US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Book Review: Great American Catholic Eulogies

By Catherine O'Connell-Cahill | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare
Compiled by Carol DeChant
(ACTA, 2011)

Like any good eulogy, this book focuses not only on death, but on life. Carol DeChant gathers 50 eulogies that mark the passing of Catholics in America, in which “we get real glimpses of life’s meaning and our own,” says the undertaker poet Thomas Lynch in the worth-the-price-of-the-book foreword.

DeChant sets the scene for each entry by introducing the eulogized and eulogizer. There are fewer “usual suspects” than you might expect and an abundance of surprising figures: Mary Surratt, rushed to a dubious execution for conspiracy to assassinate Abraham Lincoln; novelist Walker Percy by historian Shelby Foote; Maria Shriver on Tim Russert; and Sister Mary Ignatia, the “angel of Alcoholics Anonymous,” by AA co-founder “Bill W.” We hear Msgr. Ken Velo’s stirring eulogy for Cardinal Joseph Bernardin and Father Dan Mayall’s words for beloved Chicago Cubs third baseman and announcer Ron Santo.

Men and women in public life remembered here run the gamut from William F. Buckley to Daniel Patrick Moynihan. And “the happiest man on earth,” New York Fire Department Chaplain Father Mychal Judge, O.F.M., killed on 9/11, is remembered by a fellow Franciscan: “It is his hope and belief in the goodness of all people that speaks, not my despair.”

A few sleepers to delight the reader: Luis R. Gamez’ remembrance of Holy Cross priest and beloved Notre Dame chaplain Robert F. Griffin makes me wish Griffin were still here to pen more of his honest, unpredictable articles and to shepherd the lost sheep among the South Bend collegians. Dorothy Day eulogizes Maurice O’Connell, who lived at the Catholic Worker’s Pennsylvania farm for almost a decade. “The truth was,” says Day, “no one could work with him long, because of his violent and irascible disposition.”

The dozens of examples here fulfill one of the book’s underlying purposes: to make you wonder what people will be saying about you when you’re gone.