My dear graduates of Chaminade, Kellenberg Memorial, and St. Martin de Porres Marianist School,
Emmanuel certainly ranks way up there as one of my favorite Christmastide words – and a favorite Advent word as well. Emmanuel. “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Emmanuel. Originally a Hebrew name, it translates “God is with us.” As St. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, “If God is with us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)
Every so often, we are privileged to encounter people who remind us that God is indeed with us. Typically, they do so more by their deeds than by their words. By the holiness of their lives, they become a kind of human stained-glass window, through which the light of Christ, in all its radiance, shines. Pope Francis serves as such a reminder to me. In his welcoming smile and compassionate attitude towards others, I see a living embodiment of Christ among us. Emmanuel. Mother Teresa of Calcutta is another such reminder of God with us. Her prayerful connection to God and her tireless outreach to the poor show us all the face of God. Emmanuel. We are grateful that she lived among us.
We Marianists were privileged to have one such Emanuel figure living among us as well. His name was Father Paul Landolfi, S.M. He entered eternal life exactly one week before Thanksgiving, and all of us in the Province of Meribah are profoundly thankful for having him in our lives. His time living in the Chaminade-Mineola Community was brief – only five years – but in those five years, Fr. Paul made an enormous impact on everyone he met.
Paul Joseph Landolfi was born on December 17, 1926, in Brooklyn, New York. The young Paul Landolfi’s mother died when he was only five years old. Six years later, his dad passed away. For the better part of his early life, Paul Landolfi lived at St. John’s Home in Rockaway, an orphanage for boys run by the Marianists. Later, Fr. Paul became a Marianist himself, teaching in Covington, Kentucky; Hamilton, Ohio; and San Juan, Puerto Rico. Twice he returned to his boyhood residence of St. John’s Home, serving as chaplain, counselor, member of the Board of Trustees, and director of the Marianist Community at the facility there. Fr. Paul spent the last five years of his life at Chaminade High School, where he said Mass, heard confessions, served as a spiritual director to many faculty members and students, and held classes in Marianist history and spirituality for our three Novices and our Aspirant.
To know Fr. Paul was to experience a little bit of God with us. He was widely known, for example, as a kind and compassionate confessor. Hearing the news of Fr. Paul’s passing, one faculty member wrote to me that he had “never had a better confession” than when he first went to confession with Fr. Paul. A Marianist now studying for the priesthood in Rome emailed to recount that it was after going to confession with Fr. Paul that he finally had the courage, confidence, and the clarity of vision to request entrance into the Society of Mary. Once this young Marianist is ordained, he plans on wearing the confessional stole that Fr. Paul used during the Sacrament of Penance.
Despite his age and his medical history (He had a total of twelve stents!), Fr. Paul was forever young. He delighted in playing poker with the younger members of the Community – and beating them. If a movie were being shown after dinner, Fr. Paul would join us in the rec room to watch the film – whether it was a lighthearted comedy or a rather serious drama that touched the human soul. Fr. Paul was born one year before the world’s first electronic television was created by a 21-year-old inventor named Philo Taylor Farnsworth, and since that time, he stayed on top of all the latest technology. In recent years, he had an Apple computer in his bedroom, a laptop in the office across from the Chaminade chapel, two iPads, and an iPhone 6. He was a master with Google drive, storing hundreds of homilies he composed and articles that he wrote about Marianist spirituality. Fr. Paul never stopped learning.
Fr. Paul saved everything. Everything. He saved used batteries; cards and letters that had been sent to him; and file cabinets upon file cabinets of Marianist notes, booklets, worship aids, and mementos. At his computer, Fr. Paul composed a script for a Fatima 100th Anniversary Prayer Service that he conducted this past October 12. It was based on the old manual-typewriter, mimeographed script that he had composed – and saved – for the 50th Anniversary. As I said, Fr. Paul kept everything – four separate rooms of storage – because he knew that, eventually, it would all came in handy.
