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Francis Maurice – October 15, 1922 – October 27, 2010

Funeral Mass for Francis Maurice – Oct. 29, 2010 St. Mary Immaculate Catholic Church, Richmond Hill

Eulogy – by Mary Bastedo

Francis Maurice and Jean Vanier in 1999

Francis Maurice and Jean Vanier in 1999

St. Paul says in the reading Kathy just read, “God has shone in each of our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”[i] I think today we can say together that “God has shone in each of our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of our brother, Francis Maurice.”

“But,” Paul continues, “We have this treasure in clay jars.” This light, this inner beauty, is held in the very ordinary, fragile realities of our lives – our bodies, our families, our community life. We don’t always see the treasure, but it’s there.

For the past 88 years, we have held the treasure of the life of Francis Maurice.

Francis was born on Oct. 15, 1922 in Ingersoll, Ontario, the fourth youngest of 13 children of Rose and Thomas Maurice.  Francis had three sisters and nine brothers. He lived in Ingersoll for almost 50 years. He was very engaged with the community and with his family. His brother Jimmy remembers fondly swimming and fishing with him. Francis loved sports. He was the bat boy for the Ingersoll Junior softball team and part of the hockey team. In fact he was so involved that when he left Ingersoll there was an article about him in the Ingersoll Times, entitles, “Frankie Maurice has Moved from Town.” The article reads:

One sports fan who never missed a hockey game or softball game in Ingersoll is missing around Memorial Centre this season and he is Frank Maurice. He was a great fan of the Tom and Gord’s softball team and would always be at the ball park long before the players arrived. He was their bat boy and good luck charm. Once the game started he kept up a steady line of chatter, that was, between mouthfuls of Piebe Kobus’ French fries, which he had a great appetite for. The captain of the hockey team, the Ingersoll Reems, who won the Ontario Hockey Association Junior “C” championships in 1955, said, ‘He really kept the team loosened up.’

Francis continued to live with his Mother long after the other children left home. He had some jobs in Ingersoll – at the cheese factory and at a machine factory during the war.  He was a real support for his Mom, doing errands and jobs around the house, like shoveling snow, mowing the lawn and chopping wood. One day he came home to find her dead, which was a very traumatic experience for him. He often talked about it, saying, “I couldn’t eat for days afterwards.”

After his Mother died, Francis moved to Markham with his brother Joe and sister-in-law Patti. (Patti is here today.) From there he started working at ARC Industries in Richmond Hill, and soon afterwards came to L’Arche Daybreak in April 1972. At that time he changed his name to ‘Francis’ because there was another Frank in the community (Frank Sutton) and Francis had to be unique. And so began a new chapter of his life.

He lived initially at the Big House, and then in 1974 was part of the founding group that opened the Green House. I first met Francis in 1975 when I stayed as a guest at the Green House. He left a beautiful watercolor painting on my bed as a welcome card and in the morning he greeted me and asked how I had slept. So I discovered early on Francis’ gifts as an artist and a man of welcome.

In 1984 he was part of the founding of the Mill Street House, with Lloyd Kerman, Linda Slinger and Anne Kingsmill. Lloyd, Linda and Francis lived together for 11 years and were good buddies. I came to live with them at Mill Street in 1993, just before Keith and Jeffi got married. At that time Susanne Kearns was the fourth core member in the house. I witnessed the deep friendships they all had with Keith and Jeffi. Francis had a big capacity for friendship.

We began looking for a bigger, more suitable house to buy. Francis was part of that house-hunting. Finally we found the Red House and we all liked it. The Red House opened in June 1995 – with Francis, Linda Slinger, Mike Arnett and Helen Jordan. Mary Bee was part of the team. So Francis was a founder of 3 Daybreak homes – Green House, Mill Street and Red House. He had a gift for creating home. He enjoyed being in the kitchen – cooking, emptying the dishwasher, taking out the recycling. He was companionable – great at peeling potatoes. He assumed a role at the head of the table, as the patriarch, leading us in prayer. He was especially mindful of the weaker members of the household – Mike and Helen- and made sure the assistants were being attentive to their needs.

Francis was a man who had dreams and plans. In 1984 I was at his annual review when he was planning for his retirement and dreaming about having his own work bench. At the Red House, he was finally able to realize his dream – 11 years later! He loved being out there hammering, sawing and drilling. Linda Martin’s Mom, May, gave him tools for his birthday. He could only use it in the summer, since the garage wasn’t heated, and he would anxiously await Victoria Day, when he could return to his happy hang-out.

Francis had a lot of desires, and he needed other people to help him meet his needs. He couldn’t just get in the car and go out and pick up what he wanted. So he was often anxious that people wouldn’t hear or respond to his needs. He was a “squeaky wheel” – repeating his needs over and over.  And there was always something he needed! I remember when I first moved into Mill Street, Francis was going on and on about needing a new buggy for his newspaper route. I thought, “Why isn’t somebody doing something about this?” I went with Francis to the neighborhood hardware store and we got a new buggy. So I thought, “Fine, the problem is fixed.” But then I discovered there was something else he needed. There’s a saying, ‘The squeaky wheel gets the grease’ but if a person is always squeaky, there’s a tendency to tune him out and say “give me a break!”

