Funeral Mass Homily for Rev. Richard V. Warner, C.S.C.
To Joanne, Dick’s sister, and Dick’s family, our deepest condolences. To my confreres in Holy Cross, and to Dick’s many close friends gathered today, I offer my condolences as well. We have lost today a brother and uncle, a leader and mentor, a priest and a friend. We will miss him terribly.
There are so many things to say about Dick Warner’s life—more than I will be able to say. It is hard even to know where to begin. The best place, perhaps, is that Dick Warner was first and foremost a Holy Cross religious and a priest, committed from the core of his being to living the Gospel, to serving the people of God, leading us in sacramental ministry and prayer and to serving the Congregation of Holy Cross and its mission. Dick loved the Mass and celebrated it nearly every day of his life. He was always accessible for confession or a pastoral conversation, to preside at a baptism or at a wedding, for anyone who called at just about any time. I was ordained a priest when Dick was provincial, and he has always been for me the model of a dedicated, selfless, committed priest. He loved his faith, his God, and his priesthood, and his life witnessed to us what Pope Francis calls “the joy of the Gospel.”
There were also, I believe, several other loves that defined Dick’s life and guided and sustained him. The first was his family—his parents, his siblings, and his nieces and nephews—from which he drew so much support. He always spoke with such loving fondness of his family. Dick traveled the world in his various roles, but was always there to officiate at family weddings and baptize the children of his nieces and nephews. His favorite vacation was to spend time with his family in Cleveland where he would go to baseball games, visit families and play cards with his relatives until 2:00am. Reports are that he would cheat and look at his sister’s cards just to annoy her. His visits would always include a Mass with the family, most recently this past Christmas. After a visit of activities and late-night card games, he left his relatives exhausted. This condition came to be known among them as PUDS—Post-Uncle Dick Syndrome. He wore them out! Dick had so many accomplished roles in his life, but to his family he was always their funny, silly Uncle Dick.
Dick’s second love was his other family, the Congregation of Holy Cross, which he served so faithfully. After he was ordained a priest, Dick taught at St. George’s College in Santiago, Chile. He was beloved there, and served during the difficult years of the military dictatorship when the school was taken over and Holy Cross was expelled. When the military came, Dick had the somber duty of removing the eucharist from the tabernacle in the school chapel and extinguishing the sanctuary candle.
He was called back to the United States and served as Provincial Steward for six years and was then elected to serve as Provincial Superior for nine more years. Dick was extremely influential in that role, and was respected throughout the global Holy Cross community. So great was the respect that, after over twenty years in ministry at Notre Dame, he was elected Superior General of the world-wide Holy Cross Congregation. It was an honor for him, but those who knew Dick well knew that it was a great personal sacrifice for him to leave his work at Notre Dame, which he loved, to take on this new responsibility. Yet, as he did with every role he was asked to take, he threw his heart into it and began conversations about restructuring the Holy Cross Congregation that are bearing fruit today.
He did so much to strengthen the connections among the global Holy Cross Community. In this regard, he had a particular love for the younger, growing Holy Cross Districts and Provinces around the world. He loved Chile, Bangladesh, East Africa, and many other places. I remember speaking to him after a visit to Bangladesh, and I was sure there were few other places in the world he would more enjoy visiting.
Dick’s third family—his third love—was Notre Dame. He graduated from Notre Dame in 1962, and returned to work at the University as Counselor to the President in 1988 and then as Director of Campus Ministry in 1989. Dick was an innovative leader of Campus Ministry, seeking to connect with students in new ways to deepen their faith and help them respond to the call to serve. He urged those with whom he worked not simply to serve the devout, but to reach out to students wherever they were.
He was a proud resident of Fisher Hall—the Cadillac of dorms, as its residents call it. He loved living with the students, gave himself to presiding at Mass and pastoral care for the community. He was a regular presence at inter-hall football games, the Fisher Regatta on St. Mary’s Lake, at hall dances, and any other place he could be present to students. He truly loved the students, and they loved him.
