The following is the homily given by Father Daniel Boyle at the funeral Mass of Father Vernon Decoteau on June 6, 2016.
In the name of our Bishop, Mitchell Rozanski, our retired Bishop, Timothy McDonnell, Our Diocesan Priests, special priest friends, Father Richard Trainor, Father Charles Kuzmeski and his faithful, Parochial Vicar, Father Michael Pierz, Deacons, and Men and Women Religious, I would like to offer to Father Vern’s brother, Bruce, Shelby, Nicholas, Nicole, Jared, Scott, Michael, Taunt Eva, and his cousins and extended family members, as well as, the entire Parish Family of St. Francis, our collective sympathy and empathy at the death of our beloved Vernon. I also extend our thoughts and prayers to all of the faithful Vernon served during the 41 years of his priesthood, among them: St. Mary’s, Westfield, Cathedral High School, Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament, Northampton, and since January of 1996, this magnificent Parish of St. Francis of Assisi, as well as, Wells and Ogunquit, Maine.
On the day of every priest’s ordination, the Bishop gives the following instruction, and for your prayerful reflection, I would like to share it with you.
This man, Vernon, your relative and friend, is now to be raised to the order of priests. Consider carefully the position to which he is to be promoted in the Church.
It is true God has made his entire people a royal priesthood in Christ. But our High Priest, Jesus Christ, also chose some of his followers to carry out publicly in the Church in a priestly ministry in his name on behalf of mankind. He was sent by his Father, and he in turn sent the apostles into the world; through them and their successors, the bishops, he continues his work as Teacher, Priest, and Shepard. Priests are co-workers of the order of bishops. They are joined to the bishops in the priestly office and are called to serve God’s people.
Our Brother, Vernon, has seriously considered this step and is now to be ordained to priesthood in the presbyteral order. He is to serve Christ the Teacher, Priest, and Shepard in his ministry which is to make his own body, the Church, grow into the people of God, a holy temple.
He is called to share in the priesthood of the bishops and to be molded into the likeness of Christ, the supreme and eternal Priest. By consecration he will be made a true priest of the New Testament, to preach the Gospel, sustain God’s people, and celebrate the liturgy, above all, the Lord’s sacrifice.
He then addresses the candidate:
My son, Vernon, you are now to be advanced to the order of the presbyterate. You must apply your energies to the duty of teaching in the name of Christ, the chief Teacher. Share with all mankind the word of God you have received with joy. Meditate on the law of God, believe what you read, teach what you believe and put into practice what you teach.
Let the doctrine you teach be true nourishment for the people of God. Let the example of your life attract the followers of Christ, so that by word and action you may build up the house which is God’s Church.
In the same way you must carry out your mission of sanctifying in the power of Christ. Your ministry will perfect the spiritual sacrifice of the faithful by uniting it with Christ’s sacrifice, the sacrifice which is offered sacramentally through your hands. Know what you are doing and imitate the mystery you celebrate. In the memorial of the Lord’s death and resurrection, make every effort to die to sin and to walk in the new life of Christ.
When you baptize, you will bring men and women into the people of God. In the sacrament of penance, you will forgive sins in the name of Christ and the Church. With holy oil you will relieve and console the sick. You will celebrate the liturgy and offer thanks and praise to God throughout the day, praying not only for the people of God but for the whole world. Remember that you are chosen from among God’s people and appointed to act for them in relation to God. Do your part in the work of Christ the Priest with genuine joy and love, and attend to the concerns of Christ before your own.
Finally, conscious of sharing in the work of Christ, the Head and Shepherd of the Church, and united with the bishop and subject to him, seek to bring the faithful together into a unified family and to lead them effectively, through Christ and in the Holy Spirit, to God the Father. Always remember the example of the Good Shepherd who came not to be served but to serve, and to seek out and rescue those who were lost.
In Today’s Gospel of Luke, which Father Vern chose himself, we hear the familiar passage of the disciples encountering Our Lord on the road to Emmaus, and how they came to know Him in the breaking of the bread. We hear these words and we think of Father Vern. “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us, on the way, and opened the scriptures to us?”
Is that not what Vern, ever the teacher, did for us? He opened for us, the scriptures; for this, his beloved Parish of St. Francis in his preaching, for generations of faith gatherings and TOOLS (Teams of Our Lady). All this and so much more!
