In Memoriam: Brother Bede, CFX (Joseph Richard Benn)

Brother Bede passed away on Tuesday, May 10, 2016.

Jump to: Eulogy by Br. Bob Green | Video interview of Br. Bede 

In Memoriam

Brother, you have freely chosen to respond to the call of God, your Father, to life a life of love, faith and trust as a disciple of His Son, Jesus Christ, in the Congregation of the Brothers of Saint Francis Xavier. (FP)

 

When speaking with Brother Bob Green shortly after Bede passed away, Bob said, "Suddenly I realized I was watching a saint die." Indeed, Bede was a saint and inspiration for us in life. He will be one of our greatest intercessors in heaven. A spiritual director once told me that a sign of an authentic call is the joy with which the religious lives the life, relates to and serves others. In all areas Bede expressed great joy. Bede was very joy-filled. His call to be a Xaverian Brother was very clear and very real. 

Bede was born to Nora and Hugh Benn, in Somerville, MA, on July 31, 1920. Nora and Hugh were from Ireland. Bede was one of five children: Hugh, Susan Byrne, George and Mary Gogain. Upon graduating from the Juniorate in Peabody (with a St. John’s Prep diploma), Bede entered the Congregation on February 14, 1939 and received the habit on August 15th the same year. Bede made his first profession of vows on August 15, 1941. Bede earned his Bachelors in Science from Loyola University, Baltimore. His major was physics with a minor in math. He also studied at Worcester State where in 1955 he earned his M. Ed. Bede would also go on to study at Boston College and Bridgewater State. 

There are many quotes about teachers. “Outstanding teachers don't just teach the subject; they teach the students.” Or “a great teacher does not just teach you, he inspires you and changes you.” Teaching was clearly Bede's ministry and manner of bringing Christ to the students and the students to Christ. His humility and ability to be himself, his ability to accept students as they are and lead them to the next level of learning and growth as persons were qualities that endeared him to his students and distinguished his teaching ministry. And for Bede teaching was, indeed, his ministry.

In the Spirit of Saint Francis Xavier, Bede saw the various teaching assignments he received as an act of obedience. Bede was carrying out the Founder's desire that his Brothers tend to the religious formation of young people, while at the same time providing them a solid education so they could take their place in society. Bede did the former by his example as a joyful and faithful religious and the latter through his love of physics and math and his deep desire to see students learn. Bede's journey would take him to St. Francis High School in Utica, NY; St. John's in Worcester; to Malden Catholic and to Xaverian Brothers in Westwood. Upon retiring, Bede would return to Malden to do volunteer service.

Go then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples. (FP)

In 1970, Bede realized the Founder's unfulfilled dream of ministering among the Native Americans. Bede would be "sent as a missionary" not to the Potawatomi in Indiana but to the Lakota in South Dakota. Given his very gentle and open disposition, Bede readily related to people of another culture that, I am sure, at times he did not completely understand. It is said of effective missionaries that they find the Holy Spirit in the people they are called to serve. An effective missionary does not presume to have all the answers. The missionary respects the dignity of the people and helps them, in the words of our Fundamental Principles, to realize..."they too are called to experience, express and share the love of God with the world through their own giftedness."

Bede ministered at St. Francis Mission from 1970 to 1993, including years that he also taught at Sinte Gleska University from 1987 to 1993. I am confident that in his over 30 years among the Lakota, that many students were inspired and changed due to Bede's personal humility, simplicity and missionary zeal. There is no doubt that Ryken smiled on Bede for Bede embodied the very vision Ryken had for the Brothers.

Brother, you will find your love and friendship within the community one of the chief joys with which the Lord blesses you and a most powerful means of evangelization. (FP)

One cannot read this passage without thinking of Bede. I really did not know him until my present position. However, all the Brothers I knew well–Peter Walsh, James McCarthy, Peter Kelly–would sing Bede's praises. Bede was the animator of community. During one visit to Xaverian House, Bede said to me, "Ed, they're always picking on me!" And some of the other Brothers were indeed kibitzing with him. Bede loved the banter. You could see it in his eyes and hear it in his voice.

