Eulogy for Fr. Roderick A. Crispo, O.F.M.
Father Rod’s funeral was on October 7, at St. Anthony’s Church, Troy, NY.
I was asked to give the eulogy and you can also read it here.
I am honored and humbled, to have been asked to say a few words of remembrance for Fr. Rod.
I also fear that I may not do justice to the task before me.
My name is Fr. Tony and, personally and on behalf of RMS, faculty, staff and students, I am truly grateful to God for having given us Fr. Rod and, like you, I too am sad to see him leave us. I also bring you
Cardinal Seán O’Malley’s heartfelt condolences and sentiments of profound gratitude for Fr. Rod’s service to our seminary and to the Archdiocese of Boston.
As I was thinking about what to say, there was a line in one of the Psalms that kept coming back to me and I hope will help me frame my remarks. It says, “The righteous man will flourish like the palm tree, he will grow like a Lebanon cedar. Planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. In old age, they will still bear fruit; they shall be full of sap and very green, to proclaim that the Lord is just” (Ps 92:14).
At the ripe young age of almost 80, when most people are either retired or on their way to retirement, Fr. Rod took on a full-time job as resident Spiritual Director at RMS of Boston. For the next 13 years, he gave us a glimpse of what David says in the psalm that I just read from, namely, that old age is no impediment for the just man to flourish, to renew his strength and to proclaim, full of sap and still green, the goodness of the Lord.
This is why my eulogy will sound more like a statement of gratitude for Fr. Rod’s life and ministry.
First of all, I would like to thank Fr. Rod’s family, especially his sisters Carmel, Betty, Grace, and his dear now deceased twin sister, Victoria (or Vicky, as Fr. Rod used to say): I can assure you that, in all the years that Fr. Rod spent with us, not a single day went by that you were not all present in his life. If Fr. Rod was not speaking with you on the phone, which he did nearly every day, you can be sure that he was speaking to us about you. There was never any doubt that you were very important in his life and indeed he loved you very much.
I also want to thank the Franciscans of the Immaculate Conception province and congratulate them for the excellent work in forming the finest priest that I have ever known. Like the wine that gets better with age, we were privileged to harvest the best, the sweetest fruits of Fr. Rod’s rich experience, kindness and wisdom. As St. Paul says, “One sows, and another reaps”, and we are most grateful for having reaped the labors of others in an icon of priestly ministry, truly worthy of our imitation.
Now...rather than repeat what you can read in the obituaries, I would like to share with you some of the gold nuggets that we received from Fr. Rod during his time with us.
First of all, Fr. Rod lived and died a faithful priest and a devout son of St. Francis. Never a day went by that he did not wear his habit and say his prayers, including the 7-Mystery Franciscan Rosary. When we tried to entice him sometimes to put on a pair of shorts to go to the beach, Fr. Rod’s reply was unequivocally the same, “I’m ok like this – pointing to his habit!” And, he really was OK in his habit, often adding in a disarming way, “it’s just a habit that I got into”.
In this way, Fr. Rod was showing us that faithfulness to God is seen especially in the little things that we do when no one is looking. For Fr. Rod, wearing his habit, far from being a burden, was a joy or the price he was willing to pay to stay true to himself, transparent, young at heart, and grateful to God.
I mention this because, as people thanked us, especially lately for the care that we gave to Fr. Rod, in my mind I couldn’t help thinking that caring for him was Fr. Rod’s last and, arguably, his most important lesson to us. Although I was edified by the spontaneous manner in which our seminarians organized to take turns serving Fr. Rod, I really should not have been surprised because they were merely doing what they had seen him do to them, time and again over the years, as he served us with humility, love and generosity.
Second, Fr. Rod had an exceptional love for the Blessed Mother.
At times, if you knocked on his door and he was not in his room, you could be sure to find him, either in the chapel or outside, sitting in the garden on the bench across from the statue of the Blessed Mother, usually praying his Rosary.
Fr. Rod’s relationship with Mary was personal and intense. Time and again we heard him speak of the Blessed Mother with such intimate knowledge, that it felt as if he lived with her. This is why he never tired of urging us priests and seminarians alike, to “Go to Mary, [or to] Go through the Mother. [And he would say,] She always helps!” Fr. Rod would speak these words with such conviction that it made you feel as if he had just spoken to Mary about you or else that he was going to speak to her as soon as you left his presence. As Mary had become a true mother to him, through his deep devotion to her, she also became a mother to all of us.
Third, Fr. Rod’s kindness and compassion, especially in conversation with people or during confession, belied an incredible spiritual discernment and a stark loathing of everything that was fake or hypocritical. Fr. Rod was a firm believer in the power of God’s grace, but he never doubted for a second of the existence of the devil. In fact, he expressed this in rather colorful ways, as when he would say, “we have to send the devil to hell; [or] Tell the devil to go to hell, where he belongs!” And in one of my favorites, mocking the devil he would say, “burn baby, burn in hell – where you belong!”
Even as Fr. Rod’s memory began to fail and his health declined, until a few weeks before his death, he was still hearing confessions and never turned anyone away, priest, seminarian, lay person, whether you came by day or arrived at night.
In an age when we need an appointment for just about everything, Fr. Rod was always on duty and, the moment you arrived in his presence, you immediately felt that he was expecting you and that you were the most important person for him. If we were not careful, he would easily skip a meal or neglect his body food or drink, because of someone who needed him.
Fr. Rod understood his mission as a soldier in spiritual warfare, a fighter who fought, not against flesh and blood, but as someone who was engaged with God in a battle against the devil to send him back to hell – where he belongs! Yes, Fr. Rod died a poor man, but he died with his boots on, after breathing his last and spending his life in service to us.
As I have heard this week from messages and in conversation with people, countless people went to Fr. Rod for confession. And they all repeated what must have been a common saying that he told everyone at the end of their confession, “Come anytime. Do you understand?! Anytime. I don’t care if it’s in the middle of the night or whenever you need: I am here for you!”
Fr. Rod’s quiet, humble and self-effacing demeanor taught us to trust God, to serve the poor and to treat everyone with respect and with dignity.
To conclude, I would like to repeat that it was an honor for me to work with Fr. Rod, a man who was significantly my elder in age, in experience and in wisdom, and yet submitted humbly daily, not just to the life and discipline of the seminary but also to my authority as rector. As the seminarians can tell you, Fr. Rod kept busy and people often asked him to do all kinds of things, yet, before deciding on anything, he would always ask, “Did you speak with Tony? Does Tony know?”
Of all the people that I know, no one better than Fr. Rod has lived what St. Francis wrote, “we must be simple, humble and pure”.
Yes, when Fr. Rod left us, we all lost a father, the Blessed Mother lost a son, but heaven gained a friend.
And we know that saints don’t die, which is why we pray through Fr. Rod’s intercession to carry on living “full of sap, still green”, and to proclaim the goodness of the Lord.
Dear Fr. Rod, thank you for loving me,
Please forgive me if there was anything left on my account,
And go in peace, to where we all hope to meet you some day in heaven.