St. Daddy

SR. JOSEPH ANDREW BOGDANOWICZ, O.P.

His legs imparted security as I leaned my little body into them. My babble continued, fired by desire to entrust to my beloved daddy all the secrets a three-year-old heart could hold. When finished, silence pervaded the darkening shadows. He sat there, fingering his rosary and gazing out at the evening’s first stars. Even at that tender age, I knew my father wasn’t always present to this world.

Walter Bogdanowicz serving the country he loved

Even at that tender age, I knew my father wasn't always present to this world. Impatiently, I tugged on his pants leg and asked, "Daddy, did you hear me? Where are you?"

"I'm sorry, honey. I was talking with Jesus and Mary. Please tell me again. I promise I'll listen this time."

Only one question burned within my chest, "Daddy, will you promise to carry me with you when Mother Mary takes you to heaven?"

"Well, honey, I'll do my best but little girls usually outlive their fathers."

"I don't want to!" I protested.

"See this rosary? It's like a silver thread that Mary gives us to hold onto during life while she's at the other end pulling us closer to heaven."

"But I want to go to heaven with you and Mom!"

"Someday, little one, you will be able to receive Jesus in Holy Communion. When He comes, all those who love Him will also be present. That will, we pray, include all our family."

I sat there, memorizing his hands, as he quietly continued to pull the "special thread" between his fingers.

  

Uniquely Holy

Perhaps saints are always a little different from the safe commonality of most people. I always knew my father was, but I could never understand how he became so singular. Could it have been the poverty and suffering that plagued his early life? He was the firstborn son of Polish immigrants who were barely able to etch their existence out of clods of soil on a New England farm. His parents never learned English; thus the family knew a strange alienation in their new country.

Wedding of Beryl Tucker (Penny) and Walter Andrew Bogdanowicz

Or might it have been his World War II experience in the U.S. Army? It culminated in a sergeant's visit to his parents, informing them their son had been killed in action. While tears and funeral Masses were being copiously offered for Walter, he was immersed in the covert world of the CIA, under a pseudo identity, catching Russian, German, and Japanese spies. As the war effort escalated and the world was on the brink of being split wide open by the hatred of totalitarian leadership, my father's position and education led him to start up the world's first nuclear fission plant in a land he had scouted out in the beautiful mountains of East Tennessee. The government's top security plan became known as "the Manhattan Project," and the city "Oak Ridge" was born. Walter's strong Catholic faith, intrepid spirit, and appreciative love of America gave him the courage to daily risk his life for the freedom he was convinced was God's gift. Nonetheless, war is ugly. Its memories plagued my father's sensitive nature throughout his life.

One day while making the rounds of the government plants as superintendent of electrical engineering, my father met the "woman with a smile so warm" it made him forget all the sorrows. Their first date took place on November 1, 1946, the same day that another Polish lad in Rome was being ordained to the priesthood. His name? Fr. Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul II. In less than three months my mother, Penny, exchanged the Baptist faith of her family for the fullness of the Catholic faith she had come to desire through the witness of her husband-to-be. On February 15, 1947 the couple tied the sacred knot and my mother received her first Holy Communion at their wedding Mass.

They baptized their first child, Stephen, born prematurely, before he took his thread-of-life and went home to heaven. Though God didn't gift them with the large family they desired, three more children would be born to this couple; today, two are professed Dominican Sisters in Ann Arbor, Michigan and the third, Michael, lives in Boston. As the children left home, both parents wrote them weekly letters. In January 1988, Walt penned: "Your mother and I live like two souls that love each other continuously. Our love for each other is like God's love for all of us."

  

Mystical Guidance

Saints are gifted with one mystical idea from the Church's abundance which they let guide their lives while seeming to have no notion that everyone's life isn't guided by the same. For my father, this notion would be his tremendous love for Mother Mary and her Eucharistic Son. Daily Mass and family Rosary were the pillars of life at home. My father would frequently say, "I feel like I'm two persons in one body and I can't understand myself. One of me is here in the present reality. The other is far away — tucked into hearts I pray my Rosary will lead me to someday see." Maybe that is why a Jesuit priest-friend (whom my parents loved and spiritually adopted) dubbed my father, "Mystic of the Mundane." Daddy could find God in a thread; and he was always picking them up around the house. He did this because he so loved his "beloved Penny" whose health was never strong. He loved Mom with tenderness because he saw in her dedicated feminine goodness, a reflection of the Holy Mother of God. Our home was his Nazareth and its threads a simple reminder that the woman he lovingly called "mother" had just passed away.

1997, Celebrating 50 years
of wedded fidelity!

