is body was buried on Eden Hill with his rosary
wrapped in his hands and with his colorful pro-
peller cap. Hisdevotion to Mary
The propeller hat helped him to rise above — to see the
sacred in the mundane, the face of God in the broken-
ness of others.Brother Fred Wells, MIC —
who sang like an angel
and whistled better than Bing Crosby himself — died
Sept. 9, in Stockbridge. He was 88.
“He would create an atmosphere of such joy,”
said the Very Rev. Fr. Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC,
the Marians’ provincial superior.
“He would shower people with affection and
affirmation, particularly the lonely,” said his
dear friend Br. John Bryda, MIC.
In matters both secular and sacred,
Br. Fred practiced and advocated com-
mon sense and simplicity. He never
had the ambition to change the
world: he knew he couldn’t. His
was an apostolate of smiles; he
made people smile.
A native of Richmond,
Virginia, and one of five chil-
dren, Charles Frederick Wells,
Jr., was raised in a poor
but loving home. The fam-
ily shared a record player.
Music filled their lives. And
dancing. And prayer.
He took Joseph as his
Confirmation name because St. Joseph
was “an ordinary work-
ing guy who saw the Lord’s hand
in everything.” Plus, as Br. Fred would later explain, he
didn’t know many saints at the time, and Joseph “was
right there in the Holy Family. I figured I might as well
start in the Big Leagues.”
During World War II, no sooner was he drafted than
Japan surrendered. He would claim credit for that.
He left the faith as a young man. When invited by a
pastor to return to the Church, he misguidedly declared
himself “unworthy” of God’s love. The pastor set him
straight. Brother Fred would spend a lifetime setting
straight similarly misguided souls who don’t know the
love of the Father.
Inspired in 1954 by an image of Divine Mercy i
pamphlet published by the Marian Fathers, he entered
the congregation in 1955. Over the course of his 60
years with the Marians, he served as an accountant,
provincial councilor, and assistant novice master.
He ministered to the poor, the homebound, orphans,
With his gentle Southern intonation, Br. Fred spoke
as if he had sanded his words down to a fine finish, each
word rounded off at the end as if to ensure they’d never
hurt anyone. He laughed frequently. He listened care-
fully. And, in the words of Br. John, he sang in the
key of “B natural.”
He learned enough Polish to make his
Polish confreres chuckle. When asked how
he was doing, he could respond in Polish,
“Good, but not exactly.”
He was known for the bread he would bake
and give away. It was dubbed “Fred’s Bread.”
“My first bread came out like a brick,”
he said. “If you dropped it on your
foot, it would make an impression
He began wearing the
propeller hat in 1992. He’d
buy them in bulk and give
“I once gave one to
a woman in her early
20s who had cancer.
Chemotherapy had made
her bald. You never saw some-
one so happy as when I gave her
that hat. The hat opens doors. If
you wear this, your life will never
be the same again.”
Brother Fred was diagnosed with
cancer in 1998. It would take its toll. He said cancer is
“not about death; it’s about life.” It forced him to direct
all his thoughts and affections toward God and loved
ones. In his last years, he lived like a hermit, content to
stay in his simple room, sit by the window, soak up the
quiet, and talk to God as he would talk to a friend.
“The Lord is giving me this opportunity,” he said
months before his death.
Lenny, the local butcher, once said to him, “Brother
Fred, I don’t know where I’m going after I die.”
His propeller hat in place and his spiritual affairs in
order, Br. Fred leaned in and responded, “I don’t know
either, but I refuse to go any place else but Heaven. I
— Felix Carroll