Vigil Rememberance for Rev. Bartley MacPháidín, C.S.C.

April 11, 2016

Rev. Bartley MacPháidín, C.S.C. '59

Vigil Service Remarks
by Rev. James Lackenmier, C.S.C. '
Chapel of Mary, Mother of the Church, Stonehill College
March 29, 2016

We are here tonight to remember and celebrate the life of Father Bartley MacPháidín.  Just a few months ago we did the same for Father Bob Kruse, and tomorrow it will be for Father David Arthur, three looming figures in the history of Stonehill College and of Holy Cross in the East. They were giants, each in his own way.  They left deep footprints for others to follow.

But tonight we think of Bartley.

Welcome to his family:

Tadhg MacPháidín, the youngest of six siblings, and his son, Daire;
Sean McFadden, the son of Bartley’s brother, Hughie, who is deceased;
Kathleen McFadden, the wife of his brother, John, who can’t travel, and three of their six children:  Claire, a Stonehill alum, who lives in San Francisco, James McFadden from Ireland, and – get this one – his namesake, Bartley McFadden;
Joe Barbuto from Yonkers is here, the son of Bartley’s cousin, Bella and her husband Pat;
and two other cousins from Yonkers, Joseph McFadden and Lawrence Hardin.

We welcome you to this chapel which Bartley named for Mary, Mother of the Church, to this beautiful campus, upon which his thumbprints can everywhere be found, to Stonehill College which he served well, and to this community of Holy Cross religious, Stonehill colleagues and friends from many places and walks of life, whom he loved very much.  Everyone here knew your brother and uncle and cousin in one season of his life or another.  Each of us has been touched by him some way.  All of us gather now to remember him, to celebrate his life, and to pray with you for his eternal rest.

What to say about Bartley MacPháidín when there is so much to say?

Let’s start with the obvious:  Bartley and Stonehill College.  Bartley arrived at Stonehill at the age of eighteen in 1954.  He was boyish and slender.  None of us remembers him that way.  Stonehill was in its seventh year.  Stonehill had three buildings, about 400 students, and fewer than a dozen faculty members, most of them Holy Cross priests, many of them doubling as administrators.  In 1954 Stonehill was a humble place.  None of us would use that descriptor today.

Bartley came to Stonehill from a devout Catholic family in Donegal.  He was a good student as a boy, and like many of his generation he wanted to come to the States to study for the priesthood.  He thought of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles – Hollywood – where he would meet the stars.  Bartley always thought big!  But then he met Father Pat Peyton – the Rosary Priest, a Holy Cross priest, the founder of Family Theater Productions in Hollywood.  Father Peyton did know the stars! Father Peyton pointed him to Stonehill, perhaps with the hope that Bartley would eventually get to Hollywood as a Holy Cross priest.

 At Stonehill he was, again, an exemplary student.  After graduating with high honors, Bartley studied theology in Rome and was ordained in 1963.  This was the exciting time of the Second Vatican Council.  To our house in Rome came all the leading theologians of the time, expert advisors to the Council Fathers.  We heard them speak about the great theological themes of the day, and we witnessed a transformation in the Church’s self-understanding.  Bartley forgot Hollywood.   His interests turned to theology.  

After earning his Licentiate from the Gregorian University, he went to Copenhagen where he learned Danish in order to read Kierkegaard.  I don’t know how much Kierkegaard he read in the original, but I was with him for a few days in Copenhagen, and he certainly had no trouble reading the menu.

With his class work finished in Copenhagen, and his dissertation begun, he came to Stonehill in 1966, and thus began his thirty-four year career at Stonehill as teacher, counselor to students, founder of the Institute for Justice and Peace, preacher, writer, and eventually president. 

Like many young priests, he threw himself into the debates of the late 60’s and early 70’s.  He got to know his students.  He identified with their enthusiasm and idealism.  He wrote articles for the Summit.  His dissertation, however, gathered dust.  In 1975 the Academic Deanship opened.  Bartley applied.  But he didn’t make the cut, because he had no terminal degree.   Bartley did what Bartley would do. He took a sabbatical, retuned to the Gregorian University, completed his degree in record time, and became Stonehill’s eighth president in 1978.

