An old friend and colleague of mine, Father Wayne Funk, died this week. This good priest was pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Frederick, Md., in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. His death came after a long battle with cancer to which he brought a strong and peaceful spirit.
I first met Wayne in September of 1959 when our class arrived at the North American College in Rome to begin our theological studies in preparation for the priesthood. Although Wayne was a classmate, he greeted the rest of us when we arrived in Rome. He had already been there for two years studying philosophy at the Gregorian University.
He and I were reunited at the North American College in 1972 when I became a member of the staff there. Once again Wayne welcomed me, having been appointed to that staff two years earlier.
Both as fellow student and colleague, Wayne was a delightful friend and companion. I remember humor as one of his wonderful qualities. He had an exceptional gift for doing impressions of other people. Whether his humor was expressed verbally, in impressions or in his extravagant gestures, it was never at the expense of the other. It was always affectionate and freeing and very funny.
But humor was not his only very notable quality. I always admired his preaching ability. Wayne’s homilies were always thoughtful, rooted in lively faith and carried a message that helped us to be more thoughtful about our own lives.
I always remember his passion for what he thought was the right thing. Whenever he saw something that was not fair or unjust or just not quite the way it should be, he addressed the situation. Even to such instances as these, he brought a kindness toward others so that he could address the situation without damaging others or causing unnecessary hurts.
The last time I saw him was in September of last year at the 45th anniversary of our ordination class. At a dinner in Baltimore in November of the year before the reunion, Wayne told me that he dearly wanted to live long enough to get to the reunion. I am so glad he did. It was clear that he had a wonderful time. No less clear was the fact that we all, as we always had, enjoyed his company.
Wayne’s death evokes many happy memories, and for that I am very grateful. I also am grateful during this holy season to have the witness of his faith as he faced death. I can’t say that he was happy about the prospect. Indeed, he struggled mightily to combat the cancer which finally took him. And, he certainly had a great zest for life.
But, he had a deep and perduring faith in God’s love for him, and a conviction that he was reconciled through the saving love of Christ.
I confess that Wayne’s passing has put me in touch with my own mortality in a way that I have not experienced before. I suppose that is because I have known him for so long and that we are contemporaries.
It has not been a morbid experience in any way. Rather, it has been a freeing kind of experience. It has made me mindful of what a precious gift life really is. It has reminded me that the Christ life into which we have been baptized will never end — even though our time on this earth will come to an end. It has deepened my desire to be more faithful to that gift, and to be more generous in sharing it with others.
I thank dear Wayne for being the human source of these gifts. Even in the process of dying he built people up; helped them to come to greater freedom.
Peace to all.