Patty O’Hara, a dear friend of Dick’s, was Vice President of Student Affairs at the time. She told me of a time when parents had lost two of their daughters in a tragic plane crash, one of whom was a Notre Dame student. The University had sent the student’s rector and friends to be there at the Memorial Mass on a Saturday. Late Friday evening, though, Dick called Patty to say that this was not enough; the two of them should also travel to be there, and that he had booked two tickets on the flight at 6:00am the next morning. They arrived, and the girls’ mother opened the door to welcome them with a “Notre Dame Mom” sweatshirt. She broke down in tears of gratitude to see them there.
Dick also had a great love for the poor and for those in need. He was a driving force behind the creation of the South Bend Center for the Homeless and he served as the Chairman of its Board for 27 years and was always a champion for it. Dick heard the Gospel call to find Jesus in those who are poor in any way.
Dick also served as Chairman of the Board of Memorial Hospital here in South Bend for seven years. From that service he developed a close friendship with Phil and Mary Newbold. Dick had so many wonderful friends, but I must mention Phil and Mary who, as Dick’s health and mental acuity declined, were such admirably loyal, caring friends to him.
Dick was a truth-teller, and he would not want me to heap praise on him without mentioning possible short-comings. Those who worked closely with Dick knew that he was demanding, and he could be sharply critical of you if he did not think you were meeting standards. I know because I was sometimes been the object of such criticism. Dick was also an effective salesman, and he was extremely shrewd in bringing others to the position he thought best. It is a running joke in the Holy Congregation to speak of “Warner math”, where numbers and measures could be massaged—or simply invented—to make his point. Yet, having known Dick for almost fifty years, I know these traits and tendencies never served selfish ends, but always arose from a passion to serve the Gospel of Jesus Christ and his Kingdom. Dick was an extraordinary man who had an extraordinary impact on the Congregation of Holy Cross, the University of Notre Dame, and on everyone who knew and loved him.
Dick was one of the most intellectually astute, witty, polite, and socially-graceful people I have ever known. It was, then, a real cross when his cognitive faculties began to decline, his memory became less reliable, and his emotions became sometimes unpredictable. As hard as it may have been for those who loved him, it was no doubt harder for him. “The cross is our only hope,” says the motto of Holy Cross, and Dick Warner and those who loved him were given a cross to bear as Dick declined at the end of his life.
Fr. Bob Dowd and I were able to visit Dick at Holy Cross House, our care facility, the night before he died. Dick was awake, but non-communicative. His breathing was labored, and he was clearly in pain. In that room that night, as Bob and I prayed over Dick and told him we loved him, I saw the image of Christ on the cross. Dick had given himself without reservation to serving others during his life; he had to carry the cross of his decline at the end of his life; and now he struggled in pain at the end. When we are ordained to the priesthood and take vows in Holy Cross, we are really given just one promise—if we live our ordination and our vows faithfully, we will grow closer to and conformed to Christ. We will become more like Christ, whom we serve. In my visit to Dick’s bedside last week, I believe I saw that promise fulfilled for him.
The next morning, Fr. Paul Doyle and Dick’s sister Joanne were at Dick’s bedside. In recent years, Dick was often confused about the time of day, and Paul made it his job to remind Dick that it was breakfast time and take him to the dining hall. This time, in his gentle way, Fr. Paul told Dick that he was in the boat on the lake and Jesus was there on the shore, and he had breakfast waiting. “Go ashore,” Fr. Paul urged, “and feel the embrace of Jesus whom you served so well.” Joanne and Fr. Paul said three Hail Marys, and as they prayed Dick breathed his last. I’m confident that Dick was then in the embrace of Jesus, who offered him breakfast and said, “Well done good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of my rest.”
Lord, grant Dick eternal rest.
And let perpetual light shine upon him.
Listen to Fr. Jenkins deliver this homily during the Funeral Mass for Fr. Warner: