Homily at Mass of Christian Burial

by Robert Brodzeller, S.J.

Gesu Church, Milwaukee, WI, March 1, 1988


The first reading from Wisdom states that "the souls of the just are in the hands of God, and no torment shall touch them. They are in peace." This passage has been used for centuries by the church in the Mass for Martyrs. When we think of martyrs, we might be tempted to think only of those of bygone times or modern martyrs like Martin Luther King, or Gandhi. But the blood of many martyrs is often spilled out in the gradual lifelong outpouring of service to others. Martyr means witness and there are many ways of witnessing to Christ.


Fr. Francis Aspenleiter, Fr. Frank, Fr. "A" was certainly a witness. He showed by his hard work and devotion that he loved the Society of Jesus and the people he ministered to in the apostolate of high school teaching and hospital chaplaincy.


The 42 years of his priesthood were spent in two places. For 22 years he taught at Campion High School, moderated the freshman dorm and program, and found time to write a history text book, Western Civilization.


"A" was a keen observer of students. In a short time he could pick out the lonely, the troublemakers, the leaders. He was a clear and demanding teacher. He loved sports, coaching freshman baseball and football, pacing back and forth on the field with his red baseball hat and ever-present cigarette.


"A" was a man of great generosity, a dynamo of energy who could work 16 hours a day whether it was teaching, coaching, or going to the rooms of the sick. For the last 18 years, Fr. "A" was chaplain of St. Francis Hospital in Jersey City where he was loved by patients, their families, and staff. Living in the hospital, he was called upon day and night to counsel, console and administer the sacraments to the many poor of Jersey City. Patients saw him as a loving and compassionate priest, a man of simple piety, someone ready to help them without worrying about the cost to himself. His bedside manner was reassuring, his prayers comforting, and his smile infectious.


His normal work day was 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Seldom did he take a day off. He preferred to work and to be close to his patients. He became an avid fan of the New York Mets and Giants.


The Gospel of the Mass (Luke 23) relates the good thief sharing the cross of Jesus very intimately. Fr. "A" shared the cross in the last years of his life, when several strokes forced him to cut back on his work load and activities. The last six weeks of his life were especially difficult, after undergoing lung surgery. He was hooked up to a respirator and dialysis machine. Yet he was most patient, despite the helplessness and pain. He was a witness to the Suffering Savior.


We Jesuits are indeed proud to have had him as a brother, a true follower of St. Ignatius.