Fr. Adelchi Bertoli Funeral
Fr. Raymond Lafontaine, E.V. August 22, 2020
Dear friends – chers amis – cari amici di P. Bertoli:
Four years ago this month, it was my privilege to celebrate here a special Mass of thanksgiving, in which we marked our beloved Fr. Bertoli’s 65 years of faithful service as a priest, of which 50 had been spent right here at St. Monica’s.
Technically Fr. Bert “moved out” to the Vista residence in June, after spending a month in the hospital recovering from the coronavirus, he was still very much present in our thoughts and in our prayers. Whenever I walk down the hall and pass by that same room where he lived for 54 years, I often feel his gentle, prayerful presence. Fr. Bertoli was for many years a great walker, one of the reasons he was so well known and loved by the larger NDG community, especially those of Italian origin. In recent years he stayed closer to home, and I would often see him quietly reading his Breviary (in Latin still, after all these years) or praying the rosary as he walked up and down in the hall or the church. And I am consoled by the thought that now, fully united to Mary, and through her to the love of the Trinity, he prays and intercedes for us still.
The readings we have chosen for today connect beautifully with Fr. Bertoli: his deep and abiding faith, his gentle and prayerful spirit, his keen intellect and kind heart, his generous commitment to the people of this parish. In the newspaper obituary which it was my privilege to compose, I referred to Don Adelchi as “a faithful priest, an inspired teacher, a wise mentor, and a true gentleman.” Indeed, he was a man of FAITH, a man of THANKSGIVING, and a man of SERVICE.
I am sure that in 1965, when Fr. Bertoli left his family, his hometown of Villanova, the priests with whom he taught at the minor seminary in Udine, his students and his friends, he had no idea what God had in store for him. After spending some time in France, he moved to Westminster Cathedral in London to learn English and minister to pilgrims, and then he came to Montreal to do his licence in Theology at the U of M, and improve his French. This was supposed to take two or three years, and then he expected to return home. On a cold October evening in 1966, Fr. Joseph Cameron, the young curate at St. Monica’s, was sent by pastor Fr. John Brennan to pick up this stranger from the north of Italy who would be helping out at the parish, while he pursued his studies.
The people of St. Monica’s opened their doors and their hearts to him, and then Loyola High School came ‘a calling', and three years became five, and 5 became 10, and roots began to be put down, and here he stayed! I am not sure how his bishop or his family felt about this, but I know that our diocese – and in particular, this parish and the staff and students at Loyola High School – have been immeasurably blessed. Indeed, God writes straight with crooked lines!
Though much has changed, what has remained constant is “faithfulness”: Fr. Bertoli’s faithfulness, as priest, teacher, and friend, was rooted in God’s absolute fidelity to his covenant. When we hear those beautiful words from the prophet Isaiah today, of a God who is at our side even in the storms and difficulties of life, who tells us over and over again “do not be afraid, you are precious in my sight, I have loved you with an everlasting love”, we know that it was Fr. Bert’s deep faith that helped make him the wonderful person we all know and love.
And when I think of all the students and fellow teachers, the parishioners and families, the people whose lives were touched by Fr. Bertoli’s gentle presence, and who in turn have touched and changed his life, as “numerous as the stars of the heaven and the grains of sand on the seashore,” I give thanks and praise to the God whose faithfulness makes our faithful response possible. Fr. Bertoli was a model of a faith rooted in deep prayer, and in trust that God was in control.
In our second reading today, we have one of St. Paul’s most beautiful prayers of thanksgiving. It is a prayer I can easily imagine Fr. Bertoli praying for all of us: And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may discern what is best, and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 bearing the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
Although Fr. Bertoli lived comfortably, he lived very simply. I think he had internalized early on the Gospel principle that you needed to travel light on the journey of life. His trust was not in material security and the accumulation of things, but in freedom from possessions and dependence on God. When Jesus instructs his disciples on the importance to live simply, give alms, and share your surplus with the poor, knowing that “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also,” I think of the example that Fr. Bertoli left all of us: the material simplicity of his life, his great generosity to the poor and to the many good causes to which he gave generous financial support.
When I look at my own possessions, I am humbled by how little Fr. Bertoli “stored up” after 54 years living in two fairly tiny rooms on the second floor of St. Monica’s rectory. Shortly after I moved in, he took a look at my immense collection of DVDs, and knowing how busy I tend to be, asked innocently, “But Father, where will you buy the time to watch them?” People were more important to him than things, and he invested his heart in what truly matters: in God, in his family whom he visited faithfully every summer, in his ministry in the parish, especially to the sick and housebound, in his friends and colleagues and students, in all those the Lord has entrusted to his care. When I look at Fr. Bertoli, I see a man of faith, someone who lived an “attitude of gratitude”, who appreciated the least act of kindness in his regard.