We can all summarize Stonehill’s transformation over the next twenty-two years:  many new buildings, including this chapel, the Martin Institute, the MacPháidínLibrary, the Roche Commons, and the Sally Blair Ames Sports Complex; the cultivation of this naturally beautiful campus; the expansion of academic programs and the recruitment of a highly credentialed and multi-talented faculty; an increasingly large proportion of students going abroad; a progressively more talented and regionally diverse student body; a plenitude of student life programs and varsity sports;  an endowment that grew from less than $3M in 1978 to nearly $100M when he left office; a stronger and more engaged Board of Trustees; institutional excellence recognized and highly ranked by national publications and educational organizations. 

Bartley didn’t do this alone, of course.  What defines a college is teaching and learning, which is the province of Stonehill’s faculty.  There is teaching and learning outside the classroom, too, which is the province of student life and residence life staff, of campus ministers and counselors, and coaches.  Bartley presided, but the faculty and the professional staff delivered the program.

Bartley was blessed with extraordinary senior administrators.  Father Bob Kruse – whom we lost only a few months ago – and Ed Casieri – still very much with us – were with him from the beginning and all through his twenty-two years.   Fran Dillon and Fred Petit joined the team not much later, and there were other Division heads over the years who contributed to the success of the MacPháidín administration. Bartley was in charge.  He knew what was going on.  He had “his nose in” and sometimes “his fingers,” too.  Bartley presided, but his team oversaw the programs and managed the temporalities.

So Bartley was free to do what Bartley liked to do: to roam, and he was good at it.  He was Stonehill’s face to the world.  He threw himself into the project of making Stonehill known.  He spoke for Stonehill’s interests at the State House in Boston and in Teddy Kennedy’s office in Washington.  He was active in the Higher Education Community in Massachusetts and represented Stonehill in the national associations of Independent Colleges and Universities, and Catholic Colleges and Universities.  He sat on local and regional boards and was active in the civic community.

Bartley’s charm was legendary and so was his sense of humor.  He was fun to be with, and everyone who got to know him got to know Stonehill.

Need I say that Bartley was Irish?  He was proud of his Irish heritage, and he managed to die on St. Patrick’s Day.  It is often noted that he spoke six languages.  He would note that his first language was Gaelic; indeed, he preferred to call it “Irish.” He was deeply committed to Irish American associations and activities.  He was involved in the Boston Irish Cultural Center, the American Ireland Fund, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, and the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick.  He attended their events in Boston and New York and elsewhere.   He brought the Irish festival and tens of thousands of festival goers to the Stonehill campus every summer for many years. There were billboards all over the region inviting anyone and everyone to the Stonehill Campus for the Irish Festival, and they came.  He established the Irish Studies Program and facilitated study abroad in Ireland very early on.  Bartley became an American citizen, but only after many years in the States, and only knowing that he could claim dual citizenship and still be an Irishman.  I used to tell him that the real reason he became a US citizen was so that he could vote for Ronald Reagan.  

Bartley was proud of his Irish family.  He followed the comings and goings of his brothers and his sister and his cousins; the births of nieces and nephews.  He was particularly close to his cousin Bella and her husband Pat Barbuto, Joseph’s parents, both gone now.  They lived in Yonkers, which became his second home.  Bartley’s nephew, Joseph, and his nieces, Claire and Marion, attended Stonehill.  He loved having them near – at his beck and call, naturally – and he was proud of their success.  And he was devoted to his mother, Margaret, who he said was the greatest influence on his life.  After her death in 1997 he wrote about her in a book entitled, “Coming Safely Home: Habits of a Mother’s Heart.”  In an interview with the “Providence Sunday Journal” after her death, Bartley is quoted as saying, “Coming safely home – that was a big thing for her and could be easily described as the metaphor by which she viewed the ways that we exist in this world.  We were all included in this embrace of hers, three generations of us.  While any one of us was in the peril of a journey, Mother became the restless one who prayed for our guidance.” 

