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A Virtual Celebration of Life

Fr. Joe Keefe ’00 comes from a long line of St. Sebastian’s men.  His brothers John ’97, Peter ’98, James ’02 and Thomas ’11 all attended St. Sebastian’s. When he was ordained in 2017, he never could have imagined the possibility of presiding at the “Zoom Funeral” of his beloved grandmother, Josephine Bruni.  Read on for Fr. Joe’s story of faith and hope in uncertain times…

God has a funny way of drawing out an abundance of good from what seems like a tragedy. My dear grandmother, Josephine Bruni, passed away in what were truly difficult conditions: after over a month of isolation from her loved ones (especially my mother), she died unexpectedly in her sleep. Then - because of the COVID regulations - we were unable to mourn over her body, and we could not come together physically as a family.

But love manages to overcome these barriers. We decided that I would celebrate a funeral Mass for Grandma from my home here in New York City, and everyone would participate through a large Zoom call. Grandma's body was not present. Nor were people able to physically receive the body of Christ in the moment of Communion. Nor could we physically embrace one another as an expression of our mourning. But the gathering of so many people - over 200! - spread out all over the world, with their faces present in a collage of solidarity on the screen, united in spirit and a common love for this blessed woman; all of this spoke of hope and community, of the witness of Grandma's loving life, and of the power of God's grace.

After the Funeral Mass was over, we "gathered together" to remember her life with stories and photos. The connection between everyone was powerful, and this despite the fact that we were so far apart. The COVID crisis - with the isolation and separation it demands - has revealed to me a timeless truth: that in the end, we are spiritual creatures. And our capacity to unite as souls in the Body of Christ transcends physical churches and geographic distances. Grandma was given the best goodbye we were capable of, and we all came away from that Funeral with gladness in our hearts for the family that she formed.