A funeral Mass for Brother Francis Heyer was celebrated Nov. 4 at Our Lady of the Pillar Church in Creve Coeur. Brother Heyer, a longtime teacher who served at McBride, De Andreis and St. Mary’s high schools in St. Louis, died Oct. 19 in San Antonio at the age of 102 with 83 years of religious profession. At the time of his death, Brother Heyer was the oldest Marianist in the world.
Francis Richard Heyer was born Sept. 1, 1921, in Detroit. He was the second of nine children born to Oscar and Ethel (Hebestreit) Heyer. Tragically, only he and three siblings (a brother and two sisters) lived past infancy, the others claimed by a blood disease later identified as Rh-factor conflict. As a young man, Francis credited another family hardship with planting the seed for his religious vocation. Following the Wall Street Crash of 1929, his parents lost the home they’d been working to buy and moved their family to live with his grandmother. They became members of Holy Redeemer parish in Detroit, and Francis attended high school there, where he first encountered the Marianists.
After graduating from high school in 1938, he entered the postulancy at Maryhurst in Kirkwood, and one year later he began his novitiate there. Brother Heyer professed first vows at Maryhurst on Aug. 25, 1940. He began Scholasticate studies at Maryhurst and then enrolled at the University of Dayton, where he earned a bachelor of arts in science in 1943. He later earner a master of arts in education from Saint Louis University and professed final vows at Maryhurst on July 18, 1945.
Brother Heyer taught in St. Louis-area schools throughout most of his career, beginning at McBride High School in 1943. He continued on McBride’s faculty through 1949 before moving to De Andreis High School for the next three academic years. After taking the opportunity to make a second novitiate at Glencoe in 1952, Brother Heyer moved to San Antonio, teaching at Central Catholic for several years, where he also served as a speech coach. He then returned to McBride in St. Louis. At each of these stops, Brother Heyer taught classes in religion, mathematics, reading and science.
In 1958, he moved to St. Mary’s High School in St. Louis, where he served for more than 40 years. For most of this tenure, he focused on teaching biology in the classroom, along with designing and building several labs to support that course of instruction. When the time came in 1989 to dial back on his teaching career, Brother Heyer’s interest in biology took a practical turn and he devoted most of his energies toward groundskeeping and landscaping tasks. No mere hobbyist, Brother Heyer would continue in his outdoor role for the next 10 years at St. Mary’s before taking on a similar set of responsibilities at the Maryland Avenue Community in St. Louis from 1999-2010.
Kevin Hacker, former principal at St. Mary’s High School, grew to deeply admire the “no one left behind” attitude he saw manifested in Brother Heyer’s professional demeanor. “He was dedicated to our students and their academic pursuits,” Hacker said. “Daily, Brother Francis spent 60 to 90 minutes after school in his classroom working with young men who needed to make up missed labs, tests, or assignments. He generously gave of his time so that his students would be successful.” He also appreciated Brother Heyer’s late-blooming passion for tending to the green spaces around campus. “It was not unusual to see him mowing the lawns and pruning the shrubs well into the evening,” he recalled. “His labors provided a welcoming natural environment for the St. Mary’s community and our guests.”
Father Al McMenamy also noted the depth of Brother Heyer’s personality as providing a worthy contribution to community life. “He was certainly more of an introvert than an extrovert,” Father McMenamy said. “And yet, he never seemed to miss a beat when he was with a group of people. He was ‘right there,’ knowing what the conversation was about. He was perceptive of small things.” In addition, an enduringly helpful spirit was something that stood out about Brother Heyer. “In the later years of his life in community, even when his health was failing, he would find small chores to do around the house. He was quite generous,” Father McMenamy said.
This is a legacy perfectly in keeping with Brother Heyer’s personal philosophy, about which he once wrote: “In the consecrated life, whatever is not downright wicked is God’s work.” In an essay marking the 80th anniversary of his profession of vows, Brother Heyer declared, “Oh, what a life of blessings! What gifts God strewed in my Marianist path! For every quirk in my character, He gave me a way out; for every fault, He doled out mercy.”
Burial was in Maryhurst Cemetery in Kirkwood.