The first child to be born to Erma Marie (Roth) and Leo Kearney Houlihan, Robert Francis, made his entrance to the outside world on September 4, 1922. He was baptized one week later, at Sacred Heart Church in Peoria. Three siblings followed, namely, Bill, Mary and this writer, Phyllis, (now Sister Roberta), each of whom was also baptized at Sacred Heart Church by the Franciscan Fathers.
Of the four Houlihan children, Bob was the only one who was gifted with naturally curly hair, to the chagrin of his two sisters. However, it didn’t stop them from re-telling the story that when, as a baby, Bob was seen with his mom and dad, people commented, “Isn’t SHE sweet?” He didn’t seem to mind being teased, (or at least he wouldn’t admit it!) Bob, the Good-Natured Child?
When some visitors had gone from the Houlihan home one afternoon, Bobbie, age two, was seen taking aside little Billy, age one, for a big brother explanation. He was heard to say, “Oou papa is oou dada!” Bob, the born Teacher?
Then there was the time when little Bobbie, eyeing his mother’s fringed lamp-shade, decided to cut some of the fringe. When asked why he did it, he stated, “It was too long!” Bob, the born Problem-Solver?
As Bob approached school age, the pastor of the newly formed St. Cecilia Parish, carne to visit. The family home was in St. Cecilia’s, and that is where the children would attend school. Bob and Bill became altar servers. One morning, on their way to serve the 7:00 a.m. Mass, Bob, looking for match-covers for his “collection”, discovered some round white objects on the ground. He recognized them as Hosts, thrown on the ground. Being almost certain that they were Consecrated, Bob stayed with the Precious Species while Bill went to get Father. They were right, as the church had been vandalized, the lock. Of the Tabernacle had been broken, and all contents taken. What a privilege the boys felt to be there to protect Our Lord. (The sacred Vessels were discovered in a trash can in Bradley Park later that day.) Bob, destined for Priesthood?
Then, in 1936, Bill contracted Scarlet Fever. He and Bob were in 7th and 8th grade respectively. Our home was quarantined for the month of February. That winter still holds the record for Peoria’s coldest ever! Dad and we girls moved three blocks from home to live with our Grandmother Roth. We could go to school, and Dad to work, while Bob was allowed to stay with Mom to keep the furnace going. He could also be with her to help care for Bill. He was pleased to be allowed to stay up at night to keep Mom company as they listened to “One Man’s Family”. Bob, the Protector?
At this time, Bob was one of the smallest in his class. But he had such a growth spurt after entering Spalding Institute for high school, that when his appendix was removed during his freshman year, the doctor said that he had to go through three inches of muscle to get to it. Bob, the born Athlete? (Not so, at least during high school. Bob’s body had grown so quickly that his heart needed a chance to catch up. He was not allowed to play competitive sports during high school, but the neighborhood games made up for it.)
Bob deserved to have his traditional Easter baskets hidden in the most remote places Gram could think of. The reason? Pranks were never beneath Bob’s dignity! When our Grandmother visited us, she often seemingly misplaced a glove, or some other article as she was preparing to leave. After letting her search for just the right amount of time, he would hold out the article and say, twinkle in his eye, “Is this what you’re looking for, Gram?” Bob, the born Humorist??
Bob always loved to win, whether in sports, card games or puzzle solving, and he was good at any game he played. Family games were fun. When Bob would win, with that twinkle in his eye, it seemed to be as it should be – he deserved to win! Bob, the Optimistic Winner?
Bob’s graduation from Spalding Institute coincided with mine from St. Cecilia Grade School in June, 1940. Bill and Mary were between us. (I’ve always thought of my brother Bob as a mathematician, and myself as a math teacher; he could have written the books from which I could teach.) As a part of his application for work with the Alliance Life Insurance Company in Peoria, Bob took an exam. As he waited in the office for the results, one of the officials came out, looked at him, and left. When he came back again, Bob asked if anything was wrong. The official said, ”Not exactly. You’re just too —- smart.” He got the job. Bob, the Born Mathematician?
