Father Henry C. Frascadore relaxes with his friend Ramsey in Bushnell Park, Hartford, in October. Father Frascadore is author of Beyond the Weeping Willow Tree, a book of mini-homilies in free verse. (Photo by Joe Driscoll/St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center)
HARTFORD – When several people suggested to Father Henry C. Frascadore that he write his memoirs, he responded with a short collection of poems. One is titled "Rembrandt’s Memoirs" and begins this way:
"They asked me to / write my memoirs. / I told them to look / at my self-portraits instead."
Each of the 92 free-verse poems in Beyond the Weeping Willow Tree: Mystery is a Gift Wrapped in Ordinary Paper is a self-portrait, a distillation of Father Frascadore’s 52 years as a priest of the Archdiocese of Hartford, with reflections on the Gospels, psalms and prophecies of Scripture. The poems are miniature homilies that showcase Father Frascadore’s unique (but entirely Catholic) way of looking at the world, at God, at faith and at eternity.
"The language of God is silence, as we know. Creation was here long before our ancestors arrived," Father Frascadore said in an interview in his book-lined apartment overlooking Bushnell Park. Paintings and small sculptures, all by Father Frascadore’s hand, were displayed throughout the sitting room, where his faithful black lab Ramsey reclined on a special carpet.
"The astrophysicists say we’re about 14 billion years in the making," Father Frascadore continued. Human life on earth is measured only in thousands of years, not billions. "Creation was giving glory to God for years, and we didn’t have a voice," he said.
This thought is reflected in "The Fruit Fly," in which the priest recalls seeing a fruit fly land near his chalice while he celebrates Mass. It so distracts him that he forgets the "Lamb of God" and, after Mass, apologizes and says he was wondering "what this little creature’s / prayer sounded like." As he says this, a bird on the windowsill chirps loudly, "reminding us / that creatures, great and small, / have liturgies all their own."
Father Frascadore’s active ministry could be material for a dozen books. After his ordination in 1959, he directed St. Augustine School in Hartford and was chaplain at the Newman Center of the University of Hartford. In 1964, he earned a master’s degree in education from Boston College and became vice principal, and then principal, of South Catholic High School, Hartford. From 1973-85, he was assistant superintendent of secondary Catholic schools in the archdiocese. He was president of Northwest Catholic High School in West Hartford from 1985-96. From 1997 until his retirement in 2008, he was pastor of St. Dominic Parish in Southington.
Many people who accomplish great things have had to overcome discouraging criticism. Lord Randolph Churchill used to chide his son, Winston, about his poor academic performance, telling the future prime minister of England that he would never amount to anything. We know how that turned out. As a junior in high school, Henry Frascadore’s music teacher told him he couldn’t carry a tune ("A Note in a Wheelbarrow"). But the student would not let that discourage him:
"so bravely week after week / i sing out like rushing water / like ringing bells / and like a harp strummed by / angelic fingers / so there."
Father Frascadore returns to this theme in "The Planned Stoning," a retelling of John 8:2-11, in which Jesus says that only those of us without sin may throw the first stone. This famous line, however, is not the focus of Father Frascadore’s poem. After Jesus tells the accused adulteress that he does not condemn her, "the woman turned and stepped / out of the circle" of blame and "began living the rest of her life."
Father Frascadore said, "This happens to all of us. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a circle of execution we are put into." It could be hurtful words like, "No one ever wanted you," "You’ve always been a lazy kid," or "You’re not going to make anything of your life."
He believes that Jesus is speaking to each of us when he speaks to the scribes and Pharisees who accused the woman, and even when he addresses the woman herself. "Don’t depend on what others tell you [what] Jesus says to you. Stand next to him and listen to him speak, and watch his every move, because he’s talking to you."
In "What Did Jesus Just Say," he writes: "have you heard Jesus speak to you / i mean directly to you / or have other people told you / what he said to you[?]"
"Each of us has a unique network of gifts," Father Frascadore said. "There’s never been anyone like us before, and neither will there be anyone like us again." The seed of this thought was planted in his mind nearly 60 years ago by a teacher in seminary, who told him, "If you do not tell your story, it will never be told. No one has ever lived a life like yours."
Since retiring in 2008, Father Frascadore has been giving spiritual retreats and writing workshops, advising people to "live fully and openly," to "stay awake" to God’s presence in their lives. Beyond the Weeping Willow Tree is one more way of reaching people and showing them how to see things through the eyes of faith.
"You ask, ‘Why do I do it?’ I’ve had a full life," he said. "You share what you’ve learned, and you hope that what you’ve learned is of value to others."
Beyond the Weeping Willow Tree
(BeyondTheWeepingWillowTree.org, 136 pages) was released in October and is available on Amazon.com for $16.95. Proceeds from the sale of the book benefit the Congestive Heart Failure Patient Fund at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center.