A Mass of Christian Burial for University of Scranton President Rev. Scott R. Pilarz, S.J., was held on on Saturday, March 13. Rev. Herbert Keller, S.J., vice president for mission and ministry at the University and rector of the Scranton Jesuit community, served as principal celebrant for the Mass. Steven Surovick, S.J., ’96 cousin of Father Pilarz, concelebrated the Mass and provided the eulogy.
In addition to family and friends, The Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L., Bishop of the Diocese of Scranton, attended the private Mass as did dozens of Catholic priests and Jesuits and University of Scranton President-elect Rev. Joseph G. Marina, S.J. The Very Reverend Joseph M. O’Keefe, provincial of the USA East Province of the Society of Jesus, was represented at the Mass by Provincial Assistant Rev. Jack Hanwell, S.J.
Father Keller - Homily
Father Scott Pilarz had many loves in his life and these loves shaped the person, the Jesuit and the priest that he was. Scott was fond of saying: “Don’t waste love” and it is clear in his own life he never did. He was well loved by His God and by so many on this earth, in this room. And he loved us in return with a selfless and generous love.
A principal love of his life was his family. Scott was a devoted son to his parents, Joan and Ron. He included them in all the major moments of his presidency in Scranton and they themselves became part of the Scranton family. Scott loved his sister, Susan, and her husband, Joe. They had a special bond right to the very last moment of his life on earth; a bond that will continue. He loved his nephew, Joey, and his niece, Carly, and his grandniece, Marin. To Father Pilarz’s family: All of us want you to know that our prayers and support will be with you, not only this morning, but in the days and weeks ahead.
A central love of Scott’s life was his love for the Church. He deeply believed in the mission of Catholic education and he proudly proclaimed it. He loved the local church here in the Diocese of Scranton. He had great affection and admiration for our bishop, Bishop Joseph Bambera, who has honored Scott and all of us by his presence here today. Scott deeply admired the work of this diocese and the commitment of its priests, men and women religious and dedicated laypersons. And Scott cherished his friendship with Bishop Bambera, and with so many of his brother priests in this room. He was so grateful to you for sharing with him and the people of God, the gift of your priesthood.
Scott Pilarz loved the Society of Jesus and he loved being a priest and a Jesuit. He had many good friends within the Society of Jesus and he cherished those friendships. He took to his own the spiritual legacy of Saint Ignatius of Loyola and found great satisfaction in exploring the thought of the sixteenth century Jesuit poet, Saint Robert Southwell about whom he wrote so engagingly. One might say that Scott’s connection to the Society of Jesus was preordained, as he was born on July 31st, the feast of Saint Ignatius of Loyola.
His good friend, Father Joseph McShane, former president of this University and now president at Fordham, wrote this week in reflecting on Scott’s life: “What an iconic son of Saint Ignatius – a pastor and a teacher to the end.”
Father Pilarz was a deep believer in the value of Jesuit education and was one of our country’s most articulate spokespersons for this cause. Scott once wrote that Jesuit education “is a priceless, ineluctable mystery, and, ultimately, the work of God’s good grace.”
The Very Reverend Joseph O’Keefe, Provincial of the USA East Province of the Society of Jesus, sends his thanks today to Scott’s family for the gift of Scott to the Jesuits and to the Church. Father O’Keefe’s genuine pastoral care and concern for Scott over these past months meant a great deal to Scott. Father O’Keefe is represented here today by Father Jack Hanwell, Socius of our Province and we are so grateful, Jack, for your presence here today.
And Scott loved his friends. He was blessed with faithful friends from his Georgetown days, and his years at Marquette and Georgetown Prep. And he was blessed by his friendships forged here in our valley: with faculty and staff and students and parents here at Scranton. He had deep, abiding friendships with his trustees, with his board chairs, past and present and his cabinet; the members of his team. And he knew the loyal, faithful friendship of Tom MacKinnon that was such a rock in his life.
And Scott loved the University of Scranton. He loved its mission and he loved its people. He loved us so much that he came back for another term as president, proudly proclaiming in his second inaugural address in 2018: “I love this place.” And so he did. And all of us are the beneficiaries of that love and devotion, both institutionally and personally. He loved the place that he called in his first inauguration speech, “the miracle in the mountains.” But it turned out HE was the miracle who inspired us to be our best selves.
And I can personally tell you how deeply happy he was when he learned that his successor as President of the University of Scranton would be Father Joseph Marina, who is here with us today. Joe, Scott was overjoyed at your selection and he knew that his beloved University was in good hands. And that belief gave him extraordinary peace in these past few weeks.
