Frank Sugeno

Early morning: sheets of treacherous ice to navigate. From my seat in chapel I watch shafts of gold light brighten deep in the woods.  The angelus bell poised,  paused, the sister whispers, “here comes the sun.”

I opened Episcopal Lifeyesterday and saw the obituary for Frank Sugeno.  The clipping rests on my chapel prie-dieu now.  Frank was my church history professor for half of a  semester in 1975.  I left mid-way through the semester because of a difficult pregnancy.

Somehow,  in the awful environment of the church before women’s (legitimate) ordination, the faculty at the Seminary of the Southwest made a spiritual home for me in the early autumn of 1975, despite that this embarrassing pregnancy proved to the student-body forces hostile to women’s ordination that women “can’t be priests.” Well, said one faculty member, there’s never really a ‘convenient’ time to get pregnant.” 

I attended the Seminary of the Southwest for only a few weeks, commuting from San Antonio three times a week.  Nevertheless, Paul Coke, knowing I loved Teresa of Avila, introduced me to Edith Stein, and gave me other spiritual reading.  Nell Bellamy understood the pull toward “the edge of  the enclosure” and shared her relationship to a women’s religious community in England.  She arranged for me to meet a visiting Holy Cross brother – and I became an Associate.  Phil Turner and Frank Sugeno designated time and space to create a sense of community for seminary commuters.  Russel Shultz invited me to play the flute from time to time over the next few years.  And Gordon Charlton, the dean, was a loving mentor.

How could all that have happened in a few week’s time?  Because of those extraordinary people in that time and place, making a place for me, for all of us in their care. And Frank?  “He became a healing presence in the lives of more people than we will even know.”  Here’s a story no one knows…

Frank Sugeno

Frank Sugeno

In the winter of 1983, eight years after I dropped out of ESSW I needed to prepare for the GOE’s (General Ordination Exams).  I don’t remember what I was doing in Austin, Texas in the winter of 1983, but I visited the seminary, and ran into Frank Sugeno.  Genuinely glad to see me, asking how I was, I expressed my worry that I was facing the GOE’s with no church history.  He invited me into his office to sit, and said, “This is what you need to know.”  Frank Sugeno lectured all afternoon for me, personally, to help me prepare for my exams.

A memory…  Once during that fall of 1975 Frank sat, arms crossed, during a chapel service.  He didn’t stand, or sing, or pray.  He just sat.  After worship a cluster of students surrounded him, full of concern.  “Why?  Why didn’t you pray or sing or stand?”  Frank replied, “Sometimes it is just enough to be here.”

How many times throughout my life I have been comforted and consoled and emboldened by that memory!

I cried when I saw Frank’s obituary. So odd –  so long ago, so far away those times.   The seminary website posted the sermon Phil Turner preached at Frank’s funeral.  I cried again.  Some highlights from the extraordinarily true and beautiful sermon:  

His ability to understand and value the peculiarities of each of our lives is in part due to the peculiarity of his own.   …

And we all knew that he had the same sort of appreciation for the unique qualities he saw in each of us.  He knew how to let us be who we would be.  He knew, in his relations with us, that it was a good thing that he and we should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord  (Lamentations 3:26). And because he waited with us, he became a healing presence in the lives of more people than we will even know. His students knew this about him.  His colleagues knew this about him.  They knew that he had no desire to force them into a mould.  He only wanted them to wait patiently for the Lord so that He might use them for his purposes rather than their own…

How did Frank, a man of flesh and blood, come by this saintly quality?  In part he came by it through a personal history that was a living testimony to what happens when one waits quietly for the salvation of the Lord.  But biography cannot explain all there is to say about Frank’s view of life and his saintly quality.  His conversion gave him a way of looking at the world that many of us never learn.  Frank was not want to say a lot about his own theological beliefs.  He was always more interested in what others had to say.  But he did say to me on more than one occasion that William Temple’s idea of a sacramental universe formed the core of his convictions.  For Frank, if we could see it, the world was transparent to a dimension beyond its own circumference.  For Frank, the stuff of life could carry the presence of God and so take on meanings beyond our normal understanding.  If you will, for Frank, eternity was not to be measured by time.  Rather time was to be measured by eternity.

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3 Responses to “Frank Sugeno”

  1. David Sugeno Says:

    Thank you for your beautiful memories and reflections about my father. We have received much comfort from cards from his former students telling us of the positive influence he had in their ministries. May yours continue to be blessed.
    David Sugeno.

  2. Ernest E Endrizzi Says:

    I was very moved by this. I attended the seminary from ’69 till ’72. He made a powerful impact on me. Sad that he is gone.

    Ernest E Endrizzi

  3. Richard Harrison-Grey Says:

    This was a good man. There was a peaceful and wise quality about him. He seemed to have learned to step back and observe himself and others from an inner distance. He was a sage, I suppose. You could feel that about him: depth, clarity, richness of spirit. He wasn’t imprisoned by thoughts and words, as so many; rather he used them as his deeper awareness led him. There was a playful side to Frank too. Sometimes he’d crack a joke and his eyes would glisten with pleasure! His entire face would transform when he smiled, chin to brow. I think probably there was a slightly irreverent side to him too, as tends to come upon those who see the world for what it is, including the pretentious little corner they inhabit. We were lucky to know him. And he’d have said he was lucky to know us. May God be with him as his journey unfolds, and bless his family and their memories of him.

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