Brother John Gervase O’Laughlin, CSC

May 16, 1917 – January 2, 2018

Brother John Gervase O’LaughlinThe prayers of the members of the Congregation of Holy Cross are requested for the repose of the soul of Brother John Gervase O’Laughlin, CSC, a member of the Moreau Province of Brothers and Priests. Born in Niagara Falls, New York, Br. John died in Valatie, New York, on January 2, 2018. He was in his 57th year of religious life in the Congregation.

Born in Niagara Falls, New York on May 16, 1917 to Michael and Margaret O’Laughlin, both of Canada, John was the fourth of their five sons. He was baptized John Gervase O’Laughlin on June 4, 1917 at Sacred Heart Church in Niagara Falls. He attended Sacred Heart Grammar School and graduated from Niagara Falls Senior High School in 1937. Offered a football scholarship at Niagara University, he studied there for several years.

John’s father and oldest brother each worked 40 years at the local Shredded Wheat Company, providing stability for the family even through the Great Depression. John also worked there during his high school and college summers.

In 1942, John was drafted into the U.S. Army to serve in World War II. He was posted to the U.S.-controlled Makin Island in the South Pacific where he worked with other G.I.s building an airplane runway, while constantly seeking cover from marauding Japanese planes. He also served as a chaplain’s assistant. He reached the rank of Corporal, completed his service in Iwo Jima and returned to the United States. When the news arrived that the war with Japan had ended, he returned to Niagara Falls to be united with his family.

Once home, he shared his desire to become a religious Brother and serve God in mission areas. On September 15, 1946, he entered the Juniorate of the Brothers of Holy Cross in Valatie, New York and on February 1, 1947, he was received into St. Joseph Novitiate in Rolling Prairie, Indiana. After professing first vows on February 2, 1948, Brother John was assigned briefly to Dujarie Hall at the University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Indiana and then to Vincent Hall at St. Edward’s University, Austin, Texas to complete his undergraduate degree. He earned a B.S. in Commerce and was prepared to teach social studies and English at the secondary level. In the fall of 1949, he accepted an obedience to teach at St. Anthony’s High School in Long Beach, California. The following year, he was assigned to St. Joseph Juniorate in Valatie, New York to teach the candidates and direct their chores around the house and grounds. He also tried his hand at giving haircuts to the candidates and cooking for them. His desire to become a missionary was realized in 1952 when he was assigned to East Pakistan.

From 1952 through 1971, Brother John ministered in a small village in the Garo Hills near the border of India. Along with other Brothers, he taught indigenous people who were neither Hindu nor Muslim. He learned Bengali and was able to adapt to the diet and the primitive living conditions. On occasion, violence between Hindus and Muslims would break into the quiet countryside, and the school would become a place of refuge. In 1971, a brutal civil war was fought between West and East Pakistan with the latter emerging as the independent state of Bangladesh.
With the outbreak of that civil war in 1971, Brother John returned to the United States. Later, Niagara University would honor him with the Caritas medal for his exemplary work in East Pakistan.

After a year of mission leave at St. Joseph Center in Valatie, Brother John was assigned to Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville, Maryland. In him, students found a caring, joyful model of faith as he went about his duties in school maintenance, office work and grounds work. In 1979, Brother John went to Cardinal Mooney High School in Rochester, New York, serving as he did at Bishop McNamara before retiring to St. Joseph Center in 1981.

In his very active retirement, Brother John found new ways to be of service. He employed his gardening skills and kept the Brothers’ cemetery in manicured condition. He ministered to the elderly in the local parish, visiting the sick and bringing them Communion. He especially enjoyed his ministry to the developmentally challenged, and he received a certificate from Taconic Developmental Disability Services recognizing his many years of service, putting other persons first.

Brother John’s peaceful life in prayer and community with his Brothers at St. Joseph Center was highlighted with a special celebration of his 100th birthday on May 16, 2017. After reaching this century milestone, Brother John’s health declined gradually until, on January 2, 2018, he passed away peacefully in his sleep at St. Joseph Center faithfully attended by his niece, Rene O’Laughlin.

Throughout his long and full life, Brother John’s continuous response to God’s call was motivated by deep faith and a generous desire to serve wherever he was needed. With God’s grace, a warm disposition and a “do your best” philosophy, he faced the challenges that came his way, serving the mission of Holy Cross abroad and at home. May the Lord welcome our Brother John to his heavenly reward, saying “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

Br. William Zaydak, C.S.C.
Provincial Superior

Thanks to Brothers Harold Hathaway and Richard Critz for their assistance with this memorial.

