Just before Christmas, my confessor and spiritual director, Father John, succumbed to pneumonia and took off for eternity. Our Bishop had anointed him and told him how much his more than 50 years of priesthood had meant to the people in our diocese--and far beyond that.
I knew him for more than 30 years, and first asked him to be my confessor after a World Wide Marriage Encounter training weekend. I had gone into it feeling depressed and bereft of our loving Marriage Encounter community in Northern California, which we had had to leave when my husband got a job elsewhere. I was convinced I could never find people as loving and giving as those we had said goodbye to just a few months earlier. I asked if I could go to Confession on that weekend, and I suspect he probably thought it would take maybe ten minutes at the most. Instead, I sat there crying for an hour, telling him my world was falling apart and I didn't know what to do about it. He listened quietly and patiently, and I have never experienced the loving, forgiving presence of Jesus as strongly as I did then. A few weeks later, I asked him if he would be my confessor, and he told me that's one of the things that priests do. He moved all around the diocese, and wherever he went, I would go see him about once a month, and always drove home knowing I had also encountered Jesus through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
He became very much a part of our family, coming out for dinner, enjoying the children--and if there was a small one, usually paying much more attention to them than to us! Our oldest granddaughter was about 4 when we got a St. Francis fountain and we asked him to bless it, and Jung-Sook talked for a long time about how Fr. John had blessed the "mountain!" Our daughter Catherine remembered how much he had loved the biscuits she made when he came for dinner. Once we were in a Marriage Encounter meeting and he shared how much he loved Bohemian food because his mother was Bohemian, and I asked what Bohemian food was. He told me it was spareribs and sauerkraut with potato dumplings. I never would have thought of that as a company dish, but the next time he came for dinner, I spent all day making spareribs and sauerkraut, and my husband made potato dumplings, although, as he told Fr. John, they spread out instead of making nice little round dumplings. Fr. John, with a smile, told us that his mother had frequently had the same problem. But he greatly enjoyed the dinner! He baptized one of our daughters and two grandsons, was the Confirmation sponsor of a different daughter, married four of them, and presided over my husband's funeral.
When we were coordinating an international convention for WWME, he was the priest member of our team, and it gave us two years to spend a lot of quality time with him. We went out to lunch with him every other week and brainstormed ideas for the Convention. When it was over, and we were gathered together in our "command center," our son was there with us, and while we were talking to someone else, he told us that Fr. John was telling jokes and laughing in a way that he'd never seen him before, because he was so thrilled that the Convention had been such a success.
The night before the Convention began, the three of us had gone up to sign the paperwork at the Convention Center. It had been a stressful two years of preparation, and we had no idea how the Convention would play out. We asked him where he'd like to go for dinner, and he said anywhere we could get a glass of wine. So we found a huge Mexican restaurant which had one side dedicated to noisy birthday parties, and the other side had a quieter ambience. He ordered his glass of wine while I looked at the extensive and colorful drink menu--in addition to margaritas in all varieties, they also had martinis of every hue, including one called the Ti-D-Bowl, made with blue curacao, and a 48 ounce martini called the "Adios, Amigo!" The menu did say that you were limited to only two!
I am so grateful for the presence of Fr. John in our lives, for the love he shared with everyone he met, and the couples and priests whose lives he enriched on every Marriage Encounter Weekend he gave. He died on my husband's birthday, and it was nice to think of the two of them (and many others) celebrating it together. Until we all meet again in heaven, Adios, Amigo!