Yesterday I attended what may be one the last Masses to be celebrated by Fr. Dennis Nash, a priest in the Diocese of Grand Rapids. Fr. Nash is retired, and in his 70s, but he has been my pastor’s designated substitute for years and has graced the nave of St. Anthony’s many times since the parish reverted to diocesan control in 2003.
Fr. Nash is dying of cancer. We have something of a connection to him, since he had paid my grandfather a pastoral visit while the family patriarch was himself ailing of MDS. An Irishman through-and-through, this gentle and sweetly mischevious priest has brought much joy and laughter to my parish.
But his cancer is accelerating, and Fr. Nash is weakening. He has only a few months left, and is on painkillers and steriods to keep up. At Mass yesterday, he joked about how distorted his perceptions were (he thought the congregation looked as if we were 20 feet underground, but he assured us with a smile that his viewing didn’t imply we were all going to hell) and he told us that he’s going to meet next week with the vicar general and our pastor to plan his funeral. He has even already prepared the vestments he’ll wear in his casket.
For every news bulletin about some priest somewhere who diddled a teenage boy 40 years ago, there are dozens more who live quiet, decent, uncelebrated lives like Fr. Nash did. It’s easy to condemn the Church and her bishops for the sins of the few, but we fail to appreciate and honor the cheeful and faithful and loving fidelity of the many.
Thank you, Fr. Nash. May your remaining days bring you as many blessings as you’ve brought to us, and I look forward to the day we can listen to your jokes in the comfort of the Kingdom of Heaven.