March nineteenth is the feast day for everyone named Joe.

Tuesday, 3/19/13

Back when we all had Christian names we had like second birthdays on our feast days. I hope I am not offending St. Joseph by turning the spotlight from him to four  fine men who share his feast day today.

Father Joe English, who was our Epiphany pastor for thirty years, was an immense man who was something to see when hundreds of pounds of him leaned over the pulpit driving home God’s point. For all his size, he slept in a narrow bed, with a white tin hospital tray on wheels as his only other furniture. Once a week he sped over to the rectory of an Irish classmate where he read book after book, eating his way through bags of apples. Cardinal Glennon said, “Joe was perfectly named. He had a better command of English than any man alive.”

Joe Kelly belonged to the Christian Church, and as sometimes happens with those people, he did a better job at being Christian than we do. He taught be to drive, saying Protestant prayers all the way. After being landed into a nursing home, he became the dearest friend to every old fellow or girl there.

I had twenty-nine nephews and nieces. A Joe among them would every afternoon phone his blind sister for a chat. He was the family contact for a homosexual cousin who had secluded himself. When a nun found four hundred empty apartments she could let out to families of Aids patients she went to Joe, a lawyer, for help. When she became ill, she turned the operation over to Joe.

Father Joe Obrien, another big man, was a prisoner of the Japanese for five war years, then, bearing no grudge, he worked among them the rest of his life.  When I knew him in the early fifties he was driving a very small Japanese car. If asked how he fit into it, he’d explain that with it they had issued a shoehorn. “Well, that’s funny, but how do you get out of it?” “Easy. They always have a little midwife on call.”

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