One Brother remarked to me that Bede was a man of simplicity and poverty. Upon a visit to South Dakota, Bede took the visitor to a modest restaurant where he ordered the least expensive dish. Bede took his promises seriously. He promised to follow Christ, the poor man, and he did. Yesterday Larry Harvey was visiting Dan Lynch in rehab and told Dan of Bede's passing. Dan was teary eyed. He had intended to call Bede, but didn't get to it. Dan shared, "I lived with Bede for 30 years and if ever there was a saint in the community, it was Bede.” 

One of the keys to living in community is found in the wisdom of our Fundamental Principles:

Your Founder calls you to enter into a mutual sharing with your brothers. This sharing will demand of you an opening and a giving of yourself to them a many levels, and a ready acceptance of them in their sinful and graced humanity.

 

Bede understood the message these words contain:

If you allow yourself to be formed by God through the common, ordinary unspectacular flow of everyday life, you will gradually experience a liberation and freedom never before imagined. (FP)

 

The mystic Jan van Ruusbroec, in his Sparkling Stone speaks of the common man. "Common means 'community-minded' and the common man dearly wants to share all he is given and all he possesses with everyone else: he is interested in the general welfare of the community."

Bede's life is a living example of what Russbroec describes. For the last several years we have been studying and describing the practices that bring the charism alive and invite others to live it. As Brothers we know that God asks us to make His word our home. We also know, as our Fundamental Principles remind us, that to do so, we need to spend time each day in solitude and prayer, opening ourselves to God. At our last General Chapter, Fr. Robert Faesens, SJ gave a presentation on Russbroec's spirituality. When talking of the spirituality of the common and ordinary, Father shared a thought that stayed with a number of us. The common and ordinary man “lives for God and God alone.”
Bede did just that. Bede lived for God and God alone. May his life continue to inspire us and bring us closer to Christ. May he intercede for the Congregation he loved so much. May he rest in peace.

Brother Edward Driscoll, CFX

General Superior
May 11, 2016


Eulogy of Brother Bede, C.F.X.

May 14, 2016

“THANK GOD!”

It is a great honor for me to try to share some thoughts about our Brother Bede. I met Brother Bede in September, 1960, when I was a freshman at Malden Catholic on Highland Avenue. He was my algebra teacher that year, and he later taught me algebra 2, physics and senior religion. I used to tell him that I had to take Latin 4 with Brother Earl instead of senior math or face him three times a day. May I ask for a show of hands of those who were taught by Brother Bede? (Of course, we were all taught by Brother Bede; that’s why we’re here.) He has been a part of my life these 55 plus years, and I have had the privilege of trying to be of some service to him and our other Brothers at Xaverian House for three years.

Last Monday afternoon our Nurse Robin Rowell went to visit Brother Bede at the Hathorne Hill Rehabilitation Center near here where he had been for several weeks, trying to build up his strength to return home to Xaverian House after a fall as he had successfully done a number of times over the years. His progress this time had been minimal and we suspected he would never be able to come home. That afternoon, he met Robin with the words, “I’m going home.” And not to Xaverian House. He knew that he was dying and was not afraid. He asked Robin for me to join them there. We asked if he had any message to give us. Having some difficulty breathing, he was able clearly to tell us, “Thank God.” It was not a cheap or rather meaningless “thank God” like you or I might say when someone changes the TV station from an obnoxious commercial or politician, or when we’ve driven past a state trooper who didn’t notice that we may have been driving a little above the speed limit. Brother Bede’s was a two-word message worth our attention. We all have many personal reasons for which we ought to thank God. All of us, here in the Prep Chapel, or watching on computers, or with us “in spirit, share a common reason to be grateful to God today – for God’s special gift to us of a man most of us called Bede and that his dear family called Joe. We can certainly say, “Thank God.”

A list such as you find in the funeral booklet cannot adequately describe a person’s life and impact. For over thirty years, Brother Bede had a pretty ordinary Xaverian life with teaching, running extracurricular programs, maybe going to university classes. But the word “ordinary” can dilute the significance of the personal relationships between Brothers and students: the kindnesses, the corrections, the teasing and encouragement – all of which were experienced by students one at a time. Brother Bede was certainly not interested in having 15 year old “buddies”. But he was very much interested in teaching them about God’s personal love for them and some of the possible ways for them respond to God’s love. He understood that he was representing Jesus, that he was an instrument making God’s love and concern visible to his students. Brother Bede recognized that he was created to be the brother of Jesus to his family members, his Brothers in community, his colleagues and the young people entrusted to him. St. Francis de Sales High School in Utica, New York, was shortchanged because he was there for only one year. The affection of his students in Worcester, Malden and Westwood was always beyond his understanding. I think that Brother Bede’s humility, his deep faith, and his basic goodness allowed us to see beyond any externals for a perhaps undefinable but real sense of the presence of God, even if we could not name it as such. Once again, we say, “Thank God.”

