He came to us in 2004 and there was something about him. He had a smile like a card player who knew what everyone else at the table was holding. He had seen the same hands played over and over again and he seemed to know the outcome each time. That’s the way I felt about his personality. He was a little older and a little wiser and he knew how to shepherd his flock. He had a secret and he wasn’t afraid to share it . . . “Jesus is The Way, and The Truth, and The Life!” I wanted to follow him.
I first came to know Father Bob Duggan when he attended one of our Parish Social Ministry meetings and I learned early on that he was a man of God. He knew what was important in our ministry and he wasn’t afraid to “shake the branches” in order to get things done and he encouraged me to do the same. He seemed to meet allies in every place that he went and we all knew that we could trust his direction. I believe that all of his decisions were based on what he thought Jesus would do.
I later learned that Fr. Bob was born on February 2nd 1935. It stuck with me because my own father, who was also “Bob,” was born on February 4th of the same year. I attended mass one Sunday and Father’s homily was about honoring our mothers and fathers. It hit home with me and I reconciled with my own father after being in “the outs” with him for several years. I learned that he had emphysema and was on oxygen treatments. For the first time, I developed empathy for the life he had lived and we developed a new relationship. After visiting with him regularly for almost a year he was diagnosed with lung cancer after a lifetime of smoking. Dad had cut himself off from most of his children and grandchildren and it was important to me that he died with a sense of dignity and respect. After he passed away late one night I called Fr. Bob for a consultation and he agreed to meet with me right away.
The whole ordeal was a lot harder than I had thought it would be and Fr. Bob was great. He had seen a lot of death in his time and he knew that my Dad was in a better place. He knew just what to say and I felt like I was the only one who mattered to him at that moment. The Holy Spirit was present also in his church office and my grieving was met by a healing that I can’t describe. I mentioned to him that the family wanted to do a memorial service and Fr. Bob made several suggestions to help in the planning of it even though Dad wasn’t Catholic. I really appreciated his help.
According to “The Testimony of Catalina,” the Holy Mass is something quite different from what most of see when we celebrate the Eucharist. In the spiritual realm, we are all invited to participate in the mass, and after adequate preparation, live it with our hearts. We should reconcile ourselves, pray for transformation, and offer ourselves as a holocaust so that Jesus may transform us by his own merits. At the mass is Mother Mary, located behind the priest, as are all of the Saints and the Blessed of Heaven. Thousands of angels arrive to witness the moment of consecration and at the moment that the priest says the words he is surrounded and wrapped by Jesus Himself. The walls of the church melt away and we are all brought to the foot of Calvary, to the moment of the crucifixion of Christ. He asks for forgiveness to the Father, not only for the ones who killed Him, but also for each one of our sins. Jesus tells Catalina “I rejoice in embracing a soul who comes with a clean heart to receive me.” Fr. Bob knew all of this and he made it his mission to prepare us each Sunday for the week ahead. I am grateful for the way he made his messages simple so that we could follow.
In the spring of 2008 my in-laws began attending mass with me, my wife, and our children. My father-in-law heard about a “Christ Renews His Parish” Men’s Retreat that was coming up and he quietly expressed an interest in attending. I went over to his house one afternoon and asked him if he was really interested. He said that he didn’t want to attend it alone and I said “Good, cause I signed both of us up!” At that time, I had been married to Tony’s daughter for 26 years. We had done a lot of things together in that time but the CRHP retreat sealed our relationship. It was also good to see Tony form a relationship with Fr. Bob that weekend.
In August of 2008 Tony had a series of mini –strokes. His health deteriorated over the next several months and he began to develop dementia. He also had kidney dialysis treatments three times a week and it was hard on our family. Fr. Bob was always there to counsel us and he made himself available when we needed him. As the end was nearing, Fr. Bob came over to my in-law’s house. Tony was lying down in a hospital bed and there were several family members in the small bedroom with him. Fr. Bob entered the room and a miracle took place. Tony, who no longer recognized anyone, hadn’t spoken a word in several days and none of us thought we would hear him speak again. He looked up at the old priest’s smile and said “Fr. Bob! You came to see me!” My daughter, Lori said that his painful disposition seemed to wash away and for just a few minutes her grandfather was back! He was coherent and the two older men even talked about baseball. The Holy Spirit was strong in that place and everyone present who wasn’t a believer became one. Fr. Bob gave the whole family comfort when Tony passed away days later and he officiated the funeral mass.
The Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Angleton, Texas lost a great leader a couple of weeks ago. He was called father, brother, friend, confidant, ally, padre, preacher, minister, teacher, uncle, cousin, counselor, story teller, and wonderful listener. We were lucky to have him in our lives and I am forever grateful that he was in mine. He was 80 years young and he helped to keep us all on the path to salvation. He reminded us of the moral compass we are all born with and he made us realize that sin is part of the human condition. We are all called to find God in our lives and it is the responsibility of each of us to evangelize others so that all may be reunited with Him. Fr. Bob taught me that and he didn’t always use words.