Some Remembrances of Fr. Tim Sparks
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A Tribute to Fr. Timothy M. Sparks. O.P.
Offered at the Vigil Service by his friend Mr. Allan J. Santos
March 29, 2001
Fr. Sparks, I am sure, is known in many different ways. It all depends on how you interacted with him. It all depends on how he touched your life and on how you touched his. Some of us may remember him as a learned teacher, as a quiet philosopher, or as a spiritual theologian.
Some may remember him as a strict disciplinarian, or as a wise mentor, or as a faithful pastor and superior. There may be a few of you who remember him as a very intelligent and diligent student. There are a lot of you who may remember him as an obedient, down to earth, humble subject.
To those of you who have worked closely with him you will know that he was a meticulous, exacting, very particular, and very regimented sweet old man. He had a certain ritual of doing things: from getting out of bed in the morning to going to sleep at night. Those of you who have helped him to bed at night, will know what I am talking about. But in all his regiments, you can be assured that God played an important role in it. To give you an example: a simple coffee break would not take place without having said grace first. Not with Fr. Sparks around.
In matters of personal differences and personality conflicts, some may remember him as a peace maker and as a seasoned diplomat, graced by his years of experience, knowing when to say or not to say anything; or when to simply raise your eyebrows and shrug your shoulders thereby giving a response without actually approving or disapproving the other person's idea or opinion. I called this his silent answer.
Many may remember him as a spiritual and holy man: one who would pray for you and one who would pray with you. One who would lead you to God, one who would lead you to Jesus, Mary and Joseph. He loved reciting the rosary and he loved praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament. He was a true model when it came to devotions. The Blessed Mother, St. Joseph, and St. Therese the Little Flower were among his favorites. In promoting and defending devotions to the Blessed Mother, he would tell me, " No matter how much I honor the Blessed Mother, I can never honor Her the way God honored Her by making Her the mother of His Son.."
But Father never imposed his faith on others. He did not expect anyone to do the practices he did. The most he would do, was to preach by his example.
Many instances during the daily afternoon masses, here at the Priory, some people would come late or miss communion. He would have an eye for them and after mass he would quietly approach them and offer to give them communion privately. He was very sensitive towards the needs of others.
If you were inflicted with a serious illness, he would pray with you; he would direct you or take you to a pilgrimage to seek comfort, strength, and healing not only for the body but also for the spirit. If you lost your job or some misfortune befell you, if you were broken hearted or simply depressed, he would be there to comfort you with his words of wisdom and faith; and he would pray for you. It didn't matter who you were - rich or poor, sinner or saint - he would make time for you.
As a family man, he was a son who loved his parents dearly. He felt he couldn't do enough for his parents. As a faithful younger brother, he consistently looked after the spiritual welfare of his older brother and his family. As a cousin, he made it a point to keep in touch with relatives and friends in his hometown - Matoon, Illinois. On a regular basis and on special occasions, he would call his cousin Dorothy and Jean Gover just to say hello. As an uncle, he gave his unconditional love to his brother's daughter - Mary Ann Sparks who lives in Boston. He made sure he called her at least every other week.
To strangers and visitors, Father Sparks was always gracious and hospitable. Even in the years after his hip surgery where he spent most of his time in a wheel chair, he would always make an effort to greet visitors in the dining room and to welcome them. Priests or brothers, lay people or religious, seminar attendees or not, passing bye or visiting, - he would greet you. If you were a foreigner, it was your luck. He would go out of his way to make you feel welcome and ease your transition to a different culture.
To the people who provided service, he made sure thanks and recognition were given to them. After every meal, he made it a point to always thank the Chef and the kitchen staff for the food they prepared. In the nursing home, he always expressed his gratitude to his aids and nurses, particularly Raul and Selinda.
To Mark Petrone who came to visit him weekly and helped him with his mail, he was very grateful.
To Rose Garcia who would stop by to check on him regularly, he was grateful.
To Lucy of the Provincial Office who would call him on his feast day, he was grateful.
He treasured the friendship of Ed and Rosemary Stepnowski who would come to have coffee with him every Sunday. He was very grateful.
As a Dominican, this much I knew of Fr. Sparks: He was an obedient follower. The best I have ever known. He did not complain. He did not challenge any authority. He may not have wanted or approved of a decision made, but you can bet your life he would be the first to be submissive to it. He often told me: "Obedience is what binds us together as an order." And after the decision is made, after he has submitted himself, he would not dare talk about his personal desires. Not even an opinion could you get out of him. The most you would get as an answer is " Whatever God's Will Is."
He loved the order and he loved his brethren. Without saying it explicitly, he was especially fond of Brother Henry - a model for Sainthood, he would say. He was grateful to Bro. Reginald for the wardrobe he made for him and for the cake he would deliver on his birthday. To Bro. Michael and Bro. Carlos, for the care they gave him, he was grateful.
He was proud of and highly regarded Fr. Hynous for his wisdom and his work at the tribunal. He was always grateful to Fr. Bernacki for moving from Fenwick to River Forest to save the House of Studies - this place which he dearly loves. He was proud that Fr. Bernacki and him shared the same birthday and ordination date (different years, of course). He always felt if Fr. Bernacki was on top of it, it would be taken care of.
He drew strength and support and encouragement from Fr. Hereley. He looked forward to the weekly visits with Fr. Hereley and he took comfort knowing he was going to be there every week to look after his welfare.
And there are those whom he cherished fondly and silently. You know who you are. I need not mention your names. Actually, he always had some special good thing to say about each one of his brethren. Never have I heard him say anything negative about any of you.
I first met Fr. Sparks 14 years ago when I went to confession. In the weeks that followed, and after several more sessions, he taught me something. He said: "You know you don't have to wait to commit a sin to go to confession. It's a sacrament that is available to you. Take advantage of it." From then on we decided to do it on a regular basis and hence, he became my father confessor. As the months went by, our spiritual relationship grew. We became more than friends. He treated me like family and I adopted him as My Father Sparks.
Before his health started to decline, we would talk for hours about scripture and theology. He loved theology. He would often quote St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine. In deed, he was a student of theirs. One of the quotes he recited to me, from which I often take comfort especially during times of trouble is one from St. Augustine and the Council of Trent, and I quote:
God does not command the impossible;
but commanding, He warns us
both to do what we can, and
to pray for what we can not;
and He helps us so that we can.
(From Fr. Sparks, 4/4/1992, 1:49pm)
I am grateful to God for bringing Fr. Sparks into my life. I am grateful for the times we spent together, for the wisdom he shared with me, and for the faith he has taught me. I will miss him and at the same time I will rejoice for him for he has completed his journey. He is home now with the Holy Family - Jesus, Mary and Joseph.