November 3, 2005

A Giant

(What follows is the homily delivered by Cardinal Egan at the Funeral Mass of Mr. Wellington Mara, a distinguished Catholic layman, part-owner of the New York Giants and a leader in the pro-life movement.)

My dear friends:

Permit me to begin this homily on the occasion of the Funeral Mass of Wellington Mara with a word to his dear wife, Ann, and their children and their grandchildren. My heart and the hearts of all who join us this morning in St. Patrick’s Cathedral go out to you in the sincerest of sympathy.

Your loss is great, and we fully understand that it is a source of deep hurt. We promise to keep your husband, father and grandfather in our prayers over the years that lie ahead. We will never forget him. Indeed, we could never forget him. We know that he is in his box seat in heaven telling the Lord all about you and watching over you with all the love he showered upon you during his 51 years as husband, father and grandfather.

The life story of Wellington Mara has been recounted in newspapers across the land over the past three days. The writers of the various articles tell us he began his association with the New York Giants as a ball boy in 1925 and, from that humble beginning, built the Giants into a two-time Super Bowl winner and one of the greatest teams in American sports. The tributes to him have all been expressed in superlatives, enhanced by genuine sentiments of admiration and affection.

"Wellington Mara represented the heart and soul of the National Football League,’ Commissioner Paul Tagliabue declared. "He was a man of deep conviction who stood as a beacon of integrity.’

"Mr. Mara was the greatest thing that ever happened to the New York Giants,’ former linebacker Lawrence Taylor told the press. "He was always there to help me, even when I wasn’t willing to help myself.’

"There was never a more decent, honorable and respected man in sports than Wellington Mara,’ the owner of the New York Yankees, George Steinbrenner, announced. "His life-long love of the Giants was surpassed only by his love of his family. But, then, the Giants were his family too."

"We have lost the conscience of the (National Football) League,’ the former owner of the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens, Art Modell, observed. "He was a man of extraordinary character, integrity and decency. He was never untoward to anyone. We have lost a giant.’

"(Wellington Mara) set an example of the right way to live and to treat people with respect,’ ex-Giants head coach Jim Fassel remarked. "There aren’t many people walking this earth who have the goodness he possessed.’

This is but a sampling of the multitude of declarations of esteem that all of us have read in the newspapers and heard on radio and television these past few days. As one admirer of our deceased friend put it to me at the wake on Thursday evening, "No one has said a negative word about him, Cardinal, and I will tell you why. There was nothing negative to say. He was the best, and that is all there is to it.’

What made him "the best’? All will have their own explanation. Here is mine. I have had the privilege of knowing Wellington Mara for over 20 years; and I believe that what made him what he was can be summed up in two simple and beautiful words-faith and family.

Wellington Mara, a man of deep faith, loved his God and lived his life as he understood his God would want him to live it. He participated in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass every morning; and he prayed frequently during the day, often with a Rosary in his hands. Like Job in the First Reading of our Mass, Wellington Mara knew that his Lord, his "Vindicator,’ lived and that he would one day see Him face-to-face to be with Him for all eternity.

Moreover, like St. Paul in our Second Reading, Wellington Mara had the utmost of confidence in the loving providence of the Almighty. His Savior had died for him. His Savior had been raised from the dead. And his Savior would raise him as well when his earthly life was completed. All of this he believed, and all of this colored and guided his every word and action. Faith, I would insist, played a key role in making Wellington Mara into the kind, decent, caring human being that he was.

Add to this that Wellington Mara never ceased to champion the noble causes that sprang from his faith. He wanted young people, especially those who lived in the most distressed areas of our community, to have an opportunity to participate in athletics so as to learn the lessons that only fair play can teach. To this end he sponsored camps for children and youth in the summer and programs of the Catholic Youth Organization throughout the year. Thus, literally thousands of youngsters benefited mightily from his concern for them and his generosity.

Similarly, Wellington Mara wanted the aged and infirm to be provided with the best of medical attention. Accordingly, he lavished his time, talent and treasure on health care institutions throughout Greater New York, from hospitals to nursing homes, from neighborhood clinics to homes for the aged.

Above all, however, Wellington Mara wanted every child of God to have its inalienable right to live recognized and protected. Anyone who knew him even slightly was aware of his commitment to this ideal-a deep, uncomplicated commitment to elementary justice for all without exception.

Yes, faith had much to do with making Wellington Mara what one newspaper writer described as "an icon of goodness.’ But there was something more at work, and that something more was family.

For 51 years, Wellington Mara and his dear bride, Ann, were on a honeymoon. Their devotion to each other was evident within minutes of coming into their presence. They brought into this world 11 wonderful children, who in their turn made them grandparents of no less than 40 wonderful grandchildren. Just a short time in the company of this bright, joyful clan, and you knew how blessed was each member of it.

Family gave Wellington Mara strength, peace and deep unconditional love; and family was reflected in all of his other relationships and undertakings. How often in recent days have we been told that the New York Giants were more than anything else a family, Wellington Mara’s second family. He was, of course, in charge, but he was more than just in charge. He was the guide, the counselor, indeed, the father of the team and the entire organization. And all who knew him well saw him in this light.

Nor does any of this come as a surprise to me. For I can attest from personal experience that the same held true on the various boards and committees on which I had the honor of serving with Wellington Mara. He had a way of drawing people together. He had a gift for transforming mere groups into real families. There is no understanding him, I would suggest, without putting family into the formula.

Today, dear friends, in this cathedral of which Wellington Mara was a devoted trustee, we are joined in celebrating Mass for the repose of his soul and the consolation of his beloved family. This is exactly as he would want it. For the Mass meant the world to him; and the reason was very clear. It was his very special prayer, the one in which he felt most closely and intimately united with his God.

In the Gospel passage read for us by Msgr. Patrick Boyle, St. Luke, one of the four Evangelists, tells the story of two followers of the Lord who were on their way to a little town in Judea by the name of Emmaus. They were totally disconsolate. The wonder-working preacher in whom they had placed all of their hopes had been arrested, crucified and buried. They felt they had nowhere to turn. In fact, so deep was their sadness and so profound their disappointment, that they did not recognize the risen Lord when He joined them in their journey, until that evening at table with Him, when He took bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to them.

Morning after morning in his parish church in Rye, Wellington Mara recognized his Lord with the unfailing eyes of faith, as the bread that was taken, blessed and broken was given to him at Mass, bread that he knew to be none other than the Son of God in whom he believed so firmly and whom he loved so dearly.

This is precisely the setting in which he would wish us to come together to remember him and to commend his soul to the Father of us all in heaven. He has run the race of his life and won. We rejoice in his victory, and we do so in the context of that prayer which he loved with all his heart.

May he rest in peace.

May his beloved wife, children and grandchildren be consoled in their loss.

And may none of us forget in our prayers this outstanding man of faith and family, this symbol of what is right and noble in the world of athletics, this kind, thoughtful gentleman, Wellington Mara, a Giant in every best sense of that word.

Edward Cardinal Egan

Archbishop of New York