The Legend of Brother John O’Laughlin

It’s an honor for me to be doing this Eulogy. I’d like to welcome John’s family members to St. Joseph’s Center. They have been loyal visitors over the years to see their Uncle Jack and we, the community, have always been fortunate to have them visit. It is a personal honor to be able to share my thoughts and experiences of living with John for 19 years.

I’m also a kid from Western New York, going many times to Niagara Falls, and certainly being aware and having memories of the Purple Eagles of Niagara University. As a ten-year-old, I shot hoops with the playground director, Mr. El Butler, who was an All-American at Niagara, and played 8 years for the New York Knicks.

I was raised in a family of Yankee fans. However, both of my sister Rita’s girls graduated from Niagara. I’ve always shared this connection with Johnny O and we both loved the peaches of Western New York … and especially those grown on Roosevelt Highway, the road from Rochester to Niagara Falls.

John and I first met at Cardinal Mooney High School in Rochester, NY in 1971. He had just returned from the Missions in Bangladesh where he was stationed for 20 years. I’ve always had an appreciation for any of our Brothers who work in the Missions.

During the 1970s and 80s, I would stay here at Valatie for a couple of weeks and John and I, along with Bob Gilroy and Roger Casey, would play golf at Meadow Greens on 9H. Johnny O could hit the ball straight and pretty far.

In the summer of 2002, I came to Valatie and spent the next 16 years with John. This is when I saw John at the age of 84 working on the grounds and ministering to the people of Columbia County. John would visit the mentally challenged at the nearby group home on Maple Lane, as well as helping out at St. John’s Parish, and visiting Barnwell Nursing Home.

He was an example to all of us. He often said “life is not about growing old but of growing up.” John was an unfettered soul whose life of prayer and understanding of God’s unconditional love for each of us affected John’s compassion for all segments of the world’s society.

He was very supportive of my work with the homeless and would like to know about some of the men’s stories. He was understanding of people with addictions, the imprisoned, and of course the mentally challenged.

Moving on to the year of 2009, we formed our Breakfast Club. Every week-day morning John would eat breakfast in our pantry across from the Solar Room. John’s legs were starting to go and he needed a wheel chair. So John and I would meet in the little kitchen with Brother(s) Ed Wiz and Jim Gulnac. We would take turns helping John getting breakfast. We would talk about John’s time at Niagara University where he played football for the Purple Eagles; and his coach was a man named Joe Bach, who was a former lineman for the 4 Horsemen of Notre Dame fame.

John was still able to go see our local minor league team in Troy, NY along with Brother Richard Eckhardt and myself. John would tell me about his time in World War II and also about his brothers, nephews and nieces. One of our conversations came up about being a hero of World War II. John looked at me and said, “I’m no hero. I was drafted. I didn’t enlist.”

Finally, if Father Bob and Father Greg Roy – our last 2 chaplains – are right about John O being a Saint – I would definitely recommend praying for his intercession.


Eulogy by Br. David Parrish, CSC
St. Joseph Center Chapel, Valatie, NY
January 6, 2018

For God and Fellow Man

What did Bro. John mean to us, his nieces and nephews?

Bro. John was our childhood mystery man walking in a white cassock coming from the far away country of East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. His return visits every seven years created great excitement throughout the family, especially with his parents, brothers, nieces, and nephews.

We had visions of him coming from a land of monkeys, snakes and elephants. He entertained us with colorful stories and slides of daily life there. This gave us pause and insight into his sacrifice devoting his life to God and fellow man.

Each summer John and his brothers were sent to the family farm. Hard work on the farm instilled dedication to family and John’s love for animals. He enjoyed visits to Mike Scanlon’s local farm. These evoked past memories as a young lad on the farm.

As captain of various athletic teams, Brother John exhibited a keen sense of competition.  However, this spirit to help the team defeat others was restricted to the athletic field only. Off the field, he set aside personal accolades and pursued the goal of helping others.

This was true visiting the sick, especially shut-ins. To many of these he would give Holy Communion. This life-extending activity was a role model to emulate.

Mark Twain once said, ‘Golf is a good walk spoiled.” John and his brothers would disagree. Many a mulligan was a regular part of their game along with laughing as they bent the rules. The best part was experiencing “in the moment” mutual love and togetherness.

Jesus meets his mother, the 4th Station of the Cross, was Bro. John’s favorite. Having served on bloody Iwo Jima, he could relate to Mary’s sorrow with those mothers who lost their sons in war.

This compassion was a characteristic admired by all who knew him.

We appreciate our cousin Renee’s devotion and acknowledge her constant comforting presence in the last days of his life. Her comforting him was a reward for his lifetime effort comforting others.

So, this is what Bro. John means to us. His multiple life roles provide solid guidance to live a Christian life and gain eternal reward – just like he did.

St. Joseph Center was his home for 40 years. He loved being here with you and serving the greater Valatie area.

