Editor’s note: Below is Msgr. Michael Farmer’s homily from the Mass of Christian Burial for Archbishop Emeritus Oscar H. Lipscomb on July 15, 2020, at the Cathedral-Basilica of the Immaculate Conception.
Archbishop Rodi, bishops of Birmingham, my brother priests and family members of Archbishop Lipscomb and the family of faith, we are gathered in this beautiful Cathedral to pray for the repose of the soul of his Excellency, Archbishop Oscar H. Lipscomb – 88 years old, ordained to the priesthood for 63 years and died on July 15, the date of his ordination to the priesthood beginning his 64th year of ordination to the priesthood.
Ordained at the Basilica of the Holy Apostles in Rome, at that ordination very early in the morning he had a pontifical choir surrounded by magnificent altars and chandeliers. Off to the side near the entry to the sacristy is the tomb of Pope Clement XIV, who suppressed the Jesuits who had educated Archbishop Lipscomb in Rome. And still is a tradition today for those who survive the (Pontifical Gregorian University) to go and thank him for suppressing the Jesuits. But they’re back.
His first Mass would be the next morning at the chapel of Our Lady of Humility at the Casa Santa Maria, basically right around the corner, where he had fond memories as a seminarian, praying in that chapel and then offering his first Mass with his mother and father and a few other relatives from Mobile.
He died at the Little Sisters of the Poor, with the Little Sisters praying and singing to him during his final hours of his earthly life here on earth. And so in deep gratitude and thanksgiving to the Little Sisters of the Poor to the staff, to the nurses, particularly Sandy, and to so many people there that were so attentive to his overall health care and good spirit.
Born in Mobile, a lifelong citizen of Mobile except for the time of his formation and doing his doctorate work, he died in Mobile. For Mobilians, that is the perfect death. The perfect death.
And now we gather in Mobile’s Cathedral for this Requiem Mass at the cathedral to which he loved so much and discharged to be restored between 2001 and 2003. And now to be buried in the crypt next to his mentor and I guess his friend, Archbishop Toolen.
I have been asked to give this homily. I’m very well aware the last time that we buried a bishop here was 1976, Archbishop Toolen. The homilist was Archbishop Fulton Sheen. I am no Fulton Sheen and don’t try to be. And I will try not to preach as long as Archbishop Lipscomb.
I asked myself that question though too, “was I a friend of his?’ Living with him for 10 years, he confirmed me when I had hair, he ordained me to priesthood and we worked intimately together. All that time not necessarily thinking he was a friend and I don’t think a bishop should ever try to be necessarily a friend to his clergy. He should be a father, he should be there and there should be laughs and there should be cries, to which we had.
But we are here first and foremost as baptized Christians and people of goodwill to pray for the repose of the soul of Archbishop Lipscomb. My brother priests and I of the presbyterate will be also offering five Masses as required for any member of the presbyterate of Mobile.
Definitely a deceased or dead priest needs those prayers. And as the joke says “there’s nothing deader than a dead priest, much less now a bishop.”
The readings that were proclaimed just a moment ago come from a selection of readings for ordination to the priesthood and ordination of a bishop. Indeed, Archbishop Lipscomb embraced that first reading (Isaiah 61:1-3a) very much by his very life – of bringing glad tidings, a smile, a good word to people. He strived always to ensure that his priesthood mirrored that of Jesus Christ to which we’re all configured, all why we lay on the floor to be ordained, to get rid of self and to be in the image and likeness of Jesus Christ, particularly when we celebrate the Holy Eucharist and carry out the sacramental life and preach and teach.
Again, I think he did that very well.
He clearly understood that he shared and was invited by our Lord to participate in this priesthood of Jesus Christ and to be that perfect order of Melchizedek, a lasting priesthood. And so we bury him as priest and bishop.
That beautiful Gospel reading of the high priestly prayer of our Lord is understood to be an intimate prayer of our Lord to God the Father, but at the same time his own Apostles are listening in to this intimate prayer to the Father.
Those apostles are the reason that our faith is lived even today because they were witnesses to this intimate and personal prayer and to which Jesus prays for them specifically because they will be the ones who go out and proclaim and identify themselves as Christian and as witnesses to his very life, his teaching, his suffering, death and resurrection. So for some 2000 years, the Church and particularly intimately, the priesthood, and indeed the office of bishop is to do that so that people in every age, time and circumstance can know, encounter and live Jesus Christ more effectively in their life.
