Throughout the last few days, we’ve seen countless write-ups and posts about the “Priest’s Priest” Father John Arnone. New Orleans is definitely a small world when it comes to the countless connections that we have to one another. This has been proven once again by the wealth of people that have known, been touched by and now feel the loss of Father John.
You’ve read the beautiful tributes from the Clarion Herald, Nola.com, the Odyssey, etc all listing out the endless number of ways that he touched this city as a priest and a model Catholic. A few of his close friends and family have also shared stories of his personal loves of all things New Orleans, music, food and any type of festival he could find. His family is certainly not at a loss for good stories and great memories shared by thousands of locals grieving this loss and celebrating his life. To know that their child and brother was a devoted servant to the Lord must be something that makes his parents and siblings so proud! But to know that he was loved for so much more than that, can only be something that other parents and families hope for and dream of.
I knew Father John. He was a dear, close friend of my (soon-to-be) husband. He shared birthdays with us, holiday meals, family dinners, etc. He reached out to us to bless our home just 6 months ago when we moved. He went above and beyond to make our house a home and make sure that our new family would be blessed. That is just the kind of person he was. Just a week before his surgery he was at our house for an impromptu dinner that we will be forever grateful he came to. He showed up last minute while my family was over and we sat around and talked about his surgery, and various other things going on. He had just come from an event where he was well fed and told us that, “although he would stop by, he wouldn’t be eating because he was stuffed” from a fundraiser he had just attended. Two hours into the visit, he was eating with us at the table, laughing and cracking jokes about how we knew he was going to eat even though he said he wouldn’t! Two weeks later, we were in the hospital praying over him asking him not to leave us, even though we knew that God might have other plans.
I am shocked that John has been called home so soon, but I am not surprised that God has bigger plans for him. I am not surprised that the day everyone found out about his condition in the hospital that there were hundreds of people flooding East Jefferson. I am not surprised that facebook was covered in posts asking for prayers for Father John and his family and I am not surprised that it went even further into the community with businesses posting signs and prayer requests all of the city. I am also not surprised that social media is now flooded with beautiful memories of this amazing man. This priest that served the Lord selflessly and baptized, married, and buried thousands of children, couples and family members throughout New Orleans. I know that for every 5th person in this city this week, we can find another Father John fan with a wonderful, warm memory that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.
What I am surprised about is that beyond the Priest, Father John was a friend. A Best Friend to so many. How many of you have a similar story of sharing time with him just before surgery, or having your home blessed by him? How many of you shared your birthday with him most years? How many shared Mardi Gras with him, or Christmas holidays? What about lunches and family dinners? We did too! How many of you thought you were his close, no great maybe even his BEST friend? So did we! And guess what, we were! We all were!
How did he have time for all of us? He just did and he loved every minute of it. What we should be taking away from John’s life, besides the love of Christ and how to live a Christ-like life, is how to be the best friend and how to make everyone around you feel the best all the time no matter who else is there and how many other friends you visited before. When John was with us for family dinner, he was with us! He was not on his phone talking to other friends that needed him. And when he arrived, it was as if he had been waiting to see us all day! So many of us with jobs, and children and responsibilities, that do not include taking care of an entire congregation of people, make excuses of why we do not have time for our friends or for our extended family. We do have the time, if we choose to make the time!
What I will take away from my friendship with John is how to be a better friend and a better person and how to not only live the life that Christ wants but to be the friend that Christ would be here on earth, just as John was!
Be present, be loving, be understanding, be joyful, be friendly, be open-minded, be Christ-like and be everyone’s best friend just as John was!