Bartley had those wonderful Irish traits: open door hospitality, open handed generosity, a sometimes salty sense of humor, and a wry wit. 

Bartley was a priest – to the core of his being he was a priest.  He loved the Church’s liturgy and rituals.  I don’t mean to say by that that he always observed the rules – or even that he knew them.  But he knew the mystery of grace that flows through the Church’s sacraments.  Bartley attended and conducted countless baptisms, weddings, wakes and funerals – and not just those of well placed college friends, but those of the groundskeepers and housekeepers of Stonehill’s staff.  He kept an alb and stole on a hangar against the backseat window of his car, as if he were a parish priest on call.  He knew the comfort that could come from a simple visit from a priest in a time of trouble or of loss. 

Bartley was a very kind man. Although he loved meeting important people and representing Stonehill in fancy places, he always had time for anyone who approached him.  He never lost the common touch.  He had four honorary degrees, a papal award, and many recognitions.  He had pictures of himself with John Paul II, Mother Teresa, Ronald Reagan, Tip O’Neil, Teddy Kennedy, and many others.  But he never lost the common touch.  He was “Bartley” or “Father Bart” to everyone.

We have to acknowledge that Bartley’s last years were not his best years.  After he left the president’s office, he had a travel sabbatical that took him to many places that he wanted to see, and during which he wrote his tribute to his mother.  He came back to a role at Stonehill that didn’t work out. And after Stonehill he never found something to engage his talents and his gifts.  Then his health failed and – even with wonderful skilled care at Holy Cross House at Notre Dame – he was not happy.

We have a little book in Holy Cross, eight brief chapters.  It is called the “Constitutions.”  It has a moving last chapter entitled, “The Cross, Our Hope.” 

Here is a brief passage:  “Whether it be unfair treatment, fatigue or frustration at work, a lapse of health, tasks beyond talents, seasons of loneliness, bleakness in prayer, the aloofness of friends; or whether it be the sadness of our having inflicted any of this on others – there will be dying to do on our way to the Father.”

The Constitution continues: “But we do not grieve as men without hope  . . . .   There is no failure the Lord’s love cannot reverse, no humiliation he cannot exchange for blessing, no anger he cannot dissolve, no routine he cannot transfigure.  All is swallowed up in victory. He has nothing but gifts to offer.  It remains only for us to find how even the cross can be borne as a gift.”

Bartley knew this Constitution well.  No doubt he read it many times. He heard it proclaimed countless times over the years, and he knew that its challenging message was for everyone – it was for him.  This theme is not particular to Holy Cross, “conformity to Christ crucified.”  It’s all through the western spiritual tradition, which he knew well.   And it’s a Pauline theme.  “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,” Paul wrote to the Galatians.  Bartley knew this.  I’m confident that it took root in his heart these last years.

My last meeting with Bartley was a brief one, but an intimate one.  It was some months ago in the Holy Cross House chapel at Notre Dame.  The occasion was the last half-hour of Father Bart Salter’s wake, about 8:30 in the evening.  Father Salter had spent only a short time at Holy Cross House before he died, and he was not well known at Notre Dame.  So his wake was not a crowded, bustling event like this one.  At that hour there were only a few people around.   Bartley was sitting there, keeping watch. I sat down next to him and we talked about Bart’s Salter’s life.  Bartley was as full of insight and compassion as he had ever been.

And so – tonight – we remember the slender boyish teenager who came to America to be a priest.  We celebrate the gifted teacher and the visionary leader of Stonehill College.  We remember his Irish good nature and his devotion to his family.  We celebrate the faithful priest who baptized and preached and buried.   We remember and we celebrate the charming, generous, kind friend we all knew him to be.

Earlier we heard these words from St. John’s Gospel:  “This is the will of the one who sent me that I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise it on the last day.”

Jesus did not lose Bartley. Throughout his long Catholic life, though six decades as a Holy Cross religious, through more than fifty years as a priest, Bartley saw Jesus and believed in him.  He will be raised up on the last day into eternal life, as Jesus promised.

God bless you, Bartley.