Sunday, September 14, 2014
Yes, it stands for Påle' (Father) and Alex, the priest's name. His name was Father Alexander Feely, and he was a Capuchin missionary on Guam for most of his life. That's how he abbreviated his name. Pale+Alex=palex.
He died today, 33 years ago. And I was able to get to know him a bit.
I became a Capuchin postulant in August that year, and I didn't live at the Friary but at home. But home was just down the street from the Friary and I would go to the Friary nearly every day for Mass and prayers. For ministry, I was asked to spend a few hours once a week with Fr Alex at the hospital, where he was chaplain.
He was "retired" by then. He was elderly and running a parish wasn't for him anymore. He came to Guam in 1940, before the war. He was sent, with the other Capuchins, to prison of war camp in Japan when the war broke out. After his release and some rest time in the U.S., he returned to Guam. He served in many places, notably in Agat and Santa Rita.
I didn't know him before I became a postulant because he was not assigned to my home town, Sinajaña. But I do remember he was one of several Capuchin priests who promoted the Fatima Crusade in the mid 1970s. He, and Father Mel, went to whatever parish would allow them, and preach on Fatima and enroll people with the scapular. I went to the one they held at Agaña Heights Church. I was 14 or 15 at the time. The church was packed that night.
Fr Alex was one of a small group of older friars who thought the people were losing their traditional faith. They were convinced that the message of Fatima had to be strongly emphasized. And so they did.
To understand Fr Alex better, one should remember that he was born in Scotland, the son of Irish immigrants. Ireland was very poor for many centuries, when ruled by the British. Many Irish, 99% of them Catholic, moved to England and Scotland seeking jobs. Scotland was, at the time, very Protestant, of the Calvinist bent, and Catholics suffered social discrimination. Then his parents moved to the U.S., where things were better in New York, full of Irish Catholics!
So Fr Alex developed a low opinion of Protestants. That side of him went sleeping for many years, while he was on strongly Catholic Guam and the Northern Marianas. But, in the early 70s, some Protestants, especially the "born again" and pentecostal types, were gaining converts among Chamorros here. That sent Fr Alex into orbit! He would preach against them from the pulpit. That turned off even some Catholics.
He would drink only one kind of soda, RC. If you asked him why, he'd say "RC for Roman Catholic," even though it really stood for "Royal Crown."
The first day I went to spend time with Fr Alex at the hospital, he showed me his office. In it was a small bed, for when he was tired. Perhaps he even spent the night there at times.
Then we went to the patients' rooms. In those days, 95% of the patients were Catholic. Fr Alex would just walk in. As he pushed the door open, he would call out, with his booming voice, "Abe Maria Purisima!" Then he would talk to the patient and tell them a very corny joke. Really bad, corny jokes. But he would laugh and so would others, to humor him, mostly.
Once he pointed to a sign on the door. It just said NPO. He said to me, "Do you know what that stands for?" How would I have known? He said, "It's Latin. It means 'Nil per os.' You know what that means?"
Again, how would I know at the tender age of 19?
"It means 'Nothing through the mouth.' The patient cannot eat or drink through the mouth. So I just have to bless the patient with the Host."
"Oh," I said sheepishly.
The day before he died, we were at morning prayers, and during one pause, when there was absolute silence, Fr Alex let out the biggest burp. It resounded in the chapel. He was sitting right behind me.
The next day, sometime in the mid morning, while going around visiting patients, Fr Alex had a massive heart attack, right in the hospital. Everyone said, "What better place to have a heart attack?" The nurses, many of them locals or Filipinas, mostly Catholic, took good care of him, who was like a grandpa to them. He would tell them corny jokes, too.
He didn't die right away. I remember going up to ICU with a few other friars to visit, and there was Fr Donan, another Irish and New Yorker (who served Padre Pio's Masses during World War II), holding Fr Alex's hand and praying the rosary into his ear. Fr Alex was tied up with wires and tubes and in a coma, but there was Fr Donan doing something he knew would console Fr Alex.
The next day Fr Alex died.
We still have some books lying around the friary with PALEX written on them in big letters.
Being silly, immature kids at the time, we young postulants said that it was that big burp that did him in, the day before his heart attack.
Rest in peace, Fr Alex.