Homily for Father Philip Hoelle, S.M.

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Hoelle Documents and Articles

Date: August 20, 2005

Location: Mt. St. John (Bergamo); Queen of Apostles Chapel

Speaker: Rev. Bertrand Buby

Readings:   Isaiah 25:6.7-9,  Psalm 103:8-18, Revelation 3:14, 20-22, and John 19:25-30. 

Our reading from Isaiah is appropriate for this celebration of the life of Father Philip Hoelle, S.M.  Coming as it does from the great classical prophet it resonates with the hymn of Mary, her Magnificat and both capture the spirit and characteristics of Father Phil.   The hymn begins “O Lord, you are my God, I will extol you and praise your name; for you have filled your wonderful plans of old, faithful and true.” (Isaiah 25:1).  This prophetic hymn continues to image the joy and happiness of one who is present at the messianic banquet in God’s kingdom which is symbolized here on earth by Mount Zion in Jerusalem.   Fr. Phil is there where “all is joy, for the Lord takes away the veil of mourning from the face of the world.”  Fr. Hoelle shared this universal message  and as a Marianist he saw in this passage the victory over death by the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, his Savior and Lord.   The last enemy of all is death and it is conquered. 

Fr. Phil was involved with the Dayton Christian Jewish Dialogue for over thirty years and hosted and prepared its beginnings at High Acres, the Province House at that time, and then at Bergamo Center when the first of the National Workshops began in 1972.  Archbishop Bernadine and Bishop Moedell were also present as well as Rabbi Jack Riemer and Dr. Eric Friedland.   Here is what Dr. Friedland communicated to me just a few days ago:

“I remember Fr. Hoelle as a priest who was graciously open to the monumental changes taking place at society at large, particularly in the Roman Catholic Church.  Though of a shy demeanor, he was always welcoming and warm towards one and all.  Rooted in the Church to which he dedicated his life, he reached out to and affirmed those loyal to other faith traditions.  While he took seriously the vow of humility—and, indeed, embodied it—he was not afraid to do creditable research into new areas for him, speak up on social and political issues, toil in the newly-charted terrain of Jewish-Christian relations, and work unceasingly on behalf of the poor and disadvantaged.  Our latterday saint earned the respect and love of all those who encountered him.” 

And Shirley Flacks, former president of D.C.J. D and Hadassah said, “ To me he always went about whatever task he had set for himself with a quiet dignity that was unshakeable. He was so kind—a truly gentle man.”

In our beautiful Psalm another dimension in the life of Fr Hoelle is his prayer life of thanksgiving and praise.  The loving-kindness of God (Hesed) came through in this most religious and experiential of Psalms filled with blessing and the Holy Name of God within its 22 lines—the number for Wisdom Psalms based on the letters of the Hebrew alphabet.  Wisdom made up the experiences of Fr. Phil who lived out each of the letters to its fullest, for he accepted God as the center of his life and prayed, “Yes, Bless the Lord, O my soul and all that is within me, bless God’s Holy Name.”  Like the psalmist Fr. Hoelle forgot himself and merged himself in the lives of the people of God. 

The selection from the Book of Revelation is from a letter to the seven churches in Asia Minor and contains one of the most beautiful images of Jesus who says,  “Behold, I stand at the door knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come to you and eat with you, and you with me.”  Certainly many of us came knocking at Phil’s door and answered his call to us. He invited us  to stay at table to enjoy the meal with one another in the many ministries and activities he began—all part of God’s plan and God’s company in his life and ours.   I was led to this passage because of the last communication Fr. gave to all of us through his jubilee card for his profession of seventy-five years as a Marianist.   He designed the card which had a window and the following from an Irish blessing:  “In my window a little light is always burning for you.  The arms of a friend are waiting.”   When we knocked at his door Phil was waiting for us.  He often pushed us beyond our limits enabling us then to make a permanent commitment to God’s providential plans in our lives for the good of others.   Just think of the many foundations he began:  The Miriam Guild,  The Dakota Center,  The Frontline Adult Apostolate, the invitation to the first women who became Daughters of Mary, and many more of the communities of the Marianist Family. Christmas Mass at Midnight for neighbors, etc.   All done through his loving faith and steady fidelity to all of us.  Yes, faith with love and universality were his trinity of virtues.  He was a wisdom person in his counseling, his spiritual direction, and his work on the Provincial Council as Officer for Religious Life and Apostolic Activities.  

