When I cranked on the internet last Sunday morning, I learned of the death of two people who lived a very long time and who touched my life in very different ways: Fr. David Brown, who was part of our Servite Community at Assumption for almost twenty years, had died at 97, and Brian Urquhart, a veteran United Nations official, had died at 101. I’ll explain my connection with Mr. Urquhart next week. Fr. Brown moved into Assumption in 1997. He was 74 years old and officially retired. He had most recently served in parish ministry at Our Lady of Sorrows, and before that in a parish in New Jersey, where I had also been assigned for a while. What Fr. Brown offered me, and I think anyone around him, was a wonderful example of how to grow old gracefully. During his early years at Assumption, he took his turn at baptisms, weddings, and, of course, Sunday and weekday Masses. He served as a field delegate for the Tribunal, helping people prepare their petition for a decree of nullity from a previous marriage. The usual practice at the Tribunal was to send one case a month to the field delegates; but he usually took two a month, and when the Tribunal was really busy, three. Because there was no adult catechumenate at Assumption, he put together a team and started one. He enjoyed living downtown and had subscriptions to the Goodman, the Shakespeare, the Symphony, and the Opera, and we could probably add AMC, since he went to lots of movies and peppered his homilies with movie references.
When Fr. Doyle and I arrived in 2006, Fr. Brown was past eighty. He recognized that he did not have the stamina to orchestrate weddings any more. He also asked me to take over the RCIA. When I said, “But don’t you enjoy doing that?” He said, “Yes, but I think it needs more structure and direction now that we are getting more people. You direct it and I’ll help.” And help he did. Our RCIA sessions consist of a discussion of the Sunday Scripture followed by an input session on some aspect of being Catholic. I would schedule him for presentations on topics he loved to talk about and some of the scripture discussions. After a few years he said, “My brain is getting too foggy to keep doing this.” I asked him to keep coming and comment whenever he wanted. And he did. More important, he took time each week to prepare questions on the Sunday Scriptures, which he emailed to our catechumens and candidates. This was one way of making sure they actually did their homework! Another year went by and he stopped saying Sunday Mass, but continued to offer the 12:10 Mass a couple of days a week, while resting on a stool. He looked forward to this, and so did the 12:10 Mass crowd. He gave up driving and his Tribunal work when he recognized that his eyesight was failing, and little by little he gave up his theatre subscriptions and movie going, when getting there became more of a production than the production itself. While we were together in New Jersey, we lived with another priest who was aging very ungracefully. Fr. Brown told me on several occasions, “Now if I’m starting to act like George, by all means tell me.” But, of course, I never did.
When reconstruction began on the Rectory in early 2016, Fr. Doyle, Fr. Pawlikowski, and I moved temporarily into apartments across the street; but Fr. Brown would not have been able to manage living alone. So, he agreed to move to Our Lady of Sorrows. OLS was mostly a retirement community, and his comment about life there was, “The dinner conversation is boring.” A little less than a year ago, as he grew weaker, he moved to St. JosephVillage on Belmont. Like many people in convalescent homes, he could no longer receive visitors when the coronavirus took over the world. The last time I spoke with him was about ten days ago. Like many ministers and priests (including yours truly), his email had been hacked by someone fishing for money. The hacker sent out a message (under Fr. Brown’s name) that he had just bought an RV and needed gas money for a trip. I told him about the message, and suggested, “Dave, I think if you can just make it out of the parking lot with that RV, you’ll be fine for a cross-country trip.” He said, “I think you’re right.” He died only a few days after testing positive for COVID