Reverend Michael Sepp, the widely-loved pastor of Sacred Heart Church in the Bronx (NY), was diagnosed with lung cancer in January 2008 and died on March 13, 2009. He was a great support to the foundation of the first Heart’s Home in the US and a close friend of our community.
I was deeply moved by the last months of Fr. Michael, that brought out his close relationship with God and bore witness to the fact that this relationship makes a tremendous difference in the way we go through the worst situations of life.
When we met a few years ago, it was not easy for me to enter in contact with him, since my English was not that good and his patience not so extensible. But then I realized that his impatience was due to his eagerness to serve: his precious time was shared between prayer and his parishioners. He visited the sick people and the homebound, listened to his parishioners at the end of every mass, prayed for them, prayed with them, sought solutions for housing issues, organized food pantries... All his attention was actually focused on the people that Heart’s Home was serving and I was touched by this American priest praying on his knees among Latinos and sharing their devotion to the Sacred Heart or the Virgin Mary.
On Easter celebration 2008, Fr. Michael announced that he had cancer. From this time, his parishioners would not alter their support and testimonies of affection to this man who was a real shepherd to his people. Heart’s Home moved to Brooklyn but the community kept on visiting him. During these visits, he would entrust us his physical pain and weakness, his worries and wishes for the parish. The more I saw him, the more radiant he would appear to me.
In February 2009, on our very last visit to him with Sister Regine, the atmosphere in the rectory was particularly heavy, considering the seriousness of his situation. Fr Michael nevertheless greeted us with a generous smile. Then he said to us: «when I was told I had cancer, I accepted the disease, I even accepted the fact that I would die but I could not accept the idea to suffer. Our bodies are so reluctant when facing suffering! These past few months, I have however understood that I have to embrace suffering as well. For if I want to live compassion until the end with Christ and all those who suffer, I must accept the suffering. Today, I say «yes». It is certainly painful for my body but my heart and my spirit both say «yes» (…) I have been asking God for a special grace on the twenty-five-year-old anniversary of my ordination. Here it is! I thank God because if I am to keep living, this disease would have made me closer to God and a better priest. And if I die, then I’ll die a better priest!».
Fr. Michael definitely gave us a great lesson of humanity: an eternal gratitude for the past, a real enthusiasm for the present, a deep love for his fellows accompanied by a great desire of Good for them, a disarming simplicity, no more expectations than what is already given by reality. This is Freedom, isn’t it?