26 Nov A Good and Faithful Servant
by Scott Eagan
During the time of Chuck’s funeral, photos of him during various times of his life were on display. Many of us were struck by his bright, fresh young face. Over the years with the testing and tempering of time, his work and life, his prayer and suffering, the face matured. But that brightness never left his eyes.
I live and work at the farm where Chuck served for the last fifteen years. How to speak about someone I knew, yet didn’t know—but God knew? How to speak about loving him, and about the challenge to love him? How to tell of our shared life of work and prayer, of play and service, and of how God was present in that work and prayer, and play and service.
We know that Chuck had an innate sense of service from his youth, a desire to know and love and serve God, an aptitude for organization, for mechanics, the use of tools, and that he loved to cook. Yes, pasta carbonara, lasagna, eggs Benedict, brownies, and Christmas cookies.
But let’s begin at the beginning. Chuck’s mother and father married young without the security of stable work and finances. Charles Jr., their first child, was soon and regularly followed by eleven brothers and sisters—eight boys and four girls. You can imagine the bustle and tumble of their family life. What better preparation for a vocation to community life!
And when you see the combination of a Catholic family and Catholic schools, good Catholic parents and nuns and priests, you can see how Chuck was ready to volunteer, to stay an extra week, when his family spent a week at our Cana Colony (family retreat/vacation camp), at Our Lady of Aquia House in Stafford, Virginia. He was only 17.
The following summer, already accepted by the Marianists to enter their novitiate, he returned to Aquia for two weeks and taught a Bible course.
He still had some time before the novitiate began. Could he go up to Combermere for a month?
He did, and something happened here which changed his plans. He stayed on and entered formation to become a member of Madonna House.
Was it Catherine Doherty, the spirit of Nazareth, the example of the laymen, the richness of a mixed community, or the beauty of the surrounding area that attracted him? Whatever it was, the Holy Spirit was working through it all.
During his time of formation, Marian Centre, our house in Edmonton phoned, desperate for help, and Chuck was sent for three months. There his initial enthusiasm for solving the problems of the poor and the world began to be modified by reality. And at this time began the long process of growing into a deep love for and identification with the poor.
Chuck returned to Combermere and made first promises. He was by then 21 years old.
During the next 52 years, as is true for many of our members, Chuck served in a number of different houses—St. Joseph’s House in Combermere, Our Lady of Aquia House in Virginia, the two Marian Centres (Edmonton and Regina) and Washington D.C. And in Combermere, at the main house, St. Mary’s, and the farm.
He was local director in Regina for seven years. He was also the men’s director of St. Mary’s, director of applicants for a time and he served as a mechanic in our auto repair shop
Chuck also joined the local volunteer fire department and helped lead a local youth group. The friends he made in the area have remained true to him until the end.
The last fifteen years of his life, as I said before, Chuck worked on our farm. There he mainly served as mechanic, but he did so much more. He was asked to help fix practically everything! Tractors, electrical work, plumbing, etc. etc., etc.
Whatever he was doing, Chuck put his body and mind where his faith was. When he wasn’t the farm mechanic, he did other kinds of work there.
He did carpentry and snow removal. He helped bring in the hay, changed tires, cleaned the chimneys, repaired the wood stove.
At one point, he did animal care. During that time, the farmers called him “the king of building new calf hutches.”
He took his turn on Sunday duty. He helped paint and decorate the new addition there. He was breakfast cook and supper warmer-upper, and he did a thousand other hidden works of service.
A few years ago, Chuck wrote a penetrating article titled “Farming as Communion.” Here is an excerpt:
“In the process of learning the land, learning the plants, learning the animals, listening to one another, we come closer and closer to knowing the Father. We see what God’s plan originally was. We see what his desire for us is and what the nature of things are. In the process of listening to those things, we come closer and closer to God.
“As we come closer and closer to God, as we become less and less focused on ourselves, and more and more focused on our brothers and sisters and on the Lord, and our hearts become larger and larger.
“As our hearts become larger and larger and larger, they are more capable of wonder and awe. In that process of opening up to wonder and awe, we come to see more clearly the Face of God.
“This vision of the Face of God brings us to a oneness, a unity among ourselves that has nothing to do with opinions, politics, or “theology”. It has to do with seeing the Face of the Father. We understand more deeply the unity of persons, the unity of nature and the divine unity.”
It was at the farm that Chuck was called into the crucible, the fiery furnace of God’s transforming love, the crucible of cancer. He underwent surgery to remove much of his esophagus and stomach, and he had both chemo and radiation therapies.
Later, Chuck was declared cancer-free, and we all rejoiced. But it wasn’t long before the cancer came back—aggressively. For those around him, this was a holy, formidable time—a time to serve him. For Chuck, it was a time of much suffering.
Throughout the last while, we sensed in him a growing acceptance and surrender. At his wake service, Fr. Robert Johnson said that Chuck’s room was a holy and peaceful place, that Chuck was peaceful. “He must have really struggled to get to that place,” said Fr. Johnson.
On the 10th of September around 3 pm Chuck took his last breath and gave his spirit over to the Father. He was 73 years old.
We are sad that, during these strange pandemic times, Chuck’s family and his friends could not be here for his passing and funeral, but we know they are united with us in faith, hope and love. Chuck had many friends and a large family.
Chuck, we thank God for you, for your life of service and struggle, for your love of the poor, of your family and friends, and of this Madonna House family.
Excerpted and adapted from the eulogy at Chuck’s wake