Today, March 3, Father Fran Dorff will be buried at Santa Maria de la Vid Abbey in Albuquerque, New Mexico. We will also have a stone for him here in our Daylesford cemetery, since he was a member of our canonry for 35 years. I first met Fran when I was a first year novice and he was a newly ordained priest on a visit home, as he completed his studies in Rome and was on his way to do a doctorate in Paris. I later had him for a theology class at St. Norbert College, and then after I was ordained in 1969, lived in a room close to his at Daylesford. During that time he taught at Rosemont College and began to do “Intensive Journal Workshops” in what we now call the Spirituality Center (as well as throughout the country as a colleague of Dr. Ira Progoff). As Fran explained it, he moved from teaching “content” in a classroom to teaching “process” to fellow spiritual pilgrims.
He also served as our vocation director and keeper of the Abbey grounds. Indeed, he oversaw the rebuilding of the oldest building on the property, a springhouse constructed over a small stream, and renamed it the “John the Baptist Chapel” — in honor of where Norbert accepted the vows of his first disciples in 1121. The Chapel continues to be a prayerful place that, for many of us, will always evoke memories of Fran.
He later went to New Mexico to minister at a rehab for priests struggling with addictions. As always, his compassion and wisdom were channels of healing. Eventually, he joined the newly established Norbertine community in Albuquerque, where he lived in retirement for a number of years. He wrote eight books, beginning with THE ART OF PASSING OVER. It described the call to “Let go, let be and let grow”, which very much defined Fran’s personal journey — including what the liturgy celebrated today, his “passing over” into eternal life.