My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
I am very grateful to all those who expressed their condolences and prayers on the death of my mother, Veronica Mary Paprocki, who passed from this life to eternal life on March 13. Her funeral took place on March 19, the Solemnity of St. Joseph. I would like to share with you a few excerpts from my homily for her Mass of Christian Burial.
As Mom was dying, I received several email and text messages from people saying that they were praying to St. Joseph for the grace of a happy death for Mom. Pope St. John Paul II used to say that there are no coincidences, only God’s Providence, so it is providential that Mom’s Mass of Christian Burial took place on March 19, the Solemnity of St. Joseph. It is also no small coincidence that March 19 is 16 years to the day that I was consecrated a bishop. Of course, Mom was present with us that day at Holy Name Cathedral.
A few years ago, for Mother’s Day 2015, my brother Joey wrote a reflection entitled, “Veronica: True Icon – A Tribute to My Mom,” drawing on the fact that the name Veronica means, “true icon.” Since Joey shared some of those reflections on Mom’s first name at the funeral Mass after Communion, I would like to focus on her middle name, or actually on her middle initial, “M.”
In my homily at the funeral in 1997 for my father, John H. Paprocki, Jr., I wove my reflections around his enigmatic middle initial – H. Since we were never really sure what his middle initial stood for, I used that “H” in my homily to describe all kinds of things that stood for Dad. I suggested that “H” could stand for hockey, happy, humorous, hilarious, honest, husband, harmonious, hospitable, home, humble, hero, hopeful and holy.
In Mom’s case, we know that her middle name was Mary, but just as with Dad, there are plenty of fitting words that come from her middle initial “M”:
“M” first of all stands for Mary, Mom’s actual middle name, coming of course from the Blessed Virgin Mary, mother of Our Savior Jesus Christ. Mom was born on Aug. 22, 1927, the feast day of the Queenship of Mary. Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary was a big part of Mom’s life. Mom would pray the rosary every day, at least until it became for difficult for her to do so in recent years. Even while she was living at Resurrection Life Center, if the weather permitted, I would take Mom out to the grotto and we would pray the rosary together.
When it became apparent that Mom was in the last stages of dying, I was with her and had her rosary in my hand and held my mother’s hand as I repeated the words of the Hail Mary, “. . . pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.” As I got halfway through the third decade of the glorious mysteries, The Descent of the Holy Spirit, Mom squeezed my hand real tight and breathed her last breath. I looked up at the clock and it was exactly 3 in the afternoon, the hour when Our Lord died on the cross — the hour of Divine Mercy.
“M” stands for married. Veronica Mary Bonat was married to John H. Paprocki, Jr., over 70 years ago, on Sept. 11, 1948. When Dad died in December of 1997, Mom and Dad had been married for 49 years! There is no question that Mom and Dad were faithful to each other all those years. The most remarkable thing about their marriage was that they never fought. Not only was there never any physical violence, but I don’t think any of us can remember even a harsh word between them. Mom and Dad had a great harmony of spirit.
“M” stands for Mother or Mom. In fact, Mom gave birth to nine children. The oldest was a girl, Ramona, and the youngest was a girl, Anne Marie. In between were seven boys: James, Thomas, Edward, John, Ronald, Joseph and Allen. I would say that Mom’s primary identity in life was being a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother.
“M” stands for model Christian. The story of Mom’s Christian initiation is one I have told many times, because it is such a powerful witness of intentional discipleship. Mom’s parents were Catholic, and they had their first two children, Raymond and Florence, baptized. But for some reason they never had Mom or her younger brother, Eugene, baptized. When Mom was about 13 years old and her brother was about 9, they went on their own to the parish rectory, rang the doorbell and told the priest they wanted to be baptized. Even more interesting, though, is the reason why my mother sought baptism. Every Saturday, Mom used to go church with her best friend, Ramona Pieczynski, and sat in the pew to wait while Ramona went to confession. Since Mom was not baptized, young Veronica would just sit in the pew and wait while her friend went to confess her sins. Apparently, Mom got tired of just sitting there but knew that the only way she could go to confession was to get baptized. Mom is the only person I know who sought baptism so she could go to confession!
“M” stands for Mass — as in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. There was never any question on the part of Mom and Dad about going to Mass on Sunday. That was a given. In her later years going to Mass every day became very important to her as well. When she moved from her apartment to independent living, it was important for her to go to a place where she could continue to go to Mass every day. That is why she was so pleased to go to Resurrection Retirement Community and then Resurrection Life Center, each with its own chapel where she could go to Mass and receive holy Communion every day without even leaving the building. As it turns out, my mother’s very last meal was the Eucharist. I celebrated Mass in Mom’s room on Sunday, March 10, and gave her what we call in Latin “Viaticum,” which means, “food for the journey,” that is, the spiritual food needed for the final journey from this life to the next. I was able to give Mom a small particle of the Host on a spoon with the Precious Blood of Our Lord, which she swallowed. After that, she simply stopped taking any food or drink until she died on Wednesday afternoon. At that point, the Eucharist was all the food she would need for the final journey!
When our Dad died in 1997, I said in his funeral homily that he had been leaving us gradually for a number of years due to Alzheimer’s disease. Similarly, our Mom, Veronica Mary Paprocki, had been slowly leaving us for some time and she has now completed her journey from this life to the next, where she had longed to be reunited with her beloved husband, our Dad, John H. Paprocki, Jr., so together they could see God face-to-face.
May God now give her that grace. Amen.
The full text of Bishop Paprocki’s homily for the funeral of his mother is available online at www.dio.org and click on Bishop Paprocki’s Homilies and Speeches.