Posted by: Peadar Ban | November 3, 2010

I Remember Him

The first time I saw him he had his back to me.  It was a fair summer morning in June.  The mid-summer heat had not begun to build.  We could still sleep comfortably with light cotton blankets; and that is what I had done the night before, slept comfortably.  I was in good humor, lighthearted as a young colt, and fresh entering the church.  Father Karl our pastor, may he rest in peace, was away, and another priest would be saying Mass.   I walked into the sacristy to serve the weekday Mass and there he was robing, putting on his alb.  “Good morning, Father,” I said.  “I’ll be your server this morning.”

From under the folds of the alb, falling over his shoulders, I heard a muffled, “Good morning.  What do you want me to do?”   He sounded in the same mood I was; his voice cheerful for all of its being forced through the material of the alb and his back to me.  “Well, to be honest,” I answered smiling slightly, ” I hoped you would know by now.  Do you have anything you want me to do?”  I felt, somehow, that he was a fellow who liked to play.

He had the alb on by then and was hunting through the closet for a stole and chasuble.  “What do you think I should wear?,”  he said, turning around, his whole face lit up by in a smile I came to know well over the next few years.  “Something green?” I ventured, confirmed in my first impression.  “Good choice,” he chuckled, picking out something green, which just happened to be what I thought was the least attractive, the oldest, of all the vestments there, pouring it over his head and paying only the slightest attention to whether or not the stole hung evenly.

Then he faced me fully.  “You just do what you normally do.  I’ll fit in around the edges,” he said in answer to my original question.  It told me a couple of things about him, that answer.  It told me that he took in a lot more than a person would think he might have taken in.  It told me also, and perhaps most endearingly and importantly, that he wore himself loosely as the saying goes.  You’ll have concluded the same, too, from his choice of vestment I suppose.  Another good priest I knew, Father Cornelius Goggin was like that.  He once referred to himself in that same sacristy on the morning he said his 10,000th Mass as just an “old slob of a priest.”

Father Andy mightn’t have used the same words, but he did never presume to stand on ceremony.
We met many times over the years after that, and I was never less than delighted to be in his company.  On one special occasion we were both at a particular function and he approached me as the food was about to be served.  “Save a place for me where you are sitting.  Some of these people I see too often and know too well.  I don’t want to tell them I’d rather not sit with them, so I’ll just plop down with you.,” he said in a low voice.  As I agreed and he began to walk away he suddenly turned around and said, “I forgot to ask you if you mind mind my joining you.  Maybe you do?”  I told him it would be just fine.  Then he gasped, his eyes widened, and he said, “Oh, I probably shouldn’t have said what I said.  These are all good people, here.  I hope…  Oh, well, they know me.”
He was never shy about stopping in the middle of celebrating Mass.  It was a quirk of his which endeared him to all.  He would stop and offer some comment, observe for us who were there with him, some insight, ask a question of those on the altar; never using a quiet “Roman” sub voce tone.  It would be as if you father turned in the garage while changing a tire and asked you to go and get him a wrench from the tool box.  Tools handed, he’d continue after a thank you with the work.  He wasn’t above telling everyone there in a moment like that two things.  He’d say something like, “That’s what we have altar boys for.”  And follow that up with a comment about himself needing them more than most priests.
One incident stands out in my mind.  It was Ash Wednesday at the evening Mass.  Mariellen and I were providing the music for Mass and she had chosen to chant the Agnus Dei.  We had begun to do that, and I saw Father stop his activity at the altar an look up toward us.  When we finished he spoke.  “Do you hear that?”  He asked.  “Do you hear that?  That’s Latin!  We need more of that.”  The sound of gently laughter could be heard.  Mariellen and I both smiled and Father continued as if nothing at all had happened.
I shall miss Father Andy, the gentle, bemused man, the lover of God, the enthusiastic preacher.  Heaven, oh, so rich in every way, will be even more-so when he finally comes home, and we on our way will have to do without the cheerful company of a delightful traveling companion.When he was young he undoubtedly heard these words I offer here in his memory and for his soul’s comfort:
“Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ei. Requiescat in pace. Amen
Anima mea eius, et animae omnium fidelium defunctorum, per misericordiam Dei, requiescant in pace. Amen.”I can hear Father Andy saying, as I heard him once say, “Do you hear that?  That’s Latin.  We need more of that!”

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Responses

  1. I remember his smile – always there.

  2. What a nice post. Makes me smile. Thanks, Peadar.

  3. Sweet essay.


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