10, 1906 - November 3, 1987)
Joseph Damian entered our Marist Brotherhood on May 22, 1918 from St.
Ann's Parish in Lawrence, Massachusetts. His investiture took place
in 1921, and he completed his formation in Poughkeepsie, New York. While
Joe spent better than three decades at Mount Saint Michael, he is also
well remembered for the years he served as Master of Juniors. Joe made
the vow of stability in 1942. He died peacefully at Lawrence Hospital
in Bronxville, New York.
George Fontana delivered Joe's eulogy at the Church of Saint Francis
of Rome, Bronx, New York.
have been asked by Brother Sean to say a word of thanksgiving for Brother
Joseph Damian in these few moments of quiet after Communion.
appreciate Sean's invitation, and I take it to mean: try to be the voice
for all of us present here, to express to God our feelings of gratitude.
have, of course, many feelings now: sadness, grief, emptiness, and loss,
because a person who was special to us has been taken away. Yet, this
is a moment for gratitude: gratitude to God, our Father, for the life
of Brother Joseph Damian; gratitude to Christ, for the seed of his grace
which bore such beautiful fruit in the actions and words of Brother
Joseph; gratitude to the Holy Spirit for giving to Brother Joseph Damian
the gift of a vocation to be a member of the family of Mary as a Marist
are people whose affection and admiration for our deceased Brother have
brought them to this Mass tonight: his family, his professional lay
colleagues, Mount Saint Michael alumni, the members of the Mount Saint
Michael's Mothers' Club. I ask indulgence of all of you if these words
of thanks focus on Brother Joseph Damian's life as a Marist Brother.
fact, I have confidence, that, although I thank God for what Brother
Joseph Damian has meant to us Marist Brothers, you will feel united
in sentiment. Given the simple, unpretentious manner in which he dealt
with all the different people he met, I am sure that you will see a
reflection of the man you experienced in the Marist confrere we knew.
ask a favor also of Brother Joseph's contemporaries. If the glasses
are too rose tinted, if the rough edges are too smoothed over, and if
my words lack the humorous incident, these are the distortions of one
who, in the early years of adolescence, encountered Brother Joseph and
who, consequently, could never think of him as simply "Joe."
then, I thank God, first, for a series of mental snapshots I find in
my memory, lovely images and amazingly lively ones, despite the passing
is Brother Joseph Damian cutting wood behind the Esopus dormitory or
attacking the October leaves on the front lawn with a battalion of young
men around him, or walking, beads at his side, with those same young
men, 1:00 in the afternoon, praying the rosary along the Esopus roads
before our afternoon classes began.
is the image of Brother Joseph Damian teaching geometry, first classroom
at the top of the stairs, and students getting marks on their Regents
test far beyond their wildest hopes; or Brother Joseph, supervising
study hall and dining room; and, of course, the image of him in the
chapel (and I cannot possibly think that it was not the same all his
life): at prayer, meditation, Mass -- standing, kneeling, leading --
a rock of stability and an oak of manly piety.
thank God, also, that, in knowing Brother Joseph Damian, we have known
one of those men of whom the old spiritual books spoke. Do you know
the men I mean? Those whom the writer described thus: if a religious
order were to lose all its Books of Rules, it had only to observe a
particular religious to see the ideal portrayed by the Rules.
language is quaint, I know, but the image is attractive.
our first year novices I recently finished the section of our Constitutions
entitled "Our Marist Identity." It is a very rich and beautiful
section. I could have said, truly, to the novices, "If you want
to know what the words in the book mean in the life of a man, lived
out in the rough and ready world of everyday life with all its harsh
aspects, look at Brother Joseph Damian.
you desire to know how humility, simplicity, modesty are enfleshed,
look at that man: master teacher, superb disciplinarian, excellent practitioner
of Marist Brothers' pedagogy that leads youth by gentleness and firmness;
look at that man taking his place unassumingly in the heart of the Mount
Saint Michael community.
you desire to comprehend how a Marist Brother can practice our Marial
Spirit in today's world, look at the naturalness of Brother Joseph Damian's
devotion to Mary. See how a lifetime of unaffected devotion has brought
forth into his relations with others Mary's benign feminine influence.
finally, if you desire to understand what family spirit looks like,
observe Brother Joseph Damian at the crossword puzzle, Brothers all
around the table with him, working together, laughing, teasing, joking.
What a great symbol of family spirit, and see how Brother Joseph Damian
seems so profoundly at home and at peace with himself there."
dear people, and fellow admirers of Brother Joseph, those are some of
my memories of our deceased Brother. The psalmist says:
Lord, the lot marked out for me is my delight.
Welcome indeed the heritage that falls to me."
identify deeply with those words. As I say them tonight, I also say,
"Thank you, God of Providence, for giving me such a precious heritage
through Brother Joseph Damian who fathered my Marist life."
am sure that we can all say, "Thank you, God of benedictions, for
blessing us with the life of a great man and a splendid Marist Brother."
your memory of Brother Joseph Damian, keep it alive. Whatever memory
of him is dearest to you, speak it to others, so that they may know
that a flesh and blood man of holy life has walked side by side with
us. Let us carry on his memory so that we live ever more richly the
same full-hearted dedication he lived.
Brother Joseph Damian: Deo gratias.
on Brother Joseph Damian, F.M.S.written by Brother Cyprian Rowe.
feeling was very distinct, as if he wanted to be close to me, as if
he wanted us to talk or just spend time together. And I was comfortable
with the feeling. It was not always so. I remember a time when it would
have been painful for me to spend time with this man whom I respected
but found remote, cold, and ascetic. But in these latter days, I felt
a warm strength, a tenderness he would have disparaged if I had named
it. It was as if the years of pain had fanned his heart, bringing to
fulgent life a repertoire of affection and longing for others that did
not have to be repressed.
