October 2023 Bringing Jesus to God’s people By Fr. Stephen Durkee In the week leading…
By Father Stephen Durkee, Director of Priestly Vocations
Through this holy anointing, may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit. May the Lord who frees you from sin, save you and raise you up. I have prayed these words over people hundreds of times, but this was the first time I would be praying them for another priest. Father Mel Fox, a priest of our diocese for 60 years, was nearing the end of his earthly life and needed last rites.
As I drove home from anointing Father Mel, I reflected on that moment. How many people had Father Mel anointed in his six decades of priestly ministry? How many people had he encouraged and offered absolution to through the sacrament of reconciliation? Thousands, surely, in both cases.
About a week later, minutes away from the start of Father Mel’s funeral Mass, Bishop Walkowiak approached me and with great sincerity and care said, “Father Stephen, since Father Mel was a parishioner of St. Pius X, I think it would be appropriate for you to pray the final commendation at the end of Mass.” I nodded and thanked the Bishop for the honor of being able to offer a final farewell to Father Mel and entrust him into God’s merciful embrace.
During the final commendation, I was overwhelmed with emotion, yet again, thinking about how many people had benefited from Father Mel’s ministry. He desired to bring people together. He shared that all he tried to do was help people encounter God’s healing grace. Specifically, he wanted to help communities heal. In communities that experienced division due to the evils of racism, Father Mel was there working to bring people of different ethnicities together, to learn from one another, and to see Christ in each other. Though he never said this to me, I believe that Father Mel’s predominant motive in his priesthood was to be an agent of unity. Jesus himself prayed, “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word. … And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one … .” (Jn 17:20, 22) Based on how Father Mel lived his life, I believe this was his prayer: “… that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, … .” (Jn 17:21)
When it comes to the heart of priesthood, it’s about imitating Christ. Jesus came into the world to seek those who are lost and return them to the flock. When Jesus returned to the Father after his resurrection, he brought with him everyone he found along the way. Isn’t this priesthood? Priests are called to give their lives to God’s people in such a way that they go out in search of all who are lost and bring them back to the Father. When I think about Father Mel and his priesthood, I smile. I smile imagining all the people who were there to welcome him into heaven; the many souls whom Jesus was able to find and bring home through the life and ministry of Father Mel Fox.