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Father Mark Garrow's Enduring Legacy, for Christ and His Church

The Burial Rite for the body of Fr. Mark Garrow, MIC, included pouring sand on his coffin. Father Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC, Marian Director of Evangelization and Development, says a final farewell. Photo by: Marie Romagnano

They gathered to celebrate his life and to mourn their own loss. Hundreds of them — family, friends and fellow Marians from around the world.

Celebrating his life was the easy part. In his gentleness, his humility, his spirituality, and his enduring and indomitable smile, Fr. Mark Garrow, MIC, who died of cancer on Friday, Oct. 19, transformed countless lives. He was "Papa Mark." He was "Father Mark." He was the Marians' Superior General from 1999-2005. And he was just plain "Mark" — a spiritual father, a friend.

For those who gathered for his funeral Mass on Thursday, Oct. 25, at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy, in Stockbridge, Mass., mourning their own loss proved to be the tough part.

"It is difficult to hide my sadness," said Very Rev. Fr. John Rokosz, MIC, the Marians' Superior General.

"It's not an easy Mass to celebrate," admitted His Excellency Timothy McDonnell, Bishop of Springfield, Mass., the Principal Celebrant of Fr. Mark's funeral Mass. "We say farewell to a friend, to a priest, to a special man."

But a constant theme resounded throughout the proceedings that led up to the burial of Fr. Mark's body in the Marian cemetery on Eden Hill in Stockbridge: Though tapped for leadership roles throughout his 22 years of priestly ministry, perhaps Fr. Mark's greatest legacy were the graces God bestowed upon the Congregation through the suffering Fr. Mark endured in the last months of his life — suffering endured in union with Christ.

Throughout his life, the former Boy Scout from Wilbraham, Mass., seemed to have clung to the motto of "Be prepared." He came to Eden Hill at the age of 14, a serious student, devoted to Our Lady and prepared for life in Christ. He took his final, difficult breath on Eden Hill at the age of 52, prepared for death in Christ.

"He was not afraid," said Fr. Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC, Marian Director of Evangelization and Development, who was close to Fr. Mark. "He trusted the Lord completely," he said during the wake on Wednesday, Oct. 24. "There was no fear in him when it came to dying. He embraced it as 'The Lord will provide; He will take care of me.'"

It came as no surprise to anyone at his wake to learn of one of Fr. Mark's dying wishes. He shared it with Fr. Kaz about four months ago, when he realized he would probably soon die. He told Fr. Kaz that one of the things he planned to ask the Lord was for permission in heaven to continue his work on behalf of the Marians and the people in his life.

"I really want to spend my time helping," he told Fr. Kaz. "I won't have to worry about sleeping. I won't have to worry about anything. I will be available!"

"And we do count on that," Fr. Kaz said. "We count on his prayers. We can pray not only for him, but also to him, asking that the Lord may grant through him graces that we need."

Brother Michael Gaitley, MIC, a seminarian who was very close to Fr. Mark, said he prayed to Fr. Mark following his death. He asked for "concrete proof" that Fr. Mark could hear his prayers, and he received a private confirmation. "He put me at ease," said Br. Gaitley. "What I experienced is, You better believe it, he is taking care of us. I know he is there."

Father Mark made people laugh. He was self-deprecating. Part Italian, he would complain that he didn't look "Italian enough." He loved movies. He loved history. He loved science fiction. He loved reading books so much that in the Minor Seminary he was sometimes not permitted to read on the weekends. 

He loved putting people at ease, whether it was his fellow Marians, his many lay friends, and even the medical personnel who cared for him from the outset of his illness.

"He inspired the other patients, too" recalled Marie Romagnano, RN, one of his caregivers. "In the chemo unit, he would get out of his bed and visit other patients. Some would ask for his blessing."

'One more homily'

He loved to live simply, in service to Christ and His Church.

Father Mark had other dying wishes, too. One was that his body be laid to rest in a simple, wooden casket, which it was. He also handpicked the readings for his funeral Mass. Through the readings themselves, noted Fr. Joseph Roesch, MIC, the homilist for the funeral Mass, "I felt as if he wanted to preach one more homily to us today."

The first reading was from Job, 19:1, 23-27. "Job, you may recall, was dealing with a problem or two in his life," said Fr. Joe, a member of the Marians' General Council in Rome and Fr. Mark's first novice. "His friends were telling him that maybe his faith in this God, who didn't seem to be taking care of him anymore, wasn't worth it.

"But Job says most forcefully that he knows that the One who will vindicate his faith lives," continued Fr. Joe. "In the midst of Mark's trials, there were, no doubt, many days of discouragement for him. And yet his faith in the Lord and in His mercy were not wasted. He, too, became consumed with a longing to see God."

In the second reading, from Philippians 3:8-14, St. Paul wrote that he had accepted the loss of earthly things so as to be found in Christ. "How many things did Mark have to contend with losing this year?" said Fr. Joe. "His health, his ability to speak clearly, to swallow, to taste, his freedom, his time, his energy, among other things. What became central for him was what he could do — pray his breviary, pray the Rosary, concelebrate the Holy Mass, to read and to meditate, to witness his faith to the other cancer patients, to his nurses, his doctors, his caretakers, and his visitors."

The gospel reading was from John 12:24-26, in which Jesus speaks of the need for the grain of wheat to die in order to produce fruit.

"Mark had to die to his own will many times before Oct. 19," noted Fr. Joe. "He loved his life and tried to live it to the full, but he was also willing to surrender his life to the Lord, in order to inherit eternal life." Father Joe said that Fr. Mark's "acceptance of his sufferings have already borne great fruit. … I think we have yet to see all the fruit that is to come."

