To each of you here today at this Mass for our Brother Stephen, to you who are Brother Stephen’s family–and those who cannot be here with you; to you Betty and Sister Rosemary, Brother Stephen’s two sisters, and to E.J. and Berta, to Frank and Marian and your families, I offer you the sympathy and love of all the brothers here at the monastery. We, too have lost our Brother. I know, Betty and Rosemary, that you have buried three other brothers and now your brother Bill is the fourth you are asked to give back to God, who created him and has called him home to himself. There are, I can assure you, countless people who have known Brother Stephen as Guest Master at our Retreat House; they have been assisted by him or worked with him and already miss him. We thank all of you for having given us him in the first place and for being with us to bid him farewell.
This funeral is a sad occasion for all of us; but celebrating the Mass of the Resurrection and burying Brother Stephen in our cemetery is also a sign of our deep faith, we who believe in the Resurrection and Ascension of our Savior, Jesus Christ. How fitting that we can celebrate the mystery of your Brother’s passing within the compass of the Easter Season.
When Brother Stephen came to this monastery in 1962, he would have been considered a “delayed vocation” at the ripe age of thirty-two; the rest of us were, like myself, no more than nineteen or twenty when we entered. Of course today, thirty-two is quite young for anyone considering a religious vocation; how the times have changed! But Billy, as Brother Stephen’s family knew him then, had already explored a variety of ways to serve his neighbor and seek God. After high school at Gonzaga in Washington, DC, Bill Maguire enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and served his country for almost four years. After his discharge, he tried his hand at various occupations, from mail carrier for the Post Office to taxicab driver. He enrolled at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service but then turned to Holy Apostles Seminary in Connecticut to study for the priesthood. He made the rounds–anyone who knew Bill well is not surprised that he was always ready to explore new things.
Who, then, was surprised that his next step was to apply to a Trappist monastery when he was thirty-two? The surprise for everyone was that Bill stayed, becoming a brother in this community. He made his vows to God before the community of Holy Cross Abbey and lived as a monk for almost fifty-two years. Brother Stephen had found his path to God.
In St. John’s Gospel, the apostle Thomas told Jesus he did not know the way to God. At times we all feel like Thomas, uncertain and confused. For Steve, who could become perplexed by the abundance of choices before him, it was a great challenge to find the path to God. This monastic way of life offered him that peace of soul. In my Father’s house there are many dwellings places. There was certainly a place here for Steve. The monastic way led him to find the place God had prepared for him. Brother Stephen grew personally through the various positions he filled, serving the community.
No one has an easy time in the monastery. Brother Stephen didn’t. The Rule of St. Benedict warns the newcomer to the monastery that he should expect trials: Let the novice be told all the hard and rugged ways by which the journey to God is made. St. Benedict wasn’t kidding! But Brother Stephen accepted the challenge and persevered to serve our community in important ways during his years with us. Soon after his final vows as a brother, Steve was asked to take on the responsibility of being Bakery Manager, producing Monastery Bread daily for thousands of eager customers in the greater Washington area. Then, after more than fifteen years in the bakery, he was asked to fill the vacancy for Guest Master at the Retreat House and became the face of the monastery for countless men and women over the years. For more than twenty years, Brother Stephen fulfilled with generosity and grace this vital ministry to those seeking God more deeply in their lives. Steve will always be remembered with gratitude by those who found their way here in great need but experienced a spiritual peace that the world is unable to give us. He was grateful that God could use him for the service to others and he grew in grace in his ministry.
Brother Stephen also had a great love for God’s creation, always fascinated with advances in knowledge about the universe and the wonders of the cosmos. Today’s reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans reflects Steve’s sense of God’s immanence throughout all of creation and the transformation the whole universe will experience–along with us–when the new heaven and the new earth are wrought by the dynamic action of the Holy Spirit. For Steve, there was always a sense of wonder, a true contemplative vision, for what many others took for granted.
When dementia began to take its toll on him, Brother Steven returned to the ranks of the community among his brothers. The retreatants missed him greatly. Steve would be sitting in church praying when someone would come up to him and say, “Do you remember me, Brother Stephen? You helped me so much. I really miss you.” Steve would reply, “No, I don’t remember you but I miss you too”–a classic Stephen response. And then he’d go back to his prayers.
After his eightieth birthday, when Steve’s dementia made it unsafe for him to remain at the monastery, he was admitted to Carroll Manor Nursing Home in Washington, DC. He joined several other monks there to receive more care than we could give him. Supported by his new spiritual community, and incapable of remembering his family or his monastic brothers, Steve waited for the Lord to call him to himself. When I last saw our Brother Stephen, two days before he died, he was half-sitting up in bed, gracefully moving his arms in the air like an orchestra conductor, absorbed in a melody best known to him and God. Brother Joseph and Brother Barnabas and I prayed together for Steve; I gave him the Anointing of the Sick to speed him on his last adventure from this life. He found his way to God.
We miss our Brother. His body, however, will now rest here with the other members of our community who have gone before us. He is with us, as he is with God. May he enjoy now from God the reward of his life of service to our community. Rest joyfully in the Lord, Steve.