The Alliance Life Insurance Company moved its offices to Chicago, taking Bob with them. Shortly after, in the early 40’s, Bob joined the Army Radar Division. He was sent to Canada to Radar School. One of his long-lasting friendships was with another Radar student, Mary Mulder (her married name). Mary wrote to Bob from Canada on a regular basis. When a letter from her arrived after Bob had died, Father Al Rotola responded, sending her the news. When Mary wrote to thank Fr. AI, she shared her “Bob Story”:
Mary was stationed in Canada when Bob was sent there for Radar training, around 1943. She noted his respect for all, and especially the women in the camp. She sent some snapshots taken on Mothers’ Day, in which each woman wore a rose which Bob had given them. (He was wearing one, too!) Their friendship had lasted through the years. Bob, the faithful friend! (This could be repeated for each story told by hundreds (not exaggerated) of his friends who have written to us.)
When Bob came home on furlough in 1945, just before the end of the war, he visited me, his younger sister, at Carondelet in St. Louis, at our Sisters of St. Joseph Novitiate. Our sister Mary said that he remarked to her that he would be the happiest man alive if he had a vocation!
When the war ended, Bob returned to Peoria, and, taking advantage of the GI. Bill, he applied to the University of Notre Dame and to St. Louis University. He was accepted to both. He told Mom and Dad that he’d like to choose SLU because they could visit both of us in St. Louis, but that he really wanted to go to a CATHOLIC university. Dad enjoyed assuring him that SLU is a Catholic university! That settled his choice. He became a freshman at SLU in fall of 1946.
Bob and three other students boarded with Ruth Hyatt on McPhearson Street, not far from the University. Ruth had no church affiliation, and she swore “like a trooper”, but she had a deep love for these young men, especially for Bob, whom she always called “Robert”. Back to her later.
Because of his radar experience, his work-study brought him to the Sacred Heart Radio program, under the direction of Father Eugene Murphy. Bob later told us that it was Father Murphy who asked him if he had ever considered becoming a priest. Bob admitted that he had thought about it. Fr. Murphy: “Are you waiting for the Holy Spirit’s tap on the shoulder?” Bob: “Something like that.” Father told him that three things were needed: a sound mind, a healthy body and the desire to go. Bob loved challenges. His response: “With those odds, WHY NOT?” This was his approach to anything he considered.
As a Novice, I was unable to leave our Motherhouse, but could receive mail. I remember Bob’s letter to me during second semester, just before I made my first profession in March He wrote, “I’m bending over backwards towards the Jesuits!” What a wonderful bit of news! He entered St. Stanislaus Seminary in Florissant, MO on August 8, 1947. I had not yet made Final Vows, but my first mission was in St. Louis, so I was allowed to go with my family to visit him. We had wonderful times at Florissant, getting acquainted with his fellow Jesuits and hearing ”tales” about him. It was rumored that when the Novices wanted to get to go somewhere, they asked Bob to request the permission. He usually received a “yes”,
During their Novitiate, one of the Jesuit’s favorite place to go was “Charbonier”, a sort of campout. Bob always liked to cook (when he didn’t have to do the dishes!). We were told that his Batter-fried Chicken” was a favorite. We have a picture of him with cook’s hat, apron and all.
From the Novitiate, the next step was study as a scholastic at SLD. During this time, he and his friends kept in touch with Ruth Hyatt. She wanted to meet “Robert’s Sister- sister”, and promised him that, if he would bring me to her home for a visit, she’d not say “one bad word”. She kept her promise, and we had a delightful visit, Mom and Dad included. Within the next couple of years, Ruth contracted cancer. “Her boys” visited her at Deaconess Hospital. One day a protestant minister asked her, referring to the “no religion” marked on her chart, why those seminarians visited her. She told him it was none of his —- business! Shortly after, when two of the Jesuit Scholastics were with her, realizing that she was dying, one asked her if she would like to be baptized. She said, “Only if Robert can do it.” This was immediately relayed to their superior, who said, “This is an emergency if there ever was one!” He sent Bob, who had the privilege of baptizing Ruth. Her request was that no one in her family was to know. (I prayed at her closed casket in the mortuary, unknown to her family!)
