Monday, March 4, 2019
Jim Davis - Florida Catholic
MIAMI | Camillus House said good-bye to a “quadruple threat” — with regret.
That was the friendly gibe from a longtime friend of Brother Raphael Mieszala, who was leaving the mission to the poor and homeless after a total of nearly 19 years.
Brother Raphael, director of pastoral care, has been assigned elsewhere by the Hospitaller Order of St. John of God, to which he belongs. His farewell Mass and reception Feb. 15 were a mix of joshing, gratitude and bittersweet affection.
For Brother Raphael, 76, it was a time of characteristic quiet warmth.
“I feel so proud that I've been associated with Camillus House,” he said in his homily at the Mass, celebrated in the plaza of the organization’s main shelter. “I feel like it’s a part of me, and a part of me is going to stay here.
“I will miss Camillus House. I will miss all of you.”
The event capped Brother Raphael’s two stints at Camillus — from 1997 to 2003, then 2006 to this year — separated by theological studies leading to his ordination as a priest. By then, Brother Raphael had already become a brother, a nurse and a lawyer. And he used it all in the service of the Church and the unfortunate.
That's what drew the “quadruple threat” joke from Peter England, retired director of government relations at Camillus House.
“You're going to have to find four people to replace him — and it’s not in the budget,” England said during the reception, to laughs from the audience.
Again and again, those at the event reminisced on how Brother Raphael’s roles extended far beyond Camillus House.
They related how he filled in at the nearby Missionaries of Charity house, as well as for priests in parishes around the archdiocese. They also talked about his jail visits and his service as a chaplain at the University of Miami hospital.
“No matter where he's called, he comes,” said Archbishop John Favalora, who has volunteered at Camillus House twice a week since he retired in 2010. “I don’t think ‘No’ is in his vocabulary.”
During Mass, Brother Raphael preached a simple message of love and service, the two themes of his vocation. He said he most enjoyed working with children and the homeless, because they show gratitude so plainly.
Yet he reminded his 65 listeners that true service is meant for the good of others, not oneself.
“True agapeis the way that God loves us,” he said, using the biblical Greek word for unselfish love. “I should love for the other person’s good, not for my good. That's what we’re called to do at Camillus House: I love you for your sake.”
The reception followed in a meeting hall, with soft jazz flowing from speakers. Guests laughed at a slide show of Brother Raphael’s life, including photos as a child and a young man. Also on the tables were free copies of Paul Ahr’s 272-page book, “The Gifts of Camillus,” written in 2011 after its 50th anniversary. Ahr is a former president and CEO of Camillus.
Representatives of Miami and Miami-Dade read separate proclamations declaring Feb. 15 “Brother Raphael Mieszala Day.” The Miami-Dade document even listed his four vocational roles of priest, brother, nurse and lawyer.
That proclamation also highlighted two achievements on Brother Raphael’s watch. One was completion of the Somerville Residence, a 48-unit home for homeless single parents. The other was acquisition of Metatherapy, a South Dade organization, which furnished an outreach for families in Homestead — and doubled Camillus House’s housing capacity.
England commented on Brother Raphael’s quiet persuasiveness as the two lobbied for government funds in Tallahassee and Washington, D.C. “He always offered good counsel. And I never heard him speak badly of any person. I'm proud to call Brother Raphael my friend.”
Hilda Fernandez, current CEO of Camillus, had her own surprise for Brother Raphael: a Jubilaeum pin for distinguished service to the archdiocese. Most of the cross-shaped pins were given to parish leaders Oct. 7, 2018, for the 60th anniversary of the archdiocese.
Fernandez said the award was for Brother Raphael’s service not only to Camillus House, but also his work as a parish relief priest, for ministry at local jails, and for serving as a hospital chaplain for the University of Miami.
Ahr offered another gift: a stone paver from Camillus’ original shelter in downtown Miami. On the stone was a plaque inscribed with a poem Ahr wrote, “If These Stones Could Talk,” on Brother Raphael’s service there.
For his next assignment, the Hospitallers are sending him to a school in New Jersey for mentally handicapped children. Which he said made him happy.
“I like working with handicapped children, also with the homeless,” he said. “They're so needy — they need someone to show them they're human, not objects. Jesus said that as you did it to the least of them, you did it to him.”