And Father Pilarz loved Scranton and Northeastern Pennsylvania and its people. He truly found a home here. He loved the sense of family and faith here and the fact that people look out for another. He had a number of good and loyal friends here, many of whom are in this room this morning.
Father Pilarz received much love and care and attention from the medical community here. On behalf of the Society of Jesus, I thank the amazing staff at Geisinger Community Medical Center, and the doctors who gave him such good care: Dr. Martin Penetar, Dr. Louis DeNaples, Dr. Laura Nichols. Father was especially delighted when coming upon a nurse or doctor who was a graduate of the University of Scranton.
And the Jesuit Community and Father Pilarz’s family will always be grateful to Doctor Jay Bannon. Jay, your care and friendship for Scott was so generous and so genuine. Your care was a great comfort to us, and to Scott, even to his last moment on this earth.
These were the great loves in Scott’s life.
And today we gather in the sadness of our loss and in the hope of our faith. In the second Scripture reading from Saint Paul, we hear these powerful words: “Hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
And that is our hope: That we be truly nourished today by the love of God and one another; nourished by a faith that tells us that death is not the end; a faith that tells us that love and friendship transcend space and time; a faith that tells us that our experience of love here on earth points to an eternal life already begun in us but not yet completed or understood.
This Mass today is a celebration of the life of a good man. And perhaps if there is one guiding image that somehow captures the blessings of Scott Pilarz’s life, it is that of the teacher. Teaching was the source of his fulfillment and happiness. He once said that at the conclusion of every English class that he ever taught, he would quote the words of the novelist Philip Roth: “To my mind, there is nothing quite like the classroom in all of life.”
Scott saw the amazing possibilities for the transformation of lives in education and the belief that education ultimately reveals to us, in Hopkins’ phrase, a “world charged with the grandeur of God.”
Scott was the true teacher in every aspect of his life; in the way that he lived his life with such genuineness. And so what lessons have we learned from this good teacher? How has God blessed us through his life? Let me suggest three lessons of Scott’s extraordinary life with help from the words of John’s gospel, from lines from the poetry of 16th century Robert Southwell and contemporary Mary Oliver, and the words of the bard of New Jersey, Bruce Springsteen.
The first lesson that Scott Pilarz taught us was the lesson of faith. Scott truly lived the Jesuit motto, Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam: for the greater glory of God. Scott truly believed that everything he did in his life was directed to a higher purpose. All of his life-decisions were guided by that focus of faith. Scott believed that all of us are born for God; that our true home is in heaven. He taught us that one’s ultimate happiness in life depends on how fully one accepts that truth. He taught all of us, and in particular young people, that this world, as inviting and exciting as it may seem, is not all there is.
In the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, a work that is at the heart of the University of Scranton, and every Jesuit school, Ignatius writes about the place of the world in what is called “The Principle and Foundation”.
And Ignatius writes these words which I believe were embraced and exemplified by Scott:
For Scott, that perspective was very real and it guided the decisions he made. It was Scott’s faith that led him to discover and pursue his mission on earth of educating young people and leading them to God.
Perhaps no experience in Scott’s life best exemplified his faith more than his battle with ALS. Scott once told his Jesuit community that all of his life, especially in his years as a president, he was used to being in charge and able to control things and outcomes (as best as any administrator can). Scott went on to say that what he was learning from God was that Scott was not in control and that his life was in God’s hands, every day, every moment.
That is why I believe that the words of today’s Gospel are so poignant.
Jesus tells Peter: “When you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go. Jesus said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when he had said this, he said to him: Follow me.”
Jesus signified to Peter that he would die by crucifixion and his death would glorify God. Scott’s endurance through ALS, his ability to never allow a crippling disease to diminish his effectiveness as president, his lack of complaining about his fate, his upbeat spirit, his sheer courage, they were all his crucifixion. And through his endurance and his suffering, through his life and through his death, Scott has given glory to God. Because through it all, he heard the words Jesus spoke to Peter: “Follow me.” And Scott followed his Lord through suffering, death and resurrection. In the words of Saint Ignatius, he found God in all things; even in ALS. For there he found a God who accompanied him in his struggle; a God in whom he was able to turn over his pain and make of it the means to his union with God.
