As most of you know by now, our dear friend and brother Pat Fitzpatrick died last night at the VA Hospital. He had been ill and in considerable pain for two years, but continued his work and his advocacy right up until the day before he went into the hospital last week. Pat was a founding member of the Home Van and he is the one who taught me how to work with homeless people. He himself had worked with the poor and the marginalized for all his life, beginning with his days of staying at Ernie’s Flophouse in Immokalee, Florida and doing union organizing with the migrant workers. He was on our very first home van driveout, on September 26, 2002. I wanted to help people but was paralyzed in place at the notion of going up to a perfect stranger and starting a conversation and asking them if they wanted food. For Pat it wasn’t a problem. He’d walk right up to one of our homeless guys, put his hand on their shoulder and say, “Hello brother, I’m Pat Fitzpatrick. What’s your name? Are you hungry? We have some food here.” In retrospect, that came easy to Pat because he wasn’t thinking about himself. He wasn’t worried about how people would react to him or if he would look like an idiot or anything like that. His whole focus was on the other person and what help they might need. Pat genuinely loved people, all people, and there was nothing within his power that he would not do to help another person.
Pat was a student of the Catholic Principles of Social Justice and had many books on that subject, which he studied at night. He told me, quoting from one of the books, “If you have two coats, one of those coats belongs to the poor.” Freeman once found a particularly fine Gator jacket at a garage sale and bought it for Pat. The next time Freeman saw the jacket, a homeless guy downtown was wearing it. Pat already had a jacket.
We are finding it very hard to imagine life without Pat. The best we can do is try to live as well and compassionately as he did. There will be a requiem Mass for Pat this coming Saturday, at 10 a.m., at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church.