Harry, or Monsieur Rush, as he was known by at least two generations of students in my hometown of East Millinocket, Maine, was my high school French teacher “back in the day.” He was also the faculty advisor for Schenck High’s yearbook, for which I served as editor my senior year; so I actually came to know him very well as we worked together on photo layouts and dedication pages. He was, as I remember him, a very traditional, “old school” educator, but a very caring one, deeply invested in the success of his students. I specifically remember how following one ranking period of that same senior year, I fell short of an “A” in his class quite literally by a fraction of a point; and so genuinely concerned he was for this, Monsieur sat me down to crunch the numbers and explain to me what had happened, along with offering suggestions as to what I could do to change things for the next quarter! He was truly the kind of teacher whose wisdom and warmth challenged you to do your best; and not just on the next test or for the sake of that tenth of a point (!), but in life itself.
I came to learn in those years that Harry was a very spiritual man; a devout Catholic and for many years a lay leader and Eucharistic minister in his local parish. Rumor had it that in his younger days, he’d considered entering the priesthood; but as it turned out teaching was Harry’s true calling and in a very real sense, his ministry. And understand, it wasn’t that he was always talking religion – though the line was not as clearly drawn as it seems to be today, even back then there were limits as to how one’s faith should be expressed in a public school classroom – but the man’s Christianity always seemed to shine through simply in who he was and in everything he did.
In that regard, Harry was also very supportive of me answering my own call to ministry; and though to my knowledge he never heard me preach (this owing to a strict Catholic upbringing that forbade worship in a Protestant church, a fact that he once sought to explain to me and sincerely hoped that I would understand!), he constantly kept track of my work and whereabouts and, for a long time, even used to subscribe to the church newsletters from the congregations where I was serving! And many was the time over the years, usually around the anniversary of my ordination, that would I would receive a card or hand-written note from Harry, almost always including a poem or a prayer that he knew would have some meaning for me (and always, by the way, preceded with the words, will you bow your head and pray with me now…).
I always appreciated that; even more so as I’ve discovered that I was in fact one of many people with whom Harry kept in contact over the years – students, colleagues, old friends and neighbors – both by mail and in person. I was a teacher’s kid; my father worked with Harry at the high school for over 20 years, and long after Dad had retired, continuing through the years after his stroke and even with my mother after he passed away, Harry would regularly call or visit to see how they were doing, to bring “the news from school” and offer a word of encouragement. If the comments I’ve read online this week are any indication, Harry had a quite a visitation list; indeed, he’d become the very symbol being a good neighbor in our little town and beyond, a designation that has long endured. In fact, I’m told that in recent years, amidst caring for his wife Sharon who had taken residence at a local nursing facility, Harry had himself suffered the effects of a stroke; but that even then he took great joy in reaching out to those around him. It was just who he was.
As a pastor, you tend to hear from a great many people who are not at all reticent about declaring the depths of their faith and good works; often very loudly. Much rarer are the disciples who go about their work quietly; modeling themselves after the manner of Jesus Christ; doing the right and loving thing in the midst of life’s myriad uncertainties, and being content that God receive the glory as they do. I suppose that in practical terms, both groups will get the job done; there is, after all, so much in our faith that requires a bold and brassy stance. But that said, it does seem to me that the kind of faith that flourishes and endures is that which simply continues; day in and day out over the course of a lifetime with the kind of unassuming, Christ-inspired gentleness and love that envelops and ultimately overwhelms the sin and sadness of the world, and by extension our very lives.
Indeed, there are a great many people out there right now who can attest to just how much of a difference one particular man’s gentle, faith-based and spirit led caring made in their lives; and, I suspect, how it inspired them to do the same for others in the places where they dwell; this is truly how the Kingdom of God grows in our midst, and that is certainly something for which we can, and should, rejoice.
And so, for this and so much more, merci, Monsieur… and thanks be to God.
c. 2015 Rev. Michael W. Lowry