Posted May 13, 2004
Goodbye, Friend: A Homily for Father Joyce
Delivered by Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., May 5, 2004
Basilica of the Sacred Heart
I must begin, my dear friends, by welcoming all of you, especially those of you who came from afar to be with Ned on this final sendoff. Ned had impeccable manners and you know he would have wanted to thank all of you. I'm sure from heaven he will find ways of doing that. I also know he would want me to thank his brethren, so many who are here to offer this requiem Mass for the repose of his good soul. It's hard to describe what it's like to describe a member of a religious community, but I guess the closest I could come is to say it's like a band of brothers. They're always there. They're always supportive and they're always in your corner when you need help.
I know in a special way he would want to thank his younger brother, Lyle, who was there during the sad months, and painful months since a year ago September, almost two years now that he has suffered from the effects of a stroke. Lyle has made that transatlantic crossing four times and spent weeks and months to be at Ned's side during moments of pain and especially the kind of solemn, long nights of pain. He was always there, and Ned was comforted by his presence. And we were there to be with him in his final hours, to anoint him a few moments before he died, and to say the rosary, which we said again after he died because it has those wonderful words: "now, and at the hour of our death, pray for us sinners."
I know he also would want me to thank the relatives, sons of his brother Jack, now deceased, who made the long trip north to be here at this final hour.
Finally, I know he would want to thank his longtime secretary Pat Roth, who for 50 years kept him out of trouble, with all kinds of phone calls, letters, and personal matters that needed solution. Having enjoyed two wonderful secretaries myself here at Notre Dame, I can only say their wonderful loving care and dedication is something beyond salary and beyond recompense. It's an act of love. And Pat, for Father Ned, I know he wouldn't have wanted this moment to pass without saying, "Thanks, Pat" for all you did during all those long years.
Finally I must say for him and all of us a word of thanks for all those wonderful caregivers at Holy Cross House across the lake. Day and night they are there caring. Ned never had a bad moment when one of them was not at his side. When he couldn't do anything for himself, they did everything for him, day and night.
They not only do it as a kind of service. They did it as a labor of love. When he died, they all cried even though the agony was over. I thank you, ladies. There aren't enough words to thank you for what you did for Ned in so many wonderful and thoughtful ways. And also thanks to the many Holy Cross fathers and brothers who inhabit that house and help each other in so many wonderful and compassionate ways.
Now I have to say a few things about Ned. We used to kid each other and argue who's going to die first. He said, "You've to die first because you're going to have to give my sermon. I don't want to give yours." I don't know if he didn't want to divulge things that you don't know. But that was always the way the argument ended. "I'm going first and you're going to say the words."
I could say words for the next 10 hours but I'm not going to.
I would like to say, though, that I first met Ned when he was getting ordained in this very sanctuary, when he stretched out there with the many members of the Class of '49, which they call the 49ers, and how he was anointed and elevated into the priesthood of Christ, which was kind of the central focal point of his whole life, why he had gone through years of training and discipline and why he was now kneeling there getting ordained. It was less than an hour later when I was leaving my office life to go across to Father John's (Cavanaugh, then president of Notre Dame) office, my boss, the president, and as I got to the door it burst open, and out came this handsome and ebullient young priest with a Holy Cross habit on. I said, "You've got to be Ned Joyce" and he said, "Yes. Who are you?" I said, "Ted Hesburgh" and I knelt down and said, "You'd better give me that first blessing. It's one of the best." And he did.
Little did we know our lives would be cast together.
I remember going into Father John's office and saying, "I've just met this remarkable young priest. We've got to get this new priest on our team." And John, in his great wisdom, said, "Well, first let him have the great joy of a young priest serving the young people on campus and living in a residence hall and teaching religion for a year. Then we'll get him off to Oxford, where he can get some of that highfalutin education, which will serve him very well both in his work here and in his relationship with the faculty, which is very important."
I remember those days so well when Ned came back. Our financial vice president was dying of nephritis and Ned had to leave early from Oxford which, I must say, he enjoyed immensely. It had a big influence on his life and his mind. But he came back like a good soldier and filled in the year, which had to be done. No one else could do it. And when they asked me to be president-and they didn't really ask me, they told me to be president-then they said who do you want for your executive vice president. I said: "Only one person, Ned Joyce." Little did I know, or did he know, that that association would go on for 35 years. I can tell you good folks that in all that time he more than carried his half of the load. He never let me down once. He was always there when I was missing and managed to fill in the gap, and probably do better than I could have. He was always faithful and hardworking and wonderful. He was a good friend in the best sense of the word friend-that we care well for each other.
Ned never looked for praise and he would be ashamed of me, or at least mad at me, if I went too deeply into praising him here today. All those of you who know of him and who came from near and far to honor him this day don't need my words about how one could praise Ned Joyce. I think the simplest thing one could say: He was a good priest. It was the center of his life. And yet like all of us, he was a human being. He had a certain charm. He was a fine speaker. He wrote everything out meticulously and had it tucked up his sleeve, so he could pull it out in case he forgot.
