By Sister Ave Clark, O.P.
As the new year arrived I would receive word that three good friends returned home to the Lord.
I thought to myself of how I would describe each friend and came to realize that all three friends were truly “gentle” men. The word gentleness describes a person who is respectful, engages politely and kindly. This definition is certainly a wonderful way to describe and remember such fine friends.
Dr. Frederic Gannon, a very dedicated doctor and a long-time friend of many in the Diocese of Brooklyn, was a light forever shining. I for one will forever be grateful for his kindness, wonderful sense of humor, and in a special way for being a presence of Jesus’ healing love. Dr. Gannon — known to many as “Ted” — was a man with a noble spirit. This nobility was one born of great compassion especially for people struggling and searching for peace. Dr. Gannon’s insights into healing a human condition that was wounded by abuse or life’s injustices provided a road to not just surviving but re-connecting to life in valiant ways. I will always be grateful for his companioning me on the journey, and appreciate deeply being called “Valiant.”
Gerard (Gerry) Clark returned to the Lord at the age of “almost” 61. I remember meeting Gerry over 40 years ago and he said that I had his last name. He was at a Celebrate Life Retreat I hosted for families with a member who had a disability. Gerry was mentally challenged. His mom Florence, and Bob, his father, were for sure “love forever” for Gerry.
When Gerry would see the priest at the consecration of the Mass hold up the host and chalice, he would lift up his hands as if helping the priest. At the final blessing of the Mass, he too would make the sign of the cross and bless everyone. I thought to myself, “Gerry, you are showing us how to hold Jesus and bless everyone with His love.”
At the retreats that I gave at St. Matthias Holy Innocents Program, Gerry would present me with a bouquet of flowers smiling and saying, “For you.” I would receive the bouquet with a grateful heart for the gift of this gentle man whose heart was pure joy, a light forever shining.
My third gentle man is a very good and special friend — Father Paul Palmiotto. For years I would go to the parishes where Father Paul was the pastor and give morning brunch retreats. Father Paul would say, “Don’t worry … I’ll get the donuts.” I would smile — he would get extra jelly donuts, his favorite.
When I was hit by the runaway train in 2004, Father Paul came to see me in the hospital and helped to give me a few teaspoons of soup. His gentle smile and blessing told me I would be OK. Father Paul was given a diagnosis of Lou Gehrig’s disease, which he accepted with courage and faith. As the disease started to progress and cause more limitations, Father Paul stepped aside from his parish, which he loved. At the parish farewell mass for Father Paul, he got many rounds of applause — he was loved greatly.
I would text Father Paul back and forth when words could not be shared with his voice. I told him he was a living parable of love. He told me I was a miracle. I could imagine his gentle smile. His last text to me was, “Thank you for being my friend.”
All I can say is Father Paul Palmiotto was not just a friend to me but to everyone in every place, he was a pastor. Father Paul was the smile of Jesus’ love, the heart of Jesus’ love, and the faithful servant as he carried his cross. His friendship will live in my heart, a light shining forever.
These three gentle men — a doctor, a man with special needs, and a parish priest — reflect the nobility of soul so needed in our world. I say thank you, thank you, thank you. Your lights will shine forever.
Sister Ave Clark, O.P., is the coordinator of Heart to Heart Ministry.