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H

is body was buried on Eden Hill with his rosary

wrapped in his hands and with his colorful pro-

peller cap. His

devotion to Mary

grounded him.

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 th

e Very Rev. Fr. Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC,

the Marians’ provincial superior.

“He would shower people with affection and

affirmation, particularly the lonely,” said his

dear frien

d 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 becaus

e 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 a

n image of Divine Mercy i

n a

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,

and prisoners.

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

on you.”

He began wearing the

propeller hat in 1992. He’d

buy them in bulk and give

them away.

“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

just refuse.”

— Felix Carroll

F

rom the

N

ational

S

hrine

Farewell,

Br. Fred

MH

M

arian

H

elper

 • W

inter

2015-16

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marian.org 

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