Fr. Paul lived to make the Blessed Virgin Mary known, loved, and served. After he was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome (a rare form of leukemia that prevents the bone marrow from manufacturing sufficient platelets, red blood cells, and white blood cells) this past August, Fr. Paul sent me his proposal for that prayer service to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the apparitions at Fatima. When I suggested to Fr. Paul that he might be too weak to conduct such a prayer service, he replied simply, “Well, if it is Our Lady’s will, then I know it will be done.” Needless to say, we had the prayer service. Over 100 people attended the evening event. Fr. Paul’s voice was loud, clear, and strong for the prayer service. Fr. Paul mustered every bit of his strength to be present at that prayer service. At true Marianist and a devoted son on Mary, he never tired of drawing everyone he met closer to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Fr. Paul also lived to pray, and he communed about as deeply with God as anyone I have ever met. Except for the last two days of his days at Chaminade, Fr. Paul
would have made his way to chapel long before most of us arrived. Even when his body was wracked with pain and his mobility severely limited, Fr. Paul would set his alarm for 4:30 a.m. so that he could arrive in chapel with plenty of time to spare before the beginning of Morning Prayer and Mass at 6:00 a.m. And when it became impossible for him to get to chapel, even in a wheelchair, Fr. Paul asked several of us to come to his bedroom and pray the Liturgy of the Hours with him, and, of course, to bring him Holy Communion.
Because he cared so deeply about the Lord, Fr. Paul cared immensely for God’s people. He compiled a list of birthdays for every adult who works at Chaminade – teachers; coaches; secretaries; the cafeteria, maintenance, and custodial staffs. On the occasion of each person’s birthday, he would pray for them during the Prayer of the Faithful at our Community Mass. He would also write each faculty and staff member a personalized email, wishing each a happy birthday. At Queen of Peace Residence, the health-care facility where he spent the last three-and-a half days of his life, he was already making it one of his priorities to learn the names of every Sister, every nurse, and every auxiliary staff member on the premises. After only three-and-a-half days, he already had a many names down pat – a point of personal pride for him.
Fr. Paul delighted in young people. Whenever he was physically able, he came over to school to attend our monthly Faustino Club (i.e. Vocation Club) meeting. He had a special love for our young Brothers, and they for him! Even when he was admitted to Queen of Peace, Fr. Paul was busy formulating plans to continue teaching the Novices and our Aspirant. He explained to me the next couple of lessons that he planned to conduct, and he inquired about having a table set up in his room at Queen of Peace so that he could hold class there. Fr. Paul had Bro. Peter Francis, n.S.M., bring over his binder of notes so that he could continue his class in Marianist history and spirituality. It was one of the items I found when we collected Fr. Paul’s belongings after his passing at Queen of Peace.
From your days at Kellenberg Memorial or at Chaminade, you may remember the book and the film Tuesdays with Morrie. At one point, Morrie Schwartz, author Mitch Albom’s old sociology professor who is now dying of ALS, remarks to Mitch, “The truth is, once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.” Fr. Paul knew well that his death was imminent. He didn’t feel sorry for himself, he didn’t dwell on that fact, and he certainly didn’t let his mortality intimidate him or stop him from living. Fr. Paul was reconciled to the fact that he was going to die, and in Christian hope he looked forward to meeting his maker. In the interim, he lived his life to the full, right down to his very last days!
As I mentioned, for the final three-and-a-half days of his life, Fr. Paul was under the care of the Little Sisters of the Poor at Queen of Peace Residence in Queens Village, NY. Several of the Marianists and the Little Sisters of the Poor were at Fr. Paul’s bedside when he passed away. One of the priests of our Community administered the Last Rites. We prayed the Rosary, sang the Salve Regina, and the recited the Memorare. Moments after the Memorare, Fr. Paul passed away peacefully and entered eternal life.
“The truth is, once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.” And what a life Fr. Paul lived! As one alumni parent put it, “Fr. Paul never missed a step, or a moment to share with those he encountered. His bursting-with-life attitude was infectious, engaging people into action, thought, and prayer. He was a most gentle, genuine, generous, God-loving, Marianist holy soul.”
Yes, some people do indeed remind us what it means to have God with us. Father Paul Joseph Landolfi, S.M. was one such embodiment of holiness and Godliness. We are forever grateful for his presence among us, for everything that he taught us, and for all that he inspires us to be.
On behalf of all my Marianist Brothers,
P.S. We look forward to seeing you at Midnight Mass. Also, we hope you will consider attending our annual College-Age Retreat at Meribah. This year’s theme is “It’s Not How You Planned It,” and it will take place on Tuesday, January 2 and Wednesday, January 3, 2018. Arrive 2:00 p.m. on Tuesday; the retreat concludes at 4:00 p.m. on Wednesday. You can register for the retreat by visiting www.provinceofmeribah.com/register, or by emailing Brother Stephen Balletta at SBalletta@chaminade-hs.org.