Tuesday, September 23, 2014

FATHER MEL


Father Mel McCormack, OFM Cap
Died September 24, 1992

"Mel" was not short for Melvin or Melchior or anything else. There was an Irish saint named Mel of Ardagh, and Father Mel was an American of Irish descent.

"Mel" is also a Latin word. In Latin it means "honey." I was always tempted to say, "Hi, Father Honey" but I never had the nerve. Father Mel was a crusty old Irish New Yorker. He was a good soul, but foolishness was not something he tolerated much.


Father Mel in the Capuchin seminary before World War II

Father Mel was born in Yonkers, New York, just up from the Bronx. He had a New York accent all his life, but it was a mellow one. Yet, his working-class origins came out in a distinct manner of speech. He would say, "And he come up...." instead of "And he came up..." "Bishop Baumgartner was in Manhattan, and he come up to Garrison to visit," is something he would say.

Fresh out of seminary, he was assigned to the Guam mission and arrived here in September of 1941, the last batch of American friars who got here in time for the start of World War II three months later in December of 1941.

In those mere three months, Father Mel said he was assigned the care of Dededo (which he pronounced Day - dee - doe). He lived in Agaña, with the main community of friars, and drove up to Dededo on Sundays. There may have been other days he'd go up there.

He recalled vividly the outbreak of the war and how he returned to Agaña to turn himself into the Japanese. He spent the rest of the war in POW camp in Japan. He didn't say much about Japan or the Japanese when I knew him, but I got the impression he didn't miss Japan!


All Souls Day
before Vatican II

Returning to Guam after the war, he did a lot. He built the present church in Agat. He was pastor for a long time in Piti. He served a bit in Saipan and also at Father Dueñas Memorial School.

By the time I got to know him in the fall of 1981, he was a senior friar but still in Piti. But shortly thereafter he gave up parish work and settled in at the friary. He retained one job, previously held, as advocate of the Marriage Tribunal. As advocate, he dealt first with people seeking annulments and guided them through the process. It was a part-time job. He'd go down to the Chancery just in the morning and be back at the friary for lunch by 11:30.



Wearing his trademark zori

I was asked one year to do some clerical work for him at the Tribunal. I would transcribe tapes of the interviews the panel of judges would have with people seeking annulments. I'd sit there on one side of the room, and Father Mel would sit at his desk on the other side. I'd hear him converse once in a while with people coming in for annulments. He usually tried to find out who their parents were, to see if he knew the family. He'd also see if they knew how to speak Chamorro and, when they didn't, he would chide them.



Having a chat with (then) Msgr Felixberto Flores on the friary patio in the 1960s

Father Mel loved detective stories and had the habit of pouring the leftover syrup of his canned peaches into his glass of milk. He was from that old school, both Capuchin and urban New York that went through the Great Depression. He wasn't into anything fancy and he kept everything simple, down to his trademark zori or Japanese rubber slippers. He always wore his habit.

He was fond of sending recordings of himself on cassette tape to his family in the States, instead of writing letters. He did the same with me when I was studying in the States, and I would then have to do the same. But I never had much to say and could never record more than 15 minutes. When he died, I found his collection of cassettes and played them. His sister could use up the entire 60 minute cassette with family news. He, also, would fill up a whole cassette. His family still called him Dick, as his baptismal name was Richard.


Speaking to the faithful at a procession in the 1950s. Looks like Saint Francis, and there are Secular Franciscans (Third Order) in the crowd, in their brown dresses and scapulars. He probably spoke in both Chamorro and English to the people.

It was he who said, in public, that he was glad to die on Guam because he could die in peace, knowing that the Chamorro people have a great devotion to the dead and would never forget to pray for his soul.

Requiescat in pace, Patre Mel.

4 comments:

  1. He was my grandfathers brother. I never got to know him but have heard about his time in Japan. Thanks for putting this online!

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    Replies
    1. Hi who are you we must be related

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    2. uncle mel was my uncle my fathers brother who are you we must be related

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  2. Uncle Mel was my father's brother who I miss because I enjoyed his visits bill mccormack. Mccormackw@yahoo.com



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