The scholasticate at SLU was followed by a teaching assignment for most of his companions. However, since Bob’s was a “delayed” vocation, he skipped these three years of “Regency”. There was further study at SLU during this time, before he went to St. Mary’s in Kansas to prepare for his ordination. There isn’t much to relate about those days. As the time came near, we were invited to St. Mary’s.
There are three days set aside for two Minor Orders and the Ordination itself; I had the privilege of being present for all three days, (with a companion, since we traveled by plane). One of our good friends, Sister Kathleen Vincent (Pat) Leonard, came with me. The other family members came only for the Ordination on June 19, 1957. Those ceremonies, and receiving my brother Bob’s first blessing as “Father Bob” is a thrill I will never forget.
We all returned to Peoria to celebrate Father Bob’s First Solemn Mass the following day, Sunday, at St. Cecilia Church. With Father Bob for his First Mass was Father William O’Connor, pastor of St. Cecilia Parish. Also with him were Bob’s very good friends, Fr. Jim Short, SJ, Fr. Eugene (Tom) Howe, OSB, and Fr. Jim Campbell, (now Monsignor Campbell). The latter had been ordained for the Peoria Diocese the week before, and assisted Fr. Bob as he vested in the Sacristy before Mass. This is another of our not-to-be-forgotten events.
Fr. Bob had a year of Tertianship in 58-59, before his assignment to be the Minister of the Scholastics at Fusz Memorial in St. Louis. The St. Louis Jesuits cut their first album at this time. Also, I was assigned first to Green Bay at St. Joseph’s Academy and then to Denver at Machebeuf High School. During the latter two years, Bob and I had our correspondence by mail (no e-mail as yet!). We wrote from ”the Match Box to the Fuse Box”.
In 1964, we were once again near one another, as I was assigned to Rosati-Kain High School, just eight blocks from St. Louis University and Fusz Memorial. The Liturgies at Fusz Memorial were well known, and many, including our Sisters, were drawn to worship there whenever we could, mostly on weekends. Because Communion in the Hand was assumed to be acceptable, the Liturgies at Fusz Memorial allowed it, until the Archbishop sent out a letter stating that no one was to receive in the hand until he officially announced its acceptance by the Church. Immediately, Fr. Bob relayed this message to us, his congregation. We would await the announcement by the Archbishop. Father Bob, God’s Obedient Priest!
A year later, in 1965, Fr. Bob was assigned to Regis College (now Regis University) as Academic Dean. There he made many friends among the students and their families. Bob believed in giving each student the opportunity to prove himself
One story: Fr. Bob admitted a borderline student into the freshman class on probation. This young man not only became an honor student, but was also elected class president as a senior. His parents thought Fr. Bob could do no wrong! At the end of three years as Academic Dean, Fr. Bob knew the students so well that he was asked to be Dean of Students when Fr. Tom Finucane became too ill to continue in that capacity. Fr. Bob remained there another four years, before he was assigned as Pastor of College Church.
Much could be said of Fr. Bob’s years – nine in all- at College Church. It would, in itself, fill a book of “Fr. Bob” stories. One story follows. He was aware of the beautiful Liturgies that had been a part of Fusz Memorial during his years as Minister of the Scholastics. The Archbishop had requested that his people worship in their own parishes, and Fusz Memorial was not a parish. Fr. Bob initiated a ten-thirty Sunday Mass at his parish, College Church, that was patterned after the eleven 0′ clock Mass offered at Fusz Memorial. This Liturgy remained after Bob left in 1982. (In fact, it is the same Liturgy he was happy to be taken to by his former parishioners each Sunday, in his wheelchair, when he came to reside at Fusz Pavilion some 16 years later, in 1999.)
