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IN HONOR OF FRANK O’LOUGHLIN

June 30, 2015

IN HONOR OF FRANK O’LOUGHLIN

I write this not without a feeling of shame: I missed the celebration of Frank O’Loughlin’s 50th ordination anniversary. There is no excuse. I missed the occasion to join others in honoring a priest who has devoted his life and ministry to engage himself, in heroic fashion, with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, on behalf of the least of the least, of the marginalized and despised migrants who toil the fields of Palm Beach County, and other places.  I would like to make a rather insufficient, but heartfelt amend, by sharing the following reflections with you.

Fr. Frank O’Loughlin came from his native Ireland, the land of Patrick, Finian, Columba, Columbanus, and other great missionaries who burned themselves, as Frank has, for the sake of the Gospel, over 4  decades ago. He learned Spanish to work with the immigrant workers of Pahokee, Indiantown, and other migrant communities of North Palm Beach County. He advocated their causes, became their voice, took, when necessary, legal action to recover stolen salaries from the sugar barons, land owners and others who exploited the field workers.

His passionate, loving heart, burning in love for the suffering, hungry, fatigued face of Jesus whom he saw bleeding in sorrow in the face of the migrant workers, eventually, was not immune to this excruciatingly stressful and painful toil in the fields of the Kingdom. Frank’s heart was affected. It could not be otherwise. A heart brimming with so much love will eventually become one with the brokenness of the victims. There where others saw only things to be used as means of production and wealth, he saw human faces, covered by the blood, sweat and tears of the inhuman work imposed on them. He eventually became pastor of St. Thomas More parish. Single-handed, he created the Hispanic Ministry and began celebrating a Spanish-language Mass. He did this, as prophets from all ages, from Amos and Hosea to Oscar Romero have done, in the face of a vicious onslaught by the powers of wealth and racism of the parish. They wrote letters to the bishop, denouncing Fr. Frank, They clamored for a “big, happy parish family,” meaning, of course, no Latinos, no Haitians, no Spanish in the liturgy, and, as one of them told me to my face: “If you don’t like, you can go back to the hellhole you came from.” I will spare you my answer – suffice to say I had to take it to confession.

But Fr. Frank, driven by the love of Jesus Christ and his Holy Spirit, proved too much for them. It’s impossible to resist a prophet and his Spirit-filled Christ when they are driven by the burning fire that St. Augustine sang of in Book X of his Confessions: “O caritas, Deus meus, accende me!” – O charity, my God, kindle me on fire! Fr. Frank’s heart has been, and is, kindled in an awesome fire that will not be quenched but with love and justice.

Frank O’Loughlin is a burning bush calling others to follow his prophetic lead. I met him for the first time in Miami, in the 1970’s (he may not even remember it), at a meeting where he shared the plight of the Homestead field workers. Later, I lost track of him, until we met again at St. Thomas More parish. He became an inspiration for all of us who wished to engage in Hispanic parish ministry. Like Jesus, whose Paschal face he has configured in his soul during 50 years of ministry, he had his followers and his vicious enemies.

Frank, dear friend, I can only join my faces to the throng of others who say “Thank You” for half a century of relentlessly working in the fields of the Lord, of unceasingly weathering the storms that bedevil all prophets who dare give their voices to the voiceless, to the hungry, the despised, the “leftovers” of this world. You do not have, nor will you ever have, any idea of how much your witness has meant to me.

May the Paschal Heart of Jesus, so faithfully printed in your own heart, lavish upon you all His blessings, may Our Lady of Guadalupe keep you in the fold of her mantle, in the cradle of her arms.

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