Monday, September 1, 2014

A Sad Story of a Legacy Robbed

Rev. Rich Coveny

My brother and his family live in the lovely little town of Colden NY in the ski hills of western part of the state.  I honestly don’t think you could find a nicer place to live and for years one of the factors that made the town so lovely was the Catholic Parish of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart.  For forty years Father Richard Coveny was pastor of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart and guided the parish in the years after the Council into a real Vatican II parish.
Now my brother certainly appreciates Mass in English and Communion in the hand, has never really cared for the “handshake of peace” (I use that term because that is the most you’ll get out of him and he will wipe his hand on his jeans when it is over) and in general never got the vision of Vatican II.   For years he wasn’t very fond of Father Rich, Father often being a “bridge too far” for my brother’s middle of the road Catholicism.  I would tell him, when he complained, that he was pretty lucky to have Father Rich and the sort of parish Father had built up, but my brother, a frequent communicant at the time, didn’t seem impressed any
more by my observations than by Father Rich’s calling people by name at Communion (and knowing all his parishioners on sight), or by the strong sense of community Father had built up in the parish to balance the contentious small-town politics of Colden. 
Father Rich said that he would stay at Colden as long as he could possibly serve and stayed long beyond the retirement age.  He knew in this time of diminishing vocations there would be no one to replace him.  But the day came, it always does, when Rich had to face the limitations of age and reluctantly retire.  For a few years the parish managed to run under the capable direction of Sister Margaret Donner, a Notre Dame Sister who had been Father’s Pastoral Associate.  Sister did a great job of holding things together, even building them up.  She would get a retired priest or a vacationing priest or some priest from somewhere to say the Sunday Masses or do the funerals or whatever else needed to be done sacramentally.  Father Rich had laid a sound foundation and the parish continued to flourish.
These situations can’t last forever.  Sadly, eventually the Bishop decided to close Our Lady of the Sacred Heart and absorb it in a neighboring parish.  It was a sad day but the parishioners
responded in just the way that Father Rich had prepared them.  They asked the diocese not to sell the property but to let them run it as an outreach center to serve the needs of the rural poor in southern Erie County.  There is Gabriel’s Closet, a Thrift Store that is open to the public but to which those in need are given purchase credits towards clothes and various household needs.  A food pantry, supplied by local donations, is open to all those in need.  Our Lady of the Sacred Heart parishioners contribute deeply and work hard to support this ministry—and that made Father Rich very proud in his last days.  Unfortunately, this past May, the time came for Father Rich to hear Jesus say: “I was hungry, and you gave me to eat….Now enter into the joy of your Master.“ 
Father Rich had specified that he didn’t want flowers or even Masses when he died, but donations to the Bread of Life Outreach Center.  I am sure people were very generous.  But Father also left his entire estate to Bread of Life and it was not an inconsiderable estate.  He owned a retirement home in Florida among other things.  It was a most generous bequest.
Like many generous bequests to charity it proved to be too great a temptation to those family members who felt they had been cheated out of an inheritance.  “Father Rich changed his will on his deathbed,” they came forward and alleged, “he just wasn’t able to write it down.”  Mmmhmmm,  sure. 
Their claim would never have been held up in court, of course, but the Board at Bread of Life didn’t want to dishonor Father’s memory by getting into an ugly squabble.  They accepted $10,000 for the charity and moved on.  It is sad, tragically sad, that Father Rich’s legacy of serving others and looking out for the needy, a value he had inculcated in his parishioners over 40 years, had never passed on to his nieces and nephews.  But what is really sad is that I don’t suspect that Father will be seeing his relatives at any time soon.  Just as there is a special place in heaven for those who, like Father Rich, make alleviating the sufferings of the poor a main focus of their lives, there is a special place in hell for those who take the food from the mouths of the poor.  Requiescat in pace, Father Rich.  And we will pray for those who stole your legacy.   

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