+Fr. Eugene Kole, OFM Conv. passed away suddenly on March 3, 2016. Friar Eugene is mourned by his Franciscan family, his sister Monica Kole, cousins, and the many individuals to whom he ministered throughout his life. His assignments included Kolbe High School, Bridgeport-CT, Cardinal O’Hara High School, Tonawanda-NY, Headmaster at Kennedy Christian High School, Hermitage-PA, Pastor to St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Bessemer-AL, Diocese of Bridgeport Director of Young Adult Ministry, Director of Campus Ministry at the University of Bridgeport and Sacred Heart University, Dean of Graduate and Continuing Education at Chestnut Hill College, Philadelphia-PA, President of Quincy University, Quincy- IL, Executive Vice-President of SS. Cyril and Methodius Seminary, Orchard Lake-MI and Parochial Vicar at St. Paul Church, Kensington-CT. He began serving the military community in 2006 as Catholic Pastor at Pope Air Force Base in NC. in 2009, he moved to his last assignment as Pastor of the military community of Queen of Peace Catholic Community at Langley, AFB where he served until his death. A time of gathering was held Friday March 11th, at St. Francis of Assisi, Athol Springs followed by a Mass of the Christian Burial. He was be buried in a family plot in Hillcrest Cemetery. Memorial contributions may be made in lieu of flowers to the Franciscan Education Burse, 12300 Folly Quarter Rd., Ellicott City, MD 21042.
Funeral Homily for + Fr. Eugene Kole, OFM Conv.
Delivered by Fr. James McCurry, OFM Conv.
Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Community
Langley AFB, Hampton, Virginia
Isaiah 25:6-9 [“Behold God… on this Mountain”]
Rev. 21:1-7 [“Voice from the Throne”]
John 14:1-6 [“I am the Way”]
On behalf of Fr. Eugene’s sister Monica and his Franciscan family, I pay tribute to all of you in the Langley community, and we give thanks, for your overwhelming outpouring of love and respect towards for our beloved brother.
Let me also express deep appreciation to the Most Reverend Richard Higgins, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of the Military Services, who is present tonight representing Archbishop Timothy Broglio. You were a good personal friend of Fr. Eugene, and we are honored by your presence. Our thanks as well to all of the concelebrating clergy and deacons, to the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia, and to the Wing Commander of Langley Air Force Base, Colonel Miller and to all of the ecumenical representative of the Air Force chaplaincy.
This past week on Sunday night at Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Community, the youth ministry directors processed with 100 or more parish teens the sudden death of Fr. Eugene and his enormous impact on everyone in the Langley community. Each of the teens wrote a personal letter to Fr. Eugene expressing their feelings. Each one had his or her own treasured Fr. Eugene stories. I’ve read scores of those messages written by the teens, and am positively gobsmacked.
I too have my own “Eugene Story” – I honestly do not know if I would even be a Franciscan Friar today were it not for Friar Eugene. It was 46 years ago we met – when I was a young college lad discerning my vocation. It was some years ago we first met – when I was a young college lad discerning my vocation. He dropped everything to talk with me about St. Francis of Assisi and our Franciscan way of life. He gave me a copy of the book about Franciscan life which he had written, entitled The Beggar. He took me and a couple of others up into the mountains of Western Massachusetts to our friary in Becket, where he talked about God on the Mountaintop. I said to him “Should we sing ‘Climb Every Mountain?” He frowned [No singer was he!] Instead, he recommended that I read Thomas Merton’s spiritual biography The Seven-Storey Mountain, and of course I did. I dared not ignore Friar Eugene’s advice! Heaven forfend if you did not do as Eugene ordered!
Today’s first reading from Isaiah appropriately speaks of our looking towards God on the Mountaintop – to HIM who provides for all our needs. Fr. Eugene’s eyes were ever fixed upon God at the mountaintop. Two months after Eugene took me to the mountaintop of Becket, I applied to the Order, and six months later I was wearing the same Franciscan habit as Eugene. Through all of the years since then, he never ceased to be my inspiration and mentor.
Eugene’s book The Beggar later was expanded to a new edition with a fuller title: The Beggar on the Road. That title is a fitting epitaph for this good and itinerant Franciscan whom the folks at Langley Air Force Base came to know simply as “Father Eugene.”
Franciscan Friars model their lives after Saint Francis of Assisi, who lived 800 years ago. His was a life of itinerancy – a little Poor Man whose journey imitated the mission of Jesus – Francis the “Beggar on the Road” mirrored the 2nd Person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, who became a poor itinerant beggarman in this world for your and my salvation.
Fr. Eugene found in the life of Francis of Assisi a roadmap for his own journey of life. At a crucial moment of life, St. Francis had opened the Scriptures three times, in honor of the Holy Trinity, in order to hear God’s voice speaking through three passages: “Go…give to the poor” [da pauperibus] (Mk. 10:21); “Take nothing for your journey” [nihil in via] (Lk. 9:3); Take up your Cross” [Tollet crucem] (Mt. 16:24). These three passages became the kernel of the itinerant Rule of Life that Francis would later write for all of the Friars who would follow him. Eugene professed that Franciscan Rule of Life and never wavered in living it for the past 5 decades.
