|Maryknoll Seminary. In it's prime, thousands of young seminarians would have studied here and been ordained as missionary priests, serving throughout the world.|
A few months ago, a family from my first parish came to visit me. By family, I mean two sisters and their brother. All of whom are in the 80's and 90's. Their other brother was a Maryknoll priest with whom I lived during my first assignment as a priest. He had retired by that point in time, but did a lot of work in our parish (where he had grown up and where his family still lives). The reason for their visit was that they wanted to give to me the Mission Cross that was given to Fr. Lawrence Burns before he left for Bolivia in the 1940's.
Fr. Lawrence Burns was a great priest. I only knew him long after he had retired from his missionary work. But, for decades, he served in Bolivia. In fact, he was the longtime Apostolic Administrator for a diocese there. I remember he used to say how when he got to Bolivia he didn't speak much Spanish. They gave him a small boat and told him that he would ride the rivers and just stop at villages along the way. He said, "I told them that my Spanish wasn't good". They replied, "Don't worry. You will pick it up as you go along." He said, "I asked them what I would do for food." They replied, "The people will feed you as you go from place to place." He said, "I asked them what should I do if I get sick." They replied, "Whatever you do, don't get sick."
Every day that I lived with Larry, he would spend an hour in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. He was always on his knees praying the Rosary. He loved the Blessed Virgin Mary. I often went to confession to him and he never failed to speak of the Blessed Virgin. He was a great priest.
Towards the end of his life, he had an extended hospital stay. When he was released from the hospital, his doctor ordered him to stay home and rest. On his way out of the hospital, Larry ran into a parishioner who mentioned that a family member was in the hospital and would love to receive the Eucharist. Immediately after being dropped off at the rectory by a family member, Larry got the Blessed Sacrament and went back to the hospital. The only way we know that story is because he got caught by his doctor as he was coming off the elevator. He was a priest who loved the Eucharist. He was a great priest.
In the last days of his life, I had the opportunity to spend time at his bedside. We'd pray the Rosary. Several times, his sisters and brother were there too. As they prayed the Rosary together, it was obvious that this was something they did often. All in their eighties at the time, I could nonentheless see them as young siblings in their family home praying the Rosary. I could see their parents (whom I never met) raising these fine people in the Catholic Faith.
Sometimes when Larry and I would be praying the Rosary in his last days, he would fade in and out of consciousness. He'd say four Hail Marys in the decade or he'd jumble the Our Father and Hail Mary together. I just ignored that. When we finished the Rosary, I was sitting there in silence and he opened his eyes and with a big smile said, "Boy, I think I made a mess out of that Rosary."
On one of the last days I visited him, he opened his eyes from an unconcious state and I smiled and said, "Hey Larry." He didn't even acknolwedge me. I think he knew that he kept passing in and out of conciousness and didn't want to waste any time. He immediately asked, "Did you bring the Eucharist with you?" I had brought the Eucharist with me and he received with such serentity and joy. He received as one whose sole desire was to be close to Christ.
I was very touched when his family--a decade later--came to give me his Mission Cross. That cross reminds me of a great priest. But, it also reminds me of how personal holiness in the life of the priest is so important. The memory of Fr. Lawrence Burns' holy life, pastoral zeal, and fatherly example continues to call me to be a better priest. The example of holy priests are not only important for the parishioners. Priests who are holy encourage their brother priests to be holy as well. A decade later, one priest's holy example still encourages me. And, I hope it now encourages someone else.