Father Gavin Barnes, OSB
Community: Saint Meinrad
Date of Birth:11/15/1927
First Profession: 08/01/1947
Date of Death: 02/06/2017
View Funeral Homily
Fr. Gavin Barnes, 89, a monk and priest of Saint Meinrad Archabbey, St. Meinrad, IN, died at 11:40 p.m. on February 6, 2017, at the monastery.
He was a jubilarian both of profession and priesthood, and a participant in the Rush Religious Study on Aging and Alzheimer's.
Fr. Gavin was born in Bedford, IN, on November 15, 1927, to John Dewey and Helen (Krebs) Barnes, and was given the name John Dewey Jr. at his baptism. In 1941, he entered Saint Meinrad High School.
He joined the Benedictine community at Saint Meinrad as a novice in 1946, professed his simple vows on August 1, 1947, and began studies at Saint Meinrad College. He professed solemn vows on September 8, 1950, and was ordained to the priesthood on May 3, 1952.
After ordination, Fr. Gavin attended the Collegio Sant' Anselmo, Rome, where he earned a licentiate in sacred theology in 1954. He served as assistant novice/junior master for four years and began a 42-year teaching career at Saint Meinrad College and School of Theology.
Fr. Gavin earned a master's degree in speech, specializing in oral interpretation, public address and speech correction, from Northwestern University in 1960. He also studied at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and at the University of Iowa.
In addition to teaching, for 38 years he was director of drama, usually directing two major productions each year. In 2007, Fr. Gavin received the Spencer County Arts Award, which honored his four decades of work as drama director at Saint Meinrad College and his work in supporting the creation of the Lincoln State Park Amphitheatre.
The last play he wrote and directed, "Between Friends: Fateful Conversations of the Civil War," dealt with President Lincoln's relationship with his generals, and played at the Amphitheatre in 2012.
The Office of the Dead will be prayed at 7 p.m. on Friday, February 10, in the Archabbey Church, followed by visitation until 9 p.m. Visitation on Saturday will be from 8 to 9:45 a.m. in the Archabbey Church, followed by the funeral Mass at 10 a.m. Burial will follow in the Archabbey Cemetery. All times are Central Time.
Many of you remember our late Fr. Aelred Cody. He had the reputation of being a very intelligent man and an expert on many topics. Aelred died on May 11, 2015. Fr. Guerric gave his remembrance and began by saying:
On May 11th Saint Meinrad lost its mind.
Br. Benjamin reminded me of that and suggested how appropriate it would be to say tonight:
On February 6th Saint Meinrad lost its voice.
( Listen to the recording of Fr. Gavin's greeting at the beginning of the video tour: Welcome to Saint Meinrad.)
It is hard to imagine how many people have heard Fr. Gavin welcome them to Saint Meinrad in videos and on our switchboard answering machine.
That recording does not do justice to the rich and dulcet tone of Fr. Gavin's voice for he did speak with angelic and human eloquence each time he opened his mouth. And the message of his words was indeed: Love! The passage from Chapter 13 of St. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians is very often used for weddings but I think Paul had Gavin in mind when he wrote it. Paul was a fascinating character to Gavin and a few years ago he wrote a performed a one man play about the last hours of St. Paul's life before he was lead to execution. Fr. Abbot Kurt and Fr. Gavin watched a DVD of it the night before he passed.
I suppose I should first acknowledge the extreme privilege it is for me to be speaking to you tonight. As you might know and will surely realize by the time I finish this remembrance that Fr. Gavin was for me not only a hero but a man I loved.
Tim Gohman was my first grade best buddy at Saint Augustine Grade School in Jeffersonville, Indiana. His parents owned a two story duplex home not far from where I lived and many times after school I would go home with Tim and play in their yard or in the upstairs part of the house where his family lived. An older couple lived downstairs but I never really got to know them very well.
