Homily at the Mass of Christian Burial for John A. Dowdle
April 26, 2004 – Sts. Faith Hope & Charity Church / Winnetka
My friends: we gather with the Dowdle family this morning because we believe so strongly in the sacredness of the gift of life. Suddenly the truth that death is also a fact of life grabs us so forcefully as we celebrate John Dowdle's living and dying and rising with Jesus Christ. As we bring John to God this morning, we offer to you, Julie -- as well as to your children and grandchildren and extended family – our sympathy and prayers. We promise to walk with you all long into the future.
We often hear that the stories and experiences of our lives are really tales of God's handiwork. Certainly the buzz at the wake yesterday generated countless personal and family adventures with this special man of family and faith. For a few minutes this morning, I would like to connect some of these stories to the readings we have heard.
Dinner-time in the Dowdle home has always been a great adventure...how could it be otherwise with 11 children plus other guests and hangers-on who would find their way to the table. Dowdle dinners begin with a grace that has a special ending. It goes: "May those who hunger have bread; and may we who have bread hunger always for your justice and peace." These words embody just one of the lessons John & Julie passed along to their family – lessons like those Paul speaks about in our first reading. These lessons speak volumes about John's openness, his presence, his kindness and commitment to all those he met in any given day – family and friends, clients at E.F. Hutton, those he prayed with in Church and traveled with on the train, the milk man, the paper boy, people of stature around the city or within the Church, common people like Willy, a street person John came to know at Willy's favorite begging spot just outside Northwestern station. No matter what race or religion, politics or background, John always gave you a warm welcome. As Sheila said: "If you walked into the room, Dad put down what he was doing to listen to you. He always had time." Kathy & Julie added: "He would listen to you with his fingers going. Then, when you finished, he would put his hands down and give you his best reaction, insight, and advice." Only God knows how many thousands of people John helped in ways modest or substantial. Think of yesterday's buzz at the wake and imagine the mighty army who stood at St. Peter's gate to welcome John home.
I was a green scholastic at Loyola Academy when Fr. Jim Arimond invited me to come with him for dinner at the Dowdle home after a Rambler football game. After a delicious meal we were sharing conversation in the family room when all of a sudden I fell asleep on the couch. No matter to John – he calmly suggested it was time for all of us to get back to homework and a good night's sleep before the challenges of the new week.
A few years later, as young administrators, both Jim Arimond and I profited so much from John Dowdle's wisdom and good common sense. No matter what the challenge; no matter how knotty the problem, John could always find a fresh strategy, a new perspective, a creative alternative to pursue. I know this is the experience of so many who came to John's office at E.F. Hutton or his 2nd floor hideaway at 1012 Romona to pour over some challenge of business or church, school or family relationship. John was always his own man, always free. Out of that freedom he became an insightful leader, a thoughtful and loyal mentor. In addition to his outreach to so many lay people, John was an incredibly loyal co-worker to so many priests and Catholic institutions. Because of this expertise – among many other similar honors – John served as the first lay Board chair at Loyola Academy. He did so at a critical time for Loyola’s health and stability.
I invite all of us present today to recall similar experiences of your own relationship with John. These adventures represent what the first reading describes as "all that is lovable and gracious, excellent and admirable." They certainly mark John's inner strength, his loving kindness, and his wry sense of humor.
In this connection, I speak especially to the 33 of you who are John & Julie's grandchildren: find some quality from your Grandpa's life that means something special to you. Work on that quality; let it grow and shine bright in your own daily living. After all, isn't it through the gifts that others share with us along life's road that God shows us how to let the commitment of faith take root and grow strong in our hearts?
This brings us to the words of this morning's gospel: Jesus says: "have faith in God and faith in me...I am indeed going to prepare a place for you...I am the way and the truth and the life." It didn't take very long before one realized that these words were deep-felt realities that anchored John Dowdle's daily living. His daily rituals of prayer fueled his openness to others, his generosity of spirit, his humor and hope. So what would happen in each of our lives if you and I really lived these words. What difference would it make in our attitudes and actions if we really let Jesus be for us the way and the truth and the life? What if we were able to hand over our plans and schemes with honest faith in God, letting Jesus be our best companion and mentor and friend? How would our lives be better? How would our relationships come alive? What minor miracles would take place in our homes and in our world because of such commitment and belief?
This leads me to observe that John's commitment and belief were so wonderfully grounded in his relationship with his wife Julie. They have been and will certainly continue to be an amazing team. And these past years, through her loving care, Julie gave so many extra innings to John's life.
Two final experiences for us to pray over: a day or so before Cardinal Bernardin died, Julie & John were invited to the Cardinal's residence on North State Parkway. When they got to the Cardinal's bedroom, John asked if he could pray aloud. Then he got down on his knees and began softly to say the rosary. Since he didn't have his beads with him, he counted the Hail Marys on his fingers. Soon, from other rooms, Cardinal Mahoney and other bishops, along with the policeman on duty and other guests came into the room and joined the prayer. It seemed like more than coincidence last night that Cardinal George came to pay his respects. As John had led prayers for Cardinal Bernardin, here was Cardinal George leading all of us in prayer for John.
Last Wednesday evening all the Dowdle children who were in town -- along with their spouses and their Mom and Fr. Jim Arimond -- gathered for pizza in and around John's hospital room in the Hospice of the North Shore at Evanston Hospital. Rick described the energy and humor of the evening as reminiscent of family dinners at 1012. A bit later Fr. Arimond led all those present in celebrating the Eucharist...John's final Mass here in this life.
We gather this morning in a similar way, continuing to celebrate the hope and peace and
joy that are ours through the dying and rising of Jesus. And we believe in faith that John
gathers with us from his place in the communion of saints. For John now – in an amazing
way that we also can look forward to – the Risen Jesus truly is his way, his truth, and his life.
For all of us, joined this morning in Eucharist --"May those who hunger have bread; and may we who share the Bread of Life this morning hunger always for God's justice and peace."
-- Larry Reuter, S.J.