When news spread that my brother had been appointed as an auxiliary bishop, and after the initial shock began to fade, I found myself inundated with congratulatory phone calls and emails.
And I was overwhelmed by a deserved sense of unworthiness. I had very little to do with this turn of events.
My brother, the bishop, certainly deserves congratulations. He is a man of exceptional gifts and talents with a profound vocation to the priesthood that now even the pope has officially recognized.
That sounded a little braggadocious so I apologize. … I apologize for using a word like braggadocious, too.
True congratulations are owed to a lot of people but most especially to our parents, a pair of uncles and a pair of brothers who were not in God’s plans to be present when my brother is ordained a bishop.
Our dad didn’t get many congratulations in the course of his life. He was a grocer. People congratulate politicians, movie stars and professional athletes, but not the guy who can give them a price check on aisle three.
When he opened his own store it went belly up. He had too many children for polite society and he fought formidable inner demons for decades; when he finally emerged victorious over them, he was struck with cancer.
Through it all his faith was unmovable. Despite the litany of disappointments, he never stopped believing and he never, in his own very unique way, stopped loving.
He was devoted to his wife, and if any of his kids ever got in a real bind, he was there with a calm, cool and collected persona that made you feel bulletproof.
When it came time for him to choose a bride, our dad might as well have gone to Alpha Centari. In the 1930s, Irish Catholic boys married Irish Catholic girls.
Our dad found an unchurched, nominally Southern Baptist farm girl from Arkansas. Needless to say, this started out as another obstacle in an obstacle-ridden existence for our dad.
Fortunately he also had a brother who was a priest and when the family went to this priest to “do something” about this Protestant farm girl problem, his brother acted promptly … and married them.
Our mom converted and embraced the faith as much as any black shawl-wearing immigrant stepping off a boat at Ellis Island from County Kerry ever did. And her devotion to the Blessed Mother was another anchor for us all and to this day, Mary continues to be our “go-to” mediatrix thanks to the example of our mom.
Due to the rubrics of 20th century Irish Catholic life in America, we lived in a big house that was purchased by our dad’s father. Not only was this our home, it was the home of other extended family members, none so connected to our nuclear family than our dad’s brother, Uncle Rich.
He was one of those guys who was born “old.” He remained a bachelor his entire life and took time out, when he was in his 40s, to save the world from Nazism.
Uncle Rich had an opinion on everything and offered up parenting tips to my mom and dad free of charge. He was a dyed-in-the-wool New Deal Democrat and our dad was an equally tinted Dewey Republican, so Sunday dinners were never dull.
As cantankerous as our Uncle Rich was, he also checked his politics and theories of human psychology and parenting skills at the church door. He not only assumed all of the external manifestations of a good and faithful man, but his track record of assisting not only all of us who lived under the same roof, but so many other nieces and nephews, was heroic.
He may never have stopped complaining about it, but he never wavered either.
It is one thing to accept parents and uncles not being around forever, but when you lose brothers it is a different kind of hurt altogether. Not a day goes by that we don’t miss our two brothers, Roger and Ray (the Gunny), and I know for a fact they were also instrumental in forming one of the archdiocese’s new bishops.
Ray was the warrior of our tribe. He battled everything, from the will of our dad to the Vietcong. But to his younger siblings he was always a gentle soul and somebody who we could count on for love and support, even if it was encased in an extremely hard looking outer shell. Looks can be deceiving.
And then there was Roger. If God used a template to build the perfect oldest brother, it would have looked like him.
There isn’t one of his six brothers and three sisters who doesn’t have a memory of having Roger by their side when things were not so great for them. He was a surrogate companion to our dad and a surrogate dad in so many ways to the rest of us.
Like our uncle, Father John, he had an affinity for the absurdity of life, and his laugh when he heard about the latest folly, cut the tension and re-ordered chaos. And now his legacy grows as he can surely claim a pivotal role in the life of our brother the bishop when he was a boy, when he was a teenager, when he was a seminarian and when he was a young priest looking for a fatherly role model.
And speaking of “fatherly” role models, the sixth and last person who deserves congratulatory salutations over the ordination of my brother is the late Msgr. John L. Brennan, and he requires an article all to himself.