We, the O’Laughlin family would like to extend our sincere gratitude to the Brothers of Holy Cross for their affection and generosity over our many visits.

God bless Bro. John. God bless the Brothers of Holy Cross.

Reflections by Paul O’Laughlin, nephew
St. Joseph Center Chapel, Valatie, NY
January 6, 2018

It’s Not What You Do, But Who You Are

I would like to express appreciation for our two speakers, Paul O’Laughlin, who helped us see Bro. John from the family’s side, and Bro. David Parrish, who shared a community member’s perspective. Also, for all those who worked to put the prayers together today, for our food service persons who put the luncheon out, and most especially of all, for Kathleen, Tammi, Melodie, Keisha, Debbie and all those aides who helped John get up, get bathed, get dressed, eat and get back to bed, for the last several years. You did the lion’s share, and grew to love him deeply.

As you know, it is dangerously cold out there. So…at the end of the Mass, we will sing one verse of “For All the Saints,” and then remain in place for the committal ceremony, which includes military honors, right here in the Chapel.

Then, we will each bless the casket, and from there move on into the Dining Room for lunch.

Only the bravest of us – or the most foolish! – may try to make it to the community cemetery. You are most welcome to try this, but all the prayers will take place in here. There will be no service out there.

Thomas Merton, in No Man Is an Island, wrote: “God is more glorified by a man who uses the good things of this life in simplicity and with gratitude than by the nervous ascetic who is agitated by every detail.”

How like Johnny O this is! A man who used good things, in simplicity, with gratitude…

I was here in the 1980s with him, and every week or so he would put a boom box and tapes in a big old car that we had, and drive off to the differently-abled to lead a prayer service. To me, he always looked like he was in comfortable clothes. He was always mild, gently chuckling, smiling through plain old military-issue glasses.

After his death this past week, we found treasures in his personnel file in Texas. Writings, such as he shared here with Kathleen Putnam in our nursing department, and some others.

Let me share a thought from his essay “It’s Not What You Do, But Who You Are.”

“One of the finest gifts that God has given us is a joyful spirit and a sense of humor. Humor lightens the heart and brings joy to the soul in our sometimes tense and routine days. Humor is like a good drink of wine. It relaxes our body and mind and helps us be at ease. In the lives of the saints, and even in the lives of people we know, many legends and humorous stories have been handed down…”

He goes on to give us examples of stories he found particularly funny.

“St. Francis,” he writes, “would often be found in the heart of his own town, going up and down on a teeter-totter. On one occasion when the monks became too serious, he told them to take off their habits and walk through Assisi in their underwear.”

“St. Philip Neri,” John says, “was asked while he was playing pool what he would do if he knew death was close at hand. He replied very calmly, “I would go right on playing pool.”

John lists more of them: St. Lawrence cracking a punch line while being roasted. St. Thomas More joking about mounting the scaffold to be hung and saying “Help me up and I’ll take care of myself coming down.” St. Teresa of Avila slipping in the mud and yelling at God.

Let me close with a humorous story about John himself.

This is from a publication called 150 Years of Holy Cross in East Bengal Mission:

“Bro. John O’Laughlin was with us from 1952 until1971. He worked many years at Biroi, teaching and taking care of the hostel and sports. John had been a good football player in the States at Niagara University, and had fought in the Pacific as a soldier in the Second World War. He had a good sense of humor, but one day the Garo leaders were holding an extra-long meeting in the hostel building adjacent to John’s room, and keeping him awake. Finally he yelled out,’Jatesta, what the hell!’ This caused quite a stir among the Garos. For years  afterwards, this was a battle cry of the foreign Brothers all over Bangladesh.”

Goodbye, our gentle, smiling brother – and thanks for sharing your secret of a long life: may we all follow your example and look at the positive, joyful side of things.


Reflections by Br. Mark Knightly, CSC
St. Joseph Center Chapel, Valatie, NY
January 6, 2018

Brother John Gervase O’Laughlin, CSC served the Lord faithfully in the following ministries:

  • 1948-1948 Student, Dujarie Hall, Notre Dame, IN
  • 1948-1949 Student/Teacher, Vincent Hall, Austin, TX
  • 1949-1950 Teacher, St. Anthony’s HS, Long Beach, CA
  • 1950-1952 Formation Staff, St. Joseph’s Juniorate, Valatie, NY
  • 1952-1971 Teacher, Garo Hills, East Pakistan
  • 1971-1971 Mission Leave, St. Joseph Center, Valatie, NY
  • 1971-1979 Staff, Bishop McNamara HS, Forestville, MD
  • 1979-1981 Staff, Cardinal Mooney HS, Rochester, NY
  • 1981-2018 Retired, Volunteer Ministry, St. Joseph Center, Valatie, NY