Father Kilian McGowan, Passionist

born June 2, 1915 - died July 12, 1998 Mass of Christian Burial - July 16, 1998
Saints Joseph and Michael Church, Union City, New Jersey
Fr Victor Hoagland, C.P., homilist

"On my 60th birthday," Fr.Kilian told us not long ago, "I was driving along the highway not far from our Monastery of Our Lady of Florida, wondering to myself, 'What am I going to do next?' I happened to see a radio station that played rock-and-roll music. I parked the car, went in, and told the manager I wanted to do something for young people. He asked what I had in mind. I told him I wanted to do a question-and-answer program entitled 'Uncle Don Answers the Questions of Youth.' He gave me the job on the spot and it became one of the station's most popular programs."

He told us too that the program would be still on the air, if one of the station's disc jockeys hadn't sabotaged Uncle Don's program for out-drawing his.

That was almost 23 years ago. An entry in his diary from his 82nd birthday reads: "This year I am going to learn Spanish and the computer."

These two stories capture, for me, the personality and life of Father Kilian McGowan. He was zealous: an indefatigable, zealous Passionist priest, whose zeal was always flaring up, in predictable and sometimes unpredictable ways. At 83 he leaves a trail of zealous works: a world of people everywhere, members of his own large family, his own Passionist community, who were touched by his grace. He was a holy man, and he left us a holy man's reward.

Even in his last days, as his energy declined and his powerful body began to shrivel and his quick tongue was slowed, he was still a remarkably zealous man. Zeal, after all, is something in the heart. It doesn't disappear with age; it's tested by age.

The poet, Yeats, once wrote:

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands
and sing, and louder
for every tatter in its
mortal dress.
--Sailing to Byzantium)

Even at 83 Kilian's soul still sang.

He was zealous for many things. Certainly he was zealously interested in the poor. He was Social Concerns Director for our province, a role he took very seriously. His concern was that society, the church, all of us, were becoming too centered on ourselves and not doing enough for those less fortunate.

And so Kilian chose for his Mass of Burial the Gospel selection from Matthew, in which Jesus speaks of himself as present in the hungry and thirsty, those ill and in prison. (Matthew 25,31ff)

One of his last outings was a trip down to Neptune, New Jersey, to visit Our Lady of Providence Clinic, where the working poor without health insurance, many poor Hispanics and their children, are treated for free in a little trailer. He thought that was a wonderful project. In his last issue of Compassion Magazine, in which he always tried to run at least one article on social implications of the gospel, he wrote of his hope that the idea would spread.

Compassion Magazine was a way he preached the gospel in his last years, when his failing voice made preaching difficult. For almost fifteen years he was its editor. Of course print was in his blood; he was from a family of newspapermen and printers. Meticulously, as he did everything, he planned each issue from start to finish. It was more than a job to him; it was a way of reaching the world, preaching the gospel that he himself had received. He was zealous in preaching the gospel. And when, a few years ago, Compassion went on the Internet to become a site contacted by thousands of people from over 90 countries, he was overjoyed.

Jesus said "Preach the gospel to all nations." Kilian wasn't small-minded.That's what he wanted to do.

You couldn't live long in the same community with Fr. Kilian without hearing about his large, multi-generational family. He was zealous for them, too. He was pleased to preside at many, many family baptisms, marriages, and funerals. He loved to be with his family, bantering and arguing about politics and religion and anything else. He loved a good time. Last Saturday during his final illness, the McGowan clan had their annual day at the races. His sister, Mary, his brother-in-law, Eddie, and his niece, Mary Ann, visited him that morning and asked if they could place a bet for him. "3-5," he said. That night, as he was in great discomfort, I told him his niece Patty planned to come in the morning. And, I had learned, he had won at the races. A smile came over his face: "3-5, I knew it."

Kilian was zealous, above all, for his God. Not too long ago we sat on the boardwalk at Spring Lake, along the Jersey Shore. He said his vocation began there on the beach. As a young man, he would look out at the vast sea and wonder about God. This he would do all his life: wonder about God. He found a home for his search into the mystery of God in the Passionist community. It was another family he loved. It had his absolute devotion. "For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer" he belonged to it. He loved its spirituality of the Passion of our Lord, the mysticism of its saints, its mission to preach the gospel, its daily regime of prayer and sacraments and community friendships. He was zealous for his Passionist community, for its members, for its well being, for its growth.

He was a mystic himself--not of the esoteric kind, but someone who saw traces of God in daily life: with daily prayers and Mass, as he read the paper, as he worked at this or that, as opened his mail, as he talked with others, as he faced the joys and sorrows every day brings. Recently he said "More and more, I think you go to God by being human, thoroughly human." And human he was.

Someone truly zealous, someone like Father Kilian, is never sure of himself. Of course, some who know him may be saying that Kilian was always sure of himself. But it is the nature of zeal to focus on what's yet to do. Achievements are not the main concern of the zealous person. His eyes are set on what's next. "Uncle Don Answers the Questions of Youth. " "Learning Spanish and the computer." The zealous person sets high standards for himself, standards that can never be entirely met.

"Your labors are over"
Our gospel today may offer us some insight, in the story of the just who come before the Lord for judgment. They seem surprised by what Jesus tells them. "Come into my Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world...You fed me, you gave me drink, you visited me, you clothed me." But they seem unsure: "When was that, Lord? When did we see you, when did we do that. What about what we haven't done yet?"

To those zealous souls the Lord says, " It's done.Your labors are over, your search is ended, my banquet is set. Come, take your rest."

I think those are his words to Kilian. "It's done. Come now, and see me with your own eyes, not another's. Come and behold me, the mystery you have long sought. Come and see the One you have longed for."

May he rest in peace.

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