I lost a friend, mentor, confidante, confessor and holy Brother last week. I am still navigating the loss, it’s a confusing time, realizing Fr. Francois is really gone from this earth. I still have a lot to learn about the pascal mystery and what St. Francis calls Sister Death, as I explore what my relationship with Francois will be like from here forward. I have been reminded that I will carry him in my heart and I really hope to share Mary’s love as he did in this life.
I would like to share a few stories about his life that I treasure.
-In Theology of Mary on the last day of class he called each student to share something important that was their take away from the class…when the sharing got to me he said “Caitlin is there something that you would like to share that is important to your life?” I shared about my growing love for Mary and becoming a contact with the Marianist Sisters, the class applauded and Fr. Francois sat there with his knowing little smile
-While I was a student he always encouraged me, and always asked about Gabby and how she was doing. As a student I lived in an intentional community and we had the opportunity to invite SM and FMI communities over for dinner. I often cooked and the night he came I made these rolls, which we ate in my family home growing up, the rolls were really basic, and in fact frozen in a bag, all I had to do was cook them. Francois loved the rolls and kept making comments about them all of dinner. He ate three at the dinner and I sent him home with some extras. The next time he came for supper, I was sure to make them again and he was certain to thank me for them.
-Before I moved to Peru, we had gotten together a number of times to talk about the transition, which I was feeling unsure about, but he always encouraged me. In the last Mass I attended at UD before I moved away, Fr. Francois presided and gave a homily using chicken wings and eagle wings as a point of reference. He shared that chicken have wings that don’t allow them to fly very well, but eagles have wings that let them soar. At the end of Mass he said, “Caitlin you have a life of prayer, that’s all you need to soar on the wings of eagles. Go, be free, and soar.” Then he took my hand, kissed it and walked out of church.
-Fr. Francois had traveled all over Latin America, including to the little town where I would live called Otuzco. He visited there and told me that when I arrive in my first week, to go into the church and pray there. He said there is a custom of going under Mary’s mantle to pray. He told me, when you first get there, go to the La Virgen de la Puerta, pray under her mantle and think of me. He helped me to not feel so alone in this distant land and culture so far from my own. Before I left he reminded me while you’re there, please take a few pictures and send them to me. The Mantle of La Virgen de la Puerta
Praying with La Virgen
-He often told me of his love for Mexico and about the image of Guadalupe there. I had heard so much from him about this image, so on my way home from Peru I made a little pilgrimage through Mexico to visit our Brothers there and pray before Our Lady of Guadalupe. I was sure to send him an email with these pictures. Notably, while I was at Mass my last day in Mexico City, the presider of the Mass began preaching on the Wedding Feast at Cana. Now, it wasn’t a day where these readings were the normal selection, and I had actually not been in the chapel with the intention of attending Mass, I was going to make some intercessory prayer but since I was in the pew and Mass was starting I figured that it would be a good idea to participate. I was blown away by the preaching about answering Mary’s call to “Do whatever he tells you”, here I was, on pilgrimage on my way back to my home country to apply to enter the Marianist Sisters and in another language, Mary and Jesus were calling me to do whatever God tells me. When I shared this story with Francois, he just knowingly nodded and said, “Now you must answer the call”
This is an image of La Virgen del Carmen next door to the main basilica where you can pray under her mantle, just like in Peru, I prayed beneath her mantle to be faithful to her and Jesus’ mission for me
La Virgen de Guadalupe
-Over the last few years, he has been my confessor, listening deeply to my ugliest parts and loving me anyway. He was deliberate in his words, sharing wisdom, helping me to invite Mary to crush the head of the serpent. I will cherish this wisdom and continue to mine it to grow in holiness and love. One time I went to his office for confession and I was talking to him all about life and other things and mid-conversation he looked at me and said “Ok, confession starts now” and I had confession and afterwards we returned to chatting. A classic, hilarious, maybe a little awkward, moment in our relationship.
-I was part of a vocation dinner a few years ago and Francois was at my table, as often happened at UD events and I shared about my experience of vocation especially framed by my recent experience of life in Peru. This quote from Thomas Merton was the crux of my sharing, “The great, gashed, half-naked mountain is another of God’s saints. There is no one like him. He is alone in his own character; nothing else in the world ever did or ever will imitate God in quite the same way. That is his sanctity. But what about me? What about you?”. After my reflection, I sat down and Francois looked at me and shared about how moved and inspired he was by my reflections. He sincerity and kindness paused the whole conversation at the table for a few moments. I was really touched, he shared similar sentiments when I had given a talk as a student. He looked on so proudly and just smiled.
As I ponder this quote now, it seems an apt description of the man of God Fr. Francois was. He was alone in his character, and his imitation of God inspired the hearts of so many people.
-Most recently at a jubilee celebration, Francois and I were sitting across from one another, and he was eating chicken wings. He was asking me about how my journey was going and I was sharing it with him, and I looked over at him and said “A big part of the reason why I’m here is because of you” he paused gazed into the distance and said “Of this I am very glad” then he dutifully picked up his chicken wing again to finish it off.
– When I visited Fr. Francois a few times in the hospital, he as the most masterful of professors, taught me even from the hospital. He taught me about how to go gracefully to God. He loved Jesus and Mary so much in this life, and he showed me through his letting go, how to return as peacefully as he could to them. I am so grateful for his example and witness to Marianist life.
I will do what I can Francois to continue to make you proud. I will try to love Mary as much as you did in my own way, thank you for helping me know her. Our Family continues to count on your prayers and now your intercession.