Thursday, September 13, 2012
Thanks, Monsignor Fee
Everyone should have at least one teacher like Fee, a man of many loves. He was a man who loved his students and let himself be loved by us. He also loved to laugh, and to use humour to teach adolescents. He loved theatre, and he loved God, and he managed to pass both those loves on to many of the lives he touched. He was larger than life in many ways, and our school system recognized that and finally named a school after him two years ago.
I have lots of good memories of Fee. He was our parish priest for the years I was growing up, and I remember him standing up in the pulpit, fiddling with his glasses and telling stories about how his dad worked for the railway and let him ride along sometimes. When I got to high school, he was one of the most familiar faces there, even without the Roman collar, with a ready smile and a heart of gold.
As a drama teacher, he saw the gifts of his students, and encouraged us to use them in a multitude of ways. He managed to find plays and musicals that had many roles to be filled, and he employed the less dramatically-talented in the Fabled Few backstage crew. It was as a member of the Fabled Few that I once saw Fee get angry. Another girl and I were responsible for props for the musical Oklahoma!, and on the last evening, Elaine had the idea of setting up a wired pulley system across the backdrop on which she hung little paper cows that she could move back and forth across the wire. As the cast sang, "The farmer and the cowman should be friends," Elaine set her little cows in motion. Fee was somewhere in the wings, and when he saw what Elaine was doing, he went to the back of the stage and ripped the wire, sending those cows flying everywhere. I was dancing with a farmer at the time, and kicked a couple of them off the stage. Elaine was killing herself laughing, but Fee looked fit to be tied!
One of my High School chums was possibly the only Hindu student in our Catholic school. She struggled with Catholicism because of its history of insisting that there was no salvation outside the Catholic Church, and she and Fee had long discussions during religion class and after school. Fee was the guy who managed to assure her that the God he knew loved everybody whether they were Catholic or not, and that God would certainly welcome Mina with open arms.
Almost ten years ago, at a high school reunion, I sat with Fee at the banquet. "How are you doing, Fee?" I asked. "Not bad for an old codger," he said, "Just turned 80 on June 25th." I could hardly believe it. Since then, I've run into him a few times here and there, but the last time I saw him was at a Christmas Eve mass. He came out with a huge gift bag full of gag gifts that he had received at Christmasses past, and spoke about his presents "with a T" and the value of presence "with a C" while waving around his favourite gift -- a small stuffed animal otter. He always had the best props!
But the thing that will always remind me of Fee the most is a single verse of scripture, the only one I can quote chapter and verse. At mass at a grade 12 retreat, he used this single verse, John 10.10b, as the gospel reading: "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly."
For Fee, that one verse was what God was all about. Abundant life. Fee led an abundant life, and now I am sure that Fee is enjoying God's life abundantly. Thanks, St. Fee, for all the joy and friendship you brought to so many of our lives. Live abundantly! And I look forward to seeing your smiling face again, when I get there. Save me a place at your banquet table...