"He didn't make it, Doc." Those words, spoken by Marco Posillico in a message left on my cellular phone answering system at 11:45 p.m. on the Feast of Saint Lucy, December 13, were heartfelt and laden with emotion. Marco was referring to the fact that our dear friend, Father Salvatore Franco, had died. As my very perceptive wife Sharon, who sees things so clearly through the eyes of the Faith, noted, however, "Father did make it. He had the Sacrament of Extreme Unction. He did make it." Indeed, while we never presume the state of any person's soul at the moment of his death, Father Salvatore Franco was ready to go home to his mother, his Blessed Mother, that is.
Father Salvatore Franco was born in 1926 in Brooklyn, New York. After completing his studies at Immaculate Conception Seminary in Huntington, New York, he was ordained to the priesthood by the long-time ordinary of the Diocese of Brooklyn, Archbishop Thomas Molloy, in 1953. A short while after Archbishop Molloy's death, Pope Pius XII split the Diocese of Brooklyn in 1957, creating the new Diocese of Rockville Centre out of the counties of Nassau and Sufolk on Long Island. As Father was assigned to a parish in the Brooklyn part of the original diocese, he remained a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn, although many of his classmates and priest-friends found themselves in the new diocese. Father Franco thus knew almost all of the personalities, for example, who would be involved in fomenting the theological and liturgical revolutions in the Dioceses of Brooklyn and Rockville Centre, including the late Bishop John Raymond McGann, who was Bishop of Rockville Centre from 1976 until 2000, and the late Bishop of Brooklyn, the Most Reverend Francis Mugavero. Father Franco lived through the process by which many of his own brother priests permitted themselves to be indoctrinated into the Modernist religion that passes for Catholicism in most places today.
Father Franco was very close to Our Lady, consecrating himself to her at he beginning of his priesthood. Her mercy to him was such that Father was spared from having to serve in a diocesan parish when the Novus Ordo was instituted by Pope Paul VI. Father Franco had suffered a massive heart attack at the age of thirty-seven in 1963 and never returned to parish work again. He was on a health leave from that time until he formally changed his status to that of a "retired" priest a few years ago. Although Father Franco was on a health leave, he was not really retired. He continued to celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass in his home. Father's heart problems, which he would give to Our Lady's Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart for nearly forty years, were really a Godsend to keep him from having to be "re-educated" in the way of the new Mass. He saw so very clearly from the very beginning that the new Mass, though valid, would devastate the life of the Church. Yes, Father Franco did celebrate the new Mass now and then in the 1970s and 1980s when asked by a priest-friend to do so (and when no other priest would celebrate a 5:30 a.m. Mass at the end of a monthly all-night pro-life vigil at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Massapequa Park, New York). However, he was spared the horror of having to deal with the problems of the new religion in his priesthood as a result of his health problems.
Father Franco, who is survived by his devoted sister, Helen, was not the only one in his family to see clearly from the very beginning that the new Mass was going to devastate the Faith. Father's father saw it as well, commenting about the state of things as the Second Vatican Council was meeting. Father Franco told us recently, "My father said, 'They've destroyed the Church.' We told him, 'No, Dad, everything will be okay.' However, we knew that it wasn't going to be okay." Father Franco also told off Pope Paul VI's brother in Italian during one visit to Rome in 1971. Mr. Montini, the Pope's brother, asked Father
Franco how he liked the new Mass. "It's a sacrilege," Father Franco said,
going on to tell the papal brother a few other things. Mr. Montini was
quite taken aback by Father Franco's directness. Father told us, "And I
told him to tell his brother exactly what I had told him." Father Franco
also told Pope John Paul II that he had not consecrated Russia to Our
Lady's Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart. His Holiness stared with steely
eyes at Father Franco.
Father Franco and his sister Helen moved to New Hyde Park, New York, where he celebrated the Traditional Latin Mass in a chapel he had built after the move. It was from that location that Father served as a spiritual director and confessor to hundreds upon hundreds of Catholics in the Brooklyn and Rockville Centre dioceses. He baptized children in the Traditional Rite. He celebrated Traditional Requiem Masses in funeral homes. He gave days of recollection to various groups, took Holy Communion to the sick and the dying on a regular basis, preached at the monthly Eucharistic holy hour that Marco and his twin brother Michael Posillico had started on Long Island in 1996, led pilgrim groups to Fatima and Lourdes and other Marian shrines, conducted Rosary pilgrimages to local Marian sites, and was available at any hour of the day or night to offer solid spiritual advice to those who asked it of him. He would also celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass at St. Ann's Church in Manhattan, which is offered every Saturday afternoon at 2:00, when he was asked to do so.
