This morning I shared an obituary of Capuchin Fr. Joseph McCarthy, who died last Friday, Nov. 11. Next year, when the anniversary of his entrance into eternity arrives, the friars of this province will mark the occasion by reading his obituary, which by then will be rewritten and entered into the local necrology.
I have been meaning to tell you about this important little tradition of ours. As my fellow friars and I remember Brother Jose, now is a good time!
The Roman Catholic Church maintains a general calendar with the universally recognized saints. These holy men and women are remembered worldwide in the prayers of the Church every year on their feast days, usually the anniversary of their death or martyrdom. Of course, Catholics hope and believe that the communion of saints is much, much larger than just the number of officially canonized persons. And so we rightly remember the holy women and men in our own lives who witnessed to the reign of God and built up the local Christian community.
In religious communities, and perhaps among the fraternities of priests who serve as diocesan clergy, we remember our saintly friends and partners in ministry through the necrology, which is a list of recently deceased members. "Recently deceased" is a relative term. Among the Capuchins who minister in North America and the Pacific, they remember in common daily the friars who have died in the last century, and even going back to the late 19th century. For any given date in the calendar, the Capuchin Franciscan necrology lists the names of lay brothers and priests, the province they were from, and the year they died. Brothers who died in formation are included, as well as tertiaries who served alongside the Capuchin friars of the First Order.
Within each North American and Pacific province, the general calendar is supplemented by a volume of biographies for every friar who lived in that local province. Every province appoints a friar to maintain its local necrology, so that when brothers pass on, their biographies are added to the list.
Here in the Province of St. Mary, we are fortunate that our custodian of the necrology is so gifted. Our volume of biographies is well written, with colorful character sketches that reveal the personality of the friars. Each page, simply and tastefully designed, includes a photograph of the friar as he looked at or near the age he died.
There is more than one way for a fraternity to use the necrology. In the Midwest province, for example, it is the custom to read the necrology in chapel before commencing morning prayer. The prayer leader reads the obituaries for the friars of their own province who died on that day, and he asks his brothers to offer personal stories of their acquaintance with the departed. Here, in New York and New England, we read the necrology at the end of dinner. The prayer leader reads the biographies for the friars whose anniversary is the following day, and we close our meal with a benediction for the repose of their souls.
We all look forward to our turn, as prayer leaders for the day, to read the necrology. For all of us, it is a beautiful way to perform the spiritual work of mercy of praying for the dead. It is, for the elder brothers, an opportunity to look back with gratitude for the lives of their friends and mentors in the faith. For the brothers in formation, it is an opportunity to learn the history of our order, honor our predecessors who ran the race until the end, discover the great talents that profited our religious life, and gain inspiration to live as nobly as they did, like Francis for God in Christ.