He was a man who was used to crises, and yet when the days and years of crises were over and it was time for us to step aside and retire, I think some people were surprised that after 35 years of hard work together and more crises than you can image, we walked into the sunset together, getting into a motor home and traveling miles and miles across the great parks of this land in the West and Alaska. And then we did South America including a month on an explorer ship on the Amazon from Iquitos, where it begins, and all the way down to Belem, where it ends in the Atlantic. We had great adventures. When that was over, we became co-chaplains on the QE2 for a round-the-world trip. We took every other day as acting chaplain. He used to say "How is it when I'm on duty, all the tough things happen and when you're on duty, it's a breeze?" Well, I had a few tough things, too. When we thought it was all over and were back home we were invited on that same explorer ship to the Antarctic. And for some reason, although Ned was a South Carolinian with warm blood, he loved the ice and snow. He gloried in the fact that at last he was going to Antarctica, which is full of whales, walruses, seals, penguins and all sorts of delights, especially craggy peaks, all ice covered, and wonderful scenery. That was a pleasant trip, although rough at times. I remember we were both strapped into our bunks Christmas Day because the sea was so high that they thought the ship could go over, and they didn't want us thrown around the cabin. However, we had had a reasonably peaceful midnight Mass the night before.
And so it was across the world. And then back here at home with all kinds of little things to do, all kind of friendships to catch up with, all kinds of hobbies to follow. And somehow, we had almost 18 delightful years, again, with offices side by side, both of us with a glass looking out at Our Lady, and both of us often voicing the same prayer when we'd thinking something wrong was going on. We'd simply say, "Lady, it's your school, and I'm sure you're going to take care of this little problem and we're not going to say any more about it." And you know, she always did. And I guess that's a good place to think of Ned banging me on the head and saying, "Don't you think you've said enough, Ted?" I could go on forever, but I won't.
I've never known anyone in my life that was as wonderful a human being as Ned Joyce. I have to say these last 18 months or so have been a crucible of pain for him, but he took them manfully, as a Congregation of Holy Cross priest should, and I'm sure he prayed for all of you as good friends, and for me. I am personally happy he is now at peace. And I'm sure, Lyle, you are too. I can't possibly thank him for what he has meant to my life. He has been a good half of my life and probably more. I was so close to him as a dear friend and confidant, I went to confession to him several times a year. And he didn't spare the penance. I used to laugh because I felt he knew all of my faults, probably better than I did. It was that kind of relationship.
I had a nice letter from a famous athletic figure, Pete Dawkins, yesterday. He said, "Father Ned was always there when there was a problem in athletics. And he always had an answer. But the thing that shone through him in that long series of relationships with the NCAA was, he believed athletes should be students and students should be athletes. Athletes should not just put out, but they should take in the wisdom of the schools in which they serve. And he would stand up to all the naysayers and repeat that again and again because," Pete said, "he believed it deeply, and I believe deeply that it's right." He said, "We'll miss him, but we'll never lose that wonderful picture of his standing up there and telling those fellows what's what when they didn't want to hear, but they did." And things are beginning to change because of Ned.
I think a lot of things have changed because of Ned. I think Notre Dame is a better university today because he did so many things that only he had the qualities of understanding and ability to take care of and do. I can't tell you how many millions of dollars he raised to make this a better place because it costs money and he knew that and worked day and night to make it happen.
I know it will be long days when I look up at that window again, looking across to his window on the side and this window looking out at the dome and the Lady. And knowing there's only one of us looking out at this moment. And yet I think his spirit-which is a wonderful, positive, loving, dedicated, fraternal spirit-will be with me the rest of my life. I'll never really be alone because somehow from heaven he'll know the ways to get me out of jams he used to get me out of and to keep me headed in the right direction. And I thank him for that.
Ned, I have to end, because you're banging me on the head and saying, "Enough, enough, enough." I have to end, but I can only end by saying that this room, this church, is full of people who love you and pray for you as I do, and will. I'm offering 30 Masses in a row, the old Gregorian tradition, for the repose of Ned's soul. And Ned, I know there is no way I can thank you, having been a brother, having been a great priest, having been a professor, but mostly an administrator, having had such a great soul and great love of so many people who love you. I know we're going to miss you, Ned, but we all go when the time comes and your time has come. I guess the best I can say is thanks, Ned, for those long days of caring, those long nights of work in the cause of Our Lady's school, to make it better and more worthy of her.
Thanks for all those prayers we needed, when we needed them very much. Thanks for all the wisdom that kept me from making a lot of silly mistakes at times. And thanks just for being a brother to your brothers, being a friend to all of us, being a willing and dedicated priest, ready to act like a priest when I needed it, and God knows I needed it a good deal. I think you're very proud that our good bishop is here, too, and he knew you and knew of your great qualities that made this place what it is.
I guess all we can say is, Ned, we'll be seeing you. I truly believe that. There will be more days when we can get around and talk about the glories of this wonderful place and all the wonderful people. There will be days ahead when we can look back and thank God we got through without too many scrapes and bruises. But especially, I think we'll look back with great gratitude for that wonderful grace Jesus gave us both in making us priests. To be able to offer the sacrifice of the Mass each day as we did when we traveled around the world together, to forgive sins, which is what Christ would have done, and to do it mercifully as He did. To baptize young children, to marry couples, and to somehow be a person who is everybody's friend, and everybody's helper.
Ned, you were a great priest and we thank you for that. We leave you in the hands of Our Lady, whose school you have done so much to make better. And I thank you, Ned, for just being my brother for so many years, and for putting up with me when I needed putting up with. For just always being there and always being helpful.
Eternal rest grant unto you, O Lord. Grant him eternal rest and may he rest in peace.