The authorities in the Dioceses of Brooklyn and Rockville Centre tolerated Father Franco's apostolic activities. Bishop McGann, who had been ordained to the priesthood in 1950, three years before him, told Father Franco at one point, "Sal, you have to update your theology." That said almost all a person needed to know about Bishop McGann, who died in January of this year, two years after he retired from his relentless role as a theological and liturgical revolutionary (whose activities I chronicled from time to time in The Wanderer and with whom I crossed swords personally on a number of occasions). Father Franco was the "anti-Bishop McGann," that is, a man who was erudite, well-read in the Faith, a solid theologian and philosopher, and a man who understood the truth about the actual development of the Mass of the Roman Rite through the centuries.
Father Franco's clarity of vision about the Mass led him into contact with Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, with whom he maintained contact until his death. Father Franco met with the Archbishop during his visits to the United States, seeing him as a genuine hero who was trying to keep the Traditional Mass alive at a time the revolutionaries, including Pope Paul VI, wanted to flush it down the Orwellian memory hole. Father Franco was very close to the priests of the Priestly Fraternity of the Society of Pope Saint Pius X, offering them his support and consolation as they sought to serve souls by giving them access to the "forbidden" Mass. As is the case with many diocesan priests in this nation, Father Franco told his directees that they could attend Mass in an SSPX chapel and fulfill their Sunday obligation. He told us recently that at least one priest he knew in the Diocese of Rockville Centre had given that same advice to people before he became immersed in the machinery of the diocesan bureaucracy.
Thus, Father Franco was willing to make great sacrifices to be faithful to the Mass. Although he remained on friendly terms with many of his classmates and brother priests, there was a gap between them as a result of the Mass. Most of his brother priests did not understand his commitment to Tradition, seeing it as a quaint personal devotion that was a sign of eccentricity, not total fidelity to the way in which the Blessed Trinity is best worshiped and souls best sanctified. Father offered up this humiliation to Our Lady, serenely going about his business of trying to help souls in the more or less underground work he was doing, work that was above the radar screen but of such seeming insignificance to diocesan authorities that he was left alone to do it. As ruthless as Bishop McGann was at times, he was not Danton or Robespierre, seeking to kill off everyone who believed in the past, although he did try to send his share of priests to the guillotine. Father Franco, living alone with his sister, was simply tolerated. And he was given delegation from diocesan officials now and then to confirm converts to the Faith. What the revolutionaries did not understand, however, was that Father was far more dangerous to them than they realized. This "quaint old priest"
was a terrific theologian and spiritual director, who used the power of
the graces given him by Our Lady to help scores of young home-schooling
parents to become devoted to the truths of the Faith, including the
Traditional Latin Mass. The fact that tens of young families with loads
of children attended the first night of his wake on December 15, 2002,
speaks volumes as to his influence. A priest without a parish had a
devoted following that transcended parish and diocesan boundaries.
Father Franco was indefatigable almost to the end. His heart continued to worsen over the course of time. So much so that his doctors told him that his heart was functioning at only twenty percent of its normal capacity. He had heart bypass surgery and had no less than four pacemakers installed. The last pacemaker was installed in October of this year, some eleven months after his third had been installed. Undeterred, Father Franco led a pilgrim group from Manhattan to Fatima days after getting out of Saint Francis Hospital in Roslyn, New York, following the installation of that fourth pacemaker. Although suffering from a very bad cold upon his return, he insisted that he deliver a replica of Our Lady's Fatima crown to the Posillico brothers. It took him more than two hours to drive the twenty-five miles from Kennedy Airport to Old Westbury. As Sharon noted, he was so full of enthusiasm for performing this act of charity that could have waited until the next morning. No one, including his doctors and himself, knew that he had a form of leukemia that would take his life in less than three months. Though constantly tired, Father Franco simply thought his heart's poor functioning was what as fatiguing him, which goes to show you that medicine is a very inexact science.
I first met Father Franco in the early 1980s. I did not know him well at the time, though I was impressed with his sermons when I heard him preach on various occasions. It would not be until the early 1990s that I got to know Father Franco better. He came to a number of my talks on Long Island, asking very challenging and thought-provoking questions, demonstrating a keen and very precise grasp of the Faith. Father was very precise in his theological language. Sharon met him for the first time when he came to several of my "Living in the Shadow of the Cross" lectures at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Massapequa Park, New York, during the Fall of 2001. However, it would not be until we returned to Long Island in early April of this year following Lucy Mary Norma's birth in Sioux City, Iowa, that we got to spend a lot of time with Father Franco, who went out of his way to provide us with a spiritual oasis in the midst of a real theological and liturgical desert known as the Diocese of Rockville Centre.
