Msgr. Lipps taught Jesus’ Word with every breath
Msgr. Frank Lipps almost didn’t become a priest. The way Sam Caruso – a seminary classmate of “Father Frank” who gave the first reading at Msgr. Lipps’ funeral Aug. 19 – tells it, Msgr. Lipps had interesting classmates known for shenanigans.
A former Slidell mayor and parishioner of Our Lady of the Lake where Msgr. Lipps was pastor before he became ill with cancer and retired a year ago, Caruso mentioned that while at St. Joseph Seminary College – he, a fifth- year student, and Father Frank, a first-year student – in a European history class taught by a Benedictine who was rumored to not like Italian-Americans, Caruso challenged the professor during class while another seminarian shot a model desktop cannon. Unbeknownst to his classmates at the time, Msgr. Lipps was ready to pack his bags and go home after the incident.
“Sam, I am almost not a priest today because of you and so and so (who shot the cannon),” Caruso said Msgr. Lipps told him years later while reminiscing about seminary days. “He thought, ‘Where did I land? This is an asylum or something?’ He was trying to decide to go back to his dorm and pack up his things and leave.” But, he said, looking back, Msgr. Lipps said he was glad someone challenged the professor about his prejudices.
The standing-room-only crowd of young and old at his funeral Mass at Our Lady of Lourdes proved he was beloved by his fellow priests and the many people he touched over 48 years as a priest as associate pastor at St. Angela Merici in Metairie, Our Lady of Prompt Succor in Westwego, St. Robert Bellarmine in Arabi and St. Maria Goretti in New Orleans, and as pastor at Immaculate Heart of Mary in New Orleans, Our Lady of Lourdes in Violet and Our Lady of Lourdes in Slidell.
Barry and “Boo” Bordes, 40-year parishioners at Our Lady of Lourdes, recall the first time Msgr. Lipps stepped foot at Our Lady of Lourdes in Slidell. It was around two months after Hurricane Katrina had devastated their church and school and the lives of many parishioners. He and Father Kyle Dave walked in the cafeteria wearing white shrimp boots and were ready to work. Msgr. Lipps led them through a successful “Love Transforms Deep Water” capital campaign to rebuild the parish in 2007, despite losing 40 percent of its parishioners after the storm.
“They were so upbeat and wonderful,” Boo Bordes recalled. “They really lifted everybody’s spirit. He was an amazing kind of guy who did a lot of stuff in the background.”
“He was the most humble guy in the world,” Barry Bordes said. “When he gave out Communion, he knew he was giving you the greatest gift he could. So, when he got sick, one of the saddest things for him was when he couldn’t give out Communion … he felt like he would lose his ability to lead his flock.” So, during his illness, he learned to make rosaries and handed them out. The Bordeses each have a handmade rosary. They said he was an example to parishioners how to carry their crosses and offer them up to the Lord. The Bordeses recalled him dragging his oxygen tank onto the altar, struggling just to get down the aisle, but would then give “the most beautiful Mass. He was a real shepherd to his flock. He helped lead the parish from total devastation to a new school, new parish and new church. Even through his illness, he saw us through to the end.”
Example of holiness
His sister Kathy Lipps Ferrara recalled her brother showing signs of a religious life early on as an altar server at St. Matthias Parish in New Orleans, and said “it was a done deal” after a priest there suggested he become a priest. Caruso said he first met him at a parishwide Serra Club acknowledgment of “Altar Servers of the Year” as teens. Msgr. Lipps then attended Jesuit High School and studied at St. Joseph Seminary and Notre Dame Seminary. He was ordained in 1968.
During the funeral homily delivered by another classmate, Bishop Robert Muench, the “infamous” seminary class was also mentioned, naming a few classmates of their classmates: Bishop Ronald Herzog of Alexandria, Puerto Rican Bishop Emeritus Enrique Hernández Rivera, Msgr. Henry Engelbrecht, Father H.J. Adams, Father Joseph Trancina and the late Dudley Darbonne and Father Joseph Breaux of the Diocese of Lafayette.
He said Msgr. Lipps took his priestly ministry seriously but also loved fishing and hunting and cooking his classmates “roadkill specials.”
“If every one of us, clergy or others, would utilize our natural and developed talents like they did theirs, the effects would be enormous,” Bishop Muench said.
“Always bearing a smile on his face, he was profoundly spiritual and committed to help and serve others, bringing Jesus to others through preaching the word, celebrating the sacraments administering to his flock. It was a defining hallmark of his life and ministry.”
Bishop Muench called Msgr. Lipps someone “deeply connected to Jesus, the Good shepherd, as his model and guide. He loved ministering as a priest. He was extremely generous, with both his time and his money.”
He thought Msgr. Lipps was a great model for emulating what a priest should be, using words like “shepherd, mentor, friend, companion, confidante and guide to his people … discerning in faith, immersed in prayer and faithful in teaching, clear in witness, fervent in sacramental celebration and generous in ministry.”
Bishop Muench thought the Mass readings that Msgr. Lipps chose highlighted trust and reliance on God’s providence, confidence in God’s fidelity to us and identification with in embracing the death of Jesus.
“What a strong testimony of faith. I am convinced, as he was breathing his last, with the Gospel we heard proclaimed, he said to the Father the words of Jesus, ‘Into Your hands, I commend my spirit’.”
Since 40 of Msgr. Lipps’ 48 years as a priest were assigned to parishes under the patronage of the Blessed Mother, Bishop Muench ended the homily asking everyone to recite “Hail Mary.”
While a seminarian, Archbishop Gregory Aymond said he admired Msgr. Lipps as “a priest who was full of life” with “a true desire to love the Lord above all and to serve others with all his heart.” He acknowledged how Msgr. Lipps mentioned often, during his illness, his love for his Catholic and biological families.
“He was a man of the people,” Archbishop Aymond said. “He loved you. He was among you. He knew what he wanted and he usually got it. But he was there for you and he loved you and I hope you leave here today remembering how much he loved you.”