San Jose's Father Philip McCrillis, 72
Parkinson's Slowed Him down but Did Not Break His Spirit

By Kim Vo
San Jose Mercury News (California)
February 21, 2007

As a patient, Father Philip McCrillis only needed to visit the Parkinson's Institute every three months or so. Nevertheless, he came every Monday, ready to greet patients and offer them coffee, cookies or conversation as they embarked on their journey with the disease.

It was a road he knew well. He even wrote a poem about it.

The thing I have is called Parkinson's; it's a condition of the brain

It causes me to lose some cells and some skills I can't reclaim

The Rev. McCrillis died Feb. 1 at age 72. He had served in various capacities since his ordination in 1961, including chaplain at San Jose State University's Newman Center and as pastor of Holy Spirit Parish in San Jose. He retired in 2000, friends said, partially because the disease was making it difficult to speak effectively.

It's not fun, I'll attest to that, it's not a choice I'd make

It doesn't kill or make me sick, but it can my spirit break

It slows me down, it can make me drool, it can take away my speech

All in all it's difficult, so deep into my soul I must reach

"Very honest. Typical Phil, typical Phil," Father Jim Mifsud said of the poem. Mifsud also has Parkinson's.The Rev. McCrillis, he said, gave him support -- but rarely advice -- on how to cope with the disease, and with life.

"Very dry humor," said Mifsud, of Queen of Apostles in San Jose. "Very supportive of anything I did. He knew what I was doing before I did it."

But I have to be tall and stand up straight and look the world in the eye

I must walk with long, long strides and on myself I must rely

The Rev. McCrillis began going to the Parkinson's Institute between 2004 and 2005, said Gloria Goldstein, an administrative assistant there. He would meet with newly diagnosed patients and show people where to go for appointments.

"It was his fervent wish that people would get up and go, not just sit there," Goldstein said.

For his part, the Rev. McCrillis took speech therapy, wrote for the newsletter and sang Frank Sinatra classics with a patient group.

"Oh, boy, did he sing," Goldstein said. "He was the most wonderful person. He was so outgoing."

Every once in a while, the disease would control his body. Goldstein would remind him to speak loud and slow, instead of mumbling softly as some Parkinson's patients do. "He'd freeze every once in awhile and I'd yell, 'Go!' " she recalled. "That's all he needed."

So on I go, along my way, trying to beat this thing

Hoping that my tough guywords don't have a hollow ring

This is the way I must live my life or I will surely lose

Make no mistake; this thing is tough, it will get me if I snooze

The Rev. McCrillis wrote poems and painted, and even held an art show last year where he sold a piece. He preferred abstracts "with lots of colors. He loved colors, except for yellow wasn't one of his favorites," said Goldstein, who often chatted with the priest during his morning volunteer shift.

When she ordered flowers for his memorial, she told the florist not to include any yellow flowers. Avoid gladiolus, too, she said. He disliked them; they reminded him of funerals.

So where are you in all of this? I hope you're at my side

Watching while I walk my walk even if it hurts inside

Being there when I really need you; I truly count on you

I could not face this without your love and that, my love, is true.


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