Br. Xavier Gedeon, OFM
Silence was golden for Xavier
BY TONI CASHNELLI
Most who spoke at Br. Xavier Gedeon’s funeral did not know him well.
When Xavier died at 90 on April 23 he left no relatives, few close friends. But on April 26, the chapel at St. Margaret Hall was nearly full, and the testimony flowed freely from friars anxious to contribute what they knew about their enigmatic, introverted brother.
"When I was putting together the letter [about his life], I called a bunch of different people," said Fr. Dan Anderson, Secretary of the Province. Asked for input, most friars told Dan, "I don’t know" or, "He never talked about himself." Even Fr. Neri Greskoviak, with with whom Xavier served for 13 years in Illinois, admitted, "We spent a lot of meals eating in silence."
Enough is known to be tantalizing. In World War II, Xavier was an air traffic controller for the Air Force in the Aleutian Islands. He once worked in a photography shop. He entered the Franciscan (Hungarian) Custody of St. John Capistran at age 37, transferred to the Custody of the Most Holy Savior, served as a missionary in Central America on loan to Immaculate Conception Province, and eventually became an SJB friar.
No wonder he seemed so mysterious.
As a maintenance and construction worker throughout the province, Xavier was always building things, fixing things, and most famously, mowing the grass with a tractor.
Friars at the reception tried to embellish these bare bones. "He enjoyed talking about technical things," Fr. Frank Jasper remembered from his visits to St. Mary of Lourdes in Metamora, Ill. "It was way over my head." Well into his 80s, "Xavier had projects out in the garage he was tinkering with."
He regularly smoked a pipe, Fr. Valentine Young recalled from their days at St. Clement. "We never had much to say except small talk."
"Br. Jerry [Beetz] and I had the privilege of caring for Xavier" in his final months, said Br. Norbert Bertram of the Office for Senior Friars. "He was a kind, quiet, peaceful person, gracious and always thankful. He was a good man."
According to Jerry, "One story they tell is that Xavier was very meticulous" in his work. Before starting, "He would look at a project, size it up, calculate it, look at different ways to take it," driving some to mutter, "Just get the job done." But when it was finished, "It was finished to perfection."
As celebrant Frank acknowledged in his welcome, "Xavier’s brothers and sisters are deceased; there are no nephews or nieces or cousins, so his family really is his brother friars and his brothers and sisters at St. Margaret Hall."
Prayers and puns
In his homily Neri amplified the readings from Timothy, Revelation and John. He chose three words – "preach", "smoke" and "example" – to illuminate Xavier’s life. "Preach the Gospel always" aptly described the quiet diligence of this dedicated friar, he said. "Xavier did not like socializing, he did not like chit-chat – yet he preached. He showed it in what he did. He preached the Gospel by his actions, when it was convenient and inconvenient. If something broke he’d figure out a way to fix it," like the time he left a wedding reception to repair an elevator.
"He read a lot, he liked mysteries and spiritual things. He kept up with what was going on. One of his high points was being able to go to the hardware store and see what the latest things were."
The "smoke" reference was "a symbol of prayers going up," Neri said. "Puffing on his pipe, he’d be sending up smoke on his tractor. At the APA in Dayton, he’d be out on the front steps, puffing on his pipe, sending up smoke." Though their small talk was limited, "We did pray together, morning prayers, at meals, in the evening. One time he lost his tobacco pouch. That was near the end of the world. There was rejoicing" when it was recovered.
"He had a tremendous sense of humor, a quick wit, playing on words" to produce groan-inducing puns. When Neri described a fellow friar as "a fun guy", Xavier asked, "Was he a mushroom?" Get it, fungi?
"When I said, "Have a good year," he’d say, "Have a Firestone."
It was easy to illustrate "example", Neri said. "He gave me an example of enjoying silence. He was comfortable in his own skin, comfortable with the Lord. He was a humble person, sensitive, dependable," picking up garbage, keeping weeds at bay, quietly planting seeds through his labor. On a visit to Illinois, Fr. Damian Cesanek showed Xavier what had become of some saplings he had planted along the drive when he served in Easton years before. "He was pleased to see they had grown so big, so tall."
Again and again, Neri said, "He gave us an example of the Gospel lived" and of "one of the hardest things, letting go. He always felt he needed to contribute, pull his weight." When the time came for Xavier to surrender the keys to his truck, "He did it willingly," saying, "My peripheral vision isn’t so good. I’m afraid of hurting someone." After that, Neri said, "He was dependent on me for getting around."
Through gracious acceptance, "He showed me how to age. He persevered to the end. May we go and do likewise."
After the homily Frank thanked Neri – "You nailed that one," he said – as well as the community at St. Margaret Hall, the Carmelite sisters, and Xavier’s friar brothers at St. Clement "who did a wonderful job of caring for him as he was declining and helped him stay there as long as possible." As Frank again acknowledged, "We are the family of Brother Xavier."
In an offhand comment to a fellow friar, Paul Walsman put things in perspective. "This was a nice turnout," he said. "I didn’t know him very well. But he was one of us."
‘The most private person’
"He was probably the most private person I ever met in my life," Fr. Mike Lenz says of Br. Xavier Gedeon, a fellow postulant and novice for four years. "I never actually had a conversation with him. He was a very hard worker, a very humble brother, a very good man. He would work quietly, but whatever he did, he did 100 percent."
His favorite story? "When we were novices it was so strict we were never allowed to use a washcloth to wash our faces. Everyone got a towel to use all in one." When Xavier’s mom and dad marked their 50th anniversary, "Xavier was given 24 hours to be away. " Leaving, he asked Mike, "Anything I can bring back for you?" Mike said, "Bring me back a washcloth." Xavier returned the next day. "That night when I went to bed at 8:30, I pulled back the covers," Mike says. "There between the sheets was a brand-new washcloth."
Mike, who offered Mass for Xavier Tuesday morning in Michigan, asked about the funeral. He was pleased that it was well-attended. "I’m very glad he got a good sendoff. Xavier deserved that."