“FOR ALL THAT HAS BEEN, THANKS! FOR ALL THAT WILL BE, YES!”
This was Fr. Bob’s theme when, in 1982, after nine years as pastor of College Church, he was given a year’s Sabbatical- a Pilgrimage to Rome – that afforded him much spiritual strength. It included another thirty-day retreat, similar to the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises the Novices had made when first entering. The difference was, first, the years of spiritual growth in-between, and second, being present in the very places that St. Ignatius had been. Walking in the footsteps of St. Ignatius had a powerful effect on his life. I know, because it was right after his Sabbatical that Fr. Bob was assigned to Colorado, in 1983, to be the Superior and Director of Sacred Heart Jesuit Retreat House. This was the beginning of my retreats with him in Sedalia during the summers. There were ten such summers that followed, during which Fr. Bob and I shared much at the Retreat House and again on Home Visits.
Along with his assignment as Superior of the Jesuits and Director of the Retreat House, he was asked by his Provincial to initiate the building of an addition to the retreat house that would provide a separate wing for the Jesuits’ bedroom and dining areas. This he did, but his activities, and those of his fellow Jesuits and staff members extended far beyond the retreat house. When the bishop of Colorado Springs, Bishop Richard Hanifen, established a new parish, Pax Christi, at Highlands Ranch, he obtained the assistance of the Jesuits to supply the priestly leadership, as the parish had no assigned pastor. Father Bob had become Chaplain of the KofC Highlands Ranch Council # 10937; many of its members were in Pax Christi parish. These men, their families and other young parishioners worked side by side with the Jesuits, to build a thriving parish.
Fr. Bob continued to be very involved with the Knights of Columbus and their families. Sister Rita and I have made some very lasting friendships as we shared with them after our summer retreats. In 1994, The Knights named him Chaplain of the Year for the KofC of Denver Diocese, and two years later, he was named Chaplain of the Year for the Knights of Columbus in the State of Colorado.
In the early 1990’s, because of a spinal condition, and after consulting three medical doctors, including our cousin, Cathy Knight’s husband, Dr. Jon Knight from Cleveland, Ohio, Fr. Bob was found to be in need of surgery. At Denver Hospital, two Harrington Rods were inserted in his spine, a twelve-hour operation by two surgeons. The rods had to be bent to fit his spine. During the surgery and following it, Fr. Vince Hovley, SJ, stayed with Bob, keeping in touch with my sister or me by phone. This was a great consolation!
Returning to the retreat house, and as he was recuperating, he phoned both Mary and me regularly. As he was in the habit of doing, he called each of us to wish us a Happy Mothers Day, saying he was doing great (his typical attitude!) He told us that he was walking around with only the aid of the furniture. This was just five days before he had a severe stroke, in May. He was flown to Denver Hospital by helicopter. In the next several months, with much patience and determination, Bob re-learned simple additions and subtractions. The first phone call he made on his own to me in Peoria, the conversation went like this: Fr. Bob: “This will amaze you, Honey.” Me: “What will amaze me, Bob?” … “I have lost all my math.” … “You mean Numbers?” … “For example, I have here five coins: a quarter, a dime and three pennies. Now, I have figured out that that is thirty-eight cents.” He said it with determination and with pride that he had conquered that much. As soon as I could gather some articles, I mailed a “care box” to Bob. It held such things as a baby stapler, a Simple Number-Counting Book, left- and right-handed coffee mugs to use as his hands became stronger, etc. He later told me that the best item in the box was the tiny stapler, as he was able to use it as part of his therapy.
He continued to work hard and long, and he regained much, but not all, of his former mobility. When he was driving on his own again, Fr. Bob joined a group in Colorado called “Stroke Victors”, becoming an example to those who were learning to cope with the limitations of their strokes. During one summer, Sister Rita Dooley and I went with him to one of his meetings, before our retreat began. Yes, he continued to direct retreats, working with Sister Eleanor Sheehan on many weekends. He remained active as the Chaplain of the KofC, and continued taking his turn on weekends for Sacred Liturgies at Pax Christi Parish.
