Friday, May 1, 2009

Michael J. Lynch

As priests go, Michael was fairly unconventional.

Even before I moved to our community in northern Wisconsin, I'd heard about this Catholic priest, chaplain of the local hospital who caused something of a stir when he played the role of Professor Harold Hill in a community theater production of "The Music Man," which necessitated a kiss with the actress playing Marian. The Librarian.

Michael was filled with life. As a houseguest or travelling companion, he was gracious and entertaining. Many years he came on the mid-January wind to our home in Florida on his annual scuba diving excursion, arriving dapper and tanned, flowers in hand, the perfect houseguest. We'd whisk off to dinners, or the theater, or both, and he'd delight in being incognito in street clothing, no one the wiser that he was anything other than a bon vivant. He'd charm waitresses with his personable manner, greeting them by name, savoring every course. I recall well the night I asked him whether he'd prefer to go to the finest restaurant on Sanibel Island or see a live theatrical production of Funny Girl; without hesitation, his response was "Both!" even though the venues were over 45 minutes apart. And so we went.

That was Michael.

I travelled with him and his brother, also a priest, to Ireland, along with a group of thirty or so pilgrims, and he was equally enmeshed in the living of life on those journeys. Whether we were in Dublin or Galway, the Giant's Causeway or the Cliffs of Moher, he was there, conducting the band. When our ragtag group found itself at the Old Bushmills Distillery in County Antrim, Michael and I snuck off to do some sampling, sans group, finding a way to successfully bypass the regular tour in order to do so.

He didn't want to miss anything. Anything.

As a host he was equally gracious. He opened his home on the lake many times a year, particularly during the summer months, to those who'd travelled with him, those who'd volunteered at the hospital under his direction, and those who'd become his close personal friends. The table was always well spread, the larder full, and the pontoon boat docked and ready for excursions on the lake. More than once we went with him on his "last cruise of the season" before putting that beloved boat away.

On a few occasions, we joined Michael and his family for holiday dinners, beautiful tables, great conversation, happy memories, that would always include his brother Denny, a priest in a neighboring community a half-hour south. Dennis was the contemplative, serious one, a foil for Michael's flamboyance, but we loved them equally, as well as Sister Sandy, a long-time friend who was always part of that extended family.

My memories will never lose the late afternoon we were in Galway looking for an older Irish priest, Tom Mannion, whom Michael and Denny had known in Wisconsin. As a youth, Tom had been very ill and told he couldn't be a priest, but ended up being taken under the wing of an American bishop and given a place and a parish, where he served happily in rural western Wisconsin for many years. Not long before our visit, he had retired and returned to the west of Ireland to live out his years with his nephew and family. He made annual pilgrimages to the Shrine of Our Lady of Knock nearby to give thanks to Our Lady for what he unfailingly proclaimed was her intercession in his illness and miraculous healing, allowing him to survive more than seven decades to be the strong and vigorous white-haired late septugenarian he was, once the kindly priest, now the kindly uncle, always laughing, bright eyed.

We were walking the streets of Galway that Irish afternoon wondering how we'd find Father Mannion, as Michael and Denny were invited to dinner at his nephew's, and oddly enough had made no arrangements for connecting with him except to "meet at the Cathedral later in the day." Vague enough. But there we were, crossing the street, my husband and I, Michael and Dennis, and were almost hit by a black Mercedes. . .driven by Father Mannion's nephew, and carrying the man himself. In a moment of characteristic spontaneity they invited us to join them, and quite literally, I rode sitting on the laps of Michael and Dennis those many miles through County Galway to the lovely modest home of the Mannions for a beautiful kitchen meal, salmon, potatoes, and I don't remember what else, nicely done by the nephew's wife while children were told to stay in their rooms, as Tom Mannion regaled us with tales of his youth in Ireland, and of his devotion to Our Lady of Knock.

It was a charming, magical evening. Crunched into a little Mercedes built only comfortably for four with a load of six, me atop two priests, brought no end of giggles. It was only because I knew both Lynch brothers so well that it was managed with grace and ease.

Michael was long the chaplain of the local hospital, and for many years I volunteered under his direction, visiting the sick and ministering to them, something I treasured. Occasionally we'd go to the mass he held at the tiny chapel there, just down the hill from our home, sitting in a small circle of chairs, and meet perhaps a lonely family member who was there because their loved one was dying of cancer, or had been in a tragic car accident. More than once we needed Michael in that hospital, when a loved one of ours was sick, or dying. He was always there with dignity and ministerial intercession, performing the rites of the sick, a calm and healing presence.

Many years earlier, my husband accompanied the Fathers Lynch to Egypt and the Holy Land, during which time he was making a prayerful journey to contemplate marriage. I received daily long-distance calls from Cairo, Jerusalem, Rome, wherever they were, while he was sharing board with the two priests. Seven months later we were all standing at an altar, where Michael and Dennis were two of the four priests happily concelebrating our marriage. It was a glorious occasion, with the entire group who travelled to Egypt and the Holy Land in attendance, and Michael's charming elderly father, a last minute addition to the celebration.