Archbishop Lipscomb did that. And he was always grateful for his parents, his mother and father, but particularly his mother for giving him that human witness of the faith. Not some too many years ago one of the windows over here was dedicated in memory by he and his sister to their maternal grandmother for passing on the faith to their family. So very important in a model for all of us, that we pass on the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we pass on the basic tenants of the faith. That’s what a bishop is discharged to do but the entire Body of Christ. Part of his ministry was to try to help family life wherever he encountered it and people to be reunited in that purpose.
He was grateful of course, as we all know, for his parochial and high school Catholic education at the then-St. Patrick School some few blocks from here on Beauregard Street and of course his beloved McGill Institute. Where, with the witness of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart and also to throughout his early life, his pastor at St. Patrick’s, Msgr. Phillip Cullen, that would nurture the seeds of his vocation to the priesthood.
Thank God for Catholic education, thank God for the witness of the religious Brothers of the Sacred Heart and so many of religious life here in Mobile who helped keep him in the faith and helped him discern and plant those seeds to the priesthood. And also yes, to Msgr. Cullen, who would later be his mentor in the Chancery – a man that he held with great respect and awe.
As a matter of fact, I remember him telling a story about Msgr. Cullen, who was our chancellor from 1927 I believe to 1966. He talked about never knowing that Msgr. Cullen smoked, until the day right after he was a priest and he was in the rectory and found him smoking. As a matter of fact, his coat of arms and his motto “With Sincere Love” or “Unfeigned Love” came from Msgr. Cullen -sincere love that he would put that in his coat of arms as he would carry out his apostolic ministry.
Indeed again, McGill Institute at that time and now McGill-Toolen High School, will definitely miss him. It was, and its members, was his special child. You could do no wrong. Be there for the football games, but be there monetarily for all sorts of things. So it is now the task of Fr. Shields to try to find a replacement for Archbishop Lipscomb.
As I stated earlier, Archbishop Lipscomb’s motto was taken from (2 Corinthians 6:6) – an unfeigned love, sincere love, not a false love. But a real tangible love that is geared towards the divine love. Again St. Paul writes about this because St. Paul knew that that was his adamant wish — to have sincere love to every community that he preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ to. But he also knew of his own frailty and his incompleteness in it.
But he desired that Holy Spirit to give him that sincere love, once again the sincere love modeled on Jesus Christ. Indeed, Archbishop Lipscomb had that sincere love for Jesus Christ. He loved his priesthood. He loved being Archbishop of Mobile and could carry it out so wonderfully. He did it with the people that he encountered throughout his priesthood and throughout his time as archbishop.
So many of you here, families, Dr. Zieman and other families that are present here in smaller number, he encountered and he would go over to their house and eat, watch their children be raised.
I have to ask and state one of the interesting things about Archbishop Lipscomb too was that on his many plane rides he would encounter people. Karen and Mary Leveral could attest to this – he would be sending Christmas cards to people for over 25, 30 years where he would watch their children grow, never met their children, but watch them grow up. He met them in an airport or something. Just sort of practicing the simple Christian living and pastoral ministry there for Mobile and beyond.
I think, or rather I know, these families have been strengthened by his priesthood, but you also strengthened his priesthood in living out a celibate life and a life dedicated to the glory of God.
You ensured also, all these families and so many people here in the city, in the archdiocese and beyond, that Archbishop Lipscomb could keep all of his humanity. Because as most of us know, if you knew him for a while, he could at times be just a little pompous at times. Just a little. “No, no, no.”
But always, always as he would say, with a modicum of charity. Charity. So important a witness in our priesthood and pastoral ministry, just with a little bit more charity. He truly did his best as God gave him to fulfill his ministry as a priest and definitely as the archbishop of this archdiocese. And also too again for most of us gathered here, particularly for maybe we who are clerics, regardless of where you are in your ecclesiology, you know and I know and the people know that he ensured that the Church of Mobile remained the same with liturgy and carrying out the deposit of faith.