1997 was a three-fold Jubilee Year for Bob. He celebrated his 75th Birthday (September 4, 1922), his 50th year as a Jesuit (August 8, 1947) and his 40th year as a priest (June 19, 1957). In order to celebrate with his group in St. Louis, with his family and friends, in Peoria and with his Colorado group, he put off having knee surgery. When he came to Peoria, he was using a cane to support the troublesome knee. All three celebrations were memorable. His joy was shared by all. In mid-August, when Bob returned to the retreat house, his doctor discovered a heart problem while examining him for the knee surgery. This had to be taken care of first. Thus, he had triple bypass surgery! This went well, and the knee surgery was put off until the following July of 1998. Because of this, Bob didn’t direct the usual summer retreats. Sister Rita and I made retreat in Sedalia, and I was directed by Fr. Jim Costello, who “directed” me to call Bob at the hospital each night of the retreat! That fall, as he put it, he wasn’t bouncing back as he usually did. When it was noted that his color was jaundiced, he returned to the hospital This resulted in gall bladder surgery. Even then, he returned to his former activities with great enthusiasm, if not full strength.
In November of 1998, he was on his way to a water aerobics session when, at the gate of the Retreat House, his car was struck by a pick-up truck. He was taken to Littleton Hospital, checked over, and released. Fr. Bob must have suffered much that night, as his injuries went undetected by those who examined him. When the Jesuit Fathers noted his condition in the morning, Bob was transported to Denver Hospital; he had two crushed vertebrae and a spinal injury at the base of his neck. He was placed in a steel neck brace and prepared for surgery to replace two vertebrae. A second surgery had to be performed, for which the doctor entered Bob’s back from the side. During all of this, there was never a complaint. As he spent several weeks at University Hospital in Denver, my sister, Mary, and I tried to get flights to see him during the Christmas vacation. None were available. Then came a call from Tom Harding, one of our Knights of Columbus, Highlands Ranch Council members, offering to get a ticket for me. From Denver, he was able to get a flight. Because of his efforts, and the generosity of the Colorado KofC, I was flown to Denver on December 19th. Each day for two weeks, I was taken to the hospital after morning Mass, and then picked up in the late afternoon, spending the evenings, first with Tom and Patty Harding, then with Ron and Deanne Gerber. I was privileged to feed my brother, do small things for him, and encourage him as the therapists taught him to feed himself. As he went through his therapy there was always a smile for anything done for him, and a “Thank you” on his lips. “We” wrote our Christmas letters, with his verbal comments included as I wrote. We prayed quietly, as he wasn’t able to do a lot of talking or praying aloud. We were just together, and at peace.
While I was with Fr. Bob, the psychiatrist came in to see him. I went across the hall to the waiting area. When the Doctor came out, he asked me if I had a few minutes. (To myself, I said, Doctor, I have all the time in the world!”) We sat down, and he asked me if I thought my brother was depressed. I was surprised at the question. I described Bob’s whole philosophy by quoting his favorites: “Whatever will be will be,” and “For all that has been, Thanks; for all that will be, Yes.” He said he thought the same, but the nurses were concerned, because, in their experience, NO ONE had ever returned a “Thank you” when getting a shot, or any other procedure that had to be done to them. The Doctor was satisfied, and decided not to give him an antidepressant as the nurses had suggested.
The snow was all melted when I left Denver for Peoria on January 1, 1999. (Arriving at O’Hare Airport, I learned that the planes were grounded because of the severe snowing conditions, but that’s another story!).
My sister Mary and her husband Gordon were able to get a flight to see Bob after I returned to school on January 3rd. They stayed with Marie and Ted Severe, very good friends, and had a good visit with Bob at the hospital.
Sometime after Mary and Gordon returned to Peoria, Bob was moved to Cherrelyn Center in Littleton, CO, where he received care until sometime in May, ’99, when he was flown, electric wheelchair and all, to St. Louis, to Fusz Pavilion, third floor of Jesuit Hall The electric wheelchair was “a gift and a God-send” from the KofC in Colorado.