Michael J. Lynch.

I have many treasured memories of Michael, sitting up late into the evening in bathrobes and talking, with glasses of wine, and chocolates, or working together at the hospital, travelling across Ireland, sharing in a meal, Eucharistic or otherwise, but none more painful than hearing three years ago this month that he'd died tragically at home after falling down a flight of stairs, and had been alone there some time before anyone found him. A mutual friend called from Wisconsin to tell me the difficult news, and we both understood the weight of it, a young man in his early sixties, full of life, gone. I recalled the last time I had spoken to him, a month or so earlier, to tell him of the likewise tragic death of our parish priest who'd been killed in a central Wisconsin car accident upon returning home from the La Crosse funeral of our former bishop, John J. Paul. Michael took the news badly. It was a difficult conversation.

Father Michael J. Lynch, a son of Galway, minister to the sick, friend to many, was best known in his lifetime as a leading advocate for organ donation, a cause he championed. In 1999 he was given the National Gift of Sight Award by the Eye Bank Association of America for his efforts in ensuring that lives lost were not lives gone.

Photograph: interior of the Cathedral of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven and St. Nicholas, commonly known as Galway Cathedral, Galway, Ireland.


The Rev. Michael J. Lynch

RIB MOUNTAIN, Wis. — The Rev. Michael J. Lynch, 61, of Rib Mountain, longtime hospital chaplain in Wausau, Wis., died Tuesday, May 16, 2006, after an accidental fall at home.

Father Michael was born Feb. 27, 1945, the son of the late Edward and Irene (Knapik) Lynch. He was ordained in 1971 for the Diocese of La Crosse, and except for an initial three-year parish ministry assignment in La Crosse, he served the church in Wausau for 28 years.

Father Michael’s greatest legacy will be the untold number of people to whom he ministered to as a hospital chaplain. His was a leading voice and presence in the development of hospice care and organ and tissue donation locally, statewide and nationally. But his pastoral care is best remembered and treasured by the countless numbers of patients and their families who were touched by his comforting presence. Because of a visit, a prayer, an anointing, an embrace or a story from him, pain was lessened and the future more hope-filled. Father Michael certainly was not able to remember all to whom he ministered, they will remember him with gratitude.

His family, Mary Lu (James) Flynn, Middleton, Ohio; Thomas (Reni) Lynch, Oshkosh, Wis.; Father Dennis Lynch, Stevens Point, Wis.; John (Katie) Lynch, Milwaukee; and Ann Lynch, Seattle; 10 nieces and nephews and their families, are all deeply saddened by his death and will deeply miss his wonderful spirit of hospitality and loving presence. Over the years, his home was the meeting place for family gatherings. Indeed, his home was always available to provide a welcome to both friend and stranger.

The funeral Mass will be at noon Wednesday, May 24, at St. Anne’s Catholic Church, Wausau. Visitation will be from 9 a.m. to the time of Mass at the church. Those who can are invited to join Father Michael’s family at St. Anne’s Parish for prayer, storytelling and nourishment, all essential components of hospitality. For those who cannot join the family Wednesday, please join them in prayer from wherever you may be. Burial will at a later date with immediate family.

In keeping with Father Michael’s ministry, the family asks that memorials be given directly to any of the following: Organ Donation Education Fund of Wisconsin; Hospice Ministry; Guest House, Rochester, Minn.; or HIV-AIDS Ministry of Catholic Charities.

Hayden-Buettgen Funeral Home, Schofield, Wis., assisted the family with arrangements.


Snowbrush said...

I am very sorry for the death of Father Michael, and I was warmed by your memories of him. God bless.

RiKMeistr said...

In the push and shove of a busy, self-seeking world, it's easy to lose track of what's really important. In these times, we have an abundance of self-proclaimed experts, leaders and celebrities, all scrambling for the spotlight; yet, give nothing back to society. Father Michael's life as chronicled by the efforts of Ms. Riordan remembrance of him,gives us pause to what it is that gives our lives true meaning; that of selfless giving of oneself in the name of humanity. In this biographical sketch of Father Michael's life, we are again reminded of the gentle art of living unselfishly through God's Grace.

Jim & gail m okrasinski said...

Kathy, Thank you for sharing your beautiful memories of a beautiful person who obviously left the world a better place. I too was fortunate to have known Michael. We skied in MI, CO and Utah and attended Las Vegas shows by Wayne Newton and Liberache which I treasure and wouldn't have done prior to his suggestion. He loved others without condition and was loved and admired in return. God bless you for your good works also. In peace, okiesails

Anonymous said...

I started this search because I had heard Dennis had died, and had no idea his younger brother had passed away. I was two years behind Dennis in Highschool and a year ahead of Michael. Their father worked at G Heilmen Brewrery in Lacrosse..A son of galway?

kathy riordan said...

I'm hoping your information is incorrect. It would sadden me greatly if Father Dennis is also gone.

Son of Galway is figurative, of course. By way of La Crosse.