Phil also got the Marian Library on its greatest thrust as he and Bro. Stanley Mathews kept up with the times to make this the greatest Marian Library in the world.   He served us in this way from 1954-1967.    One of his friends here present worked for fifty years helping to collect all of the newspaper clippings about the Mother of Jesus…now known as the Mildred Sutton files reaching up to 60 thousand clippings.

And as he neared his seventy-fifth anniversary of vows he was so excited about the day and so prepared, but like Phil’s humor God had surpassed him and called him home the day before the beautiful celebration at the chapel of the Immaculate Conception at U. Dayton.   One of the Marianist Affiliates who had lost her son most recently had this to say about Fr. Phil’s anniversary and his not being there for it to renew his vows:

“At this time, God is calling souls! In listening to the homily yesterday, I heard Fr. Phil was responding to the 4:00 message of presentation for his years of loving dedication and service in the family of Mary.  He repeated the occasion, others heard a wrong date. God chose him at His time and date.  I pray that we can all listen more closely to “God’s call.”  Our human way is to ask.  Even as I do so when I ponder “How did Mary his Mother stand?” At this hour of mourning I quickly know it was a moment for Her of calling and standing there so grace-filled as Our Lord Jesus Christ, returned to His Father. My humanness knows it was a hard action.”

This testimony leads me to our final selection for this celebration, a passage used frequently for the profession of vows especially perpetual vows in the Society of Mary.  The scene takes place not far from what our Prophet Isaiah was talking about, namely, Mount Zion in Jerusalem. Near this is Mount Calvary where the Daughter of Zion, Mary stood next to the Cross of Jesus.  She and the women and the beloved disciple were there as Jesus neared death.  Though this was her greatest hour of darkness, it was also paradoxically the hour of glory and absolute unconditional love as she united herself to her dying son.  All history was converging upon this Jewish Mother, this Daughter of Zion as she watched her son’s life ebb away with a flowing of blood and water.  Flesh of her flesh, blood of her blood, Jesus!   Her son turns towards her and the beloved disciple and says,  “Woman , behold your son” and then to the disciple, “Son, behold your Mother.”  It was more than filial love and piety toward Mary.  It was the entrustment of a new creation both of Jew and Gentile represented in the two standing there.   The disciple is symbolic of those faithful to God’s plans and commitments; the Mother is the spiritual tie with all her children in the world and the larger family of God.  For us it is the beginning of the Family of Mary and the Marianist families.   Jesus knows that the hour is here and says that all is accomplished: “Consummatum est.”  And the work of Jesus is finished here at this hour but the world continues on in the plan of God.  

Fr. Hoelle entered into this last hour telling the nurses that were praying with him: “I am ready to go.”  He died peacefully on a Saturday dedicated to Mary.  

Let me end with some reflections on Mary that fit this occasion.  The first is from Origen written around 250 in the earliest commentary on this text:   Origen comments, “No one may understand the meaning of this Gospel if one has not rested on the breast of Jesus and received Mary from Jesus, to be their mother also.”   And finally from Fr. Hoelle who gave us his legacy about Mary: “ By accepting God’s unique call to become the mother of Jesus,  Mary provided Jesus with human hands for working, a human mind for thinking, a human will for making decisions and a human heart for loving others , all others.”

 His last words to us come from his golden jubilee as a Marianist priest:   “The gifts we give each other/ the things we do for each other/ the friendships we build with each other are all ECHOES of God’s eternal gifts.”  We also join with another beloved disciple in our farewell to Fr. Phil:

“St. John, obtain for us the grace of taking Mary into our life, as you did, and of assisting her in her mission.  May the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit be glorified in all places through the Immaculate Virgin Mary.  Amen. (Marianist Three O’Clock Prayer).

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