by Father Mark Goldasich
I never imagined it would be the last time I’d see him.
Four of us priests were gathered on Nov. 20 for lunch at Paolo and Bill Restaurant in Shawnee to celebrate November birthdays. Father Francis Hund, the minister to priests, was hosting us three honorees. It was a festive gathering that was captured on my iPhone right before dessert arrived.
It’s a photo — and a lunch — that I’ll always treasure.
Father Vince Huber, AVI, is in the center of the picture and to the right is Father Tom Dolezal. I would never have guessed that just a few weeks later, on Jan. 1, Tom would die. You can see his full obituary on page 3 of this issue.
He looks so good in the photo. And he regaled us during the meal with stories of the pastors (read, “characters”) he served under in his early priesthood, as well as his thoughts and impressions of today’s church.
He was sporting a full beard and looked every bit, as Father Frank Burger would say, “like a cross between Grizzly Adams and St. John the Baptist.”
At one point, the conversation moved to his health and I told Tom of a meme that said life rolls along smoothly until you hit your 50s and 60s, then your “check engine” light comes on.
He said that his “check engine” light came on when he hit 70 . . . and stayed on.
Tom’s death reminded me of one of my New Year’s resolutions: to not waste the opportunities that come my way. Here’s a great story that illustrates what I mean:
Many years ago, two friends took a ride out into the country. They drove off the main road and through groves of trees to a large uninhabited tract of land. There was not much there apart from a couple of horses and a few old shacks. Walter, one of the friends, started to describe in vivid detail to his friend Arthur all that he was going to build there. He invited Arthur to get in on this project on the ground floor.
But Arthur thought to himself: Who in the world is going to drive 25 miles to get to this crazy place? The logistics of the venture were staggering.
Walter explained to his friend, “I can handle the main project myself. But it will take all my money. But the land bordering it, where we’re standing now, will, in just a couple of years, be jammed with hotels and restaurants and convention halls to accommodate the people who will come to spend their entire vacation here in my park.
“I want you to have the first chance at the surrounding acreage, because in the next five years, it will increase in value several hundred times.”
Arthur knew that his friend was wrong but wanted to let him down easy. So he said that unfortunately money was tight and he’d look into the whole thing a little later on.
“Later on will be too late,” said Walter. “You’d better move on it right now.”
And that’s how Art Linkletter turned down the opportunity to buy up all the land that surrounded what was to become Disneyland. His friend, Walt Disney, tried to talk him into it, but Art thought he was crazy. (Found in “Illustrations Unlimited,” edited by James S. Hewett.)
A common theme in my funeral homilies is to encourage the congregation to make time in their busy lives to visit family and friends. Time seems to pass so quickly, and so often we let this treasured opportunity pass by and never act on our promises “to get together soon.”
And while phone calls, emails and text messages are better than nothing, you honestly can’t replace being with the people you care about IRL — in real life.
I would not trade that November birthday lunch for a mountain of riches. The Leaven lost a very good friend in Tom Dolezal. The jacket he wore to lunch even had The Leaven logo on it. It was a gift we gave him years ago when he built and maintained our first Leaven website.
Tom, I trust that you’re now in the gentle hands of Jesus, where you’ll never have to worry about that “check engine” light again.
Rest in peace, my friend.