After moving to St. Louis, Fr. Bob made a valiant effort to remain active through letters and phone calls; with the help of tapes, he dictated some articles for the Kof C publication, Knightly News and the College Church Bulletin.
In Colorado, at Pax Christi Parish, a pastor, Fr. Ken, was finally appointed. He became the new Chaplain for the Highlands Ranch Council, as Fr. Bob was unable to continue in that capacity. “HE DID WHAT HE COULD WHILE HE COULD.”
An honor bestowed on Father Bob by the Highlands Ranch Council of the Knights of Columbus was initiated in 1996, when the members decided to petition for a name change. Although it couldn’t take effect during his life-time, they asked that the Council be re-named the Robert F. Houlihan, S.J. Council This petition was approved, and his beloved Knights of Columbus Council now bears his name.
As said above, the wheelchair that Fr. Bob used after his car accident was electric and a gift from the K ofC’s at Highlands Ranch in Colorado. When Fr. Bob was taken across Lindell Blvd. from Fusz Pavilion to St. Francis Xavier College Church each Sunday, his former parishioners used a regular wheelchair. He was wheeled down the ramp, up the elevator and to the altar where he concelebrated the 10:30 a.m. Mass. This was such a delight for him. He was very much aware that it was through his efforts that the beautiful Sunday liturgy was moved from Fusz Memorial on West Pine Blvd to St. Frandis Xavier (College) Church, when the Cardinal had objected to the use of the private chapel for a Sunday Mass of Obligation.
During these last few years when he needed to move from his retreat work at Sacred Heart Jesuit Retreat House in Denver to Fusz Pavilion in St. Louis, cards/messages came from friends whose lives he had touched. He was able to answer many of them, even though it was difficult for him to write. The ones he was not able to respond to, and the many that have come since his death, have been answered by us, his sisters, by Father Louis McCabe and the Jesuits and staff of Sacred Heart Jesuit Retreat House, and by Father Al Rotola, his superior at Fusz Pavilion.
There have been so many beautiful tributes to Father Bob written by friends and relatives. Sharing the “Bob-stories” is one way of healing the pain of loss felt by those who knew him. For Father Bob, to know him is to love him. At this writing, I am gathering excerpts that could be used for a “Father Bob Stories” book. A few examples follow. It remains to be seen whether or not more get to the printed page.
Looking back, our visits with Father Bob and his Fusz Pavilion family were a joy for us. The 11:15 a.m. Masses in the third floor Chapel with Bob and his Jesuit companions were most inspiring, as was the 10:30 a.m. Sunday Mass at St. Francis Xavier (College) Church. We observed the give and take of Community living among the Jesuits, how lovingly they cared for one another! The staff, too, showed loving concern for the needs of each one. Many other Jesuits, who work or reside on the other floors of Jesuit Hall, became familiar to us, and we to them. What a wonderful place to spend one’s final months on earth! Fr. Bob was ready to meet his Risen Christ.
The following are quotes from four of our relatives who emailed from Michigan and Colorado during February. There are many more that are still in our hearts. They, too will find their way to the printed page, God Willing.
“I hold the best memories of being in Uncle Bob’s company, especially the Eucharistic sharings we had at home at Mom & Dad’s house & the time I spent at Fusz (Memorial). Every time we sing one of the Jesuit songs at our parish that I heard in the dorm halls being sung by the very seminarians that wrote them, it takes me right back to life with Fr. Bob & the love, peace & understanding that emanated from him.” David Merdian (nephew from Michigan).
“It seems that our biggest angel has joined with the good company he so richly deserves. I am sad not to have been able to say goodbye and so very glad that you all were with him in his last days on earth. Surely, we now have a special ear to God for our prayers. Thank you so very much for all your efforts at keeping the family circle of love. He will always be my mentor, my guide and my dearest pal. He was there for me from my childhood, through the wild and crazy times of my college days. And he gave me the most profound and kindest guidance through my darkest hours of fear and pain. I will miss him terribly .. .I can only imaging the great loss you much feel. You two were such soul mates in God’s love and you shared that love so easily and graciously with us all … ”
Donna Castrigano Hinds (cousin from Colorado).
