El pasado 2 de agosto falleció el sacerdote Jesuita Francisco Pérez-Lerena en la ciudad de Miami. Te compartimos las palabras pronunciadas por el P. Pedro Suárez,S.J. en el funeral de Paquito, nombre cariñoso del Padre Pérez- Lerena.
FR. FRANCISCO PEREZ-LERENA, S.J.
December 27, 1924 – July 25, 2017
Funeral tribute – August 2, 2017
First of all I want to thank Fr. Alberto Garcia, our Jesuit superior in Miami, for asking me to speak on this occasion. Thank you, Alberto, for the opportunity to offer this humble tribute to our common friend Paquito.
The first time I met Paquito was in Santo Domingo in the summer of 1964. The Novitiate at Manresa-Loyola Retreat House in Santo Domingo was opening its doors and Paquito was to be its first Master of Novices. He had already taught Physics at Belen Jesuit in Miami when it first started in 1961 at the Gesu Parish School, and then moved in 1962 to S.W. Calle Ocho and 7th Avenue.
Paquito impressed me as a deeply spiritual and well-trained Jesuit, but also as a brave and fearless companion –and the only one- who took it upon himself to accompany and defend five young Jesuits who were unjustly denied student visas to come to the United States and continue their priestly studies at Fordham University. Eventually all five got visas, including Alberto, Marcelino and myself, but we attribute the miracle to Paquito’s firm and courageous words in perfect English to a stubborn American Vice-Consul…
My deeper knowledge of Paquito came in 1977 when he was Provincial and asked me to be his Socius upon my arrival in Santo Domingo after finishing my studies in Chicago. I was able to know the man up close as his executive assistant (sort of “personal trainer”).
Fr. Paco was an intelligent and humble man of deep faith, clearly committed to serve the Society of Jesus and the Church, with a masterful knowledge of Ignatian spirituality. He could tackle the most difficult problems with great poise and trust in God’s providence, just like Ignatius Loyola. The list of the jobs that the Society entrusted to him is impressive: high school teacher, counselor, director of studies of diocesan seminarians, Provincial, President of the Federation of Religious in the Dominican Republic, parish priest at the Gesu Church, local Superior, founder and Chairman of the Board of Regis House for 32 years, collaborator with the parish of San Lazaro for 17 years, helping with marriage annulments for the Archdiocese of Miami, chaplain of Catholic groups, and a dear friend to uncountably many. Last but not least he was the President of Belen Jesuit School who in 1982 carried out the move from Little Havana to where we are today. On that account alone all of us owe him a great deal.
Paquito was an avid researcher, a serious scholar, and a polyglot with a poet’s heart. After his high school graduation in 1944 he attended the University of Havana for three years of Engineering before entering the novitiate in 1947. He studied humanities in Spain, psychology at Fordham University, spirituality in Rome and theology in Innsbruck, Austria, under the guidance of the greatest theological minds of our time, including Karl Rahner and Johannes Metz, among others. His theological expertise was evidenced by his magnificent presentation on the state of the Catholic Church before the second Vatican Council at the ecumenical Symposium on the Council document “Nostra Aetate”, co-sponsored by Belen and the American Jewish Committee, and held at the Roca Theater a few years ago. Only days ago I found out that he was preparing a written work on the British Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, which he liked very much, possibly because both shared the Ignatian view of finding God in all things.
When illness hit him Paco carried his cross in silence as Jesus did, without complaining. Moreover, he felt called to show God’s mercy to those who suffered. One day an African-American young man approached him asking for help to beat his drug addiction. Paco searched around and found that there was no such place in Miami that could offer help to a young man caught in the web of poverty and addiction. So, Paco, in spite of tremendous difficulties, created such a place, that has helped many thousands of youngsters over the last 33 years, and that is Regis House.
He lived religious poverty naturally, never asking for special privileges or expensive things. He was a man of prayer with a special devotion to Our Lady and prayed the rosary every day. In addition, Paco loved community life, had a great sense of humor, laughed heartily at jokes and loved classical music. Having him as a member of our community was a delight.
I would like to end my tribute to Paco with a piece of one of his favorite poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins. I think he would like us to hear it at his own farewell as he enters into the eternal light of God:
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil…
And for all this, nature is never spent:
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went,
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs –
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent World
broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
Thanks for your exemplary life, Paquito. As you fly off to eternal life carried by the Holy Spirit’s bright wings, we acknowledge that our lives are richer today because of you. Good and faithful servant, may you find rest in glory and light forever with the merciful Lord that you loved and served so well. Amen!
Pedro A. Suarez, S.J.