The chapel at Blanchet High School was crowded on Dec. 23, 2000. Family and friends of Claude Farley gathered to celebrate his life. The memorial service lasted almost two hours, and amid the laughter and tears of that time together our grief was lifted a bit. Claude had died just a few days short of his 65th birthday and within a few weeks of his diagnosis with pancreatic cancer.
The memorial service was particularly moving for Claude's sons Tim and Jon Michael. They are impressive young men. College graduates and quite articulate, like their dad. It was clear, however, that Claude had not shared that much about his 12 years of seminary or the eight years between 1962-70 that he served as a parish priest and high school chaplain/teacher at Blanchet. As Claude's seminary classmates and friends regaled us with his exploits as a superb athlete and natural leader, his sons learned what a hero their dad had been to many of us and the way he exemplified the very qualities he himself preached to others: passion, compassion, style.
As I gazed around the chapel filled with seminary classmates who had left before ordination as well as priest friends of Claude who were still active or had resigned, I marveled at the impressive witness of the group. The talent, idealism and desire to serve others that brought these men to the seminary as young men have continued to be expressed in so many impressive ways. Gifted counselors, exceptional teachers, social workers, community leaders, good husbands and dads.
Claude was exceptional but so, too, have been the lives of so many of those gathered to honor him. The celebration of his life was an opportunity for me to marvel again at the goodness and priestly spirit that continues to be poured out by so many of our seminary friends in such a wide variety of ways.
Reviewing Claude's life was a time to learn about some of his own doubts about himself, especially in his final years with a painful divorce and the collapse of his earlier successful management consulting business. For me this difficult period in Claude's life was a time to see another important aspect of his greatness of spirit. In the seminary we'd often heard the old axiom "when the going gets tough, the tough get going."
Claude lived it out impressively as he dealt with some major challenges.
A few days after Claude's funeral I got a phone call from Charlie Ara, a married priest from Los Angeles who had known Claude well during the years he lived in LA and just received word of his death. He was stunned and again there were his accounts of how significant Claude had been to him. He talked about how Claude used to attract 200+ people for his lectures at Orange College. People were there not only to learn what Claude had to say but to marvel at his gifted way of sharing information. A teacher par excellence. It was this same extraordinary gift that recently won him the Board of Governor's Excellence in Teaching Award from City University. Charlie mentioned that he had consistently sought out Claude for counsel on any important decisions because he valued his insight and wisdom so highly.
A toast to Claude and to that community of former seminarians, priests, and resigned priests who in our own ways express the greatness of spirit he exemplified.