by Father Mark Goldasich
“Mark, one for your prayer list — Paul Schons is sick with some kind of cancer.”
Back on Aug. 12, this message arrived on Facebook from a college friend and classmate. Paul Schons was Dr. Schons, one of our German professors at the College of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn. He was a favorite teacher for many of us. By my calculation, he was only about 33 years old back in the day, passionate about all things German, and he treated us with respect and concern.
I sent him an email on a whim back in October 2008, thanking him for his “example, dedication and enthusiasm.” Much to my surprise, I received a warm response from him, not 10 minutes later, where he encouraged me to “stay more in contact (more than every 20 years or so!)” and mentioned that he was a great fan of the “German pope.”
Well, I didn’t write back until February 2010 when, like most students, I needed a favor from him: an Act of Contrition in German for one of my parishioners. Sure enough, less than an hour later, he sent both a long and a short version.
Again, life intervened, until that email from my former classmate shook me up enough to email my former professor again. On Aug. 13, I told him I’d put him on my personal prayer list and on the parish prayer list for the sick. Back came a reply, just a few hours later: “A thousand thanks! Your prayers are MUCH appreciated! They tell me I have 2-3 months yet. I feel confident and look forward to meeting God.”
I was stunned — not at the fact that he had only a few months to live, but at his attitude. I wrote the next day and said that “seeing your courage in facing this illness only increases my respect for you.” I promised to regularly say a prayer from the sacrament of the anointing of the sick for him.
I kept up with his treatments and condition via a Caring Bridge website. He was being well cared for by his wife, children and grandchildren. I didn’t bother him with more emails until Oct. 8, when I told him that he was still very close in prayer.
True to form, he responded a few hours later: “The prayers continue to be greatly appreciated! I have now declined additional treatment as the doctor informs me that additional treatment would only be short term with no hope for a cure. I’m approaching the end with John Paul II’s noted admonition, ‘Be not afraid.’ And Benedict’s teachings on hope and friendship with Jesus.”
I wrote him another email on Oct. 18. Receiving no response, I suspected that his death was imminent. It was. He died on Oct. 21, at the age of 72. Yes, I did shed tears for this wonderful teacher and friend. But my mind and heart kept returning to his deep faith: “I feel confident and look forward to meeting God.” That, for sure, is the attitude of a close friend of Jesus.
The past few days, in Paul’s memory, I’ve been playing a song by Kenny Loggins, “Celebrate Me Home.” In part, it says: “Home for the holidays/ I believe I’ve missed each and every face/ Come on and play my music/ Let’s turn on the love light in this place./ It’s time I found myself/ Totally surrounded in your circles, my friends./ Please celebrate me home.”
I believe that Paul is truly home with God for the holidays, bathed in the light of Love in heaven, totally surrounded by his friends, the saints. I’ll remember Paul’s life and words, his song of faith, especially in this month of November when we hold all our beloved dead so close to us. And, along with our tears, may God give us all the grace to joyfully “celebrate them home.”