'God had His hand on it'

During the wake, held in the Shrine Residence, many people shared their memories of the man who, in Fr. Joe's words, was "unfailingly polite."

"I called him 'Papa Mark,'" said Br. Jason Lewis, MIC, a seminarian. "It was an endearing term. I know I'm not the same person — as many of you are not the same person you were — as a result of this man."

"Now, for the first time in 14 years, not only does he know where I am, but I know where he is," said longtime friend, Deacon Bill Szewczyk, who marveled at how he and Fr. Mark had managed to stay in touch with each other despite the fact that both had moved around a lot.

The second son of Thomas and Doris Garrow, Fr. Mark was a miracle from the outset, said his Uncle Danny Brandi, from Long Island, N.Y. Complications during pregnancy led doctors to conclude that he would likely not survive the pregnancy. So Fr. Mark's mother turned to Our Lady.

"She started praying to the Blessed Mother and made a solemn promise to Our Lady that if Mark survived, she would dedicate him solely into Mary's hands," said Danny. "Well, as we all know, Mark did survive, and he was just a regular kid on the block. However, there were other qualities that he possessed — a deeply engrained goodness and concern for his fellow man that were heaven sent."

Uncle Danny also related how Fr. Mark had literally "found" his Marian vocation — in the back of a tractor-trailer. While young Mark's Boy Scout troop was conducting a paper drive, Mark found a copy of the Marian Helpers Bulletin. He brought it home. "He read this magazine from cover to cover," Uncle Danny said. "Mark was determined to make this order his future home."

Indeed, from his earliest days to the end of Fr. Mark's earthly life, God's hand seemed present. Father Kaz noted some crucial dates. Father Mark's surgery took place on Holy Thursday. On Good Friday, he suffered greatly, as Christ did. But on Easter Sunday, Fr. Mark had the strength to concelebrate Holy Mass for the first time since his surgery.

"We all thought, 'How is this possible, to have factors take on a biblical dimension?'" Fr. Kaz said. "I felt that God had His hand on it."

Moreover, Fr. Michael Callea, MIC, mentioned the significance of the date of Fr. Mark's death. "It's not insignificant that he died on the Feast of the North American Martyrs, which is such an important date for the Church in the New World," he said. Father Michael noted that one of the martyrs, St. Isaac Jogues, had his tongue cut out by the Iroquois. During his surgery, Fr. Mark, too, had most of his tongue removed, due to the cancer.

His funeral date, too, seemed set by Divine Providence. It was exactly a year to the day when Fr. Mark took over as Provincial Superior of the Marians' newly formed Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Mercy Province, based in Stockbridge. He was elected to the position because of his talents and leadership qualities. That was before the illness would take hold of his body. No one could have fathomed a year ago the powerful form his leadership would take, through his suffering and his quiet witness to Christ's presence in his life.

A Perfect Prefect

"Never have I met anyone in my entire life who revealed the face of Jesus Christ like that man reveals the face of Jesus Christ to me," said Br. Jason, who spent the final weeks of Fr. Mark's life at his bedside.

From the first few days when Fr. Mark took over as Prefect of Formation at the Marian Seminary in Washington, D.C., in 2005, the seminarians knew they had a role model for how to serve Christ and His Church. Father Mark, fresh from his term in Rome as the Marians' Superior General, insisted on taking one of the seminary's smallest rooms. And he also insisted on doing the dishes and all the other chores typically assigned to newest members of the seminary.

"He took the position of servant," said Br. Jason. "He served us. He didn't cling to his status. Rather, he poured himself out as a servant, and he 'washed our feet' and taught us how to be disciples of Christ.

"He was always there for us," Br. Jason continued. "The door to his office was always open, and it seemed to symbolize the door to his heart."

The weekend before Fr. Mark's death, all the seminarians had the opportunity to spend time with Fr. Mark in Stockbridge. They gathered around his bed for two days. They shared stories. They celebrated Mass. Brother Ken Dos Santos, MIC, wrote a tribute to Fr. Mark for the occasion. It read, in part, "You have shown us by your example how to be loving fathers to those to whom the Father has entrusted us."

Indeed, of the many positions he held in the Congregation, Fr. Mark's favorite was his role in helping to form future Marian priests and brothers.

In his eulogy, Fr. John, the Superior General, underscored that point by relating one of his last conversations he had with Fr. Mark.

"I told him that I was on my way to do the visitation of our seminary in Lublin, Poland," said Fr. John. "I asked him what advice he had for them there. He didn't say anything for a long time, and then he said: 'Tell the formators to love the young men in formation.' Then he said: 'Tell the young men to love their religious vocation. It is a gift from God. If they don't love their vocation, they will not be able to see it as a gift and to grow in it as God wants them to.'"

Father Mark leaves a brother, Bruce Garrow of Brattleboro, Vt., to whom he was very close, and his sister-in-law Lynne. Following the funeral Mass, Bruce helped carry his brother's casket to a green plot in the shadow of tall pines that frame the Marian cemetery. Father Mark's gravestone is identical to the others in the Marian cemetery. It's a white marble cross. The only difference is that it has yet to be inscribed.

But those are just details, for his name is forever inscribed into the hearts of all those who knew him.

The night before the funeral, Fr. Larry Dunne, MIC, recalled a moment nearly 23 years ago, at the reception following Fr. Mark's ordination. Thomas Garrow, the father of the new priest, raised his glass in a toast and said, "To my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased."

Father Larry echoed those words at the wake. "To our beloved brother and friend," he said, "in whom we are all well pleased."

If you would like to make a gift in honor of Fr. Mark, the Marians are requesting that donations be made to a cause dear to Fr. Mark's heart, the Marian Seminarian Campaign


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