Thursday, February 11, 2021

Funeral Homily: Rev. Francis J. Giudice


Rev. Francis J. Giudice


(This homily was given by Fr. Raymond Suriani at the funeral Mass of Fr. Francis J. Giudice at Immaculate Conception Church, Westerly, R.I.  Read 2 Corinthians 5:1-10; John 14:1-6.)

 [For the audio version of this homily, click here: Funeral Homily for Fr. Giudice]


I want to begin this morning by saying that it’s an honor to preach at Fr. Giudice’s funeral Mass today, as I’m sure it was an honor for him to preach at the very first Mass that was ever celebrated in this church building back in 1968.  I did not know that little fact until Fr. Capoverdi told me earlier this week—and I definitely wanted to mention it in my homily, because I think it shows just how much Fr. Giudice meant to the people of Westerly in general and to the people of Immaculate Conception Parish in particular. 

And speaking of homilies …

On February 20, 2016 Fr. Paul Scalia celebrated the funeral Mass for his father, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.  I’m sure many of you saw the event on television that day—or at least saw news reports about it afterward.   Fr. Scalia began his homily at that Mass with these words:

We are gathered here because of one man. A man known personally to many of us, known only by reputation to even more; a man loved by many, scorned by others; a man known for great controversy, and for great compassion. That man, of course, is Jesus of Nazareth.


I’m sure that was news to more than a few people in the congregation that day, but it was true nonetheless.  Jesus Christ was at the center of that funeral Mass in 2016, and he is at the center of every funeral Mass—including the one we celebrate today for Fr. Giudice.

Fr. Scalia then explained why this is the case.  He said,


It is He Whom we proclaim: Jesus Christ, Son of the Father, born of the Virgin Mary, crucified, buried, risen, seated at the right hand of the Father. It is because of Him, because of His life, death and resurrection that we do not mourn as those who have no hope, but in confidence we commend Antonin Scalia to the mercy of God.

This morning we do the same thing for Fr. Giudice: we mourn for him, yes, but we mourn IN HOPE; and at the same time we commend his soul in hope to the mercy of God.

Fr. Scalia then told that congregation that they needed to look in 3 directions:  

to yesterday, in thanksgiving; to today, in petition; and into eternity with hope.

That’s an example we also need to follow today.

 First, we need to look to the past with gratitude …


  •          To Jesus, for what our Lord did for Fr. Giudice and for all of us by his passion, death and resurrection, and for the share Jesus gives to all of us in the fruits of his redemptive work.  Jesus did for us what we could not do for ourselves (because we’re not divine): he atoned for the sins of the world; he made it possible to receive forgiveness for any and every sin, and he opened the gates of heaven to those who are united to him in this life through baptism, faith and charity.  Hopefully we all believe that.  Fr. Giudice certainly did.  That’s the Good News he preached for more than 60 years of his life to all who would listen.


  •          We also look to the past with gratitude to the Lord for all the gifts, talents and blessings he gave to Fr. Giudice in his life, and to others thru him.

The best way I can do this, I think, is by sharing with you a few of the things I said at Fr. Giudice’s 50th anniversary Mass back in 2006.  (Some of you were probably present for that celebration.)  There I mentioned 3 important lessons I had learned from him since the early 1960s, when I first met him as a little boy at Holy Angels’ Church in Barrington, where Father Giudice was serving at the time as the assistant pastor.

Those of you who were here in 2006 will remember that I began that day by mentioning 3 lessons that I (happily) did NOT learn from Fr. Giudice: #1—how to drive a car.  I used to call his car the “demolition derby mobile”—you can guess why.  If you want more information on that, speak to his nephew Richard.  Lesson #2 that I did NOT learn from Fr. Giudice was how to clean my room.  If you ever had the experience of seeing his quarters at the Cathedral or even at St. Pius you will never forget it.  You can ask his nephew Stephen about that.  And lesson #3 that I did NOT learn from Fr. Giudice was the lesson on how to turn off the alarm system at St. Pius X Rectory.  People in town who had police scanners when Fr. Giudice was living at St. Pius must have thought we were getting robbed every other day!

But, happily, there were other lessons—good and noble lessons—that I did learn from him: lessons that have helped to form me as a priest and as a person. 

Lesson #1: He’s worth it.  Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, is worth it: he’s worth investing your life in!

Fr. Giudice taught me that lesson from the very earliest days of his priesthood.  As he liked to tell people, I was his is altar boy at Holy Angels in Barrington in the mid-1960s.  Back then I looked up to him—literally as well as figuratively speaking.  And there was a good reason for that: he was a happy priest—a visibly happy priest—who clearly loved what he was doing.  Even as a small child I picked that up.  He understood the importance of his ministry; he found deep personal fulfillment in bringing Jesus Christ to people in word and sacrament.  Even as a little boy I could tell that Fr. Giudice was someone who really believed in the very depths of his heart that Jesus Christ was worth investing your life in. 

And 20 years later, after I was ordained a priest myself, I found out that he was right.

The second important lesson that Fr. Giudice taught me (and that I’m grateful to God for) is the very same one that St. James taught the world in his New Testament letter: Faith without works is dead. 