I had told Tim and his parents that I wanted to be a priest and one day his mom told me to come to the window overlooking the street. She said to me : See that young priest getting out of the car? I could see a very strikingly handsome blond haired man in a black suit and Roman collar opening the door for his mother to get out of the car. Tim said to me: Jimmy that is Fr. Gavin and his mom. The year was 1953 and Fr. Gavin had been ordained almost a year. I was six but I remember it as if it were yesterday. It was not till I was fourteen that our lives became entwined. Meanwhile his sister, Mabel and her husband Don Banet and their three children, Teresa, Jean and Steve became good friends of my parents and our family.
During that gap Gavin was just beginning the journey of a major part of his life's work in theater and arts and I was to enter into it- in many ways - at its peak. Born and raised on a farm in Bedford, Indiana in 1927 Gavin, in many ways never left the farm, even though he did not become a farmer. Gavin remained a man of the soil, the woods and treasured Mother Earth.
When he was three his grandfather and father moved the family to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. They were stone carvers and worked on the Huey P. Long Capitol building. Later when he was in the seminary his family moved again to Russellville, Alabama for a while when his dad worked in a war effort factory during World War II.
He was so proud of the craft of his father and grandfather. The limestone deposit in the Bedford, Indiana is the largest in the world. There is a quarry there that Gavin always wanted to see and so a few years back before he lost his mobility we went to see the Empire Quarry. From that water-filled hole in the ground came all the stone for the Empire State Building in Manhattan. Gavin was as solid a man as any stone quarried from that piece of the earth.
Those of you who knew him only as an old man would not believe the specimen he once was. Just until about 15 years ago it was a common sight to see him punching the speed bag in the upstairs balcony of the now buried Marty Gym, the place where his first theatrical experiences were to happen. Marty Gym was the multipurpose hall for theater and athletics alike. There he was formed as an actor and a jock.
His love of the outdoors was brought to a pinnacle when he built himself a hermitage / cabin just off the upper of the two Twin Lakes across the Anderson River valley. He annually offered a campers retreat for the college students in the Abbey Woods not far from that cabin. This was always in the winter and some of the - shall I say "less rugged" collegians were shocked to experience not having a place to plug in their electric hair dryers. He loved to go camping anytime he could. A number of summers he worked at Yellowstone, Jackson Hole and Cody Wyoming as an assistant to the priests assigned to the parishes and the parks. Many good stories came from these summers- especially about the time he had a cowboy funeral.
Anyone who attended his talk at the 2015 Alumni Reunion heard the marvelous story of how he got involved in theatre. He entitled his presentation: "Curtain Call" and it can be found on our website. As a high school student in our minor seminary he marveled at the productions put on by both major and minor seminarians and he almost got cast as one of the king's daughters - Goneril- in Fr. Jerome Palmer's production of Shakespeare's "King Lear." It turned out that George Ottensmeyer (who became our Fr. Hilary) got the part. Gavin said he was relieved.
Gavin made his first profession as a monk in 1947, the year I was born. He was ordained May 3, 1952. Besides his seminary studies here at home, he studied also at the International Benedictine College Sant'Anselmo in Rome and teamed up with Fr. Hilary on a bike ride from Paris - where Hilary was studying - down to Rome. It was a very memorable trip for both and they reminisced about it many times with us. He was sent to Northwestern University outside Chicago where he earned his Master's Degree in oral interpretation, public address and speech correction in 1960. He also studied at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and at the University of Iowa where he studied drama and theatre.
At that same Alumni Reunion talk he made reference to his mentor- our late Fr. Geoffrey Gaughan who was directing Shakespeare's "Henry V." A week before the show was to open most of the guys, including Geoffrey came down with the flu. Guess who was asked to direct it? Right! Gavin! And he did a brilliant job! Young Gerry Gettlefinger, now the Bishop Emeritus of Evansville, was his first stage manager. Another early production he tackled with Gian-Carlo Menotti's "Amahl and the Night Visitors," an operetta about the Magi and a poor shepherd boy. Fr. Colman (our organist tonight) arranged the music for that production.
Gavin was most certainly a devotee of The Bard and taught many classes on his plays and other poetry.The opening lines of the Prologue of Act One of "Henry V" for Gavin summed up what theatre was all about: The World of Imagination
O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
I cannot think of any man with a more keen sense of imagination. He could produce both COMEDY and TRAGEDY sometimes at once.
