In Memoriam: Guy Patrick (1935-2021)

Guy (far left) posing with new homeowners in his capacity as director of Habitat for Humanity in Madison County, KY

I lost my best friend today. Guy Patrick died around 11:00 this morning, a couple of weeks after we celebrated his 85th birthday. For years, he had predicted his death “this Easter.” And then when it didn’t happen, he’d laugh and say, “I guess I’ve been given another year.”

I had known Guy for more than 40 years. Also former priest, he had a kindred monk’s spirit and was wonderful example of the deepest unshakable (though critical) faith. It let him settle for a date near Christmas rather than Easter.

I first met Guy (I forget exactly when) in the late 1970s. He was “in transition” as they say – exploring his exit from the priesthood and an anticipated move to Berea Kentucky. There, his future wife, Peggy Anibaldi (a former religious sister) had just secured employment as a head resident at Berea College where I ended up teaching all those years.

Earlier, Peggy had looked me up having got my name from the bulletin of CORPUS, a Catholic organization of ex-clergy and religious whose mission was to help members find employment and community.

I remember Guy’s Peggy visiting my Peggy and me in our home in Buffalo Holler 5 miles outside the Berea city limits. No sooner was Ms. Anibaldi inside our doors, it seemed, than my Peggy was on the phone to Ruth Butwell (the director of Berea’s residence halls) telling her of this wonderful woman who would make the perfect head resident. Ruth hired Peggy, it seemed, almost on the spot. (My Peggy is very persuasive!)  

In any case, when Guy finally joined his Peggy in Berea, we hit it off immediately. And there in my office on the 4th floor of the Draper Building, began a conversation that lasted through Guy’s final days. It was always the same: some about politics, yes, but mostly about God, philosophy, theology, church, life and death. Always the same. Always delightful. Usually over double Manhattans and popcorn. Sometimes quite animated. Never dull. I loved Guy.

And what was there not to love? He was a wise accomplished man. As he described it, his career path could be roughly divided into 10-year segments. It took him, he said:

  • From Catholic school and setting bowling pins as a kid in PA
  • To the seminary and ordination
  • To securing a degree in theology at DC’s Catholic University
  • To teaching in his diocesan seminary and later in an associated high school
  • To working as a youth minister (with Sister Anibaldi) at Mercyhurst College in Erie, PA
  • To serving as a Berea College head resident and later as a factotum at Emmaus House, an intergenerational home for the elderly which Guy’s Peggy directed as part of Fr. Ralph Beiting’s Christian Appalachian Project
  • To assuming his role as the truly legendary director of Habitat for Humanity in Madison County, Kentucky
  • To retiree status in which he continued to work for Habitat and (always with Peggy) to animate our local St. Clare’s Catholic Church until he (along with other progressive Catholics) surrendered in the face of restorationist pastors rejecting the spirit of the Second Vatican Council

Through it all, Guy retained a wonderful self-deprecatory sense of humor. A laugh or a joking remark was never far from his lips. Some of his more memorable sayings included:

  • “As my dad used to say in similar circumstances, ‘Meh. . .’”
  • “Well, we all have to be somewhere.”
  • “Organize? Hell, I couldn’t organize a two-car funeral.”
  • “They say I’m a pessimist, but I’m really an optimist. A pessimist says things couldn’t get worse. I always say, ‘Oh yes they could!’”
  • “In marrying Peggy, I was just following the advice of Martin Luther. He said ‘Every man should marry a nun.’ And that’s what I did. Never regretted it. Luther was right.”
  • “In fact, (again quoting my dad) here’s the way I’d summarize my life, ‘I loved every minute of it!'”
  • “For that reason, I like what Woody Allen had to say about death: ‘It’s not that I’m afraid of dying. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.’”

Woody Allen notwithstanding, Guy was indeed fully there when it happened. That became evident in meetings of “The Manhattan Club,” a men’s group in which 7 of us Berea types participated for years. At our meetings we each usually drank 2 Manhattans – as well as “cheating on our wives” (as guy put it) by eating non-vegetarian snacks. The conversations were always quite lively.

[And speaking of cheating on our wives. . . Guy and I loved to have our own men’s night out at Richmond’s “Golden Corral Steakhouse.” There we’d select steak, ribs, chops and roast beef from the buffet — not to mention mashed potatoes, gravy and rich dessert samples. Then we’d waddle across the street and bowl a few lines at the alley that always evoked stories about his boyhood days setting pins. (Guy was a good bowler and quite the competitor.) We’d finish at the bowling alley bar for a nightcap.]

But towards the end, our evening Manhattan Club gatherings switched to mornings with coffee. And week by week, we witnessed Guy’s health decline. Nevertheless, he always had reflections to share as well as gallows humor about his approaching end. To the very last he was reading Plato, Thomas Merton, and the postmodernist, Jacques Derrida. Guy went out puzzling over Derrida’s reflections on “the gift of death.”

And at our final Manhattan Club meeting with him, guess what Guy talked about? He was full of recollections of his 6 months spent in Americus GA with the great Millard Fuller, the founder of Habitat for Humanity. He expressed his intention to make one more appeal to his friends to contribute generously to the organization in his memory.

His final sentiments were characteristically prayerful. “After all of this,” he said, “my only prayer is ‘Oh God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’ Along with that, it’s just ‘Thank you.'”

That’s the kind of Guy he was.

