Thursday, July 27, 2017

Fr. Paul Desch, OFM. A Great Blessing for the World. 1929-2017.

Fr. Paul Desch, OFM

This past Tuesday, July 25, 2017, we attended the wake and funeral for Fr. Paul Desch, a Franciscan friar, the great uncle of my son-in-law Brian Homan, and the priest who presided at my daughter Emily's wedding to Brian. The funeral and wake were held at beautiful St. Clement's Church, in the Cincinnati inner-ring suburb of St. Bernard. This is the town where my father-in-law Art Sanders grew up. I think he attended both St. Clement's School for grade school and nearby Roger Bacon High School.
St. Clement, as seen from Vine Street

At Fr. Paul's funeral, St. Clement Church

The wake lasted but an hour and was held in the gathering space of the Church. The place was packed with friars, relatives, and friends, and many people spoke of how Fr. Paul affected their lives. Three special people there were his sister Mary Desch Sowar, and his two brothers. I thought how much they would miss their brother, whom they had known for over 80 years, through umpteen family baptisms, weddings, and funerals where he presided. Not to mention the letters, phone calls, and face-to-face conversations they had with him over 8 decades. The same would be true for his beloved Franciscan brothers, his second family. He had been a Franciscan since 1947, 70 years. The homily at the funeral was given by his dear friend, Fr. Paul Walsman, OFM, who first met Paul as a Freshman in the seminary (when Paul was a Junior). The homily was beautiful. Not exactly eloquent, but human, fun, and deeply touching. Father even sang--something Fr. Paul Desch often did, at mass and during homilies. I imagined how pleased Francis of Assisi would have been with these two priests.

Fr. Paul was actually named Thomas at birth (born in Fresno, California) and didn't receive his religious name, Paul, until he joined the Franciscans. His family had moved from Coldwater, Ohio, a heavily German-Catholic area of west-central Ohio, with the goal of curing his father's tuberculosis. After a few years, they moved back to the Coldwater area.

Thomas/Paul was an outstanding athlete and student in high school at St. Francis Seminary. After this high school seminary (a practice that I don't think is done anymore--high school seminary), Paul attended Duns Scotus College in Southfield, Michigan, where he made his solemn vows in 1951. After college Paul studied at Holy Family Theologate and was ordained a priest on June 8, 1956. So he was a priest for 60+ years.

Paul had many different jobs in his career, from college professor, to campus minister, to parish priest and pastor. I just missed meeting him many times--at St. Francis Church in Over-the Rhine (Cincinnati), and at the St. George Newman Center, adjacent to the University of Cincinnati. I attended St. George and knew two of the priests there, Fr. Joe Rigali, OFM, and Fr. Harry Meyer, a priest of the Diocese of Cincinnati. Fr. Harry presided at Linda and my wedding on May 5, 1978. Little did I know that Fr. Paul Desch was a campus minister there right at that time.

My daughter Emily met Fr. Paul before I did at functions involving the Desch, Sowar, and Homan families. I met him for the first time at Emily and Brian's wedding rehearsal. And then the next day at the wedding and reception. Fr. Paul's homily at their wedding was unforgettable. His sermon was sweet, and personal, and filled with song. He sang, from the pulpit, the German folksong "Du, du, liegst mir im Herzen." This was so appropriate because Em and Brian met in Salzburg, Austria in a German-language study abroad semester. The words of the song say something like, "you, you, lie in my heart; you, you, stay in my mind . . .you don't know how good I am to/for you." Brian and Emily were, and are, good for each other. Fr. Paul captured it. No one will ever forget that homily.
Emily, Fr. Paul, Brian Homan

The funeral mass was full of song ("Amazing Grace," "Sing a New Song," "How Can I Keep from Singing," "I Am the Bread of Life"). Everyone in church sang (and the church was full!). The songs were beautiful and helped send Fr. Paul on his way toward union with God and union with those whose lives he touched. Two were in Latin, and I especially loved them. One was "Ultima," a traditional Franciscan hymn--about the day our lives end and the day we are led into heaven. The other was "Salve Regina," a prayer I said every day of my growing up years as the "Hail Holy Queen." I felt deeply the beauty of the Church and its rituals and traditions.

Fr. Paul is gone. We are both deeply sad--and deeply grateful for his life. What do we do now? Somehow, we have to take on aspects of his life and spirit . . . and sing them out in our own lives.

Eternal rest grant unto Paul, O Lord.

And perpetual light shine upon him!


Joris said...

I was there, alongside my brother Father Bert, who was a couple of years behind Father Paul. We were all touched by the ceremony, and the involvement of the congregation in the homily--thanking Father Paul for what he had meant to various groups.

View from the North Coast said...

Yes indeed, it was a fine homily and we who knew Fr. Paul appreciated being included in the ceremony!