The Theatre was the most important aspect of his life after his monastic commitment. He was a TOTAL MONK and PRIEST. He did it all: High School productions of "Brother Orchid" and "Treasure Island;" College students presenting "Richard II," Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Mikado," Moliere's "Scapin" or Melville's "Billy Bud." He produced pageants in front of the abbey church. His very first show in Bede Hall was "The Birds" by Aristophanes. He brought to life the Book of Revelation in speech, song and costume in the Archabbey church. Each production was a masterpiece.
Perhaps he took to heart most - his productions of Shakespeare's "TEMPEST." How appropriate he died on Monday night just as a magnificent storm raged outside. I think the most money he said spent on any one play was $45, and that included royalties as well as building ships on stage for "Jonah" and "Billy Bud."
I assisted him while producing "Alice in Wonderland" and Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Mikado" (three different times). I was able to catch a glimpse of a part of Gavin that I don't think he shared with many folks. In fact he did not really share it with me. There were times I would sneak into the theater when it was dark and Gavin would be playing the nine foot concert grand on the stage. I thought I was at Carnegie Hall. I treasure those memories. I confessed to him that I did that when Abbot Kurt and I were sitting with him last week.
In 1971 Fr. Gavin and three of our college students, were in a car wreck. Bill, Steve ,Walt and Gavin all came out ok but they learned a lot about being at the scene of an accident. One of them joined our community after college and both he and Gavin became EMT's in association with our Volunteer Fire Department. Young Walt Stasiak and Fr. Gavin forged a bond that will last long beyond his burial, I am sure.
The number of College alumni, as well as Summer Session alums, that are here for his funeral this weekend are here not to bury their "Caesar" but to pay tribute to the man they respected and loved to the end. His classes on The Greek Achievement, The Renaissance and The Quest should be published someday. Not only his students but his colleagues on the faculty respected him with the utmost honor. I wish I could have witnessed his reunion with Sr. Mary Alice Lawhead, a Benedictine Sister from Tulsa who taught French and Spanish in our college. They had a very dear friendship.
Gavin's next career move came when Abbot Timothy appointed him to chair the committee to build our new monastery and library in the late 70's. His organization and artistic skills were tremendously helpful to our architect and all the construction teams.
I was appointed Pastor at Saint Boniface in Fulda, Saint Martin in Siberia and the parish here in town 1997. Fr. Adrian (our cantor tonight) was the associate. When Fr. Adrian was assigned to Rome for studies in 2000, I lost him as my associate. I asked Abbot Lambert if he would appoint Fr. Gavin as a regular substitute and additional priest when needed. Since this was not going to be a canonical assignment by Archbishop Daniel we would have to come up with another title. So I suggested a title borrowed from academia: Senior Adjunct Priest. For some reason when the abbot posted the sign the capital letters S A P stood out and Gavin said: I always knew I was a SAP but I never thought I would be appointed one officially. He continued to serve two more pastors, Fr. Brendan and Fr. Adrian for another four years after I left in 2002. I think he had the parish pictorial directories memorized. He recently could still tell me the names of children he baptized. I think there are at least nine out there with the name Gavin.
He did the same withThe Pallium, the newsletter that Fr. Sebastian would send him from Canterbury School in Connecticut. Names of professors, staff and students were important to him. Anytime he met someone he tried to remember their names. That showed how much he cared.
Two second career teaching opportunities came to him with the One Bread One Cup summer program and working with the international students in our seminary.
For over twenty years he worked with the Liturgical Proclamation part of the OBOC curriculum. Last summer was the first summer he did not teach. Fr. Christian arranged a wonderful tribute to him at each of the ice-cream socials. Both the Interns and the Participants loved him and some of them are here for these rites..
About five years ago he started working with our international seminary students teaching them to make American English sounds -sounds that they don't have in their languages just as we don't have their sounds in ours. Walking past the conference room where he held the class one could hear the strangest sounds in the hallway. We wondered just what was happening in there. They all loved the gift of Fr. Gavin and the difference he made in their abilities to read and preach the Word of God in English.
