FATHER GERARD PATENAUDE
A Small Salute by Way of a Tribute by Pauly Fongemie
When I met him many years ago, he was already old I was told, but I did not find him so. He had a twinkle in his eye, the kind that does not spring from self-satisfaction, or the sometime smugness of wit, but from the light of Christ Himself.
The recognition was instantaneous with the warmth of welcome, The Baltimore Catechism personified and writ large.
The time was one of great tumult and uncertainty in the self-conscious emergence of the "American" Church of experimentation and heretical clowning, following the pernicious wake of the tsunami known as Vatican II. My wounds were still fresh and deep; I was in such turmoil with a growing sense of pervasive distrust that I knew no peace. To feel a sense of betrayal by so many in the hierarchy of the Church, the very Rock itself, was more than my tattered soul could bear. The pain was intensified by a most sorry string of narcissistic, vapid, hollow priests who bore no signs of the dignity of the august state of the sacerdotal. Almost nowhere to run from the insanity. And I was running, bewildered that such men could even be ordained!
But every now and then, God in His magnanimous mercy sends such wretches and beggars as we sinners are a "guardian angel" at the time appointed by Divine Providence:
And there he was, serenity itself --- gift-wrapped in the humble paper of the basic clerical suit, with the tag reading, "sensus fidelium". Serenity has two Latin foundations, that of calm, and that of being bright, perfectly fitting for this professorial priest with the common touch that surpasses all sophistication. He was, indeed, very bright, and ever, ever serene. Always, never wavering, never perturbed. No maelstrom had been devised that could conquer him. As Christ calmed the storm for His fearful Apostles, so Father Gerard calmed the waters of my anxiety. He was much accomplished in academics and music --- learned [an English seminary professor], without boast, yet with an undisguised preference for the logic of scholastic argumentation, something modernists disdain for obvious reasons. He expected you to rise to every occasion in defense of the faith, in one's own way and calling. When you stumbled, he was kind, ever kind and encouraging, gently persuasive. I do not believe he was capable of raising his voice against another. An ancient mariner for halting sailors seeking to become intrepid. And serene. Ever that. The Barque of Peter upright, safe, secure, and sure, the horizon promised, the haven not feared for.
Father Gerard was born to hard-working French-speaking parents, pious Catholics, who gave the Church ten children, including three priests and a nun. They measured success --- salvation --- by duty, family prayer, the honor of God, and a sound Catholic education. He was the eldest. I never knew all his siblings, but of those I had met, he bore the youngest face, as if his implicit and explicit trust in Christ and His Divine promise to His Church, were the very font of "the fountain of youth." I never saw him age apart from some white hair. The twinkle twinkled more brightly still. His mind as sharp as that sparkle.
The above montage says it all, humility --- the simple, rock-hewn texture of the background, fidelity [and piety] --- the books of learning and the Rosary, and the brightness of serenity --- the votives and candles.
He died at the appointed time, expectedly unexpectedly, no need to be concerned that he was not ready to embark. For he, the prudent sail master, who prepared his students so thoroughly, knew the first rule of the consummate captain of a tidy ship: teacher, know the lesson first thyself. He could always teach it, because he lived it, a man for all seasons but only one reason, to know, love and serve God in this life and to be happy with Him in the next ... sail on, O Captain Courageous, sail on, in serenitatis, Father.
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