Last week, our Mission Family lost one of our most vibrant members. Father Jimmy Jeanfreau was the Director of our Pontifical Mission Societies office in New Orleans and a dear friend of mine. If you knew Father Jimmy, even for five minutes, you loved him (and he loved you!). He radiated joy, love, and hope. He shined with the love of Christ.
He also had a gift to see the best in everyone; laughter came easily to him, especially when he was making fun of himself. He had the faith of a child, as Jesus asks of us.
Father and I traveled together to many retreats and conferences, always building in a few extra days to see the local sights. I watched him befriend bus drivers, children, bartenders, museum guards ... anyone with whom we crossed paths. They all left him with a smile.
Once, on a mission trip to Venezuela, he was described to me as someone with "an Easter face!" It is a perfect description of him.
Father was an accomplished carpenter with an extensive woodworking shop. He created furniture, bowls, and toys to be auctioned off to benefit his parish and his 750-student school. He died in his beloved shop after an accident while working with his lathe. At just 60 years old, it is a tremendous shock and terrible loss to us all.
The following is the last thing that Father Jimmy wrote for his parish bulletin for the First Sunday of Advent. His words are a balm for my heart; may they be one for yours, as well, if you are grieving.
I pray that you had a wonderful Thanksgiving. I know that many are separated from family, grieving someone who has died, and many other tragedies we all face. Even in the darkness of these sorrows, I pray that we can be thankful for the opportunity to live and love.
If there was no love, there would be no pain of loss. Yet despite the dangers of living and loving, we gather as a family of faith, which impels us to hold on to the faith that is worth risking loving.
This time of Advent is a somber celebration of this reality. Even in the darkest of days, a light shines forth. In the depths of winter's darkness, a Child is born and reminds us that God is truly with us in our sorrow and grief; yes, in the fullness of our joys, too.
Love, Father Jimmy
Rest well in the arms of our Savior, good friend. I pray to carry your light with me, for all to see, until we meet again.
- Maureen Crowley Heil is Director of Programs and Development for the Pontifical Mission Societies, Boston.
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