Lincroft, New Jersey
October 30, 2016
There are two reasons for our being gathered here together today. We are here because we have a Spirit of Faith in a loving and merciful God, and we are here to remember and to honor Jimmy Leahy. One we hold onto, our Spirit of Faith; one we let go of, our Jimmy Leahy.
Some things in our lives just don’t make sense; there are some things that we simply don’t understand. Why does an eighty-eight year old man’s life end in a tragic automobile accident?
However, we do not use our faith to fill in for what we don’t understand. We don’t say, “Well, I don’t understand it, but it is God’s Will.” No, our faith in God is not to fill in the blanks. We simply believe in a personal, loving God because if we don’t, nothing else makes much sense.
In the fourth century, Athanasius, the early Christian mystic, said, “God became human so that humans could become God.” God became human so that humans could become God. What a strange thing to say. For a long time I have been taken by this statement and mulled over it. The first part, “God became human,” is the easier part. Yes, Jesus, who is God, second person of the Trinity, was born a man in Bethlehem two thousand years ago. That is what our faith calls us to. But the second part of the statement, “. . . so that humans can become God,” that is the challenging piece. But I am beginning to understand that that is exactly what happens.
Some sixteen hundred years later, St. La Salle, in the First Point of his Meditation for the Feast of All Saints (#183.1) says, “We know,” says St. John, “that when Jesus appears, we will be like him . . .” (1 Cor. 2:9) and he continues, “What a joy for the saints to be made like God through participation in his nature and in his divine perfections!” (2 Pt. 1:4) There (heaven) God is truly in the saints by a holy sharing in his greatness, and the saints are in God, because their entire being is penetrated by God . . .”
And now, our Spirit of Faith in God invites us to believe, to know in our hearts, that that is where Jimmy is right now. Jimmy has to be right smack in the middle of the Trinity’s passionate and caring love. The Trinity to whom Jimmy consecrated himself by vow in1947, some sixty-nine years ago, now welcomes him into their midst.
Just about two weeks ago, the Catholic Church and the Institute witnessed the canonization of Brother Solomon. We are not here today to canonize Jimmy Leahy. Jimmy did many things extraordinarily well, but not everything. Some Brothers experienced, and some of us have heard the stories that when Jimmy was Director of Novices, all did not go well. Jimmy was not at his best when he was in charge. However, I cannot speak to any of that. I can only speak of the Jimmy that I knew when we were in Africa and then, after that.
After finishing his assignment at St. Mary’s University, Moraga, California, at the age of sixty-five, Jimmy volunteered to become a missionary in what is now the Lwanga District. He served first in the schoasticate in Nairobi and teaching theology in Tangaza College until 1999. At the request of the Visitor, Brother Dominic Erhmantraut, he moved to the novitiate in Asmara. This is where our paths crossed. After a thirty year civil war, Eritrea became independent from Ethiopia in 1993, and after that, everything went downhill in Eritrea. Everything became difficult: food, communications, movement around the country, everything. After independence, the Brothers’ large school was nationalized. When Jimmy arrived in Asmara, the novitiate was lodged in a small house borrowed from the Bishop. At that time, I was working for the Catholic Near East Welfare Association and maintained an office in Addis Ababa and an office in Asmara, Eritrea. I would go to Asmara at least three or four times a year. On those visits, I would always go to see Jimmy at the novitiate. This Doctor of Theology with a degree from the Lateran University in Rome, was living in a tiny room, about twelve feet by twelve feet, sharing a bathroom with the other Brothers and novices. In his room was a very small bed, a wooden chair, a table with a bookcase on top of the table. In the bookcase were Jimmy’s books; thick books on Scripture and Theology; in French, in Greek, in Latin, in Hebrew—and Jimmy was teaching an introduction to an introduction to Scripture to the novices, whose English was, at best, rudimentary. The meals were something else. The meals were always cabbage: cabbage with potatoes, cabbage with onions, and cabbage with carrots. But I never heard Jimmy complain. When I asked him about the food, he said only, “It is a bit boring.” When I was there, I always made it a point to take him out for a meal, and he thoroughly enjoyed it.
These are some of my experiences of Jimmy when we were together in Africa. Just before this Liturgy, I received a letter written by Brother Ghebreyesus Habte, the present Provincial of the Brothers in the Lwanga District where Jimmy served. Brother Ghebreyesus was in Asmara with Jimmy during Jimmy’s time in Asmara and he addresses this letter to Jimmy. I think his remarks give us a wonderful feel for how Jimmy was loved by the Brothers in Asmara. He writes:
Can you hear me say something of our community life in Asmara, Eritrea? I remember the nine years we spent together. When you left, I felt like an orphan, and missed your presence so much. Today I see you standing near the bench outside the entrance door of the Community, chatting with me every day after lunch for nine years without missing even a single day.