In my last visit with him, a few days before he died, he asked me to tell his parishioners and friends how grateful he was for each of you, that if he had hurt anyone over the course of his ministry he was deeply sorry, and that as he promised to keep praying for us, he would be counting on our prayers. If I have not gone insane or had a nervous breakdown with the many pressures in my life and ministry at the diocese, I give much of the credit to Fr. Bertoli’s example of a humble and grounded spirit, his gentle companionship, and his capacity to calm me down when I was tempted to over-react to certain people or situations. He kept his priorities straight throughout his priestly life, and so many of us have benefited from his kind and humble guidance.
TESTAMENTO SPIRITUALE – Don Adelchi Bertoli
Dopo la morte del nostro caro fratello Don Adelchi, abbiamo aperto il suo testamento. C’erano documenti legali e finanziari, ma anche un’altra busta con messaggi per la sua familia in Friuli, e un’altra con il suo “testament spirituale.” Vorrei condividere questo messaggio con voi, perche esprime in modo straordinario la sua umiltà e la sua fede profonda. Possiamo sentirlo come la sua ultima e migliore omelia:Signore, ogni volta che faccio i conti, trovo che i miei debiti con Te superano i miei crediti. Troppo spesso Ti ho chiesto indietro le briciole che ti avevo promesso, ma in fondo, che importa? È meglio sapersi e sentirsi povero, peccatore, bisognoso della tua misericordia. L’essenziale che voglio proclamare, comunque, è che nè Dio, nè Cristo, nè la Chiesa (e sono un tutt’uno) non mi hanno deluso, e che tutto è stato incredibilmente piu bello di quello che avevo immaginato, e la gioia continua perche Dio vive, Dio perdona, Dio ama e non delude mai chi pone la sua fiducia in Lui. Signore, confermami nel tuo amore, e per il tuo amore salva me e tutti quelli che hai affidato alle mie cure, quale sacerdote. Li ho serviti tanto poveramente. Fa’, o Signore, che mi perdonino se ho fatto loro del male, se li ho offesi o scandalizzati. Benedici, Signore, la mia famiglia a cui devo eterna riconoscenza; benedici la gente di Villanova, il paese in cui sono nato, cresciuto e dove è sorta la mia vocazione al sacerdozio; benedici i seminari di Castellerio e Udine in Italia dove venni educato. Benedici, Signore, in modo speciale i parrocchiani di S. Monica, gli studenti e gli insegnanti della scuola Loyola in Montreal che mi hanno dato le gioie piu grandi che un sacerdote puo provare. Se, per la misericordia di Dio mi salvero, preghero in cielo per la felicità di tutti che è la salvezza eterna. Signore Iddio, credo in Te, Ti amo. Fammi la grazia di amarTi senza fine in cielo con tutti quelli per i quali mi hai voluto sacerdote, quelli che mi hanno aiutato, e sono tanti, quelli che ho incontrati sul mio cammino. Signore, Tu sai tutto, Tu sai che desidero amarTi per sempre. Maria Santissima, Madre di Dio e Madre dei sacerdoti, prega per me, prega per noi, prega per quanti mi sono cari... e dopo questo esilio, mostra a noi tutti Gesu, il frutto benedetto del tuo seno, o clemente, o pia, o dolce Vergine Maria. Amen. Con tanto affetto e riconoscenza.
As many of you know, the last eight months of Fr. Bertoli’s life were not easy. Shortly after Christmas, he had a bad fall in the church, and spent ten days in the hospital, and his recovery was quite slow. Just as he was beginning to get stronger, and ready to resume coming over to church for daily Mass, the pandemic reared its ugly head and all the churches went into lockdown. Many of you who followed our Easter Sunday Mass online commented how comforted you felt to see Fr. Bertoli there in the background, in the pew from which he concelebrated so many Masses, and I know how happy he was to be back in church.
Shortly thereafter, he took a turn for the worse, and after several bad falls and two weeks of round-the-clock care from friends and professional caregivers, he was hospitalized with the dreaded coronavirus. (I had it too, but thankfully was able to manage my symptoms from home.) I know that one of the hardest things these past few months was the isolation, the inability to receive visits from those who had been his friends and caregivers these past years, or to celebrate the sacraments.
Over the past few weeks, as some restrictions were lifted, he was able to see loved ones, speak to his family on FaceTime, and receive the Eucharist as his daily bread again. When we prayed together, while he was sick in the spring and again when I visited him in the hospital last week, we discussed this Gospel passage we have just listened to.
