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Monday, December 8, 2008

Joe's Next Assignment

I lived and worked with Joe for a year. During that time we became very close. Then and since we have talked about many things. He once very earnestly said to me, "Mark, promise me you'll never let them name anything after me." I said that I'd do my best. But I expect it will be difficult. He was the president of Jesuit High School in Tampa for more than a decade, despite the fact that he wasn't really the school president "type." It took a lot out of him. Yet, he didn't let the job define him. He made it his own. He spent less time at fundraisers and with benefactors than most presidents, and in many ways acted as more of a spiritual leader (when he wasn't butting heads with people). He called himself "head of maintenance." And this wasn't as false a humility as some surely thought. Joe was forceful in his convictions, but always aware that he might need to ask forgiveness for being found to be wrong. And though he knew himself not to be the president type, he left a considerable legacy nonetheless, especially in his transformation of the school's physical plant and facilities. Maybe "head of maintenance" wasn't so far off the mark.

Joe and I sometimes spoke of our respective futures. I'm not sure Joe was always sure I would cut it as a priest. He thought, as others have, that I would also be a good husband and parent (I would remind him that the two were not necessarily mutually exclusive). And, as close as we were, my year of working with him was not without its tensions, and failures on my part. Yet, I could always be honest and frank with him in ways I couldn't be with others, and he never held my failures against me. As for Joe's future, he hoped the end of his tenure as president would come soon (it took another five years). And even then, in the ministry he was doing off campus, he was noticing the great consolation he received from accompanying several friends in their final days. He thought for his next assignment he might like to do something like that, working as a hospice chaplain or something along those lines. I looked forward to seeing him do that. I knew he would be great at it.

But then came the stroke toward the end of his tenure as president just 8 months ago, from which he'd been recovering ever since. When I last saw him he was complaining that he'd probably have to continue his rehabilitation through November, which he did. Then, just weeks ago he got away to make a return visit to Tampa. There he fell ill once again, and enjoyed the consolation of brother Jesuits being there for him in his final days, before moving on to his next assignment. Already, I am sure, he is praying for us all.