During last night’s Confirmation Mass at the Cathedral, I shared with those to be confirmed news I received early Sunday morning. I learned of the death of a friend and former parishioner from my nine years as pastor at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in New Albany, Indiana. I shared this news with the young Confirmation class because I wanted to hold up Joe as an example for them.
Joe was one of my “go to guys” during my years as pastor at OLPH. Every pastor knows who those dependable people are in the parish when there is work to be done. Besides being a regular member of the setup and cleanup crew for just about any parish function, Joe was also on the building and grounds crew. Even when there were no scheduled maintenance items needing attention, he just took the initiative to repair, or straighten up anything he noticed that was not up to par.
Joe regularly practiced his faith, and also helped (with a fair amount of humorous, unsolicited commentary) with the heavy lifting associated with the liturgical seasons and environment of the church. He was a faithful husband and a good father.
I enjoyed working alongside Joe when there was outside work to be done, whether shoveling snow, running chain saws, clearing storm debris, spring and fall lawn work, planting trees, or mopping floors. He had a great sense of humor and was quite comfortable asking questions regarding his faith, and sharing his own opinions about the state of the parish or society as a whole.
Very often, in those side-by -side moments of sharing parish chores, a pastor comes to know his people quite well, and they to know him. These are the moments Pope Francis refers to as the pastor taking on the ‘smell of his sheep.’ I had the privilege of walking with Joe and his family as his own father died. I regret that I will not be present for the Joe’s funeral on Thursday, but I will be with the family and parish community in prayerful spirit.
Christ’s own life among us as the Son of God is a model for all Christians, that our life is also meant to be shared as a gift in service to God and to others. Whether Joe could have put that into a ‘theological statement’ or not, I do not know, but he certainly put it into action! Joe’s life was a life lived as ‘gift’ for others.
Rest in peace, good and faithful servant. Pray for those of us who remain, that we may serve the Lord and His Church with the same joy, generosity and fidelity of life!