GIVEN AT FUNERAL MASS OF REV. HUGH HAFFEY, C.S.B.
ST. THOMAS MORE CHURCH, ROCHESTER, NEW YORK,
SATURDAY, JANUARY 11, 1975
by Rev. Charles J. Lavery, C.S.B.
President, St. John Fisher College
Behold a great Priest who in his days pleased God.
Those of you who remember the Latin liturgy will recognize my text as the opening words in the Mass for a Confessor Pontiff. As I sought for words that might summarize the colorful life and character of Father Haffey, these words kept coming back to me. Father Haffey was great in physique, in energy, in laughter, in enthusiasm and in ideas. You never doubted that he was present in a group. You could hear his laugh everywhere. But he was always a Priest and he loved his priesthood.
It was my privilege to be in Father Haffey's first Chemistry class in 1932 at St. Michael's College School in Toronto, and then in his first Philosophy class in Cosmology in 1934 when he was drafted to substitute for a faculty member who was taken ill.
Many years later when I had become a Basilian I could dare to say to "Haff" that, in retrospect, his zeal for enthusiastic presentations exceeded his grasp of the subject! My remarks were not disputed, but greeted with his well known burst of laughter.
In recent years he has visited St. John Fisher College annually. It was always a joy to hear him relate the early days of the founding of the College. It was also a great joy to hear of his joy and pride in the growth of the college "on the hill".
Mr. Daniel Kennedy, who will be a presenter of the gifts at the Offertory, and I urged Father Haffey to recall his memories of the beginnings of the College. Thank God, he completed these in 1972 and they have since been edited by Gerry Kennedy. It is our hope to publish these in tribute to him for the 25th anniversary of the beginning of the College. I shall quote from these memoirs in my remarks today.
Many of you here will recall one of our saintly Basilians, Father Tom Moylan, whom I was privileged to attend until his death in April 1942. He had suffered from sleeping sickness since World War 1. He suffered heroically and patiently and to us in the seminary he was an unbelievable inspiration. In spite of his sufferings he never lost his sense of humor. At his funeral, Father Carr, Superior General, and predecessor of Father McCorkell, who is here today, used words that I have never forgotten. He said, "To understand the death of a priest you must understand the life of a priest." I would like to repeat those words today as we gather to pay tribute to Father Haffey.
A priest's work is the work of Christ and his life the life of Christ. More than any others in the world he must make up in his own sufferings, as St. Paul says, what is wanting in the sufferings of Christ. As we well know, Christ is not wanting in anything except us - our love and our work for Him.
A priest's whole life is dedicated to the spread of God's kingdom on earth, to the growth among men-in their souls of the very life of God. Christ died for men; He rose from the dead; He chose from among men Special Ones; consecrated them to go out into the world to continue His work, to take His place and to bring His love to as many as possible. Such is the life of a priest. This is the theme of this Mass and the season of Christmas-light, love, radiance. But, let us not forget that it is not easy to be a priest for he is always a human being, a man. It is thus a great challenge to remain completely at the service of Christ and of others.
It is for a priest that we are gathered here today, Were he the greatest man in the world, his priesthood would be the most precious possession in him. Were he the most obscure, which Hugh Haffey could never be, he would still be a priest of God.
A priest needs no praise or embarrassing gifts. What he needs is that those committed to his care should by loving their fellow men more and more, prove that he has not given his life in vain. To me, Father Haffey has not; because you and I are here to give testimony that his life has touched each of us in a variety of ways. And there are hundreds of others in various parts of this country, whom God alone knows, have been influenced by his teaching and preaching throughout the year.
Father Haffey, as most of you know, was born in Welland, Ontario, a graduate of St. Michael's College in Toronto and was ordained there in 1931. He did graduate work at Laval University in Quebec, Columbia University, and received his doctorate at the University of Ottawa.
God's providence governs all things and very often it is only late in life that we realize the beautiful weaving that God does with our lives, In Father Haffey's life, as I review it, this city was virtually the center of his priestly and dedicated life.
As I mentioned earlier, Father Haffey completed his reflections of the beginnings of St. John Fisher College two years ago. His amazing memory of names and dates include many of you who are here today at this Mass. His entire life and the circumstances of the many events in Rochester reveal a providential design which led to the founding of St. John Fisher College in 1948 and to the realization of a dream of his, which clearly comes from his days at St. Michael's in Toronto, and to his association with the subsequently Archbishop Alexandre Vachon of Ottawa, who came to the newly purchased site for the college and blessed the grounds during a visit to Father Haffey.
As his memoirs indicate, he and his mother visited this city in his youthful days. As he himself said, "Ties with Rochester were easy to make." His cousins graduated from Aquinas, including Father Joe Haffey who is here today, and his aunt and uncle lived in Corpus Christi parish.
