Photo: Marie Romagnano
By Dan Valenti (Nov 6, 2008)
I didn't know him. Never met the man. Yet I knew him well and met him every day of my life. I knew him because he was a Marian.
Father Albin Gurklis, MIC, a Marian of the Immaculate Conception called home to God this week at the age of 90, for the decades taught higher mathematics at Marianapolis Preparatory School in Marianapolis, Conn. More importantly, he faithfully fulfilled the spirit and ideals of the Congregation for almost six decades.
No 'On/Off' Switch for Goodness
For example, this man of quiet faith and profound humility served virtually seven days a week wherever there was a need in whatever locality he lived. His days "off" involved as much work as his day "on." As a Marian, he threw away his "on/off" switch."
Most recently, Fr. Albin was a fixture at Holy Trinity Parish in Hartford, Conn., helping out on weekends when his school duties ended Friday afternoon. He visited the sick, took communion to those in hospitals, counseled couples in troubled marriages, and — with infinite patience and often after hours — helped youngsters negotiate the hedge maze of higher math.
More than 500 people packed the Marianapolis chapel to overflowing Nov. 4, a testimony to the countless thousands of lives he touched as a devout man of God. Later that evening, the Marians of the Immaculate Conception hosted a wake for Fr. Albin in the great room of the monastery at Eden Hill, home of the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass., followed by a funeral Mass and burial the next day in the Marian cemetery.
The Family Gathers
Marians worldwide sent condolences to Eden Hill, but more importantly, they sent prayer — words to God on behalf of their brother, agents tinged not with the finality of bodily death but with hope and joy of new life in Christ. There is nothing as strong or as certain as a Marian funeral. In a way, these men are in the death business. They know that, as Fr. Provincial the Very Rev. Dan Cambra, MIC, recited at Mass, "we are dust, and unto dust we shall return."
Marians present on short notice for the Eden Hill services included Fr. Dan, Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC; Fr. Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC; Fr. Anthony Gramlich, MIC; Fr. Anthony Nockunas, MIC; Fr. Tim Roth, MIC; Fr. Walter Gurgul, MIC; Fr. Robert Vennetti, MIC; Fr. Martin Rzeszutek, MIC; Br. Leonard Kunda, MIC; Br. Ken Galisa, MIC; Br. Michael Opalacz, MIC; Br. Andrew Maczynski, MIC; Br. Albin Milewski, MIC; Br. Donald Schaefer, MIC; Br. Ron McBride, MIC; and Br. Brian Manian, MIC. Former Marian and current diocesan priest in Hartford Fr. Mathew Kappalumakkel also attended, as did three Oblate Sisters from the Eden Hill convent. The services also included family, friends, loved ones, students, and former students.
The Sacrifice Made by the Marians for All
In taking up the religious life, the Marians of the Immaculate Conception decided for the sake of us all to forsake the world and its fleeting pleasures. They chose the narrow path. Each had his reasons. These men of faith unite around death like nothing you've ever seen. I saw it last year for the funeral of Fr. Mark Garrow, MIC. In my hasty notes today, I tried to convey the feeling of witnessing that attitude. What's it like? I described it "a primary vigor imposed not by some eccentricity but by belief." The words don't come close.
At the burial service, I stood opposite the Marians, looking alternately into their faces and then onto the simple wooden box of Fr. Albin's coffin. I looked into the face of venerable Fr. Martin, a man who should be on the recruiting poster for all that is good about the religious life. Father Martin radiates the serene beauty of a sage, one who has used spirituality to cure within himself the last traces of individual abstract speculation in order to live a communal, concrete certainty. Father Martin reflects Christ's double nature: the God we pursue, the man we try to raise.
We then joined the Marians in reciting the prayers for the dead. This is wisdom and intelligence: the capacity to see things as they are. We should all be that strong.
'An Ordinary, Humble Man'
In his homily, Fr. Dan led with the words of St. Francis: "Preach the Gospel constantly, and when necessary, use words." That, he said, perfectly captured the evangelical presence of Fr. Albin. "He was an ordinary man, a humble man who lived a simple life. As a teacher, he was worried that his students were wasting their time. He wasn't worried that they were wasting his."
Father Dan said he knew Fr. Albin for 25 years, and in that quarter of a century, "I knew full well that the first and last thought always on his mind was eternal salvation." Father Dan said Fr. Albin inspired many younger Marians by his holy life. They wished "the companionship of men who were equally desiring of holiness" as Fr. Albin. "He embraced his calling — 58 years of teaching higher mathematics. He used math to convey his love [of life] literally to two generations of students."
In the end, Fr. Dan said, Fr. Albin "will be measured in the eyes of God with great love. ... His ministry will continue on in us, because it is not his ministry but God's."
Following the funeral Mass, his Marian brothers accompanied Fr. Albin's body to the cemetery. No hymns rang out, only the solitary peal of the tower bell. The gray November sky lingered throughout the morning, reversing in action what the disembodied soul of Fr. Albin had reversed in spirit: deep, devotional blessings to all. Yeah, I knew him well.
Dan Valenti writes for numerous publications for the Marians of the Immaculate Conception, both in print and online. He is the author of "Dan Valenti's Journal" for thedivinemercy.org