If you ever visit Brit’s Home in Haiti, you will see the open air chapel in the Eastern Courtyard, built with native Verde Stone in a dry rock look. It has a Brown Cross that stands prominently against the stonewall. The concrete platform below is about 8’ deep off the rock wall and has 2 steps about 3’ deep. It has become the main focal point of Brit’s Home and is used almost on a daily basis for Worship, for visiting Preachers who want to share with our children and staff. Then every Friday afternoon our kids perform song, dance as some sort of Talent Show. It is Sacred Ground at Brit’s Home. Fr Bob Lord has been part of the Gengel Family for the past 33 years when I first met Fr. Lord in the summer of 1984 at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, CT where I went to college.
It was a cookout for the Residential Assistance and I was one of them. As we walked down the hill to eat, I saw a guy with shiny white hair cooking burgers, and I asked my friend Vinnie, "who is this guy?" Vinnie explained to me that Fr. Bob Lord ran a Newman House on the edge of campus, and even though he was a priest, he ministered to all on campus at CCSU. Fr Lord had a Doctorate Degree in college counseling and was really cool with the kids, Vinnie had said. I met the man and was armored by his Positive Attitude, Infectious Smile and his Charisma which would draw you in to him. He had a way of working with the RA’s to help them identify kids that weren’t transitioning well in the dorms. We would refer them to Fr. Lord and he was creating a welcoming community or safe place for them to go and hang out. As time went on a friendship developed; he would eat dinner in the café every night. That fall in 1984 I found my dinner date. He was filled with Love, Laughter and a Compassion for all he met.. what a role model for all of us who knew him.
I became best of friends with him over the next 2 years at CCSU and when I was in my last semester in the spring of 1986, he asked me a question that would change the trajectory of my life - I just didn’t know it at the time. He asked me to walk with him to Newman House and on that walk he asked me why I wasn’t going on Spring Break with all the other guys at our table? I explained that I had to work, that I needed money to finish up my degree. He then asked me if I would like to go on spring break with the rest of the guys and of course I said yes. Well in true Fr. Bob Lord form he said the following: “I want you to go, I want you to have that Memory of your last year of college, I will give you the money” I turned him down immediately, as I was too proud to take charity. He then explained it would be a loan, that someday I could pay him back, and he was pushing me to take the loan and have 1 spring break memory! Yes, he convinced me with the agreement that I would pay him back right after I graduated in May.
That June I showed up at Newman House where he lived upstairs and paid him the $600 he had given me. He was astonished, he never thought that he would see the money again, he just wanted me to have that College Memory! We continued our friendship and in the fall of 1986 when I was talking with him about not being able to buy a new F150 pick up truck on credit. He said to me again, "I want to lend you the money, I know you will pay me back." This time I agreed and within 6 months of the loan he had given me, I paid him back in full.
A business relationship was born and over the next 25 years, and Fr. Bob Lord was an Angel Investor in C&S Builders. Fr Bob Lord was more than that in our lives. He married Cherylann and I, baptized and gave first communion to Britney, Bernie and Richie. He also buried my Father and Mother along with Cherylann’s Dad. Then when tragedy struck in Haiti, he held us up as we navigated the worst possible Nightmare of any parents lives. Fr. Lord celebrated Brit’s Funeral Mass along with Fr. Madden at St John’s Church in Worcester, MA. Fr. Bob made it his mission to raise the money needed to build Brit’s Orphanage. He was relentless in his love and support; he knew this was her last wish and knew that Cherylann and I had an obligation to make her dream come true. He was there with us every step of the way in Haiti and the USA and was going to make sure we accomplished the unimaginable. He was our guiding light. On January 5, 2013 he traveled with 70 of us from the US to Brit’s Orphanage in Haiti to celebrate the Opening of Brit’s Home with a Dedication Mass. When our first child, Sha Sha, entered Brit’s Home, he was the first one to Sponsor him and he got his friends to help with a full sponsorship. Fr Lord loved to hear about ShaSha’s progress, from a malnourished little boy to a strong, healthy young man that he is today. He was so proud!
Father Lord was much more than a priest to our family, he was part of every family party, graduation, Memorial Day, 4th of July, and Labor Day. He loved my brother and sisters, and Cherylann’s family too. He had a unique way about him that attracted so many to his unconditional love. He was Love, he touched so many by asking meaningful questions about their lives, he took the time to care and most of all he took action when someone needed him. This past Friday I flew up from the Carolina’s to his wake. I flew from Charlotte to White Plains, NY as the Funeral Home was in Milford, CT about an hours drive. On our landing the sun was shining bright and it made me think of him, then our plane aborted the landing about 500’ above the airport. Around we went and back up the Hudson River to the runway below, as we got about 300’ above the runway another wind gust and boom the plane was back up in the air. Hundreds of flights I’ve been on, and never aborted twice. By God's Grace the plane headed to Bradley Airport a little north of Hartford, CT where we landed safely. I couldn’t help but laugh as the Lord would have loved the challenge of my trip to say goodbye. I made it to the Funeral home with 5 minutes to spare and the place was packed when I first arrived. There was love in the air and then a prayer in front of one of my best friends for the past 33 years.
As I looked in the casket, I saw a frail looking man; he had dwindled down to a skinny guy. I asked God to accept Fr. Bob Lord into eternal life, as I know he had touched 1,000’s of lives and he had made the world a better place. If anyone should make it through St. Peters Gates, it’s him. I then sat down and reflected on March 9, 2014, his 80th birthday when I took him again into Haiti to Brit’s Home. We walked into the courtyard and I told him how much I loved him, how he had changed the trajectory of my life and my family’s life too. I explained that Cherylann and I wanted him to see his present in person, and as he hugged Sha Sha, I asked him to look up.. It was then that he noticed his name appearing above the chapel. The Fr. Bob Lord Chapel will forever be at Brit’s Home! He was in shock, his eyes swelled, and I told him that because Britney, Bernie and Richie thought of him as their Grandfather and loved him very much, we thought it was only appropriate that we honor him with naming Brit’s Chapel after him. He was speechless.
Yesterday a funeral mass was held for Fr Bob, and as I walked towards the church, a bright light was shining on the Hurst from above. It was so cold, but I couldn’t help but think that Fr. Bob was shining his light on me one last time! The bishop was there along with about 20 priests; the Knights of Malta were there too, as he loved being an honorary member, my first friend at CCSU, Vinnie and his wife Linda, who introduced me to Fr. Lord was there as well. So many friends, family, and past students where there to say goodbye. Fr. Marty, who Fr. Bob had been his spiritual guide for his first 15 years, had the privilege of giving the Homily. He spoke of the Fr. Bob we all knew. He said he knows that Fr. Lord is in heaven because he was Love, but he also knew that the first words Fr. Lord had for God would be, “I have a couple of questions for you." You see, anyone that knew Fr. Bob knew that he loved to ask questions because he loved to learn. Fr. Marty reflected of his last meeting with Fr. Bob a couple of months ago. They talked about how in our country we don’t talk about dying or death that often? They laughed, they cried, but his faith never wavered. He was ready for eternal life. I know that the greatest gift Fr. Bob Lord gave me was the following: Love is Love is Love is Love is Love is Love is Love!!! Rest in Peace my friend, you have touched the lives of so many and we are all are better off to have called you Faaathaaaahhh!!! (He loved my MA accent when I called him Father)