This is Fr. Cleary dancing to "Baby Got Back," at the Newman Semi Formal my freshman year of college. He was not an ordinary priest. Then again... what Jesuit is?
Yesterday I found out that Fr. Cleary passed away. Ever since then I have felt anxious and heavy hearted.
The more I read about his life outside of the few years I got to know him, most notably the time he spent as University Chaplain at Boston College the more astounded I am, and the more awed by how many lives just like mine he touched.
My five years at UMass were formative in many ways, and I often overlook religion because I was a Catholic before I showed up and I was a Catholic when I left, but what took place in between can only be described as turbulent growth.
Father Cleary was the leader of many programs for students at Newman. Notably, he the championed the 48HOURS retreat, and ran the Know Your Faith program, designed to encourage young Catholics to ask why, and seek answers. Fr. Cleary was also the person responsible for bringing taize prayer to the Newman Center, a now weekly tradition for the community. My first year at Newman I took on co-directing The Passion Play for the Palm Sunday masses., with my roommate Jen. Fr. Cleary oversaw the production and was the one who gave us the confidence (and the go-ahead) to break from tradition, write a brand new script and even add music to the program.
Well, of course, music. Father Cleary could sing, and loved to sing. He often sang during his sermons, encouraging the entire congregation to sing along, a cappella. His favorite song to sing was "Lights of the City." And when he sang, his voice was so full of joy that you couldn't help but join in.
But perhaps my most important memories of Fr. Cleary are more private. We used to have long talks, sometimes within the structure of the sacrament of reconciliation, but often times not. A close friend of mine from college summed it up when I told him about Fr. Cleary's passing. "I did not meet him" he said, "but I do remember you being upset and going there, and talking to him and coming back a lot better."
I was always better after talking to Father Cleary. Sometimes he told me things that were hard to hear. Sometimes, I admit, I didn't take all of his advice. But he was always right on. I remember wondering, while we were on retreat one night, a retreat which included many silent components, if my loud personality was a test from God. If I was meant to overcome my tendencies to become a smaller, more humble lady. And Father Cleary told me no. That I was not meant to be anyone but myself.
His mentoring helped make me who I am. I hope I was able to express how grateful I was, but of course I wish now I could have said or done more to make it clear.
Father Cleary was an amazing energy force within the student faith community at UMass Amherst, and also at Boston College. Everyone who met him couldn't help but walk away feeling happier, and more at peace.
I lost touch with Father Cleary when he left the Newman Center, which I regret deeply. I do not know how much he suffered in the end but I do know that he is in a better place now. And I am comforted by the knowledge that his memory lives on in the hearts of all who knew him. Any time we reach out to spread the joy God's love, and the knowledge of God's acceptance and saving Grace we are continuing Fr. Cleary's work. And that, plus a little more singing, is exactly what he would want.
Brady Fallon Funeral Home and Cremation Service - Obituary