Besides his preaching and teaching, Vern had a wonderful, full, musical and entertaining life!
A few years ago, I invited Vern to join me on a Caribbean vacation in February. Unfortunately, a major snowstorm hit the Northeast! All flights from Bradley were cancelled. The ever-resourceful Vern discovered he could take a taxi from Bradley to the Amtrak station in Windsor Locks, and board a train to Penn Station. Once in New York City, he took a train to Baltimore and boarded a flight to a nearby island. He then took a boat to where I was waiting with the largest Gin & Tonic known to humanity. I told him, “Vern, you are the only person I have ever known to take a taxi, two trains, an aircraft and a boat to get here! You deserve this drink!” We proceeded to enjoy two wonderful weeks on the Island.
We have all heard the expression, “With my luck I’ll probably be at the airport when my ship comes in!” Well, that literally happened to Vern in Venice, Italy. He went to Rome to participate in the Ordination of Diaconate for Mark Glover at St. Peter’s Basilica. His plan was to then travel by train to Venice where as a Certified Member of the “Apostleship of the Sea”, he would board a cruise ship and assume the role of Chaplain for 12 days through the Adriatic, into the Mediterranean and back to the Port of Rome. However, upon arriving in Venice, he discovered there was no ship for him to board! It had been sent into dry-dock for refurbishing. While many others would have gotten angry, Vern, always good-natured, took things in stride, enjoyed the sights of Venice for a few days and flew home early!
Ever the Liturgist, Father Vern was one of the few priests, and I mean few, who embraced and loved the New Roman Missal. I said to him one day during a lively discussion regarding the New Missal, “Vern, who on earth uses words like consubstantial, oblation and imbued in normal speech?” In response he said, “Daniel, this is about moving the Liturgy from the kitchen into the dining room. This is fine dining, instead of fast food!”
From her book, Reflections, Barbara Bush recalls, “George and I were having dinner with friends at the Kennebunkport Inn when I noticed the man in shorts sitting on a stool at the piano. He had a glorious voice, and knew all the songs from the great Broadway plays. People gathered around the piano kept calling out songs and saying, “Sing it Vern.” Before we left, Betsy Heminway invited him over so we could tell him just how much we had enjoyed his singing. Since we were having a dinner later that week, George asked him if he ever sang for groups. He said that he really hadn’t, but he would. Then he went on to say that he was on vacation with his mother and that he was a Catholic priest. I have been teased for years because I said to him, “You can’t possibly be a priest; you’re in shorts.” Father Vern is not only a priest but a good one. His parish, St. Francis in Belchertown, Massachusetts is growing and many young people are joining his congregation. He has sung for us many times over the years, and he and his sweet mother, Ida, have become friends of ours.”
Former President Bush wrote these words following the death of Vern:
“Barbara and I send our heartfelt condolences to all of you at St. Francis Parish, who are mourning the death of your beloved pastor.
We loved your ‘singing priest,’as we liked to call him. I hope I am not revealing any secrets when I tell you we met Father Vern in a bar in our summer home of Kennebunkport, Maine. We were having dinner and he was belting out Broadway songs at the piano. Thinking he had to be a star of one kind or another, we asked to meet him so we could join his fan club. And yes we were shocked to learn he was not from New York or Hollywood, but was a Catholic priest.
But we were right about one thing – Father Vern was a star. He excelled at all he did, whether it was singing in our living room for friends and family, which he did for us a number of times or if he was fulfilling his mission in life – taking care of the good people of St. Francis Parish.
We were all blessed to know him. I know you will miss him terribly.”
My guess is I am not the first person to make this observation this week: our loss is heaven’s gain. I can only imagine the singing and dancing that is going on there right now. Even St. Peter must be gathered around the piano.
Thank you for letting me be a part of your celebration of the richly-lived life of Father Vernon Decoteau.”
George Herbert Walker Bush, 41st President of the United States
Note that the Presidential Seal is on the first pew in the Church.
In the words of Father CJ last night at the Vigil Service, Vern was our friend, your Pastor, a faithful priest and for all of us “The Voice” that we will never forget! Let him speak to us once more in the way he knew best….. Vern’s recording of “Take Me Hand, Precious Lord” is played over the church’s sound system