State Sen. Michael O'Pake has died.
My first memory of the good Senator took the form of a letter that was waiting for me upon my arrival at St. Ignatius of Loyola Parish in Whitfield--my first priestly assignment ever, and my first within his territory. What's this--a letter from an elected official, and not a "form letter," either! He congratulated me upon my ordination earlier that month, wished me well in the priesthood and in my new (and all too brief) assignment, and, true to his custom, extended assistance according to his ability and my need. Often I would see Senator O'Pake pop in for as much of St. Ignatius' 6:30am Mass as he could make before heading out to his myriad duties: a good start to a good day! In the coming years I would see him at many morning Masses in area parishes. His investment in the priesthood of the baptized notwithstanding, I suspected that he must have thought of serving God and country as a priest at some point in his life; but his dedication to God's poor and lowly found expression nonetheless.
When I was assigned the following year to Central Catholic H.S. as Chaplain and teacher, I saw Mike at many a basketball game and at other functions: he was proud of his roots there, having received a sound training in personal faith and public speaking that would serve him well in the years ahead. He really went to bat for the construction of a new school, a dream that never saw its day; but his support never waned, illustrating a Cardinal's typical tenacity.
My last encounter with the Senator was at his bedside in the hospital just last week, when I stopped by to offer him my blessing and a prayer shawl made for him by a lady in our parish. His speech was compromised by his condition, but he clearly thanked me and the shawl's maker, holding fast to the shawl and to the intercessions that had been covering him for the past month. Clearly this was an unusual position for him--at rest, no doubt eager to recover and return to his characteristic ubiquity. But God had other plans for his faithful servant, who I believe now advocates for God's poor all the better for having been in their position--not only in his indigent youth, but on the altar of his sickbed, where prayers and sufferings go to God as arrows to their target.
Requiescas in pace, Senator O'Pake. Rest in the peace of a clear conscience, for having loved and served the Lord: family, fellow students, public servants, and constituents alike have known your valiant deeds and encouraging words, and whatever you did for these, you did for the One whose vote counts most.