Welcome Remarks for Funeral of Rev. John E. Brooks, S.J. '49

By Rev. Philip L. Boroughs, S.J., president

On behalf of the extended Holy Cross community, I would like to welcome you to this celebration of the life and ministry of Father John Brooks, S.J., 29th President of Holy Cross. We are faculty and staff, grounds-keepers and students, Trustees and food service personnel, alumni and Public Safety officers, coaches and chaplains. We welcome members of the episcopacy and public officials, business leaders and neighbors, fellow academics and members of the local clergy, as well as the broader Jesuit community, and most especially Father’s extended family: his sisters, Mildred and Marion, his brother, Paul, sister-in-law, Dorothy, and their children Maureen, Paul, John and their families, and many cousins. This morning, we are united in our sorrow and our deep affection for Father John Brooks, and we come together in this sacred space with gratitude for all the ways our loving God has blessed us through him. We also draw on Father Brooks’ deep Faith and Hope to augment our shared desire that our gracious God who has given us all the gift of life, will also bestow on us eternal life in Christ.

My predecessor, Father Michael McFarland, S.J., cannot be with us today as he is representing the New England Province at an international meeting of Jesuits in Nairobi, Kenya, but he joins us in spirit and prayer, as do many other members of our Holy Cross family who are abroad but have sent us their condolences and prayers. Although I am a more recent member of the Holy Cross community, I was very blessed to spend a great deal of time with Father Brooks in the final week of his life. I can assure you that as he was in life, he was in death: thoughtful, engaged, and peaceful; he very deliberately thanked each nurse, doctor and technician by name as they treated him; and he faced his future with a calm certainty that he would see his loving God face-to-face. He wasn’t anxious or fearful, but rather centered and receptive to the wonder of this new experience.

Until the very end, John kept that brightness in his eyes signaling his enjoyment of the beauty of life, the interchange of ideas, the diversity of human personalities, and always his passion for Holy Cross. As a formed Jesuit, he never worked anywhere else; and over the years he became not just the president but the personality of Holy Cross. His commitment to academic excellence, to diversity and inclusion, to a measured approach to athletics, to the professional development of the faculty, to critically-engaged theology and to our Catholic and Jesuit identity has become the imprint of all that we do today. He was a man with a determined will and great strength of character, but not an over-sized ego. He always recognized the leadership of his friend and predecessor, Father Raymond Swords, and the talents and gifts of his administrative team, faculty and students.

In 2009, Father Brooks was interviewed as part of the New England Province Oral History Program. The interviewer asked him about his life and family, his formation and ministry, and then concluded by asking him: “As he looked back over his life, had he felt the presence and influence of God’s providence?” This is how Father Brooks responded:

"Yes, definitely.  God is always at work in our lives. There is no way I could have survived twenty-four years as President of Holy Cross without God’s presence every day.

"As for my personal life, I have a much deeper understanding and gratitude towards God than I ever had in my younger days.  I don’t find myself complaining much these days.  I’m much more aware of the fact that my entire life has been a gift.  There is nothing I’ve done entirely on my own.  While in the past I undoubtedly took many of life’s gifts for granted, I’ve now reached a stage of life where I know more than I once did of the importance of the role God plays in my life.  I’ve had a very happy life in the Society of Jesus, for which I am genuinely grateful."

At one point last Monday morning, when Father Savard had returned to Ciampi Hall to get Father Markey, I was sitting next to Father Brooks’ bed praying. I recalled a reading from the liturgy a few weeks earlier from the Second Book of Kings where the prophet, Elijah, preparing to be taken up into heaven, departs for the Jordan. Elisha, his faithful disciple accompanies him, knowing what is about to take place. After they crossed the river, Elijah says to Elisha: “Ask for whatever I may do for you, before I am taken from you.” And Elisha answers: “May I receive a double portion of your spirit.” Well, I laughed a bit at that, since it seemed a bit presumptuous of me to ask John for a double portion of his spirit; and I was sure that if he answered my prayer, you might not be able to put up with me! But I did ask John to bless me with his courage, his wisdom, and his vision in my service to Holy Cross. Today, as we celebrate the life and ministry of Father John Brooks, may we all be similarly blessed as he crosses into God’s loving embrace.

Rev. Philip L. Boroughs, S.J., is the current president of Holy Cross.

Related Information:

Welcome Remarks by Rev. Philip L. Boroughs, S.J. »
Homily by Rev. Earle Markey, S.J. '53 »
Eulogy by P. Kevin Condron '67 »
Reflections on Rev. John E. Brooks, S.J. '49, Delivered on July 8 at His Wake by Frank Vellaccio »