Memorial Fund Established in Tribute to Christopher Posch

Stephen Mangione Friar News

SILVER SPRING, Md.– Stories continue to pour in about Christopher Posch, OFM, several months after the death of the beloved pastor of St. Camillus Parish. The most touching of these tributes came recently from the fraternity of friars at St. Camillus when they established the Brother Christopher Posch Memorial Fund. The friars launched the fund with a $5,000 donation.

Those who knew Chris, who died at age 58 on July 5 from complications with pneumonia, agreed that the humble friar would likely have cringed at the thought of such public homage and personal praise.

“Although he was ordained a priest, Chris always referred to himself as ‘Brother’ Chris – and although he held the position of pastor, he always called himself ‘servant.’ Chris lived these self-designations so fully that they were not an affectation, but rather accurate descriptors of who he was for others,” said Lawrence Hayes, OFM, guardian of the St. Camillus Friary.

Chris Posch (Photo from the Provincial Archives)

“The memorial fund will help the parish remember a tireless friar who accompanied all groups, cultures, committees, students, and outliers with enthusiasm, sincerity, welcome, and a belief in others that engendered hope,” added Larry, HNP’s Provincial Vicar.

The announcement to the parish said the fund was established to “honor the memory of Brother Chris, who served with great love, zeal, and humility.” The fund will be used to support needs specified in St. Camillus’ annual budget, such as improvements to the church and other facilities at the large multicultural parish that also has a Catholic school, St. Francis International, where parents of the student population come from more than 50 countries.

“Because Chris gave so unstintingly of himself to others, many have been inspired to give to the memorial fund to support the parish and mission that he so loved,” said Brian Jordan, OFM, pastor of St. Camillus who will administer the fund with the parish finance council.

Recently, a member of another religious order learned of the memorial fund, and sent a heartfelt letter to the parish, along with an extraordinarily generous donation of $10,000. In his letter, the donor, who asked to remain anonymous, recounted a touching story:

“When I was preparing the liturgy for my perpetual vows in 1984, I had trouble finding a musician. I called a friend who was the campus minister at Manhattan College. He told me that he had ‘just the person in mind’ [to help me]. It turned out that he was referring to a student [in his senior year] named Chris Posch.”

The donor never forgot the beautiful music liturgy that Chris, who played guitar and sang, provided on his momentous day.

Little Flowers of Brother Chris
Brian said that most Franciscans worldwide are familiar with the “Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi” – the classic collection of legends about the life of the saint. The same can be said about Chris, he noted.

“Almost all Franciscans around the Province have heard of the ‘Little Flowers of Brother Chris Posch.’ People whose lives he touched tell the stories of this magnificent friar-evangelist,” said Brian, who has been stationed in Silver Spring since September.

One such person is Kathy Boylan, who met Chris in 1984 during his pre-Franciscan days when he was a live-in volunteer at a Long Island homeless shelter, while also employed at a major U.S. Department of Defense contractor that manufactured the guidance system for nuclear submarines.

Chris singing and playing his guitar. (Photo courtesy of Toby Harkleroad)

“The fact that he decided to volunteer at a homeless shelter and live among its residents after graduating from college, with a bachelor’s degree in computer science, shows his generosity and how he chose to live,” said Boylan, who as a member of the Catholic Peace Fellowship was among a group that protested war and violence every Wednesday at noon at the main entrance of the defense contractor where Chris worked.

When Boylan was invited for dinner at the homeless shelter by a friend who volunteered there, she found herself sitting across the table from Chris, who was four years older than her eldest child. During the chance encounter, after she found out where he worked, she explained the religious motivation behind the weekly protest and encouraged Chris to resign his position with the defense contractor. There was nothing awkward about the appeal, she recalled – “I made my case about the consequences of his work on humankind and the planet, and he just listened.” Apparently, Chris did more than listen.

Unbeknownst to Boylan, Chris eventually left the defense contractor and became a Franciscan friar. In 2016, their paths would cross again at a 30th anniversary Mass for Assisi House in Washington, D.C., near where Boylan had been living since 1993 as a member of the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker Community – which advocates for disarmament, peace, and justice. Chris, serving as pastor at nearby St. Camillus in Silver Spring, also was at the Mass – during which attendees were given the opportunity to share a reflection. Boylan identified herself by name before speaking.

‘I Quit!’
“After Mass, a man approached me and exclaimed, ‘Kathy, I quit! I quit.’ I had no idea who he was or what he was talking about – until he recounted the dinner conversation at the homeless shelter in 1984,” she said. “I didn’t recognize him, but he remembered me. Over the years, I must have asked hundreds of people to think about what they were doing, but to find out that a conversation of 32 years ago actually stuck was a thrilling encounter for both of us.”

Chris at an environmental rally. (Photo courtesy of Toby Harkleroad)

“I’m not sure how many people know of his story of conversion – that Chris left a good financial career as a military contractor and joined the Franciscans. I feel compelled to tell this story because Chris is an inspiration. His journey is one that we all must consider in order to end our complicity in war and save our planet from destruction. Thank you, Brother Chris, for showing us how,” Boylan said.

Parishioners and others have expressed gratitude to the friars for establishing the memorial fund that will maintain Chris’s ideals and vision for social justice and reaching out to those left out by the Church and society.

“Chris believed that Christ is revealed in connections. He worked to make St. Camillus an ‘intercultural’ parish, rather than just a ‘multicultural’ parish,” explained Larry, “by creating intercultural circles that enabled all parishioners – Anglos, Latinos, Africans, Bangladeshi, Haitians and Vietnamese – who speak different languages – English, French, Spanish, Bangla, and Swahili – to sit together at a table, share meaningful conversations and a meal, and discover the rich gift of diversity.”

A professed friar for 30 years, Chris was ordained to the priesthood in 1995 and spent most of his religious life in pastoral care, including 18 years in Delaware as director and assistant director of the Hispanic Ministry Office of the Diocese of Wilmington before arriving at St. Camillus in 2016.

Memorial Fund Will Invoke Memories
As chair of Holy Name Province’s Hispanic Ministry Committee, Chris was a persistent advocate for all immigrants, often visiting migrant workers at their jobs and providing pastoral and sacramental ministry at migrant camps, prisons and parishes. He was dedicated to the Little Friends for Peace, a Mount Rainier, Maryland-based non-profit organization that promotes a culture of peace through prevention, resolution, and transformation.

Chris with children from St. Francis International. (Photo courtesy of Toby Harkleroad)

His Mass of Resurrection was celebrated at St. Camillus on July 11. With a limited number of people permitted to attend due to COVID-19 restrictions, the liturgy was also live-streamed on the St. Camillus Facebook page.

Larry said that most people will remember Chris for the way he uniquely touched their lives – whether through his dramatic use of props to convey the messages of his homilies, or drawing young people back to the Church with his inclusive spirit, or his humbling and human gestures like getting down on one knee to the level of youngsters when giving First Communion to second-graders.

“Full of life and the Spirit, always on the go from morning to night, and always meeting everyone with a smile – the memorial fund will invoke these and other memories of Chris,” said Larry. “I remember hearing Chris singing joyfully as if it were morning, and not late at night, as he would climb the stairs to his room after another long day.”

Tax-deductible contributions can be made to the Brother Christopher Posch Memorial Fund electronically at the parish website or by check mailed to the parish office at 1600 St. Camillus Dr., Silver Spring MD 20903.

 — Stephen Mangione is a frequent contributor to HNP Today.