Born According to the Flesh 20 May 1930
Born by Water According to the Spirit at His Baptism
Entered the Church Triumphant 9 October 2002
Eulogy delivered by his brother in Christ, Gregory Holmes Singleton, at the
Requiem Mass, Dominican Priory, River Forest, Illinois, 12 October, 2002:
What can I tell you
about John Hickey that you don't already know? Like several of you, I am one of
many colleagues he has throughout the world. Like most of you, I am also
privileged to be his friend. Of course, I have a multitude of anecdotes about
this delightful Welshman who was often bemused by our culture. I think
immediately about his asking my wife, Jeannine, in all seriousness, "What
does it mean to get one's hair done?" His daughter, Julia, was having her
hair done, and the phrase baffled John. I also think of the time John, his son,
Patrick, and I visited my friend who is the director of an Anglican retreat
center. My friend was charmed by John and Patrick, and ecstatically showed them
a cricket bat which had been used in the college that once occupied that
campus. He asked John to verify that it was a genuine cricket bat. John later
asked me why my friend was so excited about the bat. He accepted my explanation
that this was a relic of high regard in Anglican circles, and wryly added,
"I suppose it has some advantages over a saint's knuckles."
I have many more stories, and I know all of you have your own. I hope to hear
some of them at the reception that follows.
But rather than stories about who John was, I want to talk about John Hickey,
my brother in Christ-our brother in Christ-who has now entered into the
Church Triumphant. In short, I want to talk about who John is.
Simply put, John is a child of God who continues to live eternally in his
baptismal covenant, as he did in his earthly pilgrimage. Although we are
impressed by his accomplishments as a brilliant analytical scholar, that is not
the essence of who he is, nor is it really the essence of who he was in his
time with us. We have all been captivated by John's charm, but there is much
more to the appeal of this remarkable man.
What is eternal about John-what John was, is, and will continue to be--has
nothing to do with his accomplishments or his charm. The key to who John is
must be found in his baptismal covenant. He died to sin and was raised to new
and unending life. He never lost sight of that reality. His parents provided a
home where the love and joy of that covenant was nurtured. Both the grace
bestowed through baptism and the parental precept were gifts.
John was, and is, remarkable in his willingness to receive, acknowledge, and
use these gifts. I am unable to think of John without thinking of the words
Julia read earlier from Paul's letter to the Romans. "What will separate
us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or
famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? No, in all these things we conquer
overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death,
nor life.. . .nor anything in all creation can separate us from the love of God
in Christ Jesus our Lord." I spent enough time in theological discussions
with John to know that he was always aware that any love he bestowed or
received came ultimately from God. That is probably why so many of
us--colleagues, students, friends, and family--experienced the fullness of that
love, and why it seemed to have no end.
I first became aware of John's great capacity to love when my wife, Jeannine,
and I first visited the Hickey home in Oak Park. Susan was a student and friend
of mine going back more years than either of us cares to admit, and I had met
John two decades earlier. Jeannine, however, had met none of the Hickey
household, and is a bit shy about first encounters with strangers. I have no
idea whether John sensed this, but he immediately put Jeannine at ease. It is
only in retrospect that I came to realize how he did that-or more precisely how
it had nothing to do with anything that John did, but everything to do with who
John is. John welcomed Jeannine in a way that said "I know that nothing
separates us from the love of God." John, Susan, Patrick, and Julia were
no strangers after the first half hour Jeannine spent in their home.
When I told Catherine, John's sister, about how he and Jeannine met, Catherine
with a smile that embraced the entire room said, "He got that from our
mother." I met Catherine for the first time only two days ago, but I
immediately felt embraced by one who knows that nothing separates us from the
love of God. She also is in touch with her baptismal covenant, and learned
something from their mother. I would not be surprised to hear that their other
siblings also learned this.
