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Posted November 3, 2008

One of Many Precious Gifts Dean Hoge was to us!

On the west side of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., a frieze above the entrance depicts Justice in the middle surrounded by men lying on their sides and seemly having a good time conversing with each other.

To the far right and left of them are two serious men, who are deeply engrossed in reading.

At the very ends of the frieze are burning oil lamps.

The men who seem to be frolicking actually are taking counsel with each other — the counsel needed to make right judgments and sound laws.

The men who are reading represent study that is needed for getting at the truth of the matter. The oil lamps symbolize the need to burn the midnight oil in order for justice to happen.

Among the many wonderful gifts Dean Hoge was to me, his example of taking counsel with others every time we embarked on a study stands out. There were many times we traveled this country to consult with people we felt were in the thick and thin of the issues we were surveying.

Not only this, but we were forever consulting related literature that pertained to our research. Our first study together in the early 1980s was not an actual study using survey instruments, but a study of all the studies conducted on seminarians.

Once a study was underway, Dean personified burning the midnight oil par excellence.

I will never forget the day we discussed this Protestant work ethic of ours.

“Dean,” I said, “did you ever reflect on how many studies we have conducted over the years and how we worked nonstop on each of them?”

“You're right, Gene,” he replied, and then asked, “what do you think is behind this?”

“Dean, listen to the names of the people with whom we have worked: Bleichner, Buamgartener, Brinkmoeller, Hofheinz, and then there are Hemrick and Hoge. When you have the Third Reich working with you, is it no wonder so much has been accomplished?”

The hearty laughter that followed is one of my fondest memories of the wonderful, fun-loving friendship we enjoyed.

Dean was a very hard worker, but not a one man show. He taught me that no matter how much we felt we knew the area of research we were studying, and no matter how advanced we were, others heads needed to be consulted. He taught me that we were to be forever open to ideas, insights and the knowledge of others. No matter the time it took, this was absolutely imperative in conducting research. In practicing this, he practiced prudence at its best.

Prudence is the direct antithesis of being a know-it-all. Two of its principle requirements are docility and the humility.

One of my fondest recollections of a Dean Hogeism is a question he was forever asking, “Well, Gene, what do you think about this?” When I gave my understanding of the problem, he would muse for a moment and then say, “You know, I never thought of that before.”

How I cherished those exchanges because they were filled with a profound sense of being a true colleague of his. I believe these experiences were at the bottom of our enormous output. Often I have told people that we never, ever had a cross word between us. We worked as one, living the proverb “in unity there is strength!”

The word humility comes from humus, meaning earth. Dean Hoge was as down-to-earth as you could be, always putting aside his inklings in order to gleam the counsel of others.

Interestingly, St. Thomas Aquinas states that the virtue of counsel belongs to the spiritual works of mercy: instructing the ignorant; counseling the doubtful; admonishing sinners; bearing wrongs patiently; forgiving offences willingly; comforting the afflicted; praying for the living and the dead.

As a Presbyterian minister and eminent sociologist, Dean was all of the above. He was on a mission, the mission of dispelling ignorance and doubt in his pursuit of truth. Getting as much as the entire story was his priority, no matter if it was about the future of the priesthood, young adults, international priests, multiculturalism, or the most complex of religious issues.

Some months ago, America lost Tim Russert of Meet the Press, who, like Dean Hoge, was forever plumbing the depths of truth. Upon his death, there was an enormous outpouring of tears and knowing we had lost, not a great man, but a wonderful person. That same outpouring was repeated on the death of Dean Hoge. But why this outpouring of sentiments, why the tears? Is it not because they both were lovers of truth who burnt the midnight oil in pursuing it. We loved them because they loved their work and its service to humankind. They were philosophers, humanitarians and the personification of the spiritual works of mercy taking us to a new level of thinking.

Today, we live in a time in which truth is becoming more and more elusive. Often it is clouded, twisted and abused for self-serving purposes. And often those who should be defending it aren’t burning the midnight oil and going the extra mile to find it.

Every so often a person crosses our path who pursues truth and reminds us of Christ who is the Truth. We cry when they are gone as those who mourned Christ and the truths he taught us. We mourn them because their love of truth is love at its best, lifting us beyond our normal way of understanding to new and more exciting levels of it.

Thanks Dean for helping us replace doubts and ignorance with deeper understandings and the truth. Thanks for your example of docility and humility that are the sign of a true scholar. Thanks for the lesson of good, hard work and the fruits it produces. Thanks most of all for being you, a person in love with the truth. You lived the Book of Wisdom and its counsel to us, “Wisdom is the principle thing, get wisdom and with all thy getting get understanding.”