Three times, Jesus asks Peter a simple question: “Do you love me?” And three times he answers, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Three times, Jesus responds “Feed my sheep.” Throughout his life as a priest, Fr. Bertoli lived this mysterious relationship of divine call and human response, rooted in his loving and faithful relationship with Jesus. As I was watching the slideshow with all the pictures of Fr. Bertoli, whom I only really got to know when he was 78 years old, it was good to see him in his younger and more vibrant days, as a seminarian, as a young priest full of promise, as an inspired and inspiring teacher.
But what you notice especially in the later pictures is the serene intelligence, the twinkle in his eyes, the sense of deep rootedness. He had learned the message that all those in ministry must learn: to be a good leader, you have to trust that God is the one who will be doing the leading. And in that exchange between Jesus and Peter today, we see that this is not always easy.
Over these last months, like Simon Peter, Adelchi heard Jesus say to him “When you were young, you walked where you wanted, but now someone else will take you where you do not wish to go.” Throughout his life – with his parents and brother Olivo growing up in Villanova, as a seminarian during the wartime occupation, as a young priest and teacher at the minor seminary in Udine, then as a teacher at Loyola and beloved priest at St. Monica’s, on his yearly visits home to his family in San Daniele – God had been leading him in love, and he had followed. Now Christ was calling him to follow in an uncomfortable place – in diminishment, in illness, in isolation. It was confusing, it was not where he wanted to be, and he suffered. But he never gave up. His faith was strong and he continued to pray, even when he could no longer read the breviary, or participate in Mass, or do all the familiar things he did every day as a priest. He continued to follow Jesus, right up to the end. And now, he is home. He lived in his own flesh the message of the beautiful “Prayer of Abandonment” of Charles de Foucauld:Father, I abandon myself into your hands; do with me what you will. Whatever you may do, I thank you. I am ready for all, I accept all. Let only your will be done in me, and in all your creatures. I wish no more than this, O Lord. Into your hands I commend my soul; I offer it to you with all the love of my heart, for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself, to surrender myself into your hands, without reserve, and with boundless confidence, for you are my Father.
What can we learn from his example of patience and gentleness? Perhaps that Jesus does not expect us to be achieving all the time, performing all the time, outshining everybody else. That kindness to others, devotion to one’s daily responsibilities, and fidelity to the Lord who loves us and walks with us on the journey of life, are what really matter. Although he spent 54 years in this diocese, because he spent all his years in one parish and one school, relatively few people knew of him. But for those who did, that knowledge made all the difference.
What I have learned from Fr. Bertoli over the past fifteen years is that ministry is not about performance and ambition, or about being noticed and praised. It is about fidelity to prayer, to friendship, to the daily tasks and burdens of life, knowing that whatever we do, we must live our lives in loving service of Jesus, who calls you and me to life and love, to holiness and discipleship, to service and mission. And that when we respond from our hearts, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you,” and put that love into daily practice, sheep are fed, and the Kingdom of God takes root and expands.
Fr. Bertoli had a deep love for the Virgin Mary, and a profound conviction that his priesthood was under her protection and guidance. He had a particular devotion to Our Lady of Castelmonte, an image of the Madonna of special importance to the Frulan people, and this prayer is one he would have prayed many times throughout his life. As we hear it in the Italian language, let us think of Our Lady, to whom Fr. Bert was so devoted, welcoming him with open arms to the heavenly banquet:
PREGHIERA ALLA MADONNA DI CASTELMONTEVergine santa di Castelmonte, che sempre hai protetto e difeso i tuoi devoti, guarda con occhio materno anche noi, che con tanta fiducia ci rivolgiamo a Te. Siamo poveri peccatori, ma Tu sei la nostra Madre. Ci pentiamo del male che abbiamo commesso e confidiamo nella tua materna bontà. Tu conosci, o Vergine, la nostra angoscia e la nostra speranza: prega Gesù per noi, prega con noi. Fa’ che adoriamo sempre e in tutto la volontà del Padre
e che il dolore non soffochi mai la fiducia che abbiamo in Te. Ricordati che sul Calvario Gesù ci ha consegnato alla tua materna sollecitudine: veglia su di noi e aiutaci. O santa Vergine di Castelmonte, tanti sono ricorsi a Te e furono esauditi: accogli la nostra umile preghiera. Amen.
And so, dear Fr. Bert: Well done, good and faithful servant! Addio, carissimo Don Adelchi!
Requiem aetrnam dona eis Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis. Requiescat in pace,