A Blessing for Guy Patrick

Just before he left us, our men’s Manhattan Club met via Zoom to say a formal farewell to Guy. I was asked to give a final blessing. As we all extended our hands, this is what I prayed:

 I give this blessing
 In the spirit of the conversations
 All of us have shared
 Over the years
 When we debated questions of life, meaning
 God, and destiny.
 Those were intellectual,
 Head-centered conversations
 Full of laughter and joy.
 We absolutely loved them!
  
 At this important moment however,
 Let’s set all of that aside
 And enter the depths of our hearts.
 Let’s embrace the wisdom of sages
 Who throughout the millennia
 (Along with Guy)
 Have insisted
 That what awaits us all
 Beyond the threshold humans call “death”
 Is the fulfillment of everything
 That any of us can hope for or desire.
  
 Please enter that realm with me now.
 (Pause)
  
 Guy, we bless you
 At this transcendent moment.
 We send you with all our hopes
 On your way –
 Onto the path that all of us must trod.
 We send you into the realm
 Of all the wise people who have ever lived –
 Of angelic beings and light beings
 The realm of our Father-Mother God.
  
 Please know that
 You take with you
 Everything positive, holy,
 Constructive and good -- 
 Every holy thought, word and act
 That has ever crossed your mind,
 Your lips and your heart.
 (There are so many of them
 That you yourself
 Have blessed us with.)
  
 Go in joy, confidence, assurance
 And peace
 Knowing that we are with you in spirit.
 Ours is one of gratitude
 For the blessed life you have lived
 For the lives you have changed
 For the students you have inspired
 For the homes you have constructed
 For the love you have shared
 With Peggy, Gina, Anna, their babies
 With the rest of us
 And so many, many more.
  
 You have especially blessed this group of men
 Who now return the favor.
 You are our brother, our friend, our companion,
 And our inspiring conversation partner.
 You have been our priest, dear Guy
 You have always been that
 And will remain so
 Forever.
  
 (Dare I say it?)
 Yes, I will:
 Behold the Great Priest
 Who in his days pleased God!
 “Ecce sacerdos magnus 
 Qui in diebus suis placuit deo”.
  
 Thank you so much
 For all of that,
 For your wonderful life
 And for showing us
 So marvelously
 How to die.
  
 Go in peace, dear beloved brother.

My Move to Appalachia (Personal Reflections, Part III)

bereacover

There were, of course, many reasons (intellectual, spiritual, and personal) for my exit from the priesthood. I’ve already explained them here, and here, herehere, and here.

While I was deciding all of that, my request for a year of discernment brought me to Kentucky and the Christian Appalachian Project (CAP) where I mentored young volunteers from all over the States. The job entailed living with the legendary activist priest Monsignor Ralph Beiting. It exposed me not only to his direct influence, but to Appalachia, one of the poorest areas in the U.S. There my education about my own country continued.

After a year with CAP, my exit-decision was made. I resigned from the priesthood and took a job as a cutter in a Dayton, Ohio factory that made protective clothing for fire fighters. Meanwhile I sent out resumes in search of a job in post-secondary teaching, which I felt was my real vocation.

Several months later I landed a job teaching at Berea College in Kentucky. And there (to tell the truth) my own education took a quantum leap. Berea College, it turned out, was a school with a radical history. It had been founded by abolitionists before the Civil War. It was Christian but non-denominational. Berea was committed to racial equality and social justice. I became one of its first Catholic professors.

My first year at Berea found me teaching a required freshman course called “Issues and Values.” I scrambled to learn our curriculum: black history, women’s liberation, Appalachian culture (so resistant to the mainstream), world religions, and the dawning environmental crisis. There in the 1970s we were reading and teaching the Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth, and books like E.F. Schumacher’s Small Is Beautiful, Huston Smith’s The Religions of Man, and Frances Moore Lappe’s Food First. Those books were extremely prescient. They accurately predicted the climate chaos and resulting social unrest we are experiencing today. I find those books even more relevant to the contemporary world than they were then.

More importantly for my development, I took on at Berea another required course. This one was for sophomores – “Religious and Historical Perspectives,” a two-semester offering in the history of ideas.  It was a Great Books course dealing almost exclusively in primary sources. It took students from biblical times through the Greeks and Romans, the medieval period, renaissance, reformation, scientific revolution, enlightenment, industrial revolution, and ended up with Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison, and Harvey Cox’s The Secular City.  Students (and I!) were reading directly authors like Plato, Aristotle, Dante, Luther, Galileo, Newton, Marx, Darwin, and Freud. Faculty development had our interdisciplinary team of professors doing summer seminars over several years. Together we took month-long courses from specialists in the scientific revolution, Dante, Darwin, Marx and apocalyptic literature. At that point in my life it all seemed like a capstone course in my own process. Much more however was to come.

More importantly still, at Berea I met my beautiful bride. Ten years younger than me, Peggy also arrived at Berea in 1974. Two years later we were married. I was 36 then.

The two of us were strongly influenced by the environmental movement.  We imagined ourselves as real “back to nature” couple. For $8000, we bought an unfinished house in an Appalachian holler, finished it with our own hands and started raising a family.  Eventually we had three children, Maggie (’79), Brendan (’82), and Patrick (‘86). As citified outsiders, we lived in that holler learning lots from our Appalachian neighbors (all of them kin to one another). Our neighbor next-door taught me about things that had to that point escaped my education: roofing, car repair, plumbing, and about soldering pipes periodically ruptured by freezing winter temperatures. I watched him and his wife build a home next to ours. They made it completely from lumber salvaged from another house they had helped tear down in Berea. For all their problems, Jimmy Lee and Letty were smarter than many of us over-educated college professors.