When Father Haffey came with the Basilians to Aquinas in 1937 he came not as a stranger. From 1937 to 1949 he gave his entire energy to teaching chemistry, running the Mission Crusade, establishing the Christian Culture Series and in 1945, leading the project for the Aquinas Stadium.
In all these years he also served as a Chaplain at the Holy Angels Home on Winton Road. No matter how engaged he may have been in projects, each morning he took the bus from Aquinas to Holy Angels - no mean task on a wintry morning! St. Peter and Paul's each weekend; we who lived with him heard the sermon the week before and the week after!
Again in his memoirs one can see the hand of God weaving from St. Michael's and the great philosophers, Gilson and Maritain to the Christian Culture Series here in this city where those eminent men spoke to this community. Hugh respected greatness and excellence. He loved to be with great men and minds, and to quote them. He was ever restless to speak and to write of excellence.
Many of you here today were responsible for the success of that Culture Series. In my judgment it was this movement that led Father Haffey and the Basilian Community to consider the establishment in 1947 and 1948 of St. John Fisher College. Again, many of you led by Bishop Kearney and Monsignor Randall, assisted in the realization of a dream of Father Haffey - to have a college in this community bearing the name of St. John Fisher whose life he loved to relate so often.
Father Haffey went to Texas to the University of St. Thomas where he was active until recent weeks. It is so appropriate that today we should be burying him at his request in this city,and from this parish of St. Thomas More. More and Fisher were canonized together and this parish was born in St. John Fisher College. The parish existed in our one building until 1958.
In 1971 Father Haffey took a sabbatical year from the University of St. Thomas and went to England to retrace the steps of St. John Fisher and to visit the colleges in which he had played such a role at Cambridge.
Father Haffey wrote of his visits to St. John's and Queen's Colleges. In the latter he was privileged to see the restricted and exclusive gallery in which hangs a portrait of St. John Fisher. Father Haffey's touch with history led him to ask the President of Queen's College, Cambridge what he would say to a young St. John Fisher College in Rochester, New York. I quote now from Father Haffey's report of the response:
He paused, then carefully choosing his words and giving me time to exercise my amateur stenography, he said, "The secret of excellence ties in the provision of an environment in which people can truly learn, and above all, in which minds of excellence are laid open to the young. By environment I mean not only books and buildings, but more important than all these-professors, scholars who can choose the right people to teach.
As he spoke, I felt that he was, at this moment, 'laying open his own mind of excellence' to this not-so-young auditor from the United States.
One of the striking facts of life, to me, is the brief obituary that is often given about a person who has been most prominent in life and done many things. If we live long enough and reach the scriptural 70 years, we would be surprised at death if we could read our life story compressed into a few lines, This, to me, is the most important fact of life.
What counts ultimately is not what we have done-the books we may have written, the buildings we have built, nor the speeches, lectures and other things we may have done down the road to eternity. What counts when God calls us to eternity is not so much what we have done in life, but what has happened to us - to our soul - in the course of life. What has happened to us through the circumstances that God weaved into our lives? Did the circumstances make us greater persons in the image of Christ?
In his memoirs Father Haffey mentions the fact that his last official act at St. John Fisher College was the digging of the sod for the College. Then he was transferred to Detroit and then to Houston. Humanly, this must have been difficult. But, in recent years as he visited the college of his dream, he must have felt otherwise. Again I quote from his memoirs of St. John Fisher College.
Basilians take a vow of obedience to go and do the things deemed best by the Superior General. To the individual subject the good Lord gives the grace to be docile to the superior's decision. It was a pleasant experience for me to understand that my superiors were likewise being inspired and directed by grace. The past triumphal years of St. John Fisher's growth and development are witness to this divine aid.
"There's a divinity that shapes our ends, Rough-hew them how we will."
These beautiful words typified to me the great priest I have been endeavoring to describe - a friend of yours and a close friend of mine. Above all, he was a great priest, and the concluding remarks of his memoirs I would like to quote.
I would single out the notion of compassion as the necessary distinguishing and continuing feature of the great college: compassion on the part of administration and teachers towards the students, and compassion on the part of students for each other. The beginning of St. John Fisher College became rooted in the compassion of Bishop Kearney. For him and for us the source and model of compassion is Jesus Christ.
These are the words of Father Hugh Haffey written in 1972. They are the words of a great teacher and, above all, a great priest.
May we today, in gratitude for his life and work in our midst, ask God, through the intercession of St. John Fisher and Thomas More, to grant to him the eternal joys of his priesthood.
You have reached the end of The Beginnings of St. John Fisher College.