The first time I met Father Pat – blue jeaned, work booted, brown robed, mop haired Father Pat – I was probably around 12. I was at a retreat at the Salesian Center in Goshen. In he came, guitar in hand, and sat on the floor (or at least that is how I recollect it) and sang with/to us. Having been blessed with a beautiful relationship with God from an early age, I was not one inclined to feel resistant to talk of faith or spend time in church. Still, though, I suspect most of us would have preferred spending our Saturday elsewhere. But there was something about this man that held our attention. Something in his demeanor, his casual way about him that made you feel he might not be so far from the sometime rebelliousness of youth as we could be wont to judge of those in religious leadership…and other adults. We seemed to collectively know he was different. He was…kind of cool.
He was not free from our adolescent wondering, though, and the question loomed if he kept his bangs so long to hide a scar on his forehead and, if so, was it caused by a ghost in the Salesian Center tower?
I couldn’t imagine then, and still can’t comprehend, 25 years later, that this man would counsel me after two divorces.
He became the priest at St. Paul’s after my first marriage ended. Weighted heavy with a sense of failure and loss, he helped me navigate the path to renewal in the church and in myself. Never, for a moment, did I ever feel a hesitance on his part.
He cheered on my endeavors as the director of the Youth Ministry Program, speaking to the church with enthusiasm about my hopes and about the successes of the youth involved. He visited me in the hospital after I had surgery in 1999.
When I remarried in 2002, he reached out to nurture my marriage. We had our wedding in the south, since my groom would be moving to New York, so he held a blessing of our marriage during mass. He welcomed that man into the community with love and encouragement.
He offered support when my mom was diagnosed with Cancer in 2004.
When it was time, after almost 10 years, for me to step down as youth minister, to have a family, he made clear I knew that he was moved by what I had done with the program.
He laid his hand on Ephraim, to pray over him, in the days surrounding his diagnosis of brain damage. He told me and others how special my son was and how he had greatness ahead for him. The bond to be was laid in that touch and in those words.
Kira joined our family and he made sure to always acknowledge both the new baby in my arms, and the precious older brother, looking up at him with a mix of joy and slight trepidation.
Fr. Pat was loud, vocal, and quick to speak his mind. Thus, even his sometimes tentative approaches to greet my children were not always quickly welcomed. One day they might embrace him, another stand a bit behind me and wave. He took both greetings in stride. Big smile, twinkling eyes.
Each year, during the holidays, he would keep the picture card I had sent him of the kids on the altar, so they could be there with him.
In 2009, Ephraim 4 ½ and Kira 2, their dad moved out. It had been coming. My pain was substantial. In Fr. Pat’s office, I once again found a place of refuge to seek hope in the darkness, as he reminded me of the boundless love God has for me and human frailty. He was not without emotion in the situation, and his tears were clear, for the kids and for me, as he spoke to me. Each of those visits to his office helped to solidify for me that my journey was very much going to be okay.
I think my children sensed that, as their closeness to him grew. They sought him for hugs. They called out loud to him to say, “Hello.”
Ephraim and Kira wanted to wear their work boots and jeans to church. Who could argue with that?
Frequently, a drive by the church would warrant a wave to the building, “Hi Father Pat,” even if he might not be there. Ephraim would repeat the words he said about God. He was not alone.
More than once, I found myself sharing with someone or contemplating on myself, the powerful ways that he would connect scripture to our daily lives.
In 2011, Fr. Pat lifted the Eucharist, “This is my body, given up for you.” From the pews, a tiny voice, in wonder and awe, “For me?” Kira asked. He smiled. That moment was cherished by Fr. Pat and at his Christmas sermon that year he referenced her question as a reminder of what we can learn from the faith of children.
In March 2012, he invited me out to John’s Harvest Inn for dinner and entertainment with a group of people he would go with. They had an extra ticket, and he thought I would enjoy it. He bought me a drink, smiled at my “Diet Coke” and talked to me about a guy that had moved back in the area. He nodded at me when “Better Days Ahead” was performed. Ah, Fr. Pat….
Last year, the news that he would be going to Our Lady of Mount Carmel was tough to hear. Ephraim and Kira’s dad was moving down south and the double –shot of him moving and Fr. Pat leaving was tricky to maneuver. Though we would see him, at concerts and visits to Mt. Carmel, it wasn’t the same. Both Ephraim and Kira love Fr. Sean and, in time, adjusted to the change, as we all adjust to change.
They were elated to see Fr. Pat at the Gregory Norbert concert on September 13. He looked vibrant, energized.
On October 5, at mass the night before Fr. Pat passed away, Ephraim said to me, “Mommy, I really miss Fr. Pat.” There was a tremble in his voice. “I love him. He is my favorite.…Fr. Sean is my favorite too. I just really miss Fr. Pat.”
“I know,” I said. “I know you love them both. We can visit Fr. Pat, ok?”
He never responded. He looked ahead, over the altar, at risen Jesus on the cross.