Homily for the Funeral of Brother Mary Joseph by Fr. Joe Tedesco
Brother Mary Joseph has passed from this life into eternal life with God. And we give thanks for his 79 years this August as a faithful Trappist monk. Eight years at Gethsemani which he entered August 28, 1944. And then 71 years here at Mepkin. Brother Mary Joseph made his solemnly profession at Gethsemeni on March 25, 1950. The feast of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary and he always was so clear that his name was Mary Joseph.
One profound reality in the life of Brother Mary Joseph – is that he lived his life with love and devotion to Jesus and Mary. And he knew clearly in his heart that he needed a life of conversion. And he sought every day to live his vows bringing him to that transformation he desired and longed for in God. One Christmas, I wrote him a long note thanking him for his many years of faithfulness to our life and dedication to the journey to holiness. Praising his virtues, his response was, you don’t know me very well – that’s not me.
I really appreciated his own assessment, it was a healthy and honest statement of the human frailty we all have, no matter how long you live monastic life or how old we are. It’s always a struggle to be faithful and to seek holiness. Our humanness gets in the way. Thank God our God is merciful and forgiving. I am certain that God has judged Brother Joseph worthy. What we see in Brother Joseph is his constant faithfulness to the process. There is the true monk.
We can remember Brother Joseph’s stubbornness showing its face now and then. That’s life and yet we knew him as this man of prayer, the man who loved the Eucharist and always got to
Benediction on Sunday and Friday night at adoration. We knew his heart was there with Jesus.
He spent so much time of his last years in the Senior wing chapel. I saw him there most mornings at 3:30 a.m.
Joseph was always the Senior Brother and no one else had that role. I remember in the Brother’s choir in the back of the old church, (that was before the Unification of Choir monks and Lay brothers). He was the senior monk you had to go to for permission to leave the choir. And he always nodded with his smile. As you made the sign for the bathroom or whatever.
In his 79 years he had a rich and colorful work history. He was always a steady worker, who could do anything. He was the go-to person with any need. When I was in the Kitchen for years, he sharpened knives, suddered together broken kitchen equipment, or he was the one who graded the land for the next chicken house, years ago. Brother Joseph was a key member of the sawmill crew in the early days of the monastery.
Now in his last years two things stand out: he made rosaries and lots of them. So many people are enjoying this handy work. And of course, we can’t forget the squirrels. Every morning he fed them speaking in Polish to call them to get their peanuts.
But what I think I miss the most since he was in his wheelchair, was his wonderful singing voice.
At almost all of the important liturgies in the monastery through the years, Brother Joseph had a role in singing, whether a litany, a response, a special verse, a hymn, his voice was heard. You knew he prayed whatever he was singing. His strong voice of praise inspired us.
Brother Joseph always had words to encourage others, words of practical spiritual advice, of duty one must remember, words of prayer for you to say as a help along the way. So many retreatants and those who were his friends wanted to speak with him to receive his words of wisdom.
He gave advice to new postulants, and old superiors. He so much loved his monastic life. When Covid came and we closed the front gate, he said, well, we are Trappists again.
Brother Mary Joseph had a great devotion to Mary. He sought to live with her humility and grace. And with his strong devotion to the Eucharist, he lived his many years for Christ and in Christ. I believe that is his legacy to our Mepkin Community.
And we his Mepkin Brothers, are grateful for his example and his long life with us. We give thanks today for the gift he was to us all.
God bless you Brother Mary Joseph.