Submitted by Abbot Gregory Polan and the Abbey community
On the morning of Monday, 30 March 2015, our beloved confrere, Father Francis Stuart, O.S.B., choosing to anticipate the earthly celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection, set aside worldly cares to enter the perfect joy of heaven, in full hope of at last encountering his Risen Lord face to face. After a long life of pastoral service in many far-flung locations, declining health had brought Father Francis back to Conception Abbey in 2010 to take up residence at Saint Stephen’s Health Care Center, but further decline and an increasing need for physical assistance necessitated his transferal in 2012 to the Pine View Manor care facility in nearby Stanberry, Missouri. Only a few weeks ago, Father Francis was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer, and the decision was made to place him in hospice care. Father Francis made no complaint about his condition, accepting it as he had accepted all that had come to him in life, with a firm resolve to submit to God’s will. Though grieved at his passing, his brother monks recall the bustling exuberance that characterized his life and ministry, an attitude which remained constant as he approached his final days, always ready for the moment he was to meet the Master for whose Kingdom he had labored so long.
Donald Francis Stuart was born on 14 August 1926 in Kansas City, Missouri, to Dr. Francis Stuart and his wife Minnie (McLaughlin) Stuart. He was baptized at Saint Mary’s Church in Independence, but his family soon moved to Atchison, Kansas, where his father took up medical practice. After attending the parish school and receiving the sacrament of confirmation at Saint Benedict’s Church in Atchison, the young Donald entered Maur Hill High School. Both the parish and the high school were staffed by the monks of Saint Benedict’s Abbey, whose life and witness provided Donald with his first experience of Benedictine monasticism. In 1944 Donald enlisted in the United States Navy, and upon his discharge from service in 1946 enrolled at Rockhurst College in Kansas City, where in 1950 he earned a bachelor’s degree in biology. After further studies at the University of Kansas, he found employment as a chemist for the Hercules Powder Company in Johnson County, Kansas.
In military service, at school and in later employment, Donald had begun to recognize in himself the beginnings of a priestly vocation, his sense of a calling to religious life increasing all the while. He entered the novitiate of Conception Abbey on September 2, 1956, and professed first monastic vows one year and one day later, where he received in religion the name of Francis—his father’s name and his own middle name. During his studies for priesthood, Frater Francis became known and admired for his dutiful attention to studies and his willingness to bring a fresh perspective to classroom discussions. He was ordained to the priesthood on 27 May 1961.
Thus Father Francis began a term of service as pastor and chaplain that would occupy his life for nearly five decades. His first assignment was as assistant pastor at St. Aloysius Parish, an inner-city parish in Kansas City, Missouri, then staffed by monks from Conception. In 1964, Father Francis become chaplain at the United States Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri, where he served for a year, living out the gospel precept to visit the sick and imprisoned. In 1965 he returned to parish work with a year as assistant pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Boulder, Colorado, followed by a year at Saint Patrick’s Parish in O’Neill, Nebraska, and two years at Saint John’s Parish in Rapid City, South Dakota. In 1969 Father Francis was appointed chaplain at Saint Joseph Hospital, Deadwood, South Dakota. There followed his first term as a full pastor at St. Bonaventure Parish, McIntosh, South Dakota, from 1971–1984.
At that point it was determined that Father Francis’s ministry would benefit from continuing education, which he acquired at the University of Notre Dame from February to June 1985. Father Francis then returned to priestly ministry as pastor of Saint Peter Parish, Stanberry, Missouri, from 1985–1990. He was then transferred to Holy Ghost Parish, Sharon Springs, Kansas, where he served as pastor from 1990 to 2002. He was then made pastoral administrator of Saint John the Baptist Church in Meade, Kansas, from 2002 to 2004. Father Francis was then made pastor at Saint Lawrence Parish in Saint Elizabeth, Missouri; during his tenure there he developed a very close relationship with the people of the parish. When declining health necessitated his retirement from active ministry at Saint Lawrence in 2008, Father Francis took up residence at the nearby Saint Elizabeth Care Center, where he received attentive care and offered priestly service to his fellow residents as his health permitted, and was available for spiritual guidance and friendly conversations with his former parishioners.
When Father Francis’s needs surpassed the level of care available to him at Saint Elizabeth, he returned to Conception Abbey to take up residence in our Health Care Center. It soon became clear that his condition would require a more encompassing level of care and assistance than we could provide, so he took up residence at Pine View Manor in Stanberry, only a few miles from the abbey. It was there that his final illness overtook him.
Father Francis had been an avid outdoorsman all his life, greatly preferring winter activities over those of other seasons. His fondness for both skiing and snowmobiling were well known, and his favorite phrase of either greeting or farewell was a hearty call to “Pray for snow!” His Benedictine education and his time in the military had made him highly conscious of his duty, and the crisp efficiency of his words and actions were both a mark of his character in relationships and a means of getting a job done quickly and well.
Father Francis is survived by his monastic confreres; by his sister Helen Wingate (Edwards, MO), by his half-sister Mary Frances Barr (Robert) Barr (Overland Park KS) and by his half-brother John (Susan) Stuart (Shawnee, KS), and by their families.
Vespers of the Faithful Departed were prayed at 7:15 p.m. on Tuesday, 31 March 2015, and Mass of Christian Burial celebrated at 11:00 a.m. on Wednesday, 1 April 2015. We commend our beloved confrere to your prayerful remembrance. May he rest in peace!