Br. Bernard Jennings, OFM, funeral
‘He held friars together’
BY TONI CASHNELLI
Br. Bernard Jennings considered himself lucky.
Diagnosed with cancer at the age of 90, his response was, "I’m fortunate to have lived as long as I have." At his funeral on July 20 at St. Clement, others talked about how fortunate they were to have known him.
According to homilist Fr. Fred Link, "He was a brother among brothers," spending his life as a friar in service to the fraternity as a tailor, barber, electrician and cord maker.
"He held friars together," Presider Fr. Bill Farris quipped, which was true both literally and figuratively. Bernie was one of those guys who kept things going.
He was likewise devoted to his family, represented at the funeral by his sister, Mary Hegarty, and his cousins, nieces and nephews. Asked what he most valued about Bernie, cousin Earl said, "Just being a good friend." As fellow members of the Greatest Generation – Earl is a Navy veteran who enlisted the day after Pearl Harbor – they had a lot in common.
Bernie’s passing was not unexpected, Bill said as he welcomed family, friends and friars to St. Clement. "We all knew when we received the news about cancer [two weeks ago] that he didn’t have much time, but we didn’t think we would be gathered here so soon."
Mary arrived after Bernie’s diagnosis and except for a quick trip home to Indianapolis, stayed with him until he passed. At the funeral, she managed to give the first reading, no small feat for a devoted sibling. It was Isaiah’s reassuring Chapter 25: "The Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces.’
Cousin Bob Hauer read from Romans: "If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him."
Fred’s poignant homily was a reflection inspired by the Gospel reading from John: "In my father’s house there are many dwelling places." For the past couple days, Fred said, "Running through my mind was the lovely spiritual" Going Home, adapted from the Second Movement of Antonin Dvorak’s New World Symphony. "That particular hymn was given words as a Gospel hymn" by Dvorak pupil William Arms Fisher.
Searching for ideas, Fred came upon a book called Going Home, with songs for funerals, and knew he had found the thread for his homily. The words to the hymn seemed just right for Bernie. "Goin’ home, goin’ home, I’m a’goin’ home," it begins.
Work all done, care laid by, goin’ to fear no more; Mother’s there ‘spectin’ me, father’s waitin’, too, Lots of folks gathered there, all the friends I knew.
"Home and family were dominant themes in Br. Bernard’s life, and in this liturgy, too," Fred said, referring to the readings. "Bernie was deeply devoted to his mother and cared for her in so many ways."
Fred was a teacher at Roger Bacon and Guardian at St. Clement from 1984-1990, the place where Bernie moved in 1975 and lived for 42 years. "Bernie was already an anchor in the community." Through him Fred became friends with Mary, a talented singer and musician, and her husband, Ed. "When I left St. Clement and Roger Bacon, Mary and Ed offered me a home away from home in Indianapolis. Mary and Bernie were wonderfully close; the bond they shared would make any set of siblings envious. They were so close they would be united in prayer each afternoon at the same time."
But "Bernie’s first family was always his friar brothers," Fred said. "For years he cut our hair, mended our clothes, made our white cords and much, much more. Did he see us as little brothers? In those days he called every friar ‘kid’."
There was more to Bernie than practical talents. "He played the clarinet in his high school band, studied art, was a prolific painter and photographer. He was a Renaissance man. But his greatest gift to us was as a man of prayer and his faithful presence at community prayer and Eucharist. Our music minister Marty Cunningham commented that Bernie was so kind, he seemed at peace with everything that went down."
During Fred’s time at St. Clement, "Bernie prepared a big breakfast for friars on Wednesdays. Bernie loved to eat. When possible he would be early for meals to have his place prepared. He was the same way when it came to Eucharist and prayer," always early, always ready.
Fred asked Mary why she had chosen the reading from Romans: "If we have grown into union with Jesus through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection." Her answer: "She wanted us to remember that Bernie is now in glory for he was united with Jesus through his suffering and death and to encourage us to stay on the journey, no matter how difficult."
Shadows gone, break of day, real life just begun. There’s no break, there’s no end, just a-living on; Goin’ on and on.
For Bernie, Fred said, "Real life has just begun. My friends, that’s our destiny, too."