Died While Celebrating Mass

One of the priests in Saipan who seriously entertained the idea of starting the Neocatechumenal Way in the CNMI, together with Father Roger Tenorio, was Father Gary Bradley SJ, then pastor in Kristo Rai. God however had other plans. A few months before the Neocatechumenal Way started in San Vicente, Father Gary was called to heaven while celebrating mass.

Dying during mass is a rather dramatic manner of exiting this earth but I know of many priests who would script it this way if they had any power over the mode and timing of dying.

Earlier this year, a Spanish priest was beatified by the Church and he caught my imagination specifically because he was called to heaven just while he was celebrating Mass. His name is Josep Tous Soler. This was in 1871 in the chapel of the Capuchin College in Barcelona.

Born sixty years earlier, Josep joined the Capuchins at the age of sixteen. His preparation for the priesthood was intense, silent and abnegated. He was ordained in 1834. Two months later, at the height of violent anticlericalism in Catalonia, he was imprisoned and then banished from Spain with other exclaustrated friars.

He spent nine years in exile in Italy and France, alternating his life with protracted moments of prayer and Eucharist adoration in the Benedictine convent of Toulouse and intense moments of pastoral work and spiritual direction.

It is said that the life of Father José Tous was a continuous Mass.

After this long period of exile, he returned to Catalonia in 1843. Since the Spanish government had dissolved religious orders, Tous spent his remaining years as a diocesan priest. He could not live in a convent because all religious houses were disbanded and so he lived with his parents and worked in several parishes close by.

Gradually Father Tous discovered he had a particular care for education; his postulator likened it to the attitude of “Jesus before the crowd, who felt compassion because the sheep were without a shepherd.”

He found this same inspiration in three girls he knew – Remei Palos Casanova, Isabel Jubal, and Marta Suñol. They decided to dedicate all their life to Catholic education and thus was born the Congregation of the Capuchin Sisters of the Mother of the Divine Shepherd. The first community was established at Ripoll in March of 1850. He was 39 years old.

Father Tous exhorted the sisters to “strew in children’s hearts holy thoughts and devoted affections that God communicated to them in prayer.” The Good Shepherd was their model and their inspiration.

At the moment of his death, Father Tous had no terminal illness. Many believe that his death was caused by the severe tensions he had to face, generating extreme physical exhaustion. Just after the consecration, he genuflected and fell to the ground. That was it! The parish priest of San Francesco di Paola went to pick up his lifeless body and to finish the Mass.

Someone wrote, ‘The cross was two pieces of dead wood; and a helpless, unresisting Man was nailed to it; yet it was mightier than the world, and triumphed, and will ever triumph over it’. Perhaps our helplessness is not such a handicap to holiness. It may be our only asset!


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