It was seven years ago today that our good friend, Msgr. Thomas Wells, was found dead in his rectory in Germantown. A man who was drunk and high broke into the rectory and stabbed Fr Wells to death the night before. The people gathered for daily Mass on June 8, 2000, and when Fr Wells didn’t show up in the chapel at Mass time, they went looking for him in the rectory. I can’t imagine the horror they must have experienced when they found his body lying motionless on the floor of his ransacked bedroom.
My Mom called me later that day; I was in India on a seminary mission trip. I had just talked with her a few days prior, so I knew there was something wrong. When she told me the awful and horrific news, I almost keeled over. The priest who was with me and the two other seminarians in India was a good friend of Fr Wells. I asked to go pray in the chapel of the Mother House of the Missionaries of Charity. Thankfully, he led me there, and persuaded the sisters to let me use the chapel (a no-no after hours in the motherhouse). The next sixty minutes or so was heart-wrenching, but also amazing. There I was, praying in the presence of Christ, one floor above the tomb of Mother Teresa, about my good friend who had just been killed. Basically, I was talking to Jesus about one saint with the body of another saint just below me.
Thankfully, the director of the mission trip flew me home for the funeral. It was an enormous crowd of people who came to the funeral at Sacred Heart in Bowie (one of the parishes where FW served). Estimates said there were 3,000 people there. My good friend, Fr Jim Stack, gave an incredible homily, thanks to the Holy Spirit. He focused on three things that summed up FW: family, life, and the Eucharist. Fr Stack used the same three points of emphasis at my first Mass of Thanksgiving last May.
As I said at Mass this morning, the peace I get in the wake of Fr Wells’s death is that he gave his life to Jesus Christ. He lived with such extraordinary faith. He had an alarm system at the rectory at Mother Seton in Germantown, but chose not to use it because he said “there are too many buttons”. I think it was for a far greater reason: he wasn’t worried about what would happen to him in this life. It’s not that he didn’t care about his body or this life; he did. But, he lived in this world with his heart and soul focused on Heaven. He often railed against a culture which put total stock in this life only, and that we need to live to be 100 or something. He lived for Heaven, and wasn’t worried if his time on Earth came up short (it did; he lived 56 years only).
Finally, I remember talking with Fr Wells about a statement my father once made: “I’d rather live half a life doing the things I want to do than live a full life without them”. This came true in my Dad’s life because he died at 51. The discussion with Fr Wells was a fruitful one because it showed me that my Dad’s approach was not entirely selfish; in fact, Fr Wells said that it could be seen as Christian in nature. In other words, God wants us to enjoy this life (in moderation, of course), and not worry about when we are going to die. If we have our eyes on Heaven, like Fr Wells did, we will not worry about tomorrow so much that we fail to enjoy today.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon them.