Embedded in that Franciscan Rule is the holy “roadmap” that Eugene, the “Beggar on the Road” tried to walk for fifty years: 1) Solidarity with the Poor – always the man for others; always available for others; laying down his life for others. Years ago he sponsored a poor uneducated refugee from Kosovo. Now thanks to Eugene, that young man is now a doctor of science working for the US government. 2) Keeping nothing for himself – Every gift his sister Monica would give to him he’d give away faster than she would know. He would constantly forgot about himself and he’d summarily dismiss any questions about his own needs. He and I often reflected together that true humility is not so much thinking low of oneself [not low self-esteem], but thinking seldom of oneself. Eugene exemplified that kind of Franciscan humility; 3) Take up the Cross – No one knew all of the crosses Fr. Eugene carried. He took upon his shoulders not only his own burdens but those of everyone who came to him. The pains of others weighed heavy on his heart. In one of his last emails to me, he sent me an article about Pope Francis’s “Dark Night of the Soul,” and he said to me that he could identify with that dark night. The itinerant journey of a “beggar on the road,” like Eugene, moves back and forth through day and through night, through lights and shadows.
Amidst the lights and shadows, what keeps the true “Beggar” on the “Road”? For a Franciscan and Christian, only one thing keeps feet steadfast to the ground: The Voice of God. You must always keep listening for that Voice. Last week – the day before he died – Eugene went into the office at the Condo complex where he lived, and retrieved a book that he’d newly ordered. With great excitement, he told the condo manager that he could not wait to read this book. It was entitled The Voice of God!
Today’s second reading evokes the Voice of God: “a loud voice from the throne saying… ‘Behold… I am the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end.” Eugene never doubted that a loving God stood beside him at the beginning and end of his own itinerant journey of life – accompanying Eugene each step of the way in between. God’s voice pointed his Way.
In today’s gospel passage, Thomas questioned Jesus about this “Way”: “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Jesus replied: “I am the Way!…”
Be heartened by these words, dear brothers and sisters! Fr. Eugene was no doubting Thomas. He lived and taught the WAY of Jesus. He walked that Way all the way! Now we can ask where has his pilgrim way led him?
Today we see his remains lying silenced now in a plane wooden coffin. I should mention that Eugene and I several times discussed the amazing symbol of the wooden coffin in which the great Pope Blessed Paul VI lay during his funeral Mass in front of St. Peter’s Basilica in 1978. Eugene and I were both formed in the era of Paul VI, the Pope of Vatican II. When I sent Eugene a papal blessing for his 40th anniversary of ordination last year, he told me that the only other papal blessing he ever received was from Pope Paul VI forty years earlier (thanks to Fr. Donald Kos). Eugene loved the simplicity of that great and complicated churchman Paul VI. Indeed Eugene was himself, like Paul VI, a similar oxymoron blend of simplicity and complexity.
In his last Sunday homily, which Fr. Eugene preached to Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Community at Langley on the 28th of February, he himself gave us an even deeper glimpse of where his pilgrim way was leading him: He cited the story of Alfred Nobel, the famous Swedish scientist, looking into a mirror: “One day Nobel’s brother died. By accident, a newspaper printed an obituary notice for Alfred instead of the deceased brother. It identified him as the inventor of dynamite who made a fortune by enabling armies to achieve new levels of mass destruction. Nobel had the unique opportunity to read his own obituary in his lifetime and get a glimpse of how he would be remembered: as a merchant of death and destruction. The newspaper’s mistake forced him to turn around, to turn away from the mirror and look out the window, to see what impact his life was really having. That’s when he decided to change directions. He took his fortune and used it to establish the awards for accomplishments contributing to life rather than death [the Nobel Peace Prize].”
Eugene the master story-teller taught us all to look into the mirror at ourselves, to think about what our own obituary would read. [I might add that for the past ten years Eugene sent me weekly every one of the Sunday homilies that he would preach; each was a masterpiece! [Of course I dared not skip reading even a single one; he’d quiz me!]
At the end, like Afred Nobel, Fr. Eugene looked into the mirror at himself. In that mirror, he wanted to see no more or less than the image of Francis of Assisi, the itinerant “Beggar on the Road.” Looking at his own Franciscan image in the mirror, Eugene saw a man who was both strong and weak, the Lion and the Lamb mixed as one. [I still cherish the stuffed figures of a Lion & Lamb which Eugene gave to me when I was his guardian years ago.] He strove to combine in himself the strength of Jesus the Lion of Judah with the gentleness of Jesus the Lamb of God.
As all of these images in the mirror conflate, what is it about Jesus that Francis of Assisi taught to Eugene our brother the “Beggar on the Road”? I like to think that Francis taught Eugene the ABCs of the Gospel. Eugene’s character became more and more molded by those ABC’s. They sum up the Gospel that Eugene embraced. Ever the educator and evangelizer, Eugene has bequeathed those same ABCs as a gospel value system for the rest of us to follow:
A – Availability – Put others first. Eugene called it the “gift of presence.” He wrote in a letter, “I try to be totally present to the person God places in my life at any given time. I believe that that person is God’s gift to me for that moment.”
B – Bluntness – Eugene always spoke honestly with frank candor. He minced no words. He taught the truth with integrity [He did not suffer fools gladly; he always called a spade a spade, not an agricultural instrument
C – Charity – There abide faith, hope, and charity, these three, but the greatest of these is love (cf. 1 Cor. 13). For Eugene, love was not a gushy emotion; it was a decision to serve. His charity bespoke a profound compassion, an uncanny ability to enter into the pain of others, a supernatural love-bond with people.
I suppose that one final question remains, dear brothers and sisters, as we process Eugene’s death: What shall each of us see when we each look into the mirror on the day that God’s Voice will call us from this world to Himself? On the morning of Thursday the 3rd of March, Fr. Eugene looked into that mirror one last time. The time had come for him to see the face of Christ! – “Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us! This is the Lord for whom we looked; let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us! (Rev. 21:7).” When the Air Force chaplains found him dead in his rooms, they described the scene: “He was sitting in his chair, looking serenely heavenward, and the palms of his hands were open and facing upwards.” The “beggar” came to the end of the road – with open hands!