Image by Rob Carlin
By P. Kevin Condron ’67
In Fr. Brooks’ later years, he would speak openly about some of his last wishes and even his desires for his funeral. A fervent Crusader to the end, he would tell me in that big, booming Brooks baritone, “Kevin, don’t let them sing ‘On Eagles Wings’ at my funeral! There will be no eagles celebrating this Crusader.”
Bishop McManus, Bishop Reilly, Bishop Rueger, Jesuit brothers, loving family and admiring friends of Fr. John Edward Brooks, Good Morning.
We gather this day to express our temporary “goodbyes” to our beloved Fr. Brooks, to celebrate his passage from this life to a new and everlasting life, to offer all the comfort and consolation we can command to his sisters, Mildred and Marion, his sister-in-law Dorothy, and his brother, Paul, his nieces and nephews and to the countless people who called Fr. Brooks a “friend.”
In preparing these remarks, it became abundantly clear that neither I nor anyone else could find the proper words to capture the uniqueness that was Fr. Brooks. His influence and impact were so extraordinary that the very campus we gather at today, his beloved Holy Cross, stands as a eulogy to the man himself. I personally was both honored and overwhelmed when I was asked to speak these words of remembrance today. Humbly, I do not feel that I, or frankly any person, could do justice to the life of the towering figure we celebrate here today. Words truly cannot capture the importance of the life Fr. Brooks led. The people he touched, the students he molded, the college he shepherded and loved for so long are all benefactors for having existed within the ambit of his influence. A list of his accomplishments, vast and impressive as they are, does little to capture the flesh and blood of the man, the loving heart and the inquisitive mind. So I will instead share just a few thoughts on this incredible man that so greatly enriched all of our lives.
It is, of course, appropriate that we gather here at St. Joseph Chapel, in the heart of this lovely campus to celebrate Fr. Brooks’ life. For the College of the Holy Cross was his heart, his love, his life’s work and his enduring passion. Throughout the 49 years Fr. Brooks spent here atop Mount St. James, he always had a crystal clear view of what Holy Cross should be. He wanted Holy Cross to be a Catholic, Jesuit liberal arts college committed to the highest standards of excellence. His passion and love for all things Holy Cross led him to insist on excellence in the student body, excellence in the faculty, excellence in the campus, excellence in fundraising. He held himself to the highest standard and expected the same from everyone and everything. He would accept nothing less for his Holy Cross. In 1993 on the occasion of the Holy Cross Sesquicentennial Mass, Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, Archbishop of Chicago, made the following comment about Fr. Brooks: “He has that beautiful ability to combine the spiritual depth of a man of prayer with the wisdom and insight of a scholar and the decisiveness and good judgment of a skilled administrator.” The Cardinal got it exactly right.
However, as incredible as Father’s works were as a college president, it was his warmth and charm that made him so popular to so many. The German Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner tells us that Jesuits must be selfless and serviceable, and that the ultimate task of a Jesuit is to help others experience God directly. They must do this while still being someone to whom we can speak and with whom we can converse. No man better exemplified this duality of service to God and selfless openness than Fr. Brooks. For many of us, his life and many accomplishments stand as an example of God’s work here on earth. For all of us, his humble and approachable manner made him a joy to have in our lives. He had such a kind and fatherly way about him that people were naturally drawn to him and wanted to help him. I saw it over the years with the staff that worked at Holy Cross, I saw it with the alumni who were so willing to offer their financial support and I saw it with his final illness with the doctors and staff at UMass who became so attached to him. Fr. Brooks loved people, he loved to interact with them, match wits and share stories. His warmth was genuine and those of us fortunate enough to be in his orbit basked in that glowing light of friendship and love.
A friend to many, Fr. Brooks was first and always, a priest. A man who devoted his life to spirituality and living the Jesuit ideals. What made Fr. Brooks so special was that he approached his theology as an ever-evolving vocation. His faith was unwavering, deep and pure. But, in the Jesuit tradition of Ratio Studiorum, Fr. Brooks was always learning, evolving and challenging both his own views and that of the church and the world at large. The renowned Superior General of the Jesuits, Fr. Pedro Arrupe, in an oft quoted speech to the “Tenth International Congress of Jesuit Alumni of Europe,” spoke the now famous words that we should strive to be “men and women for others.” At the time, the words were somewhat controversial though they are now woven neatly into the tapestry of Ignatian ideals. Those words, provocative as they were, were spoken in 1973. Here on the Hill, under the leadership of Fr. Brooks, Holy Cross embraced integration in the late 1960s and the college was open to women in 1972. Ever the visionary, Fr. Brooks had a real passion for social justice, which led him to transform Holy Cross into a leading institution for human rights and social change. I submit to you today that this is the true definition of a Crusader.
For all the work Fr. Brooks did changing our college and, in his own way, the greater world around him, he was, at his heart, a teacher. He loved interacting with students, challenging their ideas and learning from them as they did from him. The classroom was his field of play and he was forever interested in the unending pursuit of knowledge gained through rigorous study and passionate debate. He taught one seminar every year, and planned to teach again this fall. My relationship with Fr. Brooks began in the mid sixties when I was a student and he was Chair of the Theology department. Later we became better acquainted through our involvement with issues surrounding the city of Worcester. In the early 1990s Father invited me to join the Board of Trustees. As we worked together for an institution that we both so dearly loved, our relationship evolved. Always the teacher, Fr. Brooks became my mentor. For me, it was a chance to learn at the master’s knee. For him, it was more teaching—the profession that sustained him and engaged him every moment of his life. I don’t know if I was a good a student, but I do know that I will be forever grateful for having had the chance to learn life’s great lessons from a teacher like Fr. Brooks.
In closing, having already mentioned a few renowned theologians and scholars, I think it appropriate that the final words of today’s remembrance come from the great man himself. Fr. Brooks was a prodigious letter writer and, as those in this church who have received one can attest, his words were always insightful, rich and eloquent. I received a copy of a letter Father wrote just two months ago. It was written to Mark Shriver, class of 1986, congratulating him on his new book about his father Sargent Shriver, titled A Good Man. In the letter Father shares his thoughts on approaching death. These words, written just two months before his own passing with such clarity and prescience, offer an insight into the man and his approach to the life everlasting. In the letter, Fr. Brooks drew a parallel between Sargent Shriver’s willingness to accept death with that of the Jesuit priest and poet Gerard Manley Hopkins.
Fr. Brooks wrote:
“May I suggest that like Hopkins, your Dad saw death not as departing from the life he loved, but rather as a passing on to a new life he loves. In his deep faith, your Dad, like Hopkins, had the capacity to see death not as an irrevocable departure from a life he loved, but rather as a passing into a new life he knew he would love. His faith, which he continuously nourished throughout his life, enabled him to grasp the ultimate relationship between life and death. And for that gift we should all be deeply grateful!”
For all of us gathered here today, I say that we are the ones who are deeply grateful for the gift of the incredible life of Fr. John Edward Brooks.
And so to Fr. Brooks we say . . .
|Welcome Remarks by Rev. Philip L. Boroughs, S.J. »|
|Homily by Rev. Earle Markey, S.J. ’53 »|
|Eulogy by P. Kevin Condron ’67 »|
|Reflections on Rev. John E. Brooks, S.J. ’49, Delivered on July 8 at His Wake by Frank Vellaccio »|