Mr. George Sokich (1940-2008) was the landlord of my apartment building, for whom a memorial mass was held yesterday at Sacred Heart Parish in the village of Dobbs Ferry, New York. George died while visiting his native Croatia, and left behind a wife and three sons and their families, as well as the many hundreds of friends who grieved at today’s liturgy.
There is much talk today about "faith at the office," but how does that faith work itself out when one’s work is that of a landlord? There is no "office" as such, only the presentation and management of leases, the negotiation of civic relations, the repair of delapidations, the constant call of tenant needs. A landlord’s relation with the "customer" is always out "in the field," on the fly, on the line, in the paperwork.
But George took tremendous pride in dealing personally with every one of these landlordian responsibilities. He was a physically powerful, hearty man whose strong forearms that stuck out of shirtsleeves always promised a gritty and reliable solution to whatever problem was at hand. He was a gentle man with a boyish face and sun-speckled skin, who smiled easily and always signed off on the phone with "God bless you" instead of "Goodbye." He took pride in his hands: rebuilding, repairing, restoring, he always had a van full of tools to enable him to hold a problem in the building in just the right way so as to domesticate it for his renters, whom he always seemed to consider his guests.
Being with the hundreds of witnesses to George’s life on Monday, at a Catholic mass, helped me begin to re-read how I experienced him, as a "Catholic" man, though he never explicitly talked about his Catholicism with me. He loved making things right for people through his own strength and ingenuity, whether hand-polishing the metal wires behind our refrigerator to get rid of cat hair from the previous tenants, or gathering up our used moving boxes himself and hauling them to be recycled. In his deep relish for how consoling worlds can get constructed, by the work of the hands, for others, I began to see some of what his Catholicism might mean.
But let that knowledge remain unfinished, like George’s life. Thank you, Catholic Croatia, for this unassuming and proud man. He was our landlord for only eight weeks, and may he rest in peace.
Tom Beaudoin, Hastings-on-Hudson, New York