Thursday, May 28, 2009

Truman G. Madsen

As Mormonism goes, there are some names outside the general leadership that resonate profoundly, with such recognition as to be assured immortality within the ranks of the membership, names whispered in church, in homes, on street corners across the globe, with a certain reverence.

Truman Madsen's name was just such a name.

I was a far too young honors student at BYU when I found myself seated in his Philosophy of Religious Language seminar. I can still picture the classroom in vivid detail, somewhere in the Joseph F. Smith building, and where I sat, and even what he was wearing on the day he said he believed we'd all be likely naked in the Celestial Kingdom. It was one of those esoteric discussions that came seemingly out of nowhere, and of course, the first thing I did was notice how he was dressed.

No one grew up in Mormonism a stranger to Truman Madsen, the man and legend, a scholar and philosopher, teacher, early motivational speaker. To come to a point in my own life where I was actually studying at his feet--it might as well have been Aristotle by reputation, but I was something of a giggly skeptic, wondering why we were speculating on dress codes in the hereafter. I'd done the foundational Philosophy course under David Paulsen when barely seventeen, and later went on to study under several others, including Existentialism with James Faulcouner, as part of my journey through the liberal arts offerings at BYU, but Truman Madsen was the most unusual and memorable of all the faculty members with whom I studied philosophy.

Like many of the courses I took at the time, the subject matter came to be far more profound in my later life than I ever imagined then. For me, then, Religious Language seemed to be as foreign, and superfluous, as Polish. The Philosophy of it? I couldn't imagine any particular relevance in my own young life in a religious tradition that didn't seem to focus on liturgy or language.

I was sad to see, this morning, that the great legend that was Truman Madsen was stilled, when he lost his recent battle with cancer.

It calls to mind another personal story he shared with the class, that of a young student and his wife who went off to Harvard and were counseled not to postpone having a family. They had that family, when young, and some few years later his wife had an unexpected hysterectomy. It was a poignant tale. He clearly treasured that wife, and those children.

Funny those are the things I remember, when my mind wanders back to days on the green grass of Provo, in front of the Harold B. Lee Library, walking across the quad, to a class, sitting half awake in a semi-circular classroom watching a legend at the podium discuss religious language and the esoteric speculation of the active mind.

Truman G. Madsen.

Truman G. Madsen, grandson of early LDS Church president Heber J. Grant, was emeritus professor of Philosophy at Brigham Young University and held the Richard L. Evans Chair of Religious Studies at BYU. He completed his education at Harvard University and authored many volumes on religion and philosophy. During his tenure at BYU he was instrumental in bringing members of several non-LDS faiths to campus for interreligious dialogue. He had been director of the BYU Jerusalem Center for Near-Eastern Studies, and was guest lecturer at Haifa University, Northeastern University and the Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley. He was an individual of great stature, chiseled Charleton Heston good looks and sonic boom presence.

His influence is widely felt in the community that nurtured his faith, for countless have bought his popular books like "Eternal Man," listened to his audiotapes, attended his lectures, and will continue to hold his name in measured reverence in humble homes and hallowed halls.

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.

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.