At the vigil service for Fr. Kruse on January 5, his friend and brother in Holy Cross, Fr. Peter Walsh, C.S.C. '84 delivered the following homily:
In our reading this evening from Mark's Gospel, which is the gospel reading for today, we see what emerges as a familiar pattern in the ministry of Jesus. He looks out across the lost and lonely faces of the crowds of people who have come to him looking for a reason for hope. They are, as the gospel describes them, "like sheep without a shepherd."
Jesus looks at the listlessness, the lack of direction, the absence of fulfillment of his brothers and sisters and "his heart is moved with pity...and he began to teach them many things."
Loaves and Fishes
Later, Jesus will become concerned for their physical well being and he will perform the miracle of the loaves and the fishes. But first, he is moved with compassion for their spiritual and intellectual hunger and he will feed them with his teaching.
So often our attention is drawn to the second miracle, with the feeding of thousands with meager loaves of bread and a couple of fish and we gloss over the first: the formation of wayward sheep into a people with a purpose through the miracle of teaching.
We are unable to hastily run over the significance of that first miracle as we remember Father Robert Kruse and his life as a Holy Cross educator. We can almost feel his probing baritone voice echoing in this chapel: "He taught them...many things...feast on that before rushing head long into the smoked salmon and crostini."
First Semester Encounter
I first met Bob 35 years ago when, as a freshman at Stonehill, I moved onto Upper B in Holy Cross Center after spending my first semester in O'Hara Hall. I did it for the dining room. That and the calmer atmosphere of the SEM, which had been the site of an experimental intentional community under Bill Braun, was more suitable to me over the rough edges of an all male dorm. It was worth the long, cold walk to campus.
One day I was walking back for lunch in a cold, icy rainstorm along that old road that ran by Br. Jim Madigan's shop and Bob pulled his green Chevy Impala along side me and offered me a lift. I was soaking wet and no sooner had I gotten into his car--his chariot as Rev. Richard Mazziotta, C.S.C. '72 called it--when I saw that my boots were making a puddle on the floor. Mortified I apologized, but Bob waved it off and asked me about my classes.
They weren't the boilerplate questions you ask a freshman--"so, what's your major?" "How are your time management skills?"--but serious questions about what I was learning and how I was making sense of things. The conversation continued over lunch. He spoke little, mainly asking questions as he devoured a grilled cheese with tomato soup.
When he finished eating, he said "I'd like to suggest that you read a small book, Letters to a Young Poet by Rilke. See you Peter." With that he abruptly stood up, grabbed his coat, and headed to Upper B. While his style might not have met current standards of pastoral care, that conversation shaped the course of the rest of my life.
Even thirty-five years ago, Bob was long-present on Upper B. They practically built Holy Cross Seminary around him. From his perch there, he shook his fist at the groundhogs who were always eating his plants. He watched amazing sunsets. He awoke one morning to spy a small herd of five deer grazing. He paced the floor at night when he had trouble sleeping or when as he would say, he was "in the booby hatch." That was usually about something that Rev. Bartley MacPhaidin, C.S.C. '59 bought.
In that straight backed chair by his floor lamp and wall phone, he read...he read everything. For Bob, reading was instinctual. The same way our brain stem keeps us breathing and our blood pumping, his brain stem kept him reading. Gladly would he learn and gladly teach and Bob always shared what he was reading, usually over a long Mazziotta meal of linguine and Italian sausages.
We heard his progress through a biography of Bishop Ireland for a few weeks. Then we'd hear the latest book by Shelby Foote on the Civil War. Well into the Sambuca, we listened to him weigh in on Brideshead Revisited or Death in Venice or Endo's Silence. When we had had our fill, he would stand, say "see you all" and go back to Upper B to finish the night's reading.
As a young teen Bob joined our apostolic religious community, even taking the Fourth Vow to go anywhere in the world that the Superior General would send him. That turned into a life at Stonehill College and many decades in an almost monastic stability on Upper B.
As a graduate student in Rome, he wrote his dissertation on Blessed Basil Moreau's theology of the Cross. But he spent the vast majority of his priesthood incarnating in himself and in others, Father Moreau's pedagogy on the formation of young people. All of the phrases we have gleaned from Father Moreau on our distinctive approach to education--the formation of hearts as well as minds, the importance of education as a transformative event in a person's life, the way in which the future can be shaped and nudged closer to the Kingdom of God through the miracle of education--Bob embodied in his lifelong commitment to his own learning and to the learning of others.
Journey into Wideness
At the dedication of the Kruse Center in the Cushing-Martin building, Bob summed up his life as a Holy Cross educator so well. Borrowing a phrase from the Irish poet Seamus Heaney, who once described his own vocation as a poet as a "journey into the wideness of the world," Bob said:
"Why do I value liberal education and why do I equate it with a 'journey into the wideness of the world'? I think that such an education contributes mightily to making both individuals and societies wiser, more tolerant of differences, more just in those relationships that call for justice, more understanding in those relationships that demand understanding. Insofar as it helps us appreciate the inconsistencies and contradictions in human life. a liberal education nourishes our sense of humor too."
From his rooms in Holy Cross Center, Fr. Kruse educated and formed us and sent us out with an appreciation of "the wideness of the world." Generations of seminarians learned from him, and while he remained in Easton, they went off to Santiago and Lima and Kampala, to New York City, Wilkes Barre, Bennington and South Bend. Students from the South Shore of Boston entered academic life, began medical careers, started businesses with the benefits of an education that valued a lifelong journey into the wideness of the world.
As Academic Dean, he encouraged the research and teaching of young faculty members and the administrative skills of young staff members. Bob had two adopted families. First, the Binneys with whom he had dinner every Friday evening. Later, he befriended Thon Chen of Cambodia as a student who shared the avuncular Fr. Kruse with Sophek his wife and their children. In a way, you could say that Fr. Bob Kruse wrote his theology in our lives and with our lives.
That old shop where Br. Jim fixed cars and stored tires was converted into a community chapel, when our complex of buildings near the Barn were given a considerable upgrade. At a Monday community night Mass, Bob preached on this gospel on the feeding of the multitude.
He bypassed the feeding part and focused on the leftovers, making the observation that Jesus was careful that nothing was wasted. He talked about our usual attitude to the scraps of our lives--the ordinary things, the times of unproductivity, the times when we are dilatory or over cautious or bored--failing to see what Jesus sees. The grace of God bundles those things because nothing of our lives is ever to be wasted. On all of our behalf, I want to thank Bob for his attention to us and our lives. Bob, rest assured that nothing of your life was wasted on us.
Fr. Walsh '84 is the Director of Campus Ministry at Stonehill's sister school, St. Edwards in Austin, Texas.