Staten Island, NY. Blogging for America is an opportunity I appreciate, and a pleasure in itself, but occasionally there are extra benefits, such as the chance once in a while to highlight an event that would not make the headlines. Such is today, since I am visiting Staten Island, where I grew up, for the funeral of my father, James J. Clooney. Some of you will remember my blog nearly two years ago, when he turned 90. He was delighted then by that piece and by the kind comments many readers sent in. I am grateful to Tim Reidy for re-posting a link to that piece yesterday. (See the Staten Island Advance write-up too.)
I said much about him two years ago, and wish here only to add a few reflections to bring the story to a conclusion.
Dad remained active and alert until a few weeks before his death on Sunday evening. He still traveled buses and trains and ferries around NYC, still took long walks near his home or in the Mall or in the city, and of course still faithfully attended morning Mass at St. Christopher’s, his parish since 1953 (and where my sisters Mary and Regina and I attended grammar school, where Regina was married, and I celebrated my first Mass). Even his last days at Carmel Richmond Nursing Home, though painful, were relatively peaceful, and I was blessed to celebrate Mass with him and my sisters there just three days before. He was blessed by frequent visits by Mary and Regina, who cared for him lovingly, and by his dear grandsons, Mike, John, and Jim. As he firmly believed, those last days he was just in transit, waiting to be reunited with his beloved wife Irene, our mother who died in 1999. Thus the happy death - happy dying, bona mors - that he had long prayed for.
The other thing I would like to mention is a point I also alluded to in my blog two years ago: Dad was a faithful America reader for at least 70 years. After leaving the novitiate in 1940 (he as a New York Province novice for 20 months), he began reading America regularly, and I recall that even in the late 1930s he had begun his life-long familiarity with the journal. For 70 years, he read it carefully, thought about it, clipped or annotated certain articles, kept some for later reference until the pile became too high to save. Not that he agreed with everything he read – he was inclined to be more conservative and cautious in his later years, and worried about where the Church and its theologians were heading – but he never stopped reading.
(As I mentioned two years ago, the story goes deeper: he met my mother through a mutual acquaintance who also read America and traveled the same train in Brooklyn; after they married in 1944, she mailed him copies of America during his two years of service in the Pacific.)
I found this morning on his reading table the latest issue, December 13, waiting for his attention. It was providential, I think, that Drew Christiansen’s piece, “On the Slope with Teilhard” featured prominently on the cover, since in many ways Dad shared Teilhard’s fusion of Jesuit piety, a spirit of courageous truth-seeking, and a conviction that all human knowing, science included, came together in knowledge of God.
It is interesting therefore for America readers to ponder the gift of this journal, and how its long record of publication - covering and analyzing the news, covering books and the arts, thinking with and for the Church, arguing the path before us – is not just news in a fragmentary, periodic sense, but a very long ongoing conversation between readers and writers that is formative of an intelligent, open and critical way of making sense of the world and finding our way through it. Read America for a week or two and you may pick up an idea or two; argue for or against one article, and you may be vindicated or corrected; surf the web, pick away at one or another blog, and you may or may not be the better off for it. But read it for 70 years, and it becomes a record of human thinking and questioning that enriches and guides a life to its end. Most of my father’s story would of course proceed quite well without America, but I am sure too that he was the better man, the wise Catholic, for living with America all these years. Thanks!