Delivered by the Very Rev. Bernard C. Scianna, O.S.A., Ph.D., Prior Provincial of the Midwest Augustinians, on February 16, 2017 at St. Rita of Cascia Chapel at Cascia Hall, Tulsa, OK
Our Journey of Life is from God back to God . . . to know who we are and whose we are! Our Journey Back to our True Home in Heaven! Home is where the Heart Is … and for Bill Perez, his Native Home was Mexico, with his Family. We are grateful to his sisters, Luisa and Pepa who are here representing his family, we all extend our deepest sympathies and condolences on the loss of your brother and we thank you and your family for sharing him with the Augustinians and the Cascia Family and for letting him be our brother too.
From an early age, as a young boarder and student in 7th grade, Cascia was his Home. Cascia was his Life. Cascia was his Love! It is where he spent 46 of his 60 years as an Augustinian in addition to his years as a student and teacher before he joined the Order. We will hear more about these times from his classmate, friend and Augustinian Affiliate Bill Warren after communion.
As we heard in the First Reading, On God’s Holy Mountain, God Provides for his people an eternal feast of rich, juicy food and pure choice wine. While this image of the eternal banquet is very attractive to me and may be attractive to many of you, I think Billy would much prefer breakfast at the Village Inn or a cookout at the tennis gazebo or quite simply peanuts and beer and maybe a few chocolate bars on the back porch of the monastery!
He really was a man of simple tastes … and yet he was a complex man! He used to tell me, I don’t get into all those politics of the province or the school, I just want to do my work; but you can ask many a Headmaster, or Prior or Provincial about that … he could be our biggest nemesis at times. But for Billy it wasn’t about disobedience, he just HAD to be involved, especially when it came to Cascia Hall … because it was his Home!
It was his Home from the time he arrived at Cascia as a student when he had the legendary Fr. Henry Spielmann as his teacher, and he had to kneel in class on his first day. Bill would talk about that with great fondness decades later when he became a member of the Order and lived with that same priest for so many years, and now they will be buried next to each other at Calvary Cemetery! And so, God provided for Him on these hallowed grounds of Cascia Hall, with the intellect, the passion, and the energy to be of service to both the people of the Cascia Community and its beautiful campus grounds over the next 60 plus years.
He served as a teacher of chemistry and geography and Theology and World Religions…. with particular knowledge of Islam. He was a legendary tennis coach who was recently inducted into the Oklahoma Coaches Hall of Fame. As an Augustinian, he certainly had the restless heart of St. Augustine, always looking for more, always looking to make progress, always searching for God especially in his relationships and in the beauty of nature. In his decades as an Augustinian he was assigned briefly to schools in Chicago, St. Louis and Detroit and parishes in Texas. And while he enjoyed many of these assignments which we call transfers, Fr. Perez called them exiles! And in between and in the end, he always returned to Cascia … His Home!
I was so glad that we were able to celebrate his 60th Anniversary as an Augustinian back in October! And he loved being a priest! In the Gospel, we hear about the Eucharist being our promise of eternal life. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood will live in me and I in him and I will raise him up on the last day. St. Augustine challenges us to See What We Believe in and to Become What We Receive … To Become the Body and Blood of Christ. And as a Priest, Fr. Perez did this quite well for 55 years! From saying Mass and hearing confessions, to doing baptisms and weddings and funerals for generations of families ... he was always there for others.
He seemed like he was always around and always involved in the lives of families, in the school and around the grounds … He really loved the grounds … he was an earthy man in this sense … knowing the beauty of God’s creation and wanting Cascia’s facilities and grounds to echo this beauty! Cutting the grass on a tractor that was so much bigger than he was, growing tomatoes at the tennis grounds and distributing them when they were ripened, and of course taking care of the Roses of St. Rita especially around the chapel and passing them out to others on the Feast Day and other special occasions! And he seemed to be everywhere on campus … I don’t know if he had radar or really good binoculars, but he knew what was going on on every corner of campus! If I was looking at projects or grounds with architects or board members or maintenance workers, before you knew it, flying out of the tower door or whipping around the bend on the golf cart was Fr. Perez! And he wanted to know what we were talking about and what we were planning to do with HIS Home!!! He didn’t want some newbie Headmaster messing up his home … after all, when I started at Cascia Hall twenty years ago, at the age of 32, he had already been a priest and at Cascia longer than I was alive! I think He will always be watching over Cascia as its Protector!
And finally, Fr. Perez got his wish ... he was able to die in his home, in his room, in his chair watching tv with the remote control in his hand . . . I guess there was always a control issue! But the Lord is kind and merciful and He simply and gently shepherded him back Home last Saturday evening just in time for the evening prayers and drinks!
There are so many Fr Perez stories, legends, memories. We must continue to tell them, to celebrate them and his legacy of love and service to the Church, the Order and most especially his beloved Home . . . Cascia Hall!
And so, we ask the Lord to welcome him into his loving arms, to forgive any sins he may have committed through human weakness, to look at all the service he gave to his people, and the thousands of lives that he touched and take him to his eternal Home . . . of Happiness, Light, and Peace!
I leave you this morning with the words of St. Augustine in this song Coming Home which is reflective of Fr. Bill Perez’s journey of life and love from the Lord back to the Lord.
I am searching for an answer; I am restless in pursuit
Of what will give me meaning; I am looking for the Truth.
My life has moved on slowly; though the years have quickly sped. And I’m starting to discover, what inside I’ve always known . . . That I’m coming Home. Coming Home to Peace, Coming Home to Love,
Coming Home, Coming Home to You!
In my restless search for meaning, I have come to realize that I’m always looking outward, maybe through another’s eyes.
I must learn to look within myself, the goodness there to see and so to love the image and the gift you’ve given me . . . Calling me back Home.
Coming Home to Peace, Coming Home to Love,
Coming Home, Coming Home to You!
In a tender voice, you beckon me, like the warm glow of a flame. Let me hear you on my journey, let me hear you call my name. All my questions will be answered when my faith has brought me through to accept Your invitation to dwell at peace with You . . . When You call me Home. Coming Home to Peace, Coming Home to Love,
I’m Coming Home, Coming Home to You!
Eternal Rest Grant unto Him O Lord . . . And Let Perpetual Light Shine on Him! May he Rest in Peace! May his soul and the souls of all the faithfully departed, through the Mercy of God . . . Rest in Peace! Amen!