Friday, May 8, 2009

Robert and Patricia Cronin

I'll never forget the first time I met Bob and Pat Cronin, one cold November evening in Chicago at a Victorian mansion that had been transformed into an elegant restaurant. I was newly engaged, and they were long-time friends of my fiancé. As I made my entrance in a slightly abbreviated blue velvet dress that can only be described as bridging the gap between royal, navy and cobalt, they might have been dismissive, but they were gracious, warm and engaging, setting the tone for many convivial times together that followed.

In fact, in my entire life I never met any two people more gracious, refined, or elegant in their simplicity and warmth.

I can still hear Bob Cronin's laugh. Irish. A hearty and well founded chuckle, that arose from a place of knowing, the kind that mellows in dusty libraries rimmed with leather and crystal glasses filled with Irish whiskey.

Bob had attended college with my husband Larry at St. Mary's College in Winona, Minnesota. A fellow Chicago native, their fathers had gone to De La Salle Institute at the same time, then a Catholic preparatory high school for young men only. While Bob never attended De La Salle himself, he later served as President of their Board of Directors. It was a particularly easy choice for many Lasallians to follow the trail blazed by the Christian Brothers from Chicago to Winona and complete their education at St. Mary's. After graduation, Bob went on to study law and returned to Chicago, where he practiced initially as part of the firm Isham, Lincoln & Beale before going to Sidley & Austin in 1988.

It was his work with Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of Chicago for which he is best known. He became a member of their board of advisors in 1958 and served as president from 1984-86. In 2001 he was awarded their Compassion in Action award for his work finding homes for the 'Peter Pan' children from Cuba and reuniting them with their families. He donated his legal services free of charge to Catholic Charities for over fifty years, participating in many adoption cases.

It was in Chicago's Catholic Charities that Bob met his bride, Patricia, after many years as a confirmed bachelor happily trotting the globe with fellow classmate James Casella. Bob and Jim both did the Hope and Crosby road-to-wherever tour for years before finally meeting the women of their dreams in Pat and Eleanor, both working at Catholic Charities, when Bob was nearly forty.

Patricia Cronin is well known in Chicago and beyond in her own right. A respected social scientist, Pat Cronin is renowned for creating texts and curricula in Catholic education, and for her studies on adolescent behavior particularly. More fascinating, however, is another high profile role she played on the American stage. When Joseph Cardinal Bernardin was presiding over the Archdiocese of Chicago, he created a groundbreaking oversight committee for investigating claims of sexual abuse in the clergy. Patricia Cronin served as chair of that committee for over nine years until her retirement from that position a few years ago. Ironically, it was that same committee Cardinal Bernardin created and Pat Cronin headed that was in place to oversee and investigate when claims were brought against Cardinal Bernardin himself.

Prior to the death of Cardinal Bernardin in the mid-1990's, I joined Bob and Pat Cronin and four other couples, including good friends Gene and Peggy Figliulo, several Decembers in a row as the Cardinal hosted the Catholic Charities Ball in grand Chicago venues like the Field Museum and Navy Pier. We'd snuggle amid the dinosaur skeletons and towering columns, dancing to grand orchestras by candlelight as the winter wind whipped outside.

Dinner in the company of Bob and Pat was never dull. As couples we took turns hosting dinners in places like the Four Seasons or the Drake, as eight of us assembled to enjoy good food, good drink, and good conversation on topics ranging from the Bell Curve to Louis Farrakhan. Occasionally it was just the four of us, and we'd trek out in the Chicago bluster to dinner and back to their home just up from the Drake Hotel on Walton Street, laughing all along the way.

They were lovely. There were as lovely as they had been when they came to our wedding. Patricia proclaimed it to be the most beautiful wedding she'd ever seen. I knew she meant every word. She was a forthright and fast friend.

Bob was elegant, and refined, knowledgable, personable, gracious, the perfect gentleman. He was, and always will be, an Irishman in the heart of Chicago, a servant of the people, who helped many. I never saw the Irish wolfhounds he walked for years on the Chicago sidewalks, but they were legend, and I could picture him out there, in trenchcoat, clutching one hand onto his Irish cap, walking a dog bigger than life.

Over the last several years, the place I most often saw Bob was at the Club International at the Drake, where he and Pat hosted us for dinner on many occasions. In recent years he had suffered the ravages of squamous cell carcinoma which had taken part of his face as well as an eye, but he never relinquished his optimism or his dignity. He continued to work long past retirement doing pro bono services, walked or took the bus to his office daily for many years, and regularly went to mass at the Cathedral or St. Peter's.

As we were hurrying to his hospital bedside in late October 2008, Robert Edmund Cronin finally succumbed to the disease he had so bravely fought for years, and was laid to rest a few days later following a suitable, and very Irish, mass at Holy Name Cathedral. In his lifetime he'd touched countless parents and children, friends and neighbors, students and teachers, and many lives are irretrievably altered by his presence, including my own. He set the bar as high as one can set it.

Robert Edmund Cronin. Patricia Cronin.

John Baptist de la Salle
Live Jesus in our hearts

Photograph of the Club International, Drake Hotel on Michigan Avenue in Chicago, where Bob and Pat Cronin graciously hosted many memorable meals.

1 comment:

LilPecan said...

A lovely and moving tribute. Thank you for introducing Robert & Patricia Cronin to us.