Fran Bourdon, flanked by his wife, Nancy; daughter, Paula Morehouse, and her husband, Randy; and his two grandchildren, Kyle and Savannah Morehouse. The Marians celebrated a Mass of thanksgiving for Fran on May 7. Among the co-celebrants was the Marians' Superior General Fr. Andrzej Pakuła (far right).
A Bittersweet Goodbye to Fran Bourdon
Fran (second from right) during the "Asian Crusade."
Fran, at his desk in the "early days" of his tenure at the Marian Helpers Center.
Fran, with one of his heroes, Blessed John Paul II.
Fran giving a talk at the beatification Mass in Poland in 2007 of the Marians' founder, Blessed Stanislaus of Jesus and Mary Papczynski.
At the retirement party for Fran, Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC, presents him with an apostolic blessing from Pope Francis.
By Felix Carroll (May 29, 2013)
Back 23 years ago, as the Marians took stock in their mission and how to take it to the worldwide masses, they had no idea the degree to which their new hiree would help serve as one of their great multipliers.
Fran Bourdon, 65, the executive director of the Marian Helpers Center in Stockbridge, Mass., retired May 24, leaving behind an immeasurable imprint upon many of the Marians' most momentous efforts to spread the message of Divine Mercy, devotion to Mary Immaculate, and prayer for the Souls in Purgatory.
"He loved what he was doing. He brought leadership, harmony, making people strive for excellence, and we have a deep appreciation for all he has done," says the Rev. Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC, the Marians' provincial superior.
Father Michael Gaitley, MIC, current director of the Association of Marian Helpers, said working with Fran the last two years has been "one of the great honors of my life."
A Melding of Management and Ministry
His first day on the job, on Jan. 2, 1990, Fran was called into a meeting with the director of the Association of Marian Helpers at the time, Fr. Shawn O'Connor, MIC, and given his first task. Two trucks carrying 90,000 copies of a little-known spiritual diary from a little-known Polish mystic would be arriving at the center in two days. On average, only about 25,000 of those diaries had sold annually. Fran's task was to make sure this huge shipment could be stored at the center and subsequently sold.
They were stored, then subsequently sold.
The task would prove prophetic in two ways. It would illustrate the unanticipated operational challenges continually faced at the center — a relatively tiny operation of about 100 employees tasked with serving a worldwide ministry. It also illustrated that this little known diary written in the 1930s by this little known Polish mystic was nourishing a spiritual hunger whose massiveness could only be imagined.
It was the Diary of Sr. Maria Faustina Kowalska: Divine Mercy in My Soul, soon to become a spiritual classic and the spark for the modern Divine Mercy movement, of which the Marians have served as official promoters in the English and Spanish. This was three years before Faustina was beatified, 10 years before she was canonized.
"I came on the job just as the 'rocket' of Divine Mercy was taking off," says Fran. "All of us were realizing that here, on this little hill in Stockbridge, we were being tasked by God to spread Divine Mercy throughout the world."
For Fran, his job quickly morphed into a ministry. The "product" he would espouse with the Marians would be salvation itself. He would travel extensively. He would miss more than a few meals at home. He would be the one locking the center's doors in the evening. On weekends, his modest, Honda compact car would often be the lone vehicle in the Marian Helper Center parking lot.
"This job suited him," says his daughter, Paula Morehouse, 41. "It became the daily fabric of his life."
"He's dedicated to the Marians," says Nancy, Fran's wife of 42 years, two weeks before Fran's retirement. "He always has been. I think it will be hard on him to leave. Everyday, he wakes up raring to go to work. We both feel he was blessed. It's been a fantastic opportunity."
A Regular Guy with an Unusual Task
With a penchant for sweater vests, a firm handshake, and a wide smile, Fran took over leadership of the center with a bearing that revealed hard-charging purpose. His was a singular management style that combined military discipline (he was a lieutenant colonel for the Massachusetts National Guard) with fatherly affection.
In staff meetings led by Fran, it was all about the bullet points. But most meetings felt more like a team huddle than a lecture. His zeal to spread the Marians' charasm was equaled only by his drive to find the most effective ways of carrying it out.
Under Fran, expectations were high. Values were shared. Hearts were encouraged. Love proceeded from loyalty and teamwork. He surrounded himself with staff who, as he says, "have talents I'll never have." He gave them freedom to experiment. He gave them the lion's share of the credit.
On day one, there was nothing glitzy about the job. Before Fran could talk effusively about mercy and redemption, his bullet points concerned the prosaic. Before he could talk about eternal life, he had to address the here and now. Namely, the Marian Helpers Center needed a new database. Fran drew upon his computer programming years in the banking industry to spearhead the creation of a unified computer management system to undergird the center's many publishing projects, customer service transactions, donations, inventory, and archival needs.
From there, all things followed.
Under the direction of the Marians, Fran helped forge relationships with Divine Mercy apostles around the world, including with people who would become official distributers of Marian books, prayercards, and pamphlets. He developed with his staff successful fundraising efforts for Marian missions in Rwanda, Philippines, and elsewhere. He proved to be a key player in the establishment of smaller Associations of Marian Helpers centers in Poland and elsewhere. Along the way, he served on the Board of Directors of the National Catholic Development Conference, the United States' largest membership association of charitable religious fundraisers.
