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Obituary: Brother Bill Osmanski, O.H.

Brother Bill Osmanski once told a story of a priest who brought him a donation of clothing and food. “I envy you,” the priest told him, “because you’re able to live the gospel every day in a hands-on way.”And every day Brother Bill, who passed away June 16, did just that.

As head of Camillus House’s Direct Care Ministry program, Brother Bill spent his days providing Miami-Dade’s poorest and most vulnerable members with food, shelter, clothing, counseling… and, not least, hope. When asked to describe what Camillus House is, Brother Bill replied very simply: “I think Camillus is love.”

Brother Bill enjoyed nothing better than ministering to both the spiritual and material needs of those around him. “Because we brothers wear the collar, we’re approachable – people open up,” he said. “When someone says, ‘Brother, do you have a moment?’ I know what’s coming. I take them to a quiet place and just listen. But the first thing I want to do is take care of their urgent needs. Make them comfortable, see what we can do about a place to stay, get them a warm meal, put some clothes on their back.”

Brother Bill ministered to the needs of others until the very end of his own earthly life, according to Brother Raphael Mieszala. “He had come into the office that Friday morning and spent some time convincing a man at the shelter to take a shower. As always, Brother Bill was gentle but able to get things done.”

Everyone at Camillus loved Brother Bill for his sense of humor, infectious laugh, and his dedication to Christian hospitality and service. “He was always ready with a hug, always full of hospitality, welcoming, understanding, and compassionate,” according to Brother Raphael. It was a full-time ministry of the heart. ‘Sometimes he’d bring problems of the day home,” said Brother Raphael. “One time a young man from Colombia was stranded, but he wasn’t use to the idea of sleeping in a shelter and just burst out crying. So Brother Bill brought him back to the house and asked the brothers if he could stay.

“He had a very big heart for anyone who was in trouble,” Brother Raphael continued. “At the same time, he was so genuinely grateful for any small gesture done for him, even just someone holding a door open.”

Brother Bill was an institution at Camillus House – and an inspiration, according to Camillus’s CEO Hilda M. Fernandez. “Brother Bill exemplified the spirit of Christian Hospitality,” she said. “His last day on campus was spent meeting with Day Center clients, including arranging for a bed for one of our most chronically homeless men, making phone calls to arrange for a wheelchair requested by a client, and sharing his signature big hugs with various employees.”

For all of his kindness, Brother Bill was more jovial than pious – he had an easy-going, every-man style that immediately put others at ease. His nephew Matt Osmanski remembers Brother Bill as the “fun uncle,” who was close to his family and “always ready to play with us kids.” He had ten nephews and nieces and was a life-long Philadelphia Phillies and Eagles fan. He was very proud of his Polish heritage and knew how to speak Polish, according to another nephew, Dr. J. Osmanski.

Brother Bill also loved to hunt and fish and enjoyed spending time out in the woods. With his cousins, Brother Bill built a cabin in the Pennsylvania woods. Matt says they constructed it “on the cheap.” Among other cost-cutting measures, Brother Bill would remove and straighten nails from scrap lumber to use for the cabin.

Matt said Brother Bill liked to do things well, but with his own personal twist. Matt recalled how his uncle, while managing an apartment complex in south New Jersey, carved out an area of swamp to create a small zoo with ducks, chickens, and goats. “He took an unsightly place and created something good from it.”

Brother Bill took great pride in the complex, winning awards for the grounds. His landscaping talents and his willingness to draw up short-term leases attracted Phillies players including Tug McGraw and Jim Lonborg to the apartments. Having a few baseball stars around was good for bringing in other residents and the complex never wanted for tenants.

The ability to see what others might consider waste or a lost cause, would serve him well later in life as he worked through ministries, including Camillus House, to transform broken lives.

Brother Bill was born December 12, 1936 to the late Stanley and Elizabeth Osmanski in Shamokin, Pennsylvania; the middle of three sons. He attended St. Charles College in Baltimore and graduated from the Franklin School of Arts and Sciences in Philadelphia.

He felt the call to religious life early, joining the Little Brothers of the Good Shepherd in the mid-1960s. In the early 1970s he left the order and spent most of the next two decades caring for his mother, before rejoining the order in 1993.

Prior to beginning his service at Camillus House in the summer 2004, Brother Bill served for seven years as Director of the Good Shepherd Center, a shelter and direct services agency for homeless individuals in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Prior to that, he was Director of the Good Shepherd Residential Facility in Philadelphia for persons with HIV/AIDS. He was also Superior to the Brothers of the Good Shepherd in Miami since 2004. In 2015, Brother Bill and the other remaining Little Brothers of the Good Shepherd became members of the Hospitaller Order of St. John of God.

“He wanted to have an impact on the planet, to leave the world better than when he came,” according to his nephew, Matt. “And he did that by taking care of the poor and the sick.” Added Camillus CEO Fernandez: “He was a humble man of God, a friend and cherished co-worker. He will be greatly missed.”

 


Our Daily Habits

A habit is often defined as a “manner of conducting oneself” or “clothes characteristic of a calling, rank, or function.” For the Hospitaller Brothers, a habit also has many meanings in our lives from the way we dress, the way we live, and the way we care for God’s poor.

Throughout this year we want to share Our Daily Habits with you. We hope by sharing Our Daily Habits we can give you a better understanding of our Order and how you can be a bigger part of our lives. Throughout 2017, we will share with you:

Brothers1 (12x8)

  • Our Daily Habits as a Religious Community: Our prayers, supper rituals, hymns, chapels, clothes, mission, core values, and vision.
  • Our Daily Habits as Individuals: Our pets, vocation stories, and formation process to become a Hospitaller Brother.
  • Our Daily Habits in Our Ministries: What happens at our ministries, the people served through our services and programs, and being the face of God to all we meet.

 

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