I read this quote attributed to St. Jerome awhile ago, and since my priest was also a Jerome, I recognized him in this quote. Do your best. Be your best. I always wanted to do my best for Father Jerry; not to impress him or for accolades but because he made you want to be a better person. There is no perfection , but I am definitely a better person because of my friendship and faith journey with Father Jerry.
Last week was the first anniversary of his unexpected death. So many who were close to him are still mourning; I miss him every day. That’s not to say our new pastor isn’t wonderful and special in his own ways, but I’ve said many times in the past year, and I’ll continue to say it, but I would not be here today if not for Father Jerry. He guided me, not only through my faith, but also showing me a different focus, a different way of being, a gentler, more compassionate, more giving way of being.
He was a gentle soul, gently guiding you, not always where you wanted to be, not even where he wanted you to be, but to where you needed to be.
He accepted my silly questions and loved my family even though they didn’t come to church. The last time I saw him he had just celebrated mass and was rushing from one thing to the next – the busyness was written on his face, and still he took time for me, he sat me in the sacristy and heard my confession. I didn’t want to leave on vacation without reconciliation.
His memorial garden is complete and it was blessed and dedicated on his anniversary. It was moving and the day was beautiful. The design of the garden is extraordinary in my opinion. It was put in an area where Mary was already standing. I often sit by Mary’s statue and pray and look to her for guidance, so the space is a familiar one. The garden designer laid out five separate gardens so that when you walk it, beginning at Mary and following the stepping stones you can pray the rosary; one decade in each garden space.
Father Jerry had a secret garden in the back of the rectory. A place where he could sit with his dog, Grace, and spend time with the Master Gardener. He shared it with us during the pandemic through videos and a newspaper story. I think the idea of a memorial garden was a natural one, and a way to share his secret garden more permanently with those of us who loved him, and miss him, as well as those who will come later to worship at our parish.
Earlier in the week, I had seen the new sign, and then I sat in my car for a bit, reading through a paper on moving forward in grief. As I was reading, out of the corner of my eye, I could see a shadow moving just in and out of my peripheral vision around my car, but every time I looked directly at where I thought I saw the figure, there was no one there. This went on for a few minutes, until I finally just rolled my eyes, and thought, Father Jerry?
It was gone after that moment.