Gavin had a love for studying the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln. He was instrumental in the establishment of the Lincoln Boyhood Drama Association and the eventual building of the Lincoln State Park Amphitheatre. At the Sesquicentennial and again at the Bicentennial of Lincoln's birth in 1809 Gavin wrote the plays: "Abraham Lincoln, The Indiana Years (1816-1830)" and in 2009 "Between Friends," the story of Lincoln's relationship with Grant and Sherman. Both were recently published and the latter presented on the stage of the Lincoln State Park Amphitheatre. Dean Dorrell, who plays Lincoln at the Amphitheatre, credits Gavin with not only making him a better Lincoln presenter but indeed a better man.
And for the past eight years a dedicated group of folks from Jasper and the surrounding area have come once a month to sit at his feet and discuss Lewis and Clark's "Core of Discovery Expedition," the Civil War and most recently the Revolutionary War. Some of them were able to visit with him last weekend. Of course he gave them an assignment for their next meeting.
Lastly I want to bring our attention to something we monks have witnessed as recently as last month when Fr. Gavin sat on a stool in this ambo and shared with us his memories of Fr. Rupert and before him Fr. Damian. He also gladly and humbly accepted Abbot Kurt's invitation to preach the Day Mass on Christmas. He did so with some obvious pain and difficulty but with an eloquence and elegance that not many 89 year old men in a wheelchair could muster. He asked me if we could hear and understand him. I know many of us were wondering if he was having a stroke as he tried to read his text but I think it was a combination of not being able to see his text while sitting on the stool and a bit of dramatic pacing.
There was nothing that he was more passionate about than the proclamation of the Word of God in our church, any church or at table in our refectory for that matter. We have all been on the receiving end of often very blunt but accurate critique of our preaching and reading. GOD HELP YOU if you punched a preposition or dropped your voice at the end of a sentence. I once was sitting next to him when a NOT SO GOOD READER ended the first reading at Mass with the standard: "The Word of the Lord." I heard Gavin say in a stage whisper: "I seriously doubt that."
These past days, weeks have been extraordinary not only for Gavin but for all of us here. We expected him to die on the day he was taken to the infirmary on January 31st. In the meanwhile he has had the opportunity to visit with family, friends, parishioners and former students who hold him in fatherly esteem. Fr. Abbot referred to this past week as his "dress rehearsal" for the masterful performance on Monday night.
To his nieces, Theresa and Jean and his nephew, Steve and all of their families we extend our deepest condolences. He treasured each time they came to visit and especially his visit at Thanksgiving in Memphis with Steve and Cyndi two years ago. Family gatherings, no matter where they were held, were always something he cherished. And to his extended family his cousins, Patricia, Msgr Fred, the Hubers, the Keotters in the Knobs and the Zurschmeides in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, we say thanks for joining us these days. To the many alumni and parishioners he served thanks for your great fidelity and prayers. He particularly appreciated his nephew Steve coming from Memphis, Fr. Victor Galier from Atlanta and Mike Eppler from Evansville. Msgr. Fred also came from Bloomington, Fr. John Kang one of his students from Korea plus a few other coworkers who were privileged to spend some precious moments with him.
We will lay him to rest in the most sacred place on this Hill tomorrow. The cemetery is located adjacent to the site where Marty Gym - his first theatre - is buried. How fitting that those two institutions lie buried next to each other.
I am sure many were gathered at the Pearly Gates to meet him - his family and confreres first of all - but I also bet he was greeted by a young boy in a pioneer shirt and britches with an axe slung over his shoulder but as the boy began to speak he was transformed into a tall gangly man with a beard and a top hat. I can imagine that when Gavin approached him the old man tipped his stove pipe hat and the 16th President of the United States said to him: Now Reverend Barnes- YOU belong to the ages!
Given by Father Jeremy King, OSB
Peace be to all of you, and for the next few minutes, I offer you the words of Father Archabbot Kurt . . . .
