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September 17, 2008

The Loss of a Cherished Friend and Colleague

Eugene Hemrick

“Dean, you are more a priest than many priests I know!”

These sentiments of mine were expressed at a retirement party for Dr. Dean Hoge, who was a dear friend, and who contributed immensely to the growth of the Catholic Church through his sociological research.

When I was studying at Notre Dame, Father Bill Friend and I would muss about the wonderful possibilities research could provide our church. Bill became a bishop, and I went on to work at the Bishops’ Conference in Washington, D.C. as its director of research. For thirty years I experienced those dreams come true thanks to the support and friendship of Dean.

Although Dean produced numerous religious studies, he was more than a sociological scholar. He was a presbyterian minister with the heart of a priest! How often we would joke about his becoming a priest.

When you entered his office, you were met with a smile and felt his sincere interest in you. He practiced Benedictine hospitality par excellence! It was as if he saw Christ in everyone.

No problem was hopeless for him. He would just smile, look away and begin to sort it out in his mind. It was a smile that exuded hope, and in a very true way reflected Christ the Light of the World. He was brightness personified.

Often his office was piled with old newspapers. He strongly believed in stewardship and recycling God’s gifts of nature.

After spending almost half of my life with Dean Hoge in research, you get to wondering what was accomplished. Studies come and go, ending up on a dusty shelf.

What the Dean Hoges have done for us is to deepen the prudence we bring to carrying out the work of Christ. Everything we do for Christ rests on judgment. During his life Dean helped Catholics and non Catholics alike to make better prudential judgments in serving Christ. Like the King in the bible who sees a large army coming against him and sits down to sort out the best option, the Dean Hoges’ of our times help us pause and rethink what we are doing in order to accomplish them more wisely.

In the world of spirituality, simplicity is seen as a gift and blessing. Dean was not a person to go around in fancy suits or cuffs. He didn’t use the king’s language. He was simply himself: down-to-earth and authentic!

After discussing many a study together, Dean would often say to me, “Gene, you are a good man.” Dean you are not only a good man, but a blessed man who touched our hearts with love and wisdom. We thank God for letting our paths cross.