In the early 1970s, Brother Bede was one of a group of Brothers who moved west, beyond route 128, onto the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota for a major shift in their ministerial and personal lives. Although Brother Bede continued his high school teaching in math and religion at St. Francis Mission and served as teacher of math and adult education at the Sinte Gleska University in South Dakota, his world and his heart expanded beyond the comfortable world of chalk, blackboards and textbooks even though he was often selected as the Teacher of the Year. I spoke this week with Bede’s confrere Brother Daniel Lynch in Baltimore and his friend and colleague Kathy Blea in South Dakota. Their descriptions of his activities range from leading in-school retreats to establishing with the late Jesuit Father Richard Jones a Cursillo program that is still active at St. Francis; from spending time with tribal elders to accompanying them and their families at wakes and funerals and to serving as godfather to many of their children and grandchildren. Brother became something of a docent in the Mission Museum and helped arrange for an old Church constructed years ago by Jesuit Brothers from Austria to be moved next to the Museum in order to show the Church’s history of service to the people there. Brother Dan told me about Bede’s concern for street people on the reservation, alcoholics living day to day with no real place to stay. When desperate, they knew that they could go to Bede who would give them $5 checks for food or supplies, even when some of them would just buy more alcohol. In the original vision of our Founder, Theodore James Ryken, the Brothers would have a major focus on the needs of Native Americans. 130 plus years after the Foundation, happy and proud he must have been of Brother Bede, Brother Dan and the others. He would certainly say, “Thank God.”

Our Brother Bede was never a stern and serious do-gooder, despite theatrical warnings like “I’ll smash you.” He had a quick wit to the end of his life. In our schools, on the reservation, and clearly in our Xaverian communities, Bede was very often a delighted participant in banter, in teasing. A very important memory of mine is being in a room at the old Malden Catholic where a variety of activities took place: it was a library, a teachers’ workroom, my Latin 4 classroom, a physics lab and a general gathering-space. It was a winter’s day, I think, and he came in with his black overcoat over his chalk-covered habit and a Pilgrim-size black hat ready to walk home to Pleasant Street. As he said goodbye, several of the Brothers enjoyed asking such questions as “Were you wearing that hat when the bus ran it over?” Even to student like me it was very clear that the teasing was genuinely affectionate. This was a person whom they really liked, and he knew it. Bede was one of those blessed people who made living in common a genuine life-giving and fraternal experience. His confreres would certainly say, “Thank God.”

Beyond all the words which we can correctly use in describing our Brother Bede, I think that we all know that he was above all a man of prayer. He was able to recognize that God had initiated their relationship almost a hundred years ago when he called him to life in the Benn family of Somerville and that these 95+ years he had lived were filled with evidence of God’s personal and passionate love for him that empowered him to respond to the Holy Spirit in a lifetime of uncomplicated service of others. Whether assisting at Mass in various settings, praying the divine office or his cherished rosary with his Brothers in community, or simply sitting in prayer for hours in silence to Our Lord in the Eucharist, Bede learned how to “allow himself to be formed by God through the common, ordinary, unspectacular flow of everyday life” and to become a “beautiful instrument of God,” as his friend Kathy Blea so lovingly described him. And we “thank God” for this.

Brother Bede’s vision was 20/20. He was able to recognize our brother Jesus in his high school boys in Utica, Worcester, Malden and Westwood, in the inner city children of Hartford in a summer ministry with other Brothers in the 60s, in the youngsters at Camp Xaverian in Westwood in other summers, in his Xaverian Brothers and in his beloved family. Bede did not need glasses to see God in us. Now he sees God face to face. Our response must be, “Thank God.”

 

Brother Robert J. Green, C.F.X.

Danvers, Massachusetts


The video interview below took place in December 2013. In it Brother Bede talks about his trust in God through to the end of life.