by Joe Bollig
I’ve been thinking a lot about Father Patric Riley, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Eudora, who died on June 12.
Father Pat was never my pastor and I didn’t belong to his parish. I’d known him for years, but only as a nodding acquaintance.
That changed last summer when I went looking for a Bible study near to my home parish, which didn’t have one. The closest was at Holy Family Parish in Eudora.
Holy Family had Bible study led by Mitzi Rezin, an attorney. She’s a great teacher, and going to class was like chugging a glass of iced tea on a hot July day — simply refreshing.
It was through Mitzi that I had an opportunity to get to know Father Pat better. After class, we’d all troop over to the rectory for “snacks.”
Snacks for Father Pat were more like a potluck dinner. The kitchen counters would be covered with various dishes. Something would be cooking on the stove or in the oven, often made by Father Pat himself. The dinner table in the living room would be full of desserts.
It was like a family reunion, with people filling the couches and chairs, visiting and eating. And presiding over it all in his throne/easy chair was a grinning Father Pat, cold drink in hand, dressed in shorts and a tee-shirt. A game of some sort was always playing on the TV. “Hey Joe,” he’d say. “Want a beer? There’s some in the fridge.”
Since I came directly from work, I didn’t have an easy way to bring food, but that didn’t matter.
In fact, it didn’t matter to Father Pat if you hadn’t brought food, been to the class, were not Catholic or even human. It was kids and elders, singles and couples, dogs and — more dogs. Just everybody.
What made it great? Father Pat made it great. He set the tone. He was the organizing principle. Father Pat had, as parishioner Gary Pratt said, a compassionate and welcoming nature. As his wife Molly said, Father Pat valued relationships.
Once while I was sitting there, a thought suddenly flashed through my mind: This was what it must have been like when the people gathered around Jesus. No expectations or agenda. No status or rank. No “putting on the squeeze.” Just welcome and acceptance, and be as you are.
It started with his own generosity, giving and openness. And he attracted people with the same aforementioned qualities.
Before Father Pat built the new church in Eudora, he first built community. He built community with living stones of people cemented together by relationship.
Without first building “The Church,” he couldn’t have built “a church.”
Thank you Father Pat, and your lovely “living stones” for sharing the love. I don’t know if you knew about this song by “Creed,” but it seems like you talking: “With arms wide open; under the sunlight. Welcome to this place, I’ll show you everything; with arms wide open.”