The mail had been placed on my desk in the Education Office of the Archdiocese of New York. It was the usual collection of business correspondence and advertisements, plus a mailing tube almost two feet long. Inside the tube was a large, blank piece of mounting paper to which was attached a memorandum dated August 5, 1985.
"As a friend of Count Enrico Galeazzi," the memorandum read, "we would be grateful if you would write a tribute to him in your own hand on the attached page and send the page to us in the mailing tube in which you received it. The tribute will be included in a large, bound book that will be presented to the Count in Rome next month on the occasion of his ninetieth birthday."
I had never considered myself in any sense a close friend of Count Enrico Galeazzi. He was the architect who had designed the North American College in Rome where I had studied as a seminarian and later served as a faculty member. I admired him greatly as a gifted architect, a trusted adviser of Pope Pius XII, and a distinguished Catholic layman. Still, contacts between us were quite formal and usually limited to occasions of celebration at the College.
There was, however, one exception. Serving on the faculty with me in the early 1960's was a brilliant, young priest who was extraordinarily zealous in his work and inclined to be rather nervous. One day in Saint Peter's Basilica the Count approached me, chatted for a while, and then extracted from his pocket a key which he pressed into my hand.
"Your colleague needs to get away every so often," he announced. "Here is a key to my home in Circeo. It is on the water, and there is a family living at the end of the property who will be happy to prepare meals for the two of you. Take some time off when you see your colleague getting overly tired. It will do both of you a lot of good."
In point of fact, it did us both immense good. When there was a break in the College schedule, we would drive to Circeo, about an hour and half Southeast of Rome, walk the beach, eat heaping bowls of spaghetti and clams, and admire the mountain that dominates the area, the mountain on which, according to Homer, the enchantress Circe had chosen to reside.
Whenever I would see the Count, I would thank him enthusiastically for his hospitality. His reaction was always the same: "You do me an honor by coming to my home," he would declare. "You will never be more welcome anywhere in the world."
* * * * *
Preparing the tribute as directed in the memorandum proved to be quite a chore. I lined the piece of mounting paper from top to bottom in light pencil, which I later erased, and then, in my best penmanship, transcribed the text of a tribute which I had painstakingly composed. It spoke of the Count's virtues, achievements, and kindness to me in glowing terms. As I slipped the mounting paper back into the mailing tube, I was rather pleased with the product of my work.
The pleasure, however, was short-lived. For a few days later, while reading the New York Times, I noticed a photograph of Count Enrico Galeazzi on the obituary page. He had passed away the day before at the age of eighty-nine. I felt very bad indeed. I had wanted him to read my tribute. I had wanted to express my gratitude to him once again, and I was deeply disappointed that the opportunity had eluded me.
* * * * *
This past September on the evening before we were to leave Rome after the Ad limina visits of the bishops of New England, the Vice Chancellor of the Diocese of Bridgeport and I made our way down into the so-called "upper crypt" of the North American College, where we were staying, in order to celebrate Mass together. The crypt consists of a broad corridor lined on each side with individual chapels in which faculty members and newly ordained seminarians used to say Mass before the Second Vatican Council and the wide acceptance of concelebration.
As we were vesting, the Rector of the College rushed in to say that in the "lower crypt" a memorial Mass was to be offered for the repose of the soul of Count Enrico Galeazzi in a chapel in which he had been buried eight years before. Since a large number of the Count's relatives and friends had come for the Mass, the Rector wondered if I would be willing to celebrate it in Italian and "perhaps say a few words afterwards."
* * * * *
I, of course, agreed and followed the Rector down into the "lower crypt." There we were greeted by the Count's two grandsons, their wives, their children, and forty or so other relatives and friends. The chapel was lighted by a single lamp above the altar. Still, in the darkness I could recognize the Count's former secretary and even the lady who used to prepare the spaghetti and clams in Circeo.
The Mass was beautiful in every way. The Count's great-grandson did the First Reading. As I sat listening to him, I could just make out the Latin words on his great-grandfather's tomb: "Comte Henricus Galeazzi, Architectus Palatiorum Apostolicorum et Huius Almi Collegii." (Count Enrico Galeazzi, Architect of the Apostolic Palaces and This Beloved College.)
At the conclusion of the Mass, I said my "few words," warmly greeted all who were present, removed my vestments, and went up to the ground floor of the College and into its magnificent main chapel. No one was there but the Lord and myself. I knelt before the Blessed Sacrament and thought about the Count, the tribute, and the memorial Mass; and my conscience began to chide me.
This evening, I mused to myself, the relatives and friends of Count Enrico Galeazzi had paid a tribute to him far more powerful and precious than any that might be consigned to paper or bound into a book. They had gathered around the altar of the Savior of their beloved Count to pray for him; and the prayer they had chosen was the most splendid imaginable - Calvary's Sacrifice repeated in an unbloody manner.
How many persons have I known over the course of my life, I asked myself, to whom I owe the same tribute, the same gratitude, the same Sacrifice? My parents, my grandparents, the priests who formed me, the religious who inspired me, the laity who sustained me - do they all have a place in my prayer life even after they have gone to the Lord? And have I taught the People of God of Fairfield County, whom I serve, the place which the faithful departed should have in their prayer life as well?
The seminary bell rang for the evening meal. I could remain in the chapel no longer, but I knew that I needed to return. There was much more thinking, and praying, to be done about tributes.