Paying Love Forward
The Friars and St. Bonaventure celebrate their time together
By Friar Matthew Malek OFM Conv.
Saying goodbye to people we love is never easy. That’s certainly true for friars, especially when the farewell means leaving a parish we have staffed and nurtured since 1958. Our departure from St. Bonaventure Parish this past June was long and poignant. It gave me some special insights into what the “Franciscan charism” means to those we serve, and it became a call for those we left behind to “pay it forward” to a new pastor.
The decision to leave St. Bonnies coincided with the first onslaught of COVID-19. We were already forced to suspend the routines of life and Church. There was so much fear and uncertainty, not to mention the passing of +Br. Jeffrey Hines. Interactions with parishioners were limited. Some questioned why the friars could not stay. Others asked how the parish could keep its Franciscan heritage alive without us in residence.
These questions became more powerful with the sudden death of +Fr. Ed Goldbach last March. In my own grief I struggled to accept that he would not be part of the final farewell. Yet, in preparing his eulogy I realized that Ed’s life as a friar, priest and pastor had embodied a true example of servant leadership. His sense of minoritas empowered the people of St. Bonaventure and other parishes. So did the earnestness and simplicity of his faith. Clearly these were part of what the people were afraid of losing as the friars withdrew from St. Bonaventure.
These insights took on a new dimension during the June 8 farewell celebration. I was the final person to address the assembly that had gathered. I joked with them that I never imagined I’d be the one turning off the lights for the friars. I also shared a memory of my great aunt Celeste Dietrich whom I adored. Celeste had a habit of never saying the word goodbye at the end of a visit. She would say, “so long for now.” It was her way of conveying that we never really say goodbye to those who are precious in our lives. Those bonds are never really broken. Our choice is what to do with that love created by these relationships.
I shared Celeste’s wisdom with the people of St. Bonaventure. As mendicants, we friars come and go, helping others to build up the Church of God here on earth. We are touched deeply by these encounters, as are those we serve. It seemed natural, then, to invite these people to “pay forward” the love we had received over the years. Not only would this be an incredible tribute to all the friars who spent time at St. Bonaventure, but also it would help preserve the charism St. Francis gave the world so many years ago.