In community life, there can be a danger of getting lost in the crowd. Francis made sure that wouldn’t happen to him. He needed to be different, to assert his uniqueness. He would let us know at table that he did NOT like onions, mushrooms, rice, brown bread etc. Sometimes we would have to cook a special meal for him, without mushrooms or onions. He wanted to his own special salt, special mayonnaise, special beer etc. It could be challenging living with Francis and all his demands! But underneath all those special needs I think what he really wanted us to know was that he was special.

Yes, it was challenging living with Francis’ neediness and anxiety.  He also had a special gift for creating a trail of crumbs everywhere! But on his birthday he was different. He loved his birthday and the anticipation of it. We had a tradition that when we were planning someone’s birthday, we would ask the birthday person to leave the room, so we could talk about how we would decorate, what gift to buy etc. So when it was coming near his birthday Francis would ask, “So do you want me to leave the room?” At his birthday party he could simply relax and receive the gifts and the nice things people were saying about him. It was probably the most peaceful day of the year for him. I find that a beautiful quality; not everyone can enjoy being celebrated on their birthday, but Francis was able to know and believe that he was loved on his birthday.

Francis had a capacity to give things up as he got older. I remember when he gave up riding his bike. “I retired from that,” he said. He gave up his paper route, when it became too much for him. He accepted using a walker (actually he was the fastest walker driver I’ve ever seen!) When he got a ukulele on his 85th birthday, he gave up being an altar server, which he dearly loved, and joined the musicians’ group.

Over the past year Francis experienced a series of medical challenges. The clay jar of his body began to crack. He was in and out of York Central Hospital for various respiratory and heart problems. In November and December we thought we were going to lose him, but he rallied and managed to come home for Christmas. He was back in hospital with pneumonia in January, and back and forth several times. It became just too stressful for the team to be constantly monitoring his breathing and pulse and wondering when to call 911. Finally in April he moved permanently out of the Red House and into long term care at York Central Hospital.

Francis was getting thinner and thinner, and was often in huge discomfort and weakness; Then he’d pick up and start needing things again. That was music to my ears, when I heard again the old refrains, “I need some more paper; these pencils need to be sharpened; I need some new numbers books; my DVD player has had the biscuit!” I thought, “Oh good, he’s getting better; he’s his old self!”

Francis made friends at York Central Hospital. I was with him on August 12 when he moved to Mariann Home. Before leaving he wheeled around in his wheelchair to say good-bye to so many people – the staff in the cafeteria, the people running the exercise class, the nurses, the women at the reception desk. They were all fond of him and said what a kind man he was.

Francis was excited to move to the Mariann Home and liked it right away, even though from the moment he got there he was confined to his room because he had picked up a very contagious bug at the hospital. For two whole months he was in his bed. But he never complained about that. He had his T.V. positioned in just the right place so he could watch his beloved cowboy movies and musicals, and he could do his drawing and number work at a table across his bed. I think something profound happened within Francis during those two months. He became more peaceful and content. When you’d go in to see him, his face would light up. “Oh hi!” he’d say with a smile. I had the feeling that God was holding him, cradling him, preparing him for the next transition.

Francis was planning for his birthday. He kept talking about who he wanted to invite and where it would be. I had the sense that he was living for that birthday celebration. It reminds me of a story Jean Vanier tells[ii] about one of the men in the L’Arche Community in Kerala, India, who one day announced, “Today is my wedding day!” People didn’t know what to make of what he was saying; they just smiled at him. But it turned out that towards the end of the day, he went to his room and had a heart attack and died. His “wedding day” was the day of his death. And for Francis, I sense his 88th birthday was a birth-day into a new life. It was an amazing day. Miraculously the day before his birthday the nurses announced that he was free of the bug and could leave his room. So on his birthday he went down to the cafeteria for breakfast for the first time and everyone sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to him. His girlfriend Linda Martin was there to greet him bright and early, along with Ann Pavilonis and myself and Beth Porter. Francis opened some gifts; we sang Happy Birthday again. Then he went down to the chapel for mass, where he played his ukulele, along with my guitar. We sang some joyful songs, including Happy Birthday again! Later he opened the package from his brother Jimmy. There were tears in his eyes, at several points during the day – tears of gratitude. He was overwhelmed with joy.

In the following days, he began to cough more and felt weak and uncomfortable. Last Monday he went to mass in the chapel. A few hours later, Wendy found him in a deep sleep. He never emerged from that sleep. There was a deep peace in his face and in his whole body. People came to be with him and to say ‘good-bye.’ Finally, on Wednesday morning, he slipped away so gently with some of his beloved friends at his side.

The treasure of Francis’ life became more and more evident, even as his body, his clay jar, weakened and fell apart.  I value those wonderful qualities of his – enthusiasm for life, kindness, friendship and creativity. I’m inspired by his life.  I also witnessed to the way God so tenderly and lovingly cared for him and brought his life to a place of peace and fullness. That gives me hope, fills me with gratitude and renews my faith. Indeed, through the face of Francis we have seen the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, which is held in clay jars.

[i] 2 Corinthians 4: 6-14

[ii] Jean Vanier, Drawn Into the Mystery of Jesus Through the Gospel of John, p. 62.