Among the many initiatives on Eden Hill itself, he led fundraising efforts to build the Mother of Mercy Outdoor Shrine and the Shrine of the Holy Innocents. He oversaw the construction of Our Lady of Mercy Candle Shrine, believed to be the largest indoor candle shrine in the United States, housing approximately 2,400 votive candles. He was closely involved in the planning of Eden Hill's new life-size Stations of the Cross.
Also under his leadership, the Marians purchased a new, state-of-the-art printing press.
"We turned it on March 1, 2000," Fran recalls. "The first thing we printed was a St. Faustina thanksgiving prayercard just a couple of weeks before her canonization, and we handed one to all 20,000 pilgrims on Mercy Sunday."
Growth in the Mission
Fran leaves behind a publishing apostolate on Eden Hill that produces about 50 million images, prayercards, appeals, and enrollments annually; a prayerline that receives tens of thousands of prayer requests monthly; a web department that administers 25 websites and whose Divine Mercy and Mary Immaculate apps have had more than 100,000 downloads from people in 160 countries.
The Marian Helpers Center, headquarters for the Association of Marian Helpers, now serves 1.5 million people devoted to the spiritual and financial support of the Marians and their ministries.
At a reception for Fran hosted by the Marians on May 7, Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, shared how he was on Eden Hill in 1944, shortly after the Marians purchased the property.
"I saw the whole transition from then to now," Fr. Seraphim said. "We began all our evangelization efforts in the cellar over here, and I can't believe to where it has come now."
Turning his eyes to Fran, Fr. Seraphim said, "And most of it is thanks to you. God bless you, and He'll reward you in a way only He knows."
Fran's position has grown over the year such that the Marians have now divided it into two positions: operations and evangelization. Longtime manager of the Internet Technology Department, Kevin Dougherty now serves as the center's executive director of operations. Mark Fanders, who joined the Marians in early 2012 as an associate member of the Congregation, serves as executive director of evangelization.
Delivering the 'Good News'
Fran's first brush with the Marians was as a boy growing up in nearby Adams. He delivered the newspaper to the Michalenkos, the parents of Fr. Seraphim. Just like those crisp, well-informed newspapers, years later Fran arrived at the Marians' doorstep with a fresh perspective.
He had been working for 20 years for local banks in duties that included computer programming, building maintenance, and bank mergers, eventually rising up to the position of vice president of operations.
During his interview with the Marians, when he was given a tour of the Marian Helpers Center, Fran thought, "Wow! The potential here is incredible!"
"My first walk-through here at the center, I was just amazed," he recalls. "I had heard about the Marian Helpers Center and the Shrine, but I had never been on Eden Hill. I had never heard of St. Faustina. Now, today, this ministry of Divine Mercy and devotion to the Blessed Mother and to the holy souls in Purgatory have become part and parcel of my life."
His 45-minute commute from his home in Cheshire, Mass., afforded him enough time to pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy and the Rosary in preparation for his work day.
Among the many highlights of his Marian tenure was an evangelization trip in 2002 he made with Fr. Seraphim. They visited Guam, the Philippines, India, and other Far East Asian countries. Without a hint of hyperbole, Fran calls it "the Asian Crusade." Indeed, everywhere they went, they were greeted like celebrities by the Catholic faithful who had come to know the Marians and Divine Mercy through Eternal World Television Network.
Almost without exception, the faithful packed large churches, meeting halls, and other venues.
"Beyond standing room only," Fran recalls.
By means of the Asian trip, the Marians were able to establish relationships with individuals, groups, parishes, and Dioceses that have since partnered with the Marians to spread Divine Mercy.
But the biggest revelation Fran and Fr. Seraphim experienced came as their plane was preparing to land back in the United States.
"We had just been to all these countries, greeted by all these people on fire with Divine Mercy," says Fran, "and then when we looked out the window of the plane and laid eyes on the United States once again, we realized, this is the land that needs evangelization!"
Upon his retirement on May 24, Fran began a new life with new priorities. Top among them is making up for lost time with his family, including his two young grandchildren. He'll tinker with his beloved Corvette. He'll finally get around to addressing all those longstanding home repair and renovation projects while continuing to serve the Marians as a consultant.
He's most excited about the road trip he and Nancy are planning. They will hop in his Corvette and travel the country, visiting family, friends, and national parks, staying in hotels along the way.
"It's a beautiful, beautiful country," says Fran. "I've seen a lot of it, but Nancy hasn't, and I can't wait to show her."
And he has vowed to follow the advice of Fr. Joe Roesch, MIC. In his homily at a Holy Mass celebrated May 7 in Fran's honor, Fr. Joe, the Marians' Vicar General, told Fran to always keep his heart open to the Lord.
"The Lord is with us," said Fr. Joe. "He's been with you, Fran, and will continue to be with you."
From the staff of the Marian Helpers Center and from Marian Helpers around the world who have been touched by your sacrifice and commitment to the Lord, thank you Fran Bourdon!