Confreres; family and friends of Father Gavin:
I wrote this homily, but I have asked Father Subprior to deliver it. I knew Father Gavin longer than I knew my parents, and my bond with him was as strong. I really don't mind showing my emotions, but at this time they would likely hinder my ability to communicate. And after all communication was one of Father Gavin's priorities. Maybe here I'm just trying to follow Gavin's advice: write the best script you can, and entrust its delivery to another.
Yes, I remember quite well Father Subprior Guerric's opening the remembrance for Father Aelred by saying, "When Father Aelred died, we here at Saint Meinrad lost our mind."
And I think Father Jeremy was right on target at his remembrance of Father Gavin last night, when he said, "When Father Gavin died, we here at Saint Meinrad lost our voice."
How can I hope to speak about that voice?
I turn to the Scriptures-the proclamation of which Father Gavin so energetically and ably taught and did-for some cues. I chose our readings because to me they seem to capture so much of Father Gavin's person and his character.
The Book of Samuel, and the young man David. Father Gavin, the dramatist.
Gavin loved that image of David, standing there, preparing to square off against Goliath. After all, this was a man with a mission. And did Gavin ever present himself as a man without a mission? Like David, he was determined, set, poised; someone willing-someone wanting-to walk right onto center stage and take his place as a willing warrior in God's' service. David and Gavin: their trust in God was absolute. In David's words, "Yahweh has delivered me in the past; he will do so again."
As we consider our readings, allow me a bit of artistic license, by referring to The Age of the Renaissance and Michelangelo's marble. And Father Gavin, the artist.
And of course an artist will always haveThe Davidbefore his eyes and in his soul. Indeed, a small replica of that statue was among Father Gavin's prized possessions for years. No surprise there. Whether he was admiring Michelangelo's work, fashioning it himself in clay or sketching it with pencil and pen, Gavin found inThe Davidthe beauty, the dignity, the majesty of the human body, formed as it is in the very image of God.
Back to the readings. Saint Paul, in prison. Father Gavin, faithful monk and priest for almost 70 years-a prisoner, if you will, of the Lord. And like Saint Paul, he thought these chains of service were made, not of iron but of gold: for they served to bind him ever more tightly and closely to God.
Gavin was intrigued by Paul in prison. About 8 years ago he wrote, and performed the one man play he presented at a parish: a play about Saint Paul's last hours in prison, awaiting his execution. Among the first lines, repeated at the conclusion: "I will not give in to the grief that awaits me. I look ahead to the freedom I will enjoy in the Lord."
Not giving into the grief we so easily associate with death; looking, instead, to the freedom awaiting him: this was the faith and hope with which he tried out for his final part, that of the old man Simeon.
If anyone could practice what it meant to "die in the Lord," it was that old man in Luke's gospel. And it was the old man Father Gavin. During much of his last week with us, Father Gavin seemed to almost enjoy dying. As so many confreres came to his deathbed this past week-to thank him, to pray with him, to say goodbye: he said more than once "What a unique experience this is! To have it end like this: I am ready. And I am so happy."
Father Gavin was a man of faith, a man who had faith in God, and a man who believed in God's fidelity to him.
Some 30 years ago, reflecting upon having been a priest for-then-only 35 years, Father Gavin wrote: "Right now, for me the most important thing [in my life] is fidelity. I made a promise to God, a pretty elaborate one, which includes, not only priesthood but also monastic vows, and I feel that keeping your promise is a wonderfully human thing to do. Not only that, I am sure that my happiness with God depends on it."
"Keeping one's promises" was a role Father Gavin learned by heart: a role he rehearsed, practiced, and lived through so many years of prayer and work.
At that same time, he wrote: "I believe that when I come to the heavenly gate, if I can say no more to my own credit than that I kept my promise, I feel quite sure that, as far as God is concerned, that will be enough."
That is enough, Father Gavin. Make your exit and let the curtain fall. And know that we applaud God's love and grace which brings you into his heavenly courts!
Homily written by Abbot Kurt, OSB;