I was very saddened to hear of the death of a great Paulist, Fr. Frank Diskin, C.S.P. who my wife and I would visit in the nursing home from time to time when we lived in New York. We had come to know Fr. Frank (or Padre Francisco, as I often called him) during his retirement years at St. Paul the Apostle. While Fr. Frank lived a long and healthy life finally dying at the old age of 92, there is always a certain sadness that comes with death and my own sadness today comes from not being able to attend his funeral.
Three quick great stories about Fr. Diskin:
The first is that we attended a parish function together and we sat at the same dinner table. Fr. Frank said to me, “Hey Mike, could you pass the salt?”
As i reached for it, a rotund middle aged woman said loudly, “You shouldn’t have salt, Father, it’s no good for you.”
I looked stunned. Frank was a slender and vibrant old man at 84. I don’t remember a day that he was sick until he was 90. I had to say something.
“HOLD ON!” I said in my own New York dulcet tone.
“Excuse me,” I said to the woman. “But if you don’t mind my asking, what is your blood pressure usually?”
“Oh it’s way too high. 200/90.”
“Uh-huh. And what is your cholesterol reading?”
Again she repeated, “Yeah it’s high…over 250.”
“OK…hey Fr. Frank. What’s your weight?”
“What’s your cholesterol reading?”
“150 or something like that.”
“Frank, what’s your blood pressure?”
“Fr. Frank what, dare I ask is your pulse rate.”
I looked at the woman and smiled. And said,
“Fr. Frank…here is your salt and have some butter for that roll–not margarine, take the good stuff. And don’t get up! I’m going to fetch you a BEER.”
I looked at that woman and said tersely, “LEAVE HIM ALONE! When you’re in as good of shape as he is, then you can tell him what he can and can’t eat.”
The second story comes from one of Fr. Frank’s usual visits to my office. About once every other week, Padre Francisco would come visit me in my office, just to say hi. I have this poster in my office of old baseball cards. Fr. Frank was a huge Red Sox fan. His beloved Boston was always a place that he longed to be and he was so excited when the Red Sox finally won the series and disappointed that he fell asleep during the World Series clincher before being able to see them win it all.
So Frank looked at the poster and said, “Hey, that’s pretty good! Ted Williams, Willie Mays…those guys were great!”
I replied back, “Yeah, my mother was a crazy NY Giants fan and she always loved those guys too.”
Frank continued, “Let me see now..” as he looked over the cards to see who he could recall.
“Ya know, I saw Ruth play. And I saw Cobb play pretty late in his career. I was little then. I sold peanuts in Fenway Park as a kid.”
“Really!?” I said. “They let kids do that back then.”
“Sure. Mike, you probably won’t believe this but I saw Honus Wagner play a game.”
“Frank, he stopped playing in 1917! You weren’t even born! Unless you’re a lot older than you say you are! Hey Frank, were you here when Fr. Hecker (the Paulist founder) made his first promises too (1858!)?”
He laughed and punched me in the arm. And said “No! But I DID see Wagner play! It was some kind of charity event and a bunch of old stars were there. Ruth, Wagner, lots of those guys in your poster. And they were still pretty good too.”
OK, a final story. Fr. Frank, loved to talk to people. In fact, he’d make conversations with random strangers all the time. Fr. Brett Hoover, C.S,P. was walking up 9th Avenue and found Fr Frank talking with a young lady. As Fr. Brett approached they ended their conversation “OK, well, I’ll see you again!” the young woman responded. She nodded at Fr. Brett and departed.
Brett looked at Frank and said, “Hey, why didn’t you introduce me to your friend?”
Frank replied simply, “Who? Her? I don’t know who the hell she is! We were just talking.”
That was clearly a “Frank moment.”
Once cancer got hold of Fr. Diskin, he was nearly 90. Or at least that was when he told me about it. He began to take falls in the rectory and they moved him to a nursing facility. My wife, who had this huge crush on him (and he knew it too!) would come to visit him with me. And he’d always shoot me a glance whenever she’d kiss him on the cheek.
He was a great evangelizer, serving in the famed Paulist Mission Band. He was pastor in Portland, Oregon and later for years in Layton, Utah, where he’d often visit friends and then returned to New York where he had served previously. He was a great friend to a growing hispanic population on the West Side of Manhattan where he started one of the first outreaches to the Hispanic community.
He was greatly devoted to the Little Flower, St Therese of Lisieux, who I know comforted him in his latter years. I’m sure she met him at the gates.
And she probably wore a Red Sox hat too.
Thanks be to God for the life of this great man and thanks to Padre Francisco for being my friend.