The Imitation of Trish Fangman, Child of God

The following homily was given at St. Benedict Church on the campus of Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, at the funeral of Patricia Fangman, Trish, a treasured member of the college community and a fixture for many years at Benedictine basketball games. She was the daughter of former longtime Benedictine College Dean of Students Elmer Fangman and the brother of current member of the Board of Directors, Dan Fangman. She died last month at age 50, and her obituary can be found here.
Trish also happened to have Down Syndrome.

Lessons From the Life of Patricia Fangman, 1969-2020

by Father Jeremy Heppler OSB

I want to start by expressing condolences on behalf of the college, Abbey, Mount, and parish communities to Trish’s family — and friends. She had a lot of them.

One of the many great things about Trish is her desire for friendship. When she saw someone, she would greet him or her warmly, and she would truly want to know how that person is doing, and she would work on developing or enhancing a friendship with that person.

In her directness and her simplicity, she could see something that may be a challenge for many of us. She saw each person as a gift — as a child of God.

In Scripture we hear: “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are. … Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed.  We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:1-2).

In her innocence, Trish saw the face of God in each person.

Elmer pointed out an article to me in which the author quotes Morris West’s novel The Clowns of God. In it, Christ returns to earth, where people have trouble recognizing him. At one point he goes to a school for children with Down Syndrome, and picks up a little girl.

Jesus says, “I know what you are thinking. You need a sign. What better one could I give but to make this little one whole and new? I could do it, but I will not — I gave this mite a gift I denied to all of you — eternal innocence. To you she looks imperfect — but to me she is flawless.”

He goes on: “She is necessary to you. She will evoke the kindness that will keep you human. Her infirmity will prompt you to gratitude for your own good fortune … This little one is my sign to you. Treasure her!’”

Trish is treasured by so many people.

Today, we join our voices with that of Jesus’ in today’s Gospel when he says, “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike” (Matthew 11:25).

Imitating Trish

Today, we also pray for ourselves — that even if we have not matched Trish’s innocence, we may imitate her childlike gifts.

May we, too, strive to be filled with a confidence that is not afraid to tell others what we think, often sharing wisdom and even correction when needed.

May we develop as strong a sense of what is right and wrong, and not be afraid to stand up for others, even if it means telling them what Trish would say: “That’s not right.”

May we be blessed with the enjoyment of our work, like Trish had during her years working in the elementary school kitchen (even if we don’t imitate her in cutting through the principal’s office to get to work every day — whether he was in a meeting or not).

May we strive to have a deep relationship with each of our family members like she did with each of her siblings and with her parents.

Most of all, may we be blessed with a robust faith in God and put that faith in action.

May we appreciate praying in the same way that Trish appreciated praying with the sisters and when she lived in the Dooley Center at Mount St. Scholastica Monastery.

May we have the courage to share our faith like she did when she prayed and visited those in nursing homes.

When I think of those childlike gifts, I cannot but think of Jesus, and how he focused on each person, inviting each one of them and each one of us to share in his friendship. Jesus taught with great wisdom and sometimes even correction. He has a special care for the vulnerable — the poor, the sick, and those with special needs — and he wants what is best for us when he invites us to love God with all our hearts and to love our neighbor.

He was busy doing the work of the Father, by proclaiming and sharing the love of God, even to the point of enduring his passion. Jesus wants us to be in a deep relationship with him, as he is in a deep relationship with the Father and the Spirit. He wants us to come to him in our labors and in him find our rest.

Ready to Go

During her recent time in the hospital, Trish had to wear an oxygen mask., and she did not like it. She would tell anyone who would listen, “Let me go.”  She wanted the mask off. But maybe that was also her way of saying that she was ready to go — to go home to heaven.

Recently, Trish said that there were three things she really wanted:

  • She wanted to celebrate her 50th Birthday. Check.
  • She wanted to watch the Chiefs. Check.
  • Last, she wanted to see her mom, Anne, who died many years ago.

We hope and pray that she may now see Anne, and that they may both be in the presence of God eternally.

Still, it is not easy for us to let her go.

Today it is ok if we feel sadness because we can no longer hear Trish say “yeah” and “mmhm” or see the sparkle in her eye.

But, as we heard in the First Reading, God will wipe away our tears.

Today, may we also rejoice in the blessings of Trish’s life and the blessing she is to us, and may we hold great hope that she has been called home to the house of the Father.

May we also do what she would tell us to do: “Pray to God.” Pray that God may be merciful to Trish and all the departed. Pray in thanksgiving to the Father for giving us his Son, Jesus, who by his death destroyed death, and by his resurrection offers us eternal life.

And pray that we may be graced with childlike gifts — and may be able to see the face of God in each person we meet.

Benedictine College

Founded in 1858, Benedictine College is a Catholic, Benedictine, residential, liberal arts college located on the bluffs above the Missouri River in Atchison, Kansas. The school is honored to have been named one of America’s Best Colleges by U.S. News & World Report, the best private college in Kansas by The Wall Street Journal, and one of the top Catholic colleges in the nation by First Things magazine and the Newman Guide. It prides itself on outstanding academics, extraordinary faith life, strong athletic programs, and an exceptional sense of community and belonging. Benedictine College is dedicated to transforming culture in America through its mission to educate men and women within a community of faith and scholarship.