“Fr. Bob has been a life-long mentor for me. I hear his words in my heart and know how much he is loved. He has touched many lives, and all are praying for his return to health and release from pain. Thank you for your thoughts that truly describe Father Bob’s loving treatment of all whose lives he has touched. To know him is to love him! Jon and I both noticed how caring the Jesuits at the infirmary are toward each other. They all try to help each other out.” Kathy Castrigano Knight (cousin from Ohio).
“Fr. Bob was my teacher, mentor, counselor and friend. He will always be a part of me. I have so many treasured memories of our times together. His faith and kindness were his life’s principles, always trusting in the goodness of God. Today at Most Precious Blood we prayed for Fr. Bob as many parishes around Denver did. He was so loved, and will be remembered by many thousands for his precious gifts. May the Lord bless Fr. Bob and his angels guide him home. Peggy Castrigano Connolly (cousin from Colorado).
EXCERPTS from letters Received as friends responded to our family:
(From Burlington, VT): “I suspect we have never met, but I was a devotee of your brother long years ago, and I am hoping you will be able to provide me with a ‘holy card’ of his death – with a photo? I would add his picture to my private rogues’ gallery where, almost daily, I am reminded of the spiritual world whither they have all gone and to which I hear faint calls myself. “I saw your brother at Vince O’Flagerty’s funeral, and I think it was he who put me up at the retreat house in Denver overnight. Funny, ‘Houlie’ and I have not had really 5 minutes of communication since our early days in the Society. Yet I retain a strong fondness for him, and was sorry to hear of his death.. .I add my affectionate thoughts of our deceased brother to your own and that of countless others. God bless him! And may He bless us all!”
(From St. Louis): “At Fr. Bob’s Wake, I noticed a gift of flowers that I think might have amused him. My guess would be that the florist was asked to write ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’ But instead the card said ‘Welcome, good and faithful servant.’ It is not hard to imagine Jesus greeting Fr. Bob that way.”
(From St. Louis): “I have such fond memories of Bob from our days at St. Anthony’s.
What a wonderful, fun-loving man … a saintly man!”
(From Chicago): “It is lonelier here without him, but he deserves to enjoy happiness in God. And I’m sure he’ll intercede for all of us. Bob served as my spiritual director in the ’70’s when he was at College Church, and he has been a friend ever since. He had a gift for liking people, for affirming people. He was such a positive force in my life, a wonderful “older brother.” He showed me how God loves. That was an immense gift that he had. It’s great that he is now completely wrapped in God’s love himself, but we miss his channeling of that love on earth … ”
(From CO): “Every time I have to ‘struggle to get up and to walk, I think of Fr. Bob and his magical gifts from God … and I keep going. He is the only person I know who could have the staff fall in love with him while he is semi-conscious.
“This journey seems to become more treacherous and difficult. Only Fr. Bob could guide us all along with him, somehow sharing his pain, but only in the most kind way and in the sweetest moments. He is so clearly a beautiful gift and such a generous spirit.” (From IL ):”You are walking the crucifixion with Bob. When someone so kind and loving as Fr. Bob is hurting badly, he really needs this help. I hope the doctors are taking great care of this true treasure of a man.”
(From St. Louis): “During the social hour before dinner, while visiting Fusz Pavilion, I watched Bob with his own limited use of his hands, feed Fr. Daryl Cornish whose hands are completely useless.”
(From IL): “God was and IS with him, and he with God!”
(From St. Louis): “I am glad that he is now at peace. We will miss him terribly.”
(From NY): “He has served his God with such faithfulness. I know he will now help us all to try to imitate his beautiful life.”
