Remembering Fr. Felix
“Greetings and Salutations,” as Fr. Felix would say.
Aren’t we all honored to have known him; and humbled to have walked with such a good brother and friend? He left us to join his Lord on what in the old calendar was the feast of All Souls of the Dominican Order.
Gentleman to the end, it seemed he didn’t want to disrupt the regular morning liturgical schedule and so slipped away between Morning Prayer and the 8am Mass.
Having been visited by the Archbishop and the Master of the Order, having concelebrated our great 800th Jubilee Mass, and having completed the St. Jude novena – giving out the blessing with the relic of St. Jude until the evening before his death – he was ready to move on and be in his heavenly home, hopefully for the actual anniversary of our Order’s founding this next month.
Our hearts are sad at his passing. We embrace the tears of that reality, not denying our grief or sorrow, but as disciples of Christ we embrace and are embraced by the hope that Chris gives. So we can be joyful, not just in remembering this joyful friar, but in the assurance that his life and indomitable goodness goes on. And he calls us to follow his example and one day join him in the joy of eternity.
We accompany him with our prayers, and entrust ourselves to his.
He was one of what seems to be an increasingly rare breed; he was a proud native San Franciscan, baptized here at St. Dominic’s. Astounding to the young friars and most of us was the fact that he watched the Golden Gate Bridge being built, and sailed under it in WWII service in the Merchant Marines. He was a graduate of St. Ignatius High School and USF, to which his mother dragged him the moment he got off his warship.
When he entered the Order of Preachers he was given the name Felix, so appropriate in describing his nature and manner – happy. But also of religious significance, because it was St. Dominic’s father’s name. And just as that first Felix fostered sanctity in his sons, Fr. Felix encouraged us to the fulfillment of that goal in our lives.
As Fr. Buckley listed in Fr. Felix’s obituary, the many places he had ministered included Antioch, Vallejo, Portland, Kentfield, Reno and our mission in Chiapas, Mexico. While there, struggling consistently with the language, he spoke powerfully through his love, smile and joy to the native people. When they gathered for celebrations, always accompanied by a small band with simple instruments, his irrepressible musical spirit couldn’t help but put rocks in an empty can and provide some assistance. I understand that when he was reassigned, the people hid his luggage to keep him from leaving them.
His musical heart provided us with many old time favorites on the priory piano or even when least expected, in the early morning in the church, such as when Las Mananitas once welcomed those attending the 6:30am Mass close to the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. His little concerts always ended with the characteristic flourish as he slid his fingers to the upper end of the keyboard.
Fr. Felix seemed to know everyone in the city, and in later years always checked the obituary page and would attend funerals of many friends and acquaintances, priests, firefighters and police. He had an incredible memory for details and persons.
He could be found in the church on Friday nights mopping the aisle and sanctuary so that brides the next day wouldn’t get their wedding dresses soiled.
It was a great gift for our novices to have him in their first Dominican community; an example of Dominican life. Although puzzled by his manner at first. they grew to love him each year. I often said he not only prayed, but played the Divine Office.
The younger brothers who enter usually expect us to be rather dour and serious, especially at our prayer, so they didn’t quite know how to take Fr. Felix. He would syncopate the beats of a hymn, especially particular favorites, lean into a novice brother, crooning a psalm or hymn in barbershop quartet fashion, and operatically sing the “Salve Regina” and “O Lumen” at night prayer with hand dramatically placed on his chest. His sharp eye would catch a smile on one of the novice’s faces and he knew he had him. Then all the more he would try to bring a chuckle to his lips.
Fr. Buckley called him our own St. Joseph of Cupertino, a saint known for levitations and literally flying through the air. Felix had his own brand of flying – extending his arms and gliding into the choir.
The novices had to get used to his particular expressions. If they shared with him something uniquely good he would say “Oh No,” shocking them at what they only supposed was disappointment. If there were something that was in the category of bad news, he responded with “Oh Brother!”
Who will hear our confessions now? We priests in the priory would smile when, in Advent and Lent penance services, there was a long line in front of his confessional and only a few scattered penitents at ours. Such an encouraging and positive, uplifting confessor, he almost made you feel good about your sins: “You didn’t really mean it. You’ll do better next time.” Many of the brothers imitate him, in no way making fun, but delighting in his manner, goodness and distinctive take on things.
Stories about him abound! Each person I met after his death had their own treasured memory to share.
If God is All Truth, Goodness and Beauty, we surely saw Him mirrored in the life of our brother. In the integrity of his priestly life, the genuine goodness that he radiated, and the beauty of this simple soul, whose smile and joy lifted hearts, especially of those dejected and burdened.
He consistently directed us through his ministry to the healing grace of the confessional and the nourishment and strength of the Bread of Heaven in the Eucharist.
Oh, that all of us would leave this life with something similar to his legacy. He showed us that it’s not impossible, in his simple, positive and loving approach to life and each person God put in his path. We can thank him for this model of accessible sanctity.
I must recognize Dr. Jacobson, all his caregivers, his loving family and our prior, Fr. Steve Maekawa, O.P., and “Bro” (Br. Gregory Lira, O.P.) for their great care of him, especially in these his last days. They were incredibly attentive.
In his final days, “thank you” was always on his lips, and he was ever ready to give his priestly blessing. It is we who now say thank you to him, and thank God for the blessing that he was for our province and each of us who knew him.
He always would say, “I’ll help you as much as I can.” That assistance, like that of St. Dominic before him, will only be intensified now as he is joined to his Lord. We await what God will do through Fr. Felix in our midst.
Fr. Felix, you will always be in our hearts and we will meet you each day in the Eucharist. Pray for us.