A Remembrance of Father Patrick McDarby
From Janet McNew
Along with Brother Louis, Pat befriended me as soon as I arrived at SJU as a young faculty member. Though a woman and not Catholic, I found a home in the Benedictine community, as their entirely welcoming ways settled me well into the place. Pat and Louis cooked many delicious dinners for me in the portable convection ovens in their rooms in the dormitories. We made weekend forays into the Twin Cities to shop at the best bookstores and Williams-Sonoma, capping it all off with a nice meal. Several times, Pat and I drove across North Dakota and Montana in August to retrieve Louis from his summer mountain retreat. When I left St. John's to take a job at Illinois Wesleyan University, Pat stayed in close touch and visited me more than once. Happily, he was still able to visit me in Florida in the winter of 2007, soon after I moved to the University of Tampa.
As I give this account of our close friendship, I realize that Pat made many such relationships. He was a quirky, charming companion who never tired of cooking, traveling, talking, and listening. In ponytail and earring, clutch purse in hand, sending off sly witticisms, Pat was superficially naughty, but his friends know that beneath that carefully crafted surface lay a profound goodness. He cared deeply about social justice, teaching students and friends like me as much by his doing as by his words. We did not always agree, but even an argument with Pat broadened my own understanding and knitted me closer to him. I knew that we loved each other, and on more than one dark occasion, he comforted me.
Pat and I team-taught a course on Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson, and the experience blended Pat and the Good Gray Poet in my mind. Thinking of all the connections Pat made out of the wonderful stuff deep inside him, I recall Whitman's "Noiseless Patient Spider" and imagine Pat now flinging himself heavenward:
A noiseless patient spider,
I mark'd where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Mark'd how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
It launch'd forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.
And you O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect
Till the bridge you will need be form'd, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.
Because distance prevents my being present for the Saint Patrick's Day celebration of our own Patrick, I send this fond remembrance to the St. John's community. I will be there in spirit.
In appreciation of Fr. Patrick McDarby, OSB: for the evergreen lessons of your life
Today we planted you in a familiar hill above a thawing Stump lake. Under fog, ensconced in knowing spruce. Just above an orchard where bees and fruit trees will sweeten easier days.
Last night we arrived to find you resting in familiar pine. Work of the hands of your confreres. Supine in the Abbey you kept holy. With prayer, modeling, and decades of negotiation.
Around baptismal waters, one hundred gathered, and encircled you in the incense of invocations. At rest, you were placid again-this time wordless. We prayed twice before surrendering you to the stars. Then we lit candles that kept the night with you.
Under a moonless March sky, we set out to follow bright planets to the monastic hill
that tomorrow would claim your frame. There, we stood silently, preparing ourselves to surrender your body to the good earth with those who went before you. Tomorrow.
Returning, in darkness, we sat upon the Abbot's watchful steps. We held the hour. Then we kissed your brow, as long we'd planned but hoped would never come to pass.
This morning, we woke for final sacrament. Feeling somewhat more ready to accompany you to your rest. Knowing you were above, we yearned for signs of your presence amid hills, hymns, and prayers.
As the day moved on, so then did we, retracing our midnight steps, in which we had scouted our second planting: one evergreen symbol of what has been, and what we still hope to be.
As the day passed, we turned the earth a second time, planting one dear balsam fir. Not pine, nor spruce, nor tamarack, but fir-like you, a beloved sort.
Although pine would have been partially fine-pitchy and strong like you, Father Pat; and juniper might have been fitting, like your sometimes gin grin; we didn't plant these. Nor did we plant Scotch (or swayed) pine-like with which offered a toast to your strong example. And we didn't choose didn't spruce, despite its kinship with your sharp wit. We similarly skipped over seasonal tamarack-as you seldom forfeited your convictions.
Instead we brought one dear balsam fir that our kids nursed through the winter in our sunny, southern watching window. The fir is our family favorite-robust yet gentle. It grew with us in the pottery bowl from when you married us. The fir is like the good glue that holds us Catholic in difficult times.
We planted that young balsam fir, outside your old quadrangle office. To grow as we grew, per your sustenance.
Tonight, we return to who you helped us become. Planting first a dear friend, and then thereafter a small signifier of the evergreen lessons of your life.
Dan Glisczinski (SJU, 1993)