Anyone who knew Fr. Giudice, knew how much he cared for the poor and for those in need.  His faith was clearly evident in the many loving, charitable works he did on their behalf.  It’s not a coincidence that he was the first Vicar for Community Affairs here in our diocese, working even with state agencies to improve living conditions and give educational opportunities to the needy in Rhode Island. 

But his love was not provincial; as most of us know it extended far beyond the borders of our state to one of the poorest countries on earth, Haiti.  Through an organization he established, Providence-Haiti Outreach, Father Giudice worked to provide health care, education, food, shelter, and religious instruction to the poorest of the poor in that tiny nation.  It’s a cause that was near and dear to his heart.  And he didn’t just ask other people to support it financially (although he was really good at doing that!): he also did it himself.  For example, when we gave him checks for the Masses and services he provided for us at St. Pius (which is what you normally do when a guest priest helps you in your parish), those checks were never made out to him personally: they were always made out to “Providence-Haiti Outreach.”

Which, by the way, is an organization that’s still worth supporting.  (I know he’d want me to mention that today.)

The third important lesson I learned from Fr. Giudice concerns the crosses of this life.  Everyone has crosses, of course—they’re part of the human experience in a world tainted by original sin.  But for the disciple of Jesus Christ, the cross is never the final chapter of the story—as the cross was not the final chapter in the story of Jesus.  Every cross leads to a resurrection—even at times in this life.  Fr. Giudice taught me that.  Now it’s true—the actual resurrection of the body is a FUTURE reality for us; it will only happen at the end of time.  But if we trust in the Lord and are obedient to him right now—in the midst of our present earthly sufferings—we will have little “resurrection experiences” even on this side of the grave.  Like Fr. Giudice had in Barrington when I first met him over 5 decades ago. 

In case you don’t know the story, he had been sent away after ordination by the bishop to do graduate studies in hospital administration at St. Louis University.  Naturally, when he had finished his degree, he thought he’d be given a big administrative post in one of our diocesan hospitals—St. Joe’s or Fatima.  And he was excited about that; it’s what he’d been preparing to do.  Unfortunately, however, he made the mistake of running into Bishop McVinney on a day when the bishop needed to find a curate for a small, Italian parish in Barrington: a parish community that had no money, bad facilities and terrible morale.

It was the last place on earth he wanted to be assigned!  But he obeyed, took up his cross, and made the best of it. 

When he got there he soon realized that the people needed something to bring them together as a community and give them a sense of self-worth, so he proposed the idea of building a brand new church.  In doing that he almost gave the old pastor, Fr. Iannetta, a heart attack!  Fr. Iannetta didn’t think it could be done; almost nobody thought it could be done—the parish had a terrible track record of financial giving at the time—but it was built and paid for within a few short years. 

And Fr. Giudice not only helped to erect a new church in Barrington; even more importantly he helped to “resurrect” the faith of the people there, sowing the seeds of 4 priestly vocations in the process: Yours Truly; Fr. James Ruggieri; Fr. Angelo Carusi; and Fr. John Codega.

For Fr. Giudice, the cross was not the end of his story in Barrington.  I and the 3 other priests who’ve been ordained from Holy Angels since 1985 are living proof of that.

Today I thank God for teaching me these 3 important lessons of life—and I thank Fr. Giudice for being God’s instrument in that regard.

Some of you, I’m sure, have similar stories from your own lives.

After Fr. Scalia said we should look to the past with gratitude at a funeral, he said that we need to look to the present moment in petition. That means, quite simply, that today we need to pray for Fr. Giudice and for the repose of his soul.  Many people who die in the state of grace (probably most people—including most priests) need to experience a final purification before they can enter God’s eternal kingdom—and God provides that purification in what we call “purgatory”.  This is why we pray for the dead; this is why we have Masses said for our deceased relatives and friends.  Our Masses and prayers help them to pass through that purification process more quickly.

May this Mass—and our personal prayers today and in the future—help Fr. Giudice.  And if he doesn’t need the help, may they assist another soul who does.

And finally, Fr. Scalia said that we need to look to the future at a funeral; we need, as he put it, to look “into eternity with hope.”

This hope we’re supposed to have in the face of death was expressed beautifully in the first line of our second reading where St. Paul says:


For we know that if our earthly dwelling, a tent, should be destroyed, we have a building from God, a dwelling not made with hands, eternal in heaven. 


And in the gospel, where Jesus says, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.”

We pray that Fr. Francis J. Giudice already is—or will soon be—occupying one of those dwelling places, the one Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior prepared for him.

And we pray that we will someday join him in the one God has prepared for us.

Since I began this homily with a quote from Fr. Paul Scalia, I will end with one more quote from him.  These were the final words of his homily at his father’s funeral Mass.  This morning I say them with Fr. Giudice in mind:


Jesus himself becomes present here today, under the form of bread and wine, so that we can unite all of our prayers of thanksgiving, sorrow and petition with Christ himself, as an offering to the Father. And all of this, with a view to eternity—stretching towards heaven—where we hope to enjoy that perfect union with God himself and to see Fr. Francis J. Giudice again, and with him to rejoice in the communion of saints.  Amen.