Over the past few years I have repeatedly seen the unconditional love John has
for his children. I have seen it most directly with Patrick and Julia, but I
have also been privileged to see John with Christopher and I have heard him
speak with fatherly affection and concern for Paul, Gabrielle, and the late
Camille, as well as his grandchildren Daniel, Katie, and Hannah. Never have I
heard anything that was controlling from John. He did not always understand his
Children (though most often he did), but he always encouraged them to search
for who they are rather than tell them what to be. Even when there may have
been tense moments, as there are between any parent and child, I am certain
that each one of them heard the subtext, "Don't fret-there is nothing that
can possibly separate us from the love of God or each other."
As important as all of these examples are, I can think of none more important
than the love between John and Susan. Coming from remarkably different
backgrounds, including significantly different catechisms, John and Susan
shared that vision common to both of their traditions and articulated by Paul
in his letter to the Romans. Their marriage was based on an unshakeable belief
that nothing could separate them, individually or collectively, from the love
of God. Their relationship was intricate, complex, and wonderfully textured.
Their complimentary personalities melded into a unity in which neither was
ultimately dominant. They created a life that was expansive and everyone who
has set foot inside that house has felt the love extending from their faith.
John's centeredness in his baptismal covenant did not wane during the ordeal of
his final mortal days. In the anguish and peril of the last few weeks of his
life, John was as clear as ever that nothing can separate us from the love of
God. Only seventeen days ago many of us gathered in the chapel at Dominican
University to sing hymns, hear scripture, come to altar, and lay our hands on
John as Father Woods anointed him. He was obviously weak and in pain, but
nothing would keep him from greeting those who had come to see him. One day
later he was taken to the hospital. He was confined to bed and would remain
confined through the remaining two weeks of his earthly life. While lying there
with clear knowledge that he was facing the end, he ministered to others at
least as much as we ministered to him. John's son, Patrick, told me of a
wonderful conversation in which his father expressed no fear but a deep faith
that he was only in the midst of a transition. And one can almost hear the
subtext to all of his children: "What will separate us from the love of
Christ? Will this anguish or peril? No! Remember always that nothing can
separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus." That is certainly the
constant message I heard during my last conversations with him.
Within hours of John's death, those of us who were at the Hickey residence
discovered how much we should not speak of him in the past tense.
That afternoon was one that began with deep grief. Initially, Susan, Patrick,
Julia, Susan's cousin Marty, Jeannine and I could do little but cry and comfort
After we had regained our composure, I asked Patrick and Marty if they wanted
to smoke cigars in the gazebo.
Now, this may sound like a frivolous suggestion, but you need to understand the
sacred place that both that gazebo and fine cigars have in the cosmology that
John and I share. We spent many an evening staying up until three in the
morning solving the world's problems while John and Jeannine drank fine wine,
Susan and I drank Diet Dr. Pepper, and John and I each enjoyed a fine cigar.
From time to time, Patrick would join us in the cigar ritual. This was our
temple of first order theology, and the cigars were our incense.
Given this sacred tradition, it just seemed meet, right, and our bounden duty
to smoke a cigar in John's honor. Patrick and Marty agreed. Julia decided that
she would not be left out of this memorial moment. We obtained four fine
Dominican cigars. Susan decided to drink Dr. Pepper and Jeannine opted for
wine, and both declined the cigar option.
There we were -- the four of us (Julia keeping us from being a gender-biased
group) happily smoking away in the gazebo. Susan and Jeannine soon joined us. Various
colleagues and friends came by. The group grew and grew. We were testing the
capacity of the gazebo.
It is only in retrospect that we have all realized what a perfect day that was.
No one planned it, but the conversations and bits of humor were precisely as
they would have been had John been there. His physical presence was no longer
necessary for us to continue to be touched by him. We sat there into the
evening, with groups of people coming and going, with tears and laughter in a
constant rhythm of ebb and flow.
And I left that evening knowing that I will miss him terribly, as we all will,
but I also know that through our adoption in baptism we were, are, and always
will be brothers and that neither death, nor life . . . nor anything else in
all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.