Joseph Damian was my Master of Juniors. He played surrogate father to
an throng of inchoate juveniles who thought they had been called to
Brotherhood. Whatever the numbers, he managed. Never wasting a word,
he gestured mostly with his eyes. They were a cold blue, somewhere between
the color of late fall skies at 3:00 in the afternoon and the huge rocks
we split in Tyngsboro when we converted the quarry. He controlled us
in refectory and chapel and study hall, wherever he was, with the strength
of his eyes. They spoke a universal language of yes's and no's we all
came to understand. And as I think back, there were no maybe's.
was during that first year in Esopus a great clearance. Every tree that
needed to be cut down was cut down. What the criterion was, only Brother
Joseph knew. Maybe it was the state of the bark or maybe it was the
balance of the view. But he had a crew of Bunyan Boys who worked with
him along the road between the mansion and the dorm. I never knew what
was supposed to happen, but I guess it did. The notion settled within
me that Brother Joseph loved working outdoors and liked those who, like
him, flexed their arms in rhythmic gusto with the thrust and pull of
two-man saws. I stood and watched from a distance, with some admiration
and a precociously jaded sense that even at fifteen I was beyond change:
I would never want to participate in the wood party. Yet I felt a little
sadness, because when someone plays father others would like to be favored
Christmastime our world relaxed. Brother Joseph led groups of us off
into the Catskills for long walks. Somehow I would end up walking with
him and just the two of us in front would wind our way through the foothills
talking for hours, warmed by the constant motion, but I feeling warmed,
too, somehow by being with him. I cannot now remember what we spoke
about. In fact, as I look back, I am amazed that on a number of vacation
afternoons we found language that we could share across ages and cultures;
I come now to this backward look and know that I felt then, and still
feel now, that what was was good. What seems strangest to me is that
my memory is of the two of us, walking together. Something tells me
that I have reconstructed the memory, that there was someone or more
than one with us, but time and need have screened them out and I remember
only two --- Brother Joseph and me.
as I think back on those golden afternoons, moving through the lower
mountains, snow on the land, orchards and vineyards lying in uneven
clearings here and there, it seems, in these latter days, that he was
symbolized for me in those mountains: they were solidly there. An immovable
incident of nature that could carry you and envelop you, but was always
discreet and never casually revealed its secrets.
think I always admired him after I no longer feared him. There came
a time when the book said we shared some juridic equality; nonetheless,
he was always my Master of Juniors. He was always Brother Joseph. He
remained one who had framed part of my childhood and for that reason
had to be treated with formality. I could feel myself move around him
as if his eyes would suddenly blaze against anything out of place.
the convocation, this was true. With him, as with some others, the convocation
became a time of re-collection. It was like coming together and, in
the meeting, pulling together all the pieces of shared life between
us and recasting them in a different sort of fire.
Joseph was there frequently. I did not remark his presence near me;
people were there, that was all. But after a while, I realized he was
present beyond accident, beyond the adventitious convergence of twos
and threes and fours as crowds broke apart.
first, I was embarrassed. I was nonplussed. I could no longer be a child
with him and yet anything else seemed unendurable for me. But somehow,
by his quality of presence he finally got through to me and I knew he
knew. I also knew that he wanted to be human before my humanity. This
situation is something of a dilemma for us as family. For while we own
one another and in some way push one another through life as do the
generations of blood, our generativity is different. We never have the
sort of posterity that forces us to stop the fantasies of childhood.
was simplicity in his eyes. Eventually it became comfortable for me.
(I remember a time last summer when I realized that what had grown in
me was perhaps the ultimate requisite for real friendship, the capacity
for compassion. I realized that even when my mother had a heart attack,
I needed her to be the strong sustainer of the child. When she "failed,"
the rage that masquerades as reason flared in me against her. Only last
summer, during a class discussion on Paula Giddings's book, When and
Where I Enter, was I able to become the child who sustains without violence
to his age nor disappointment nor rage.)
Joseph and I ate together down by the river in Poughkeepsie; we sat
together in the garth at the Mount. We explored very slowly what was
new to both of us, a relationship born of history, creating a friendship.
So we talked away the evening, between the magic acts and the filling
of plates and the interruptions of those breaking in to say hello. Then
when the night closed in, we ended with "Until. . . ."
last time I saw Brother Joseph was June 6. A glorious day, with faces
and voices that filled the hunger of memory. A day which even while
it spoke of continuities, of the impossibility of being separate from
those who have made us what we are, wherever they may be, asserted an
"in" and an "out" of choices; that, in a real sense,
we stay together or pull apart in very specific ways. And in spite of
longing for a "time when" we are made by our decisions, after
the smiles on glad faces, after the reassurances, after the romance
of false promises (truly felt), we all go back to our choices. That
day, I rode to the cathedral with Brother Joseph and then back to the
years ago, I heard a Voltaire quote on Catholic religious. The substance
was: Catholic religious are the only people who live unloved and die
unmourned. If Brother Joseph had been called five years ago I'm not
sure what my response would have been. Perhaps I would have said blandly,
"Yes, he was my Master of Juniors." Or, "Yes, he was
a wonderful teacher and a strong religious." Yesterday, though,
when Brother Marius announced at the end of office that Brother Joseph
had died, I felt a cry in my throat. Maybe the love had come late (or
at least the knowledge of it) and maybe the mourning will not slay my
spirits wholly in the coming days, but both will be there. And if I
hear a chopping of trees, or a raking of leaves, or if I walk along
a road winding like a benign serpent in snow-covered uplands, I shall
remember who first made them more than incidental to me.