For nine years, not to be a burden to anyone and especially to me (“You are a busy man Ghebres!!!”) and the community, you were riding a bicycle back and forth going to teach at the Faculty of Philosophy at Holy Savior Seminary, carrying your black robe. Before class begins you put on your robe and enter to teach, jumping from one corner of the class to the other. What a burning zeal and energy you had at age seventy and above. Do you remember how students enjoyed you and still ask about you? Where is Brother James? I was telling them, “He is back home.” But now, I will tell them that you are in Heaven, enjoying the eternal peace.
Every Saturday and feast day you were sending the cook home to rest and you were the one who prepared food for us for nine years. Yes. Brother James, you will be remembered by your students and many Brothers in Kenya, and more in Eritrea. You were a man of principles, strong in your vocation, prayerful, and a joyful lecturer and Community member.
We laughed and suffered together during the bloody war of 1998-2000 between Eritrea and Ethiopia. Many foreigners left Asmara and you told me, “I will die here with my Brothers, Ghebres.” Thank you, James, for who you are for me, and for what you did for the Institute.”
Brother Ghebreyesus Hapte
After we both left the Lwanga District in 2007, the next meal I shared with Jimmy was a few months ago when Jimmy and Jerry Sullivan came to Narragansett for a visit. We went to a seaside restaurant in Galilee. Jimmy ordered Shrimp Scampi which turned out to be a small mountain of pasta loaded with shrimp. Long after Jerry and I had finished our meals, Jimmy was still digging into his Shrimp Scampi with a periodic pause to say, “Boy, this is good,” . . .”Boy, there’s a lot here,” . . . “Boy, look at all the shrimp in here!” Jimmy could live on cabbage and not complain, and Jimmy could enjoy a great Shrimp Scampi like the best of them!
After hearing about the death of Jimmy, and reflecting on what I might say, I was sitting, taking a bit of time for reflection and prayer. While I was sitting there in the rocker, I was looking out at a tree, and what I noticed was that half of the leaves of the tree had been blown off from the heavy rain of the night before. When I noticed this, I said to myself, “This tree is dying.” Then I said, “No, the tree is not dying but the leaves are dying.” And I continued my reflection. The tree is alive and healthy, but if it is to continue to be alive and grow and become stronger, it needs to let the leaves go and let them die. But, as they die and fall to the ground, the tree, that looks so dead, is alive and growing and strengthening. In a few months, it will show off new life, strength, and beauty with new life, new growth, and new fruit that can be shared and propagate. Is this not the parable of Jimmy’s story? The leaves have died and fallen to the ground. It looks so final. And, on a human level, it is. We miss seeing the reality of Jimmy’s migration to his new Spring.
Please pray for the happy repose of the soul of Brother James Leahy, FSC
Born James Joseph Leahy in New York, NY, on September 1, 1928
Entered the Barrytown, NY, Novitiate on June 27, 1946
Received the Religious Habit and Name, Brother Charles James on September 7, 1946
Pronounced Perpetual Vows at Hillside Hall, Troy, NY, in 1953
Br. James died in Lincroft, NJ, on October 26, 2016
Sunday, October 30, 2016
Viewing from 11:00 am – 2:00 pm
Mass of Christian Burial at 2:00 pm
Christian Brothers Academy
850 Newman Springs Road
Lincroft, NJ 07738-1698
Repast after Funeral Mass in Cafeteria
Monday, October 31, 2016
Burial at 10:00 am
St. Gabriel’s Cemetery
Please assemble at the grave site
SUFFRAGES FOR OUR DECEASED BROTHER JAMES:
District: 100 masses
Christian Brothers Academy community: 30 masses
Each community in the District: 1 mass
Brother James was struck by a car and killed while crossing Newman Springs Road near the Christian Brothers Academy entrance. May he rest in peace.
New York, NY
Sacred Heart School
Staten Island, NY
St. Peter’s High School for Boys
St. Joseph Novitiate
Santa Fe, NM
Sangre de Cristo
Santa Fe, NM
Sangre de Cristo
Christian Brothers Novitiate
Christian Brothers Novitiate
St. Mary’s College
sub-director and pastoral care
De La Salle Hall
Christian Brothers Academy