Qoheleth warns us: "[B]efore the silver cord is snapped, or the golden bowl [of life] is broken . . ." (Eccles. 12:6), we should prepare for our eternity. Mom's summons came before my father's, though he was 13 years older than she. The last 10 years of her life were heroically offered back to Christ from her cross as she fought the ravages of lymphoma and leukemia. My father, in his 80s by this time, stayed by her side during that decade of redemption, her sole caregiver. Mom's heroic virtue enabled her to give every drop of self without complaint. Mystical gifts surrounded her as she laid dying, including prophecy and an ability to see into another's soul. The strength of her faith won the victory and on September 23, 2001, Daddy let his 54-year-old silver thread of sacramental fidelity stretch all the way to heaven.

Two days after mom's funeral, my sister and I brought our father to Ann Arbor. He lived in a little rented house close to the motherhouse and daily we would wake him at 4:15 a.m. and help him dress for his "beloved Holy Mass" and prayers with the sisters. We dubbed him our "monk" and he reverently loved each sister as his own daughter. They would call him no less than "Daddy."

Now at last his life knew the fullness of the many children he and Mom had hoped for on their wedding day. But life could never be the same without his beloved Penny. He wrote: "Today, praying my Rosaries, my thoughts ran to our three wonders from God, our children. I cannot explain how much we love you and want to protect you when we are called to leave this life. The main goal on earth is to be invited to live with God forever. Our mother has already answered her invitation. Perhaps I will be called home to Jesus and Mary soon. Do not worry. Mother and I will always be with you in your Rosaries and Holy Communions; for God gave you to us and we will love you forever."

An EKG on January 7, 2002, showed Daddy's heart only pumping 20 percent of its allotted portion. Still, he puttered around the house, picking up threads and pieces of Kleenex, his Rosary ever in his hand. The most radiant smile and a bit of his ever-present Polish wit gifted all the people who came to visit him seeking his abundant love and wisdom. The sisters, in particular, would vie for the gift of coming to visit "Saint Daddy." Later, in his eulogy that a sister wrote, she expressed:

No one loved people like Mr. B did. He used to say that if you loved people, they couldn't help loving you. Certainly, that was true for him. He was friends with everyone, he believed with every fiber of his being that humanity was beautiful. "God loves you" he would say with flowing tears. Many hearts would melt looking into his deep blue eyes and seeing in them his unshakeable faith. You always knew when you left him he would continue praying his Rosary and it would be offered for you.

Invisible Thread

One afternoon, in August of 2003 (at that point my father was permanently confined to bed and under the care of Hospice), I was leaning over Daddy when suddenly he began to pull an invisible thread between his fingers. His Rosary had fallen to the side of his pillow where he could not reach it, so I placed it back in his hands. "Shorter and shorter," he said. I asked what he meant: "My mama, dad, sister, and brothers died — how hard to take. My wife has now died. Now I'm leaving this world. I'm slipping away. We must all do the best we can. I'm trying to be what Jesus wants of me."

I pleaded, in my frail humanity, "Daddy, please don't leave me." His passionate eyes penetrated me, so I rephrased my thought, "Daddy, are you happy?"

"Yes, honey; very, very happy." All the while he continued to pull the thread of his Rosary. He said, "We will stay together in this. And when you receive Holy Communion, your mother and I will be hugging you along with Jesus and Mary."

My daddy went home to heaven on June 7, 2004. His last whispered words summed up his life: "I love you." He died visibly as he had lived mystically — his hand over his heart, holding the thread of his Rosary, and his face lit by the smile he had promised I would see when Mary came to take him from the shadows and lift him into the refulgence of beatific light.

I often ask myself if my eyes love enough to see the beauty promised in every thread of life? Who would have given much significance to a scrap of bread or drops of wine? Christ saw in these a promise of the Eucharist. Our lives are full of the mundane but let us rejoice! For as our Holy Father tells us in Ecclesia de Eucharistia, those who wish to pursue the path of holiness require no new programs. They merely need to sit at the feet of Mary, "Woman of the Eucharist," and to love and proclaim Christ in living fully their baptismal calling. My saintly parents knew that the fabric of holiness is woven out of the threads of every day life and if the Church ever sees fit to raise them to the altar, I hope she will do so under this title, "Mystics of the Mundane."

  

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz, O.P. "St. Daddy." Lay Witness (November/December 2004).

This article is reprinted with permission from Lay Witness magazine. Lay Witness is a publication of Catholic United for the Faith, Inc., an international lay apostolate founded in 1968 to support, defend, and advance the efforts of the teaching Church.

THE AUTHOR

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz, O.P. writes from Ann Arbor, MI.

Copyright © 2004 LayWitness


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