As I noted in my tribute to Father Frederick Schell a few months ago, Sharon and I were very blessed to have gotten to the Traditional Latin Mass in a number of venues while we were in California at the beginning of this year. We got to the Mass of our fathers in Father Raymond Dunn's house in Palo Alto, California, in independent chapels in San Jose and Petaluma, California, and in Father Patrick Perez's trailer in Santa Ana, California, before having Mass with Father Schell in the San Fernando Valley in March. After a priest from Long Island celebrated Mass for us in a chapel of Saint Michael's Abbey in Silverado, California, just two weeks before Lucy's birth, we continued our string of Latin Masses in Denver while en route to Iowa, where we were able to get to daily Mass in Omaha, across the Missouri River from Council Bluffs, at a parish served by Father Eric Flood of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter. It was in that parish that Lucy was baptized in the Traditional Rite at the Hour of Divine Mercy on Easter Sunday.
Having had such a wonderful run of Traditional Masses, I prayed to Our Lady to help us continue attending the Mass of our fathers back home on Long Island. Thus, I called Father Franco to see if he would be willing to have us attend his private Mass in his home in Westbury, where he and his sister had moved a few years ago. Graciously, Father agreed. He celebrated Mass for us practically every weekday for nearly five months before he was hospitalized with his recurring heart problems in September of this year. He was so very good to Sharon and Lucy and me. His sister Helen made us feel very much at home, welcoming us so very warmly. Father Franco provided us with five months of consolation and relief from the barren ecclesiastical landscape in which we find ourselves. We grew very close to Father Franco, taking him out to dinner once in a while at the Milleridge Inn, a place he found to be "civilized" as well as delectable, expressing special joy over the popovers served there. Father was a man in love with Our Lady. However, he also enjoyed the good things of this passing life, understanding that Our Lord wants us to use the things of this life moderately and commensurately for our enjoyment as a small foretaste of the eternal joys of Paradise. Father was keenly interested in the events of Church and State, had a great sense of humor, and was always so very kind of solicitous of the needs, both spiritual and temporal, of others.
Father Franco was physically very weak, both from his heart problems and, as it turned out, from the leukemia that was silently killing him. Nevertheless, this frail man, who had to keep both of his elbows on the table to support himself when sitting down sometimes, had a bounce in his step when he offered the Traditional Latin Mass in his kitchen for us. His concentration on the exquisite celebration of the unbloody re-presentation of the Sacrifice of Calvary never waned as his hands shook and his body sometimes trembled. He would be exhausted after saying Mass. During its celebration, however, Father was transformed, given an energy that was not his own. Indeed, he was celebrating Mass in his hospital bed in September and October when he was hospitalized with his heart problems.
I thanked Father profusely for giving us the privilege of celebrating the Traditional Mass for us. Always, and I mean absolutely always, Father would say, "Please, please don't mention it. This is my duty. I am a priest." He was so good to us, accommodating the needs of my schedule, which varied from day to day when I resumed adjunct teaching at the C. W. Post Campus of Long Island University in September. He was so humble, so generous, so fatherly. If we were running a few minutes late, he would accommodate us, greeting us at the door by saying, "Ah, my flock has arrived." He referred to Lucy, who was sometimes not the quietist parishioner Father Franco had ever known, as his "choir." He was so understanding that a newborn was going to be a little loud now and then.
Father Franco celebrated Mass for us at the residence of a homeschooling family on Long Island on May 31, 2002, the Traditional feast of the Queenship of Mary. He heard confessions beforehand on a very hot day. He enjoyed the camaraderie of the people gathered there on that feast day, which was the occasion on which the family generously hosted a party to honor Lucy Mary Norma's birth and baptism, which had taken place two months before.
Father Franco wrote the following note to Lucy, dated May 31, 2002:
"Dear Lucy, God has called you to a life of holiness. He has given you excellent guides in the persons of your mother and father. They are His gift to you as you are His gift to them. I am pleased to remember you, Lucy Mary Norma, in a Novena of Masses for your spiritual and temporal welfare. God bless you today and always. Sincerely and prayerfully, Father Salvatore V. Franco"
Lucy Mary Norma watched Father Franco very intently as he celebrated Mass. She is a very observant little baby. During a Mass Father celebrated for us in November, I was holding Lucy on my knee as I knelt to receive Holy Communion from Father Franco. Lucy looked at me as I opened my mouth. She saw Father Franco move from me to go to Sharon. Figuring that she was going to receive from Father What he was giving to us, she dropped her pacifier, tilted her head back and opened up her mouth as though to receive Holy Communion! When I told Father Franco that after Mass, he said to Lucy, "Oh, did you think it was candy, like they teach in the new Mass?"