Monsignor Joseph Quinn from the Diocese of Scranton, a good friend of Scott, sent me this quote this week as he prayed about Scott’s life. The author is unknown. I thought the words speak to the lessons we have learned from Scott’s battle with ALS:
“Why were the saints, saints? Because they were cheerful when it was difficult to be cheerful; patient when it was difficult to be patient; and because they pushed on when they wanted to stand still, and keep silent when they wanted to talk, and were agreeable when they wanted to be disagreeable. That was all. It was quite simple. And it always will be.”
A lesson taught to us by Scott.
And here is a second lesson from Scott, the teacher: embrace life. Never waste love. Appreciate the beauty of this world and the beauty of love and friendship. Scott admired the poetry of Mary Oliver and loved her poem, entitled “Sometimes”. In that poem, Oliver writes: “Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.”
Anyone who knew Scott Pilarz knew that he lived those words. His attention to the gifts God gave him in his life; his ability to be astonished in gratitude for those gifts and his ability to tell about it in such eloquent ways: That was the rhythm of Scott’s life: Whether he was talking about friends or family, or the poetry of Robert Southwell or Mary Oliver, or the benefits of a liberal arts education, the lyrics to a Springsteen ballad, whether it be the people of Scranton or the beauty of Wildwood: he paid attention, he was astonished, and he told about it. Because in telling us these stories, he was telling us the story of God traced in his life.
A third lesson in Scott’s life was this: We are called on this earth to build one another up. We are called to support each other. Strengthened and loved by God, it is our task in this world to strengthen and love one another. This belief was at the foundation of his vision of a Catholic, Jesuit university; a place where one could discover the extraordinary grace and goodness of God in the ordinary; a place where we have an obligation to look out for one another and to build each other up.
The quote from Robert Southwell that Scott had chiseled into the walls of the DeNaples Student Center were words that he desired be chiseled in our hearts as well: “Not where I breathe, but where I love, I live.” We will always associate those words with Scott Pilarz because he believed them so deeply. Building one another up, loving each other, is the true measure of who we are.
In his song, “Into the Fire”, Bruce Springsteen wrote: “May your strength give us strength. May your faith give us faith. May your hope give us hope. May your love give us love.”
In Scott’s vision of a Catholic, Jesuit university that’s how it’s supposed to work: My strength gives you strength; your faith gives me faith; my hope gives you hope; your love gives me love. And today all of us truly believe that Scott’s incredible strength, strong faith, undying hope and selfless love gave all of us strength, faith, hope and love. And for those gifts of Scott’s life we are deeply grateful today.
In our Christian faith, death is not the end. Through the resurrection of Jesus, love has conquered death forever. Life for Scott has changed, not ended. Love and friendship cannot be overcome by death. Death never has the last word. Not for Jesus, not for Scott , not for any of us. Your love and friendship for Scott, your son, your brother, your uncle, your cousin, your teacher, your colleague, your president, your Jesuit brother, does not end today.
Scott, now gone before us in the presence of the God he has loved all of his life, will continue to be part of our lives: encouraging us to greater faith, to build one another up, to pay attention to God’s gifts in our lives, to be astonished, to never waste love.
I already referred to the words of one of Scott’s favorite Mary Oliver poems entitled “Sometimes”. In that poem, she wrote these words and I think now of Scott as I read them:
“Death waits for me, I know it,
Around one corner or another.
This doesn’t amuse me.
Neither does it frighten me.
After the rain, I went back into the field of sunflowers.
It was cool, and I was anything but drowsy.
I walked slowly, and listened to the crazy roots,
In the drenched earth, laughing and growing.”
When Scott passed into the arms of God on Wednesday afternoon, his sister Susan uttered words that have stayed with me ever since that moment, and have been a source of great consolation to me. At that moment, she simply said: “He’s free.”
And that says everything about our faith and our belief that Scott indeed now is free; free from the confinement of his body that was so limited in recent months; free from worry and suffering and pain and anxiety. Free now to love God in His presence forever.
To paraphrase Oliver, after this rain, he goes to a place of light and refreshment, a field of sunflowers in Oliver’s imagining, and Scott loved flowers; a place where he will be anything but drowsy, but alert and sustained by God’s light and presence forever. Astonished. Listening and laughing and growing. He’s free.
We thank God for the gift of his life and the blessing that it was to walk this road with him. He’s free.
How else could I end this homily except for the way that Scott ended every major address and homily he gave here? And wherever you are, I invite you to say the words along with me:
“May God bless you. May God bless Catholic and Jesuit education. And may God bless the University of Scranton.”
Rev. Herbert B. Keller, S.J.