(1915-2004) – Amérique du Nord
In the name of the Assumptionists I want to express our gratitude to all of you for coming here to celebrate with us Fr. Bernard’s life. It was a long life, 88 years, and it was filled with love, service, simplicity, gentleness and prayer. It also had its moments of pain and sorrow and through it all Bernard learned from Jesus how to be gentle and humble in heart.
From his birth, sickness assailed him. I’d like to quote something he wrote in 1997. It’s fairly long but it reveals the beauty of the man. "I was not yet three years old when my dear Mother died suddenly of the Spanish influenza in October 1918, leaving five orphans, one girl and four boys. We all went to St. Joseph Orphanage in Fall River, MA. Being the youngest, I was very frail and sickly. Some weeks later, when my father was making his weekly visit, the nun in charge confided to my father that the orphans were so numerous that the sisters could not give me the care that I needed. She suggested that my father find a family that could give me that special care.
At the time, my father was an agent of the Metropolitan Life Insurance. He inquired among his customers and happily found Ernest and Rose Philibert of No. Attleboro who gladly agreed to take me. They had recently lost an infant girl who died of mastoiditis and my presence would be a real blessing for them. From then on, Mrs. Philibert dedicated all her time caring for me and helping me regain my health. If I have reached my old age, it is thanks to this kind family that replaced my own mother.
In 1925, when my father remarried, he took back my sister and my three brothers, and when it came to my turn, my father told Mr. & Mrs. Philibert: "this little one, I haven’t the heart to take him away from you." I had become attached to them whom I was now calling in French-Canadian dialect, "Son oncle et sa tante". From then on, I continued to live with them until July 1939 when 1 left to join the Assumptionists at our novitiate in Sillery, P.Q., Canada.
Until my dying day, I will ever be grateful to God for having been accepted with open arms by this charitable and Christian couple: Ernest and Rose Philibert. May God bless them"
The generosity and love of the Philiberts help us understand why Bernard was such a kind and loving man.
Nevertheless, suffering was part and parcel of his life. He was often sick and also suffered from a chronic hearing problem. His life, like ours, was burdened. But he answered Christ’s call to come to him. He became a religious and priest and found peace for his soul, as Jesus promised. The Lord made Bernard’s yoke easy through love and prayer.
Bernard let Christ transform him from a caring person into a loving brother. He shared that love with others, especially the poor. He was filled with compassion for them and was ever ready to help them. After he had been reassigned to the States from Mexico, I met many of these people in Mexico who had known him. They always inquired about him, often sharing with me how he had helped them and expressing how much they missed him.
While I have no personal experience of this in New York City the fact that so many of you came from NYC to say goodbye to him is more than enough evidence of your love for him and of the influence he had on your lives.
He had acquired a gentleness of manner that inspired great confidence in him. In his presence he brought Christ to people and they were grateful. However, this serenity didn’t always come easy for him. There were occasional flashes of temper, but he would quickly get over them and never hold a grudge. The love of Christ helped him overcome this anger with gentleness and humility.
The other pole in his life was prayer. He took very seriously Bishop Sheen’s suggestion that a holy hour a days was necessary if one wanted to keep up a loving and living relationship with Christ. And so he prayed. He could often be found praying in chapel. I remember, for example, that on his 25th anniversary of ordination he went to Europe for the first time. Of those two weeks he took three days in Lourdes so he could spend time in prayer on this hallowed ground. Personal and communal prayer were an essential part of his life.
Yes! As a consequence of this he found rest for his soul. About four weeks ago I’d gone to see him in his room because he wasn’t feeling well. In the course of the conversation he said very simply, "I’m going to die this year." He wasn’t sorry or despondent or angry. He was very peaceful, as if to say: "I’m ready, Lord, whenever you want to come for me." And that blessed day came last Tuesday.
Yes, we’re grateful for Bernard’s life and how it has enriched ours. So, lovingly, we pray in this Eucharist that God forgive him his sins. We know that God’s mercy ever attends us, and we have every reason to trust that he will lead Bernard to the fullness of life, love and light.
Let us also pray for ourselves that we might day by day prepare ourselves for that moment when Christ will come for us. May it be a time of peace and fulfilment for us.
We thank you, Lord, for your servant Bernard. Teach us, as you taught him, to be gentle and humble of heart.
by Roland Guilmain, A.A.