by Christopher A. Ferrara
May 13, 2015
As Father Gruner would have wanted, the work of the Fatima Center will carry on, as will my column in this space. Today, having returned from the magnificent funeral Mass offered by Bishop Fellay of the Society of Saint Pius X on May 9, attended by more than 600 people from North America and around the world, I offer these few words as an expression of my grief at the loss of a beloved friend and the Church’s loss of a great Marian priest.
I must say, first of all, that as shocking as Father’s sudden passing was for many, for those who worked closely with him over the years, as I did, it was no bolt from the blue, but rather something we all feared could happen — shocking, even devastating, but not entirely unexpected. As Father Gruner’s sister noted in her eulogy at the post-funeral reception, during the past 55 months all five of the Gruner brothers have passed away, one after the other. Father was the last because he was the youngest of the five. None of them lived to see his eightieth year. It seems that in the designs of Divine Providence, Father was not to be spared the limitations of an inherited constitution.
Father continued to work himself beyond the limits of human endurance despite his advancing age, resisting all entreaties to slow down and change his penitential “lifestyle.” But Father had his mind and heart set on goals infinitely higher than life extension. He died a hero’s death, working to the very end without pay and in the most modest of personal circumstances (as I can personally attest from having seen the way he lived over the more than twenty years I worked with him).
Never have I known a priest more devoted to the Blessed Virgin. Nowhere on this earth today is there a man as dedicated as Father was to seeing the fulfillment of the Virgin’s requests in the so-called “private apparition” the Popes themselves are still placing at the very center of the life of the Church, nearly a century after Our Lady appeared at Fatima.
Indeed, the capital importance of Father’s life’s work is demonstrated by one fact alone: that the Popes themselves, even now, cannot let the Fatima event go. Four consecutive Roman Pontiffs have made pilgrimages there, if one includes the future John Paul I when he was still Cardinal Luciani (whom Sister Lucia mysteriously addressed as “Holy Father” when he met her at Fatima in 1975, three years before his election as Pope). John Paul II went there twice. Pope Francis has had his entire pontificate consecrated to Our Lady of Fatima and has vowed to make his own pilgrimage there for the centenary of the apparitions in 2017. This continuing papal preoccupation with Fatima has no merely human or natural explanation.
It was no less than Cardinal Ratzinger who publicly acknowledged in 2000 (during the press conference at which the vision of the “Bishop dressed in White” was revealed) that Father Gruner is “a serious man (un uomo serio).” No objective observer of his work could deny that. Almost singlehandedly, Father Gruner kept alive the issues of the Consecration of Russia and the completeness of the Vatican’s disclosure of the Third Secret, which we now know to a moral certainty is not complete despite the Vatican’s carefully worded denials, which never deny the precise matter at issue: the existence of a text in which the Virgin explains the vision in Her own words rather than Cardinal Sodano’s — a text whose existence is confirmed in a biography published by Sister Lucia’s own convent in 2013).
Father Nicholas Gruner is by far the most extraordinary man I have ever had the privilege to call a friend. As I said in my own brief eulogy (during which I could barely keep my composure), in this world there are deaths and then there are deaths. Some deaths involve more than loss and grief to a family and circle of friends and associates. Some deaths tear a hole in the fabric of the life of an entire community. In Father Gruner’s case that community is no less than the worldwide community of the Catholic faithful, in which Father had friends and supporters in every nation.
By the grace of God, however, Father’s tireless labors for Our Lady will bear fruit long after his death. As I wrote of Father nearly three years ago in words that were inadvertently prophetic:
Only God knows whether the Fatima Priest will live to see the accomplishment of the mission of the Virgin of Fatima to a fallen and ever more rebellious world. But he has already lived at least long enough to witness the hastening approach of that glorious fulfillment.
And no matter how much time God has allotted to Father Nicholas Gruner, history will record his part in what must be the final act of the drama that is Fatima.
Father Gruner died wearing the Brown Scapular. He had also practiced for decades the First Friday and First Saturday devotions, with their attendant promises of final perseverance and the Sabbatine Privilege. Even as we pray for the repose of his soul, therefore, we can have high confidence that the Perpetual Light will shine upon him, and that he will forever enjoy the company of Our Lord and His Blessed Mother, to whom he gave his all.