(From CO): “I know it was a comfort for him that you and Mary were there to send
him onward with love. What a blessing he was in my life. Now we have our own Saint
Bob to intercede for us. If there are favorites in heaven, Bob in the inner circle … my heart is heavy, but 1 am glad that he is free from pain and in the presence of his favorite
subject, the Risen Jesus.”
(From St. Louis): “Many of us already miss his presence here. Over the last several days a number of friends, some who were very close to him and others who knew him less well but nevertheless had grace-filled encounters with him. Have shared with me, and with each other, their fond remembrances. 1 imagine there will be many stories people will share on Thursday. So we miss him, but we are so grateful to have known him, and so grateful for God’s goodness”.
(From CO): “Bob now sees the Face of God! What a loss to so many of us, but we can be happy for him.”
(From IL): “Bob will now pull us up to heights we’ve never before known.”
(From NY): “Thank you soooo much. You Houlihans are incredible for thoughtfulness. You and Bob are so alike, and I’m sure, Mary, too. I’m so glad he lives on in you, both is name and spirit. As many of Bob’s friends would try to tell you, no reply is necessary to all notes and cards. Yet, it would be so typical of Bob to answer each and everyone, no matter how long it took. 1 delight in knowing it is perpetual Easter for him now.”
(From Japan): “Fr. Bob was an outstanding priest, a tireless worker, and a great friend to all who knew him. Even though we can be glad that he is out of pain and not burdened with medical troubles any longer, we will all miss his optimism and his devoted service to the Lord.
“I first knew your brother when 1 was a junior scholastic at Florissant, MO, and he taught me calculus during the ’61-’62 school year. He was my superior at Fusz when 1 began philosophy studies the following year and has remained a bright spot in my memories of the Jesuit course of studies. He was an excellent administrator, a fine superior, and a trustworthy friend to all. He went on to other apostolates after leaving Fusz in 1964; 1 was transferred to the Japan Province, where 1 was ordained in 1972 and left the Society in 1974.
“I can recall meeting him only one time after he left Fusz in 1964. That was in 1977, when my wife and our then-young baby and 1 were visiting my uncle Linus Thro in Jesuit Hall at St. Louis U. Fr. Bob happened to drop by, and we had a most pleasant chat as he told me that he had blessed the weddings of two of my ex-Jesuit classmates. He was the same then that he had always been, kind and always happy to help others … our prayers to the Lord are in thanksgiving for this wonderful priest and the life he led.”
(The above is the tip of the iceberg. There are over 200 letters and cards, many of which
have stories … someday … maybe when 1 retire?)
Final Thoughts and Prelude
Today is Friday, February 22, 2002. It was just one year ago today – yes, one – since Mary, Gordon and I drove back to St. Louis on that Thursday, February 22, 2001 morning. We had received Father Al Rotola’s call late into the night that the end for Bob’s earthly life was near. Much of the story has been told.
What has not yet been put into words is that after the final pronouncement by Bob’s doctor, he told us that the pancreatic cancer had been there for about two years, undetected. Its beginning was possibly right at the time Bob had his gallbladder surgery in fall of 1998. This would have been before his accident in November of that year that placed him in a wheelchair, and necessitated his move to St. Louis a few months later.
It was all according to God’s Will. There were many persons who witnessed his life at Fusz Pavilion, in Denver Hospital, at Cherrelyn Nursing Center in Littleton, and the many other places where he had been assigned, who have shared with us their admiration for him. In the preceding pages, I’ve tried to provide only a small glimpse of our brother Bob, especially for those who did not know him in his earlier years.
PRELUDE to Father Bob’s MEMORY BOOK: From the articles written about Fr. Bob, and pictures taken over the years, we’ve put together a three-ringed binder in memory of Father Bob. A friend has offered to print it. We hope this can be done during the summer of2002. We place it in the care of Our Risen Christ. What will happen will happen.
Sister Roberta Houlihan, C.S.1.
with my Sister and Brother-in-Law: Mary and 1. Gordon Merdian
(Note: the Memory Book is in the care of KofC Council 10937).