The aforementioned Posillico brothers treated Father Franco as a surrogate father, having lost their own father some years before. They took him out to dinner a lot, sometimes as much as twice a week. They invited him to speak at their holy hours, made sure he was invited to attend various Communion breakfasts and other functions that took place around Long Island and Manhattan. They would go over to his home to keep him company at moments when his health was precarious. The death of Father Franco hits them, obviously, particularly hard. However, Father Franco will be missed by hundreds of people in the greater New York City-Long Island area, many of whom came to visit him during his hospital visits. Father Franco did more good for souls as an "underground" priest than most other modern priests, many of whom wile their hours away watching television in rectories during their official pastoral assignments.
Father Franco, though devoted to the Traditional Mass, was not unaware of the pastoral difficulties faced by his priest-friends. One of those priests, who shall remain nameless, was somewhat threatened by Father Franco's outspoken defense of Tradition. That sentiment, however, did not deter Father Franco from rightly terming this other priest as "the best priest in the Diocese of Rockville Centre," a man who spends himself tirelessly for souls as a pastor of a diocesan parish (and who was persecuted viciously by Bishop McGann). A man of infinite charity, he never condemned anyone. Indeed, he would turn the conversation away from any hint of condemnation of those who were doing their best in difficult circumstances and/or who were hostile to the Traditional Latin Mass, stressing the positive things these men were doing for souls. He prayed to Our Lady for them.
Father Franco was told a few weeks ago that he had acute leukemia. This was a shock to him. However, it was a great mercy given him by Our Lady to prepare for a good death. He could have collapsed suddenly from a heart attack or a stroke. Oh, he fought to the end, hoping that some natural remedy might be found to cure the cancer, also invoking the intercession of Blessed Father Nelson Baker for a miracle. He knew, though, that his death was near. He knew that Our Lady was calling him home despite his own desire to remain here in the Church Militant to be part of the underground church. His sole goal was to help souls to pursue the highest degree of holiness possible by having them totally consecrated to Our Lady's Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart.
Father Franco received the Sacrament of Extreme Unction in the Traditional Rite the day before he died from Father Paul Baumberger of the Society
of Saint Pius V. We were privileged to see him in the Intensive Care Unit of the North Shore University Hospital in Plainview, New York, just nine hours before he died. Keeping vigil at his bedside was his devoted sister, Helen, who has given her entire life to care for her brother and to support him in his service to souls. Father Franco was in his final agony. Although he rallied somewhat shortly before he died, it was clear that he was going to home to his Mother, our Blessed Mother, before the end of the feast of Saint Lucy. How wonderful it is the patroness saint of both Sharon and Lucy is the day that Father Franco entered eternity.
Father Franco was very devoted to Our Lady's First Saturday requests. As Sharon noted when reflecting on Father Franco's death, "If Father had to go to Purgatory, it was only for fifteen minutes." Dying just fifteen minutes before Saturday, December 14, 2002, one can be confident that Our Lady came and got her devoted son, Father Salvatore Franco, who has now gone home to his Blessed Mother.
Nevertheless, we continue to pray for Father Franco's soul, understanding that Our Lady will direct the fruits of our prayers and Masses to some other deserving soul if he has no need of them. And we offer our prayers for the consolation of his sister Helen, who devoted her entire life to the care of her brother so that he could go about his priestly duties, and for the Posillico brothers, who were so very close to Father and wanted him to keep going to be part of the underground church in the years ahead. However, as much work as he did here on earth, Father Franco will be doing far more in eternity to aid the promotion of the Traditional Latin Mass and the triumph of Our Lady's Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart. We will miss him terribly, though.
As Sharon has noted, there is going to be quite a void here on Long Island without him. Even those priests who are privately devoted to Tradition on Long Island lack Father Franco's courage and his absolute, unqualified zeal for souls. Father Franco cared nothing for human respect or for career success. He cared about fidelity to Tradition. Period.
"Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul-and all the souls of the faithful departed-rest in peace. Amen."
Thomas A. Droleskey, Ph.D.
Note: [bold, brackets and italicized words used for emphasis]