He also knew how to dialogue with people, that just common sense thing which comes from being a southerner I think, in general. But he knew the value of dialogue and common sense, anchored in his Catholic faith nonetheless. There are some people here today too, friends here from Mobile and beyond, a variety of religious backgrounds that loved him.
Even though he understood that there were ongoing divisions and separation from the various ecclesial communities, he was never afraid to invite them to his dinner table or to go to theirs and eat, to know and to love each other deeply and more, and to bring about that reconciliation and that oneness Jesus Christ so much prays for the authenticity of the Gospel to be proclaimed.
Though indeed he embraced his life, he embraced being fully alive as one of our co-patron saints of this archdiocese that Jesus Christ gives us, St. Irenaeus writes so beautifully about to be fully alive. Every year of his life I believe he went on adding people to his life, even to the final year of his life.
It was one of those things when he went to Little Sisters of the Poor, how he would do, how he would handle it. There was a little rough going, the Little Sisters can tell you that, other residents can tell you that. But then he made it home. And then what he always did so beautifully, or at least most of us witnessed it, he would just be able to – how do I put it – get his fan club around him.
Nurse Sandy, Deacon Ernest, residents there. They would come to experience, yes, sometimes his being pompous, hard-headed, but always with charity and with love. Always sharing his faith, and indeed sharing his knowledge of history and the joys of just basic life.
What a wonderful example of priesthood and apostolic ministry.
I always say at every funeral you want to remember the dead that you’re bidding farewell to, try to enflesh in your own life, some aspect of the beauty of his life, the good things in his life to enflesh it in your own life, that simple joy of just going to a beach and swimming. We always bragged about that as seminarians, that our archbishop would go out in the Gulf of Mexico and swim and almost like a grandfather, (said) make sure you had your meat tenderizer when the jellyfish stung you. Or then to call you stupid if you didn’t bring it. Or as Fr. Carucci and I can remember a famous homily one time when he got on to the entire congregation because they didn’t understand the word “symbiotic relationship.”
But those were humorous things. He didn’t mean any guile by it.
As an historian, he always quoted that famous passage from the time of our first bishop, the ad that ran in France to bring new priests or the possibility of seminarians and new priests to this young diocese in Alabama – “We offer you no salary, no recompense, no holidays, no pension, but hard work, a poor dwelling, few consolations, frequent sickness and a violent or lonely death and an unknown grave.”
We’ve come a long way baby. We have a salary now. He had a salary. He had some recompense. He had holidays and knew how to enjoy them. He got his pension. But he was a hard worker. He had a nice house to live in, had many consolations, but as we all know too frequent sicknesses, to which again he handled with great dignity, particularly these past few years.
There’s something very beautiful and Catholic about that because when we suffer, we offer our suffering up. I think Archbishop Lipscomb in a very real way would offer up his suffering that he would go through for all his own imperfections throughout his life, for any ill or hurt that he might have caused people.
Because we know too his charity sometimes was at a fault, but nonetheless was directed and was hoping to bring resolution. Though he knew how to handle even his frequent sicknesses. And he was able to always allow other people to help him.
Though indeed he did not have a violent death as mentioned, I think it was a very peaceful death. Someone mentioned to me over the phone the other day because for the past six months we’ve been sort of waiting. Would this be the time? The Sisters kept saying ‘oh it looks like it.’ Then he would rebound.
When I saw him on June 29, there he was sitting at the nurse’s station. And then he went in his time and God’s time. I really do believe knowing him he probably deliberately waited for his anniversary of ordination because that’d just be him.
And God let him do it.
And he will not have an unknown grave. If anything, I’ve been sort of, not looking forward to it, but to see this – being lowered in that crypt, being buried next to his mentor in a place into which people can do what we’re supposed to do. Pray for our dead, visit where they’re buried, pray for the repose of their soul, try to enflesh the beauty of their life where it was found and to make Jesus Christ known in every age.
That’s what we do here. We solidify our own faith, our own baptism, recalling this wonderful man and his life.
I don’t have any hair but I think I will go buy, probably to remember him a bottle of Vitalis. That’s what I’m going to miss a lot. The smell of Vitalis for 10 years, smelling it because he always put it in that nice hair. If you saw him even here he maintained beautiful hair. Vitalis works.
May he rest in peace.