Bridge House/Grace House recently lost a beloved member of our family. Our CEO, Richard “Buzzy” Gaiennie passed away on August 13, 2011. A recovering alcoholic, Buzzy came to Bridge House to become its Executive Director in 1984 and was named CEO in 2006. Buzzy devoted his life to helping others recover from addiction and served as a spiritual guide and counselor to many. He committed his energy to enriching his conscious contact with God and in turn enriching the lives of those he connected with on a daily basis. Although he will be greatly missed the important mission of Bridge House will endure in the service of the still suffering alcoholic and addict. Buzzy wholeheartedly embraced his own recovery and the recovery of all who sought it. His love for the work of Bridge House will be reflected for generations to come.
There were three strong and enduring passions which ruled Buzzy Gaiennie’s life: his family, his spirituality, and his dedication to the addicted. The first two lifted him to joy and peace, but the final one always brought him back to earth with the cries of those in chains echoing in his heart.
His favorite passage from the Bible was found in the 58th chapter of Isaiah: “Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless, clothing the naked when you see them And not turning your back on your own.”
In each and every way Buzzy fulfilled those principles from Isaiah. Just visit Bridge House on any given day and you will see the hungry being fed, the homeless being sheltered, the naked clothed and no backs being turned upon those in need.
When he first came to Bridge House, it was little more that a place for alcoholics to sleep it off. Through the years he turned it a very well respected treatment center for all kinds of addiction, and amazingly, one which admitted all without payment.
Many monuments have been built to honor great men and women. Our building on Earhart may well serve as such a monument to Buzzy, but many of us think that his true monument, the one he would most desire, is the continuing mission of the organization which he built.
In moments of struggle, when funding seeming in doubt, or when a client whose recovery seemed to be coming nearer would fall once again into the chains of addiction, he would remember something Helen Keller once said: “Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.”
Let us make our tribute to Buzzy be the continuing struggle to overcome the world of suffering which he saw so clearly.
Father Clyde LeBlanc SJ, shared with us the Homily he delivered at Buzzy’s funeral. He serves at Manresa, which is owned and operated by the Jesuit Fathers and Brothers of the New Orleans Province of the Society of Jesus, and named after Saint Ignatius of Loyola, a sixteenth-century nobleman and the founder of the Jesuit Order. The Spiritual Exercises they practice are based on the notes that St. Ignatius himself made as he underwent his own spiritual conversion at Manresa, Spain. Father LeBlanc also serves as a Retreat Master at the Manresa House of Retreats in Convent, Louisiana.
“I’ve had the good fortune in my life to encounter a number of saintly persons. As a high school student fifty years ago I met Dorothy Day at a lecture series organized by Loyola University’s Institute of Social Order, now the Twomey Center. Twenty years ago, at St. Peter’s in Rome before a Papal Mass honoring of the birth of St Ignatius and the founding of the Society of Jesus, I met Mother Theresa. Five years ago I met Richard Michael Gaiennie. The readings we’ve just heard no doubt helped each of us think about our own encounter with this man we have loved, lived with, and with whom the Lord has allowed us to work.
In the Book of Wisdom we heard “He who pleased God was loved.” And, “The witchery of paltry things obscures what is right and the whirl of desire transforms an innocent mind.” Richard’s family lived love patiently through his days of worldly desire, days so long ago many of us might find them hard to believe they ever existed. Most of us only know the man who, as St Paul puts it, “Lived for the Lord.”
Buzzy, right now, from the place the Lord has prepared for him, is delighting in the honesty of the opening words of John Pope’s newspaper article about him, “a recovering alcoholic.” He was a man who lived what St Ignatius Loyola called the third degree of humility, following Christ to the full.
We will, all of us, stand before the judgment seat of God someday. How do we think Richard is measuring up right now? St. Matthew, in Chapter 25, his depiction of the last judgment, gives us a good idea. Did Buzzy feed the hungry? Check. See a perfect stranger and welcome him? Check. Provide clothing for the naked? Check. Care for those who are sick? Check. Visit those imprisoned? Check. (I am leaving out the part about giving a drink to the thirsty.)
Hagiographers often try to find parallels to the life of Christ in their subjects, such as the story of St Francis being born in a stable. In the Book of Acts we read about Jesus’ first followers, freshly forgiven by the Resurrected Christ, beginning to perform miracles, God using them to carry on the work of his Son and performing miracles. Jesus restored life to the son of the widow of Nain. How many people have been restored to their families because of the miracles happening at Bridge House, at Grace House? How many Good Samaritans there have stopped, helped to heal wounds, and provided follow-up care? How many Prodigal Sons and Daughters returned to live lives the Lord had destined for them?
In an obituary above Buzzy’s in Tuesday’s Times-Picayune there are a couple of quotations, one from the protestant preacher William Barclay: “There are two great days in a person’s life–the day we are born and the day we discover why.” When did Richard discover the reason God gave him the life he did?
Evidence suggests he found it through a spirituality of encountering Christ found in the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits. Buzzy was a Man of Manresa, and I think, perhaps, he found in Ignatius a man with whom he could identify. Ignatius had a somewhat dissolute life until his thirties; then, through a traumatic experience and a period of recovery, he found Christ, found Him through prayer and reflection. It was the same with Dorothy Day, who started the Catholic Worker movement. And with Mother Theresa. She said she had an encounter with Christ, but then often felt herself abandoned by him, for years even.
I’m sure Buzzy, like her, had many a dark night of the soul. But Buzzy loved the experience of Christ and returned often to the Exercises for renewal. So excited was he about their power, he helped begin a program at Manresa to bring Christ to the homeless. These were the last retreats he gave at Manresa. And he brought along, on the first one, a newly found Samaritan friend, Dwight Boyd, like him a former car salesman. So the work of the Lord goes on, comes full circle, and we must not let our hearts be troubled, even if we think Buzzy died too early.
Buzzy did know where he was going — he just got there before us. Buzzy learned the way was in following Jesus, the one who showed him the Truth about himself and showed him the Way to the Father.
Barbara, Bill, Michelle, Dana: the other quotation in that obit I mentioned said: “What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others, and the world, remains and is immortal.” Buzzy: well done, you have been a good and faithful servant.”