Excerpted from the funeral homily given by Fr. Donald Doll, SJ
We joined the Jesuits the same year, 1955; I didn’t think much of the rules, and Dick got migraines trying to follow the rules. He was made spiritual father for the incoming first year novices. We had both novice experiments together, a month in a local hospital and eight weeks at the Saint Paul retreat house. Our novice master, Joe Sheehan, had asked Dick to keep an eye on me. And Dick never did report that I arranged for
myself a family visit in the hospital and in the train station during the Milwaukee stopover between Oshkosh and Saint Paul while Dick wandered around the station alone, missing his Milwaukee family.
We really didn’t become close friends until seven years later. He joined me teaching in our third year of regency at St. Francis Mission, where we each had life-changing experiences. He learned to pray in a new way by taking long walks at night under the beautiful South Dakota skies. I wondered what I was going to do as a Jesuit and asked myself what I love doing and answered “photography.” It was Dick who eventually helped me realize it was how the Spirit speaks to each of us in our hearts.
We developed a deeper friendship and love when Dick arrived at Creighton in 1972 and began teaching theology classes. Those early years were extremely difficult for Dick. He was teaching about God, the Holy Spirit, in our hearts, not concepts in our heads. Some theology professors termed his classes “window dressing” and lobbied to get Dick fired from the faculty. Those were difficult years for Dick. He was finally vindicated when Abbot Thomas Keating labeled Dick’s book one of the best spiritual theology books in America. To this day, Creighton’s theology department stands out among Jesuit universities for its focus on discovering God in our lives.
We made many retreat trips together in Wyoming’s Ten Sleep Canyon. In the ’70s he introduced me to Centering prayer during those retreats. We camped around the West and thoroughly explored Nebraska, following the Great Platte River Road while reading the diaries of the 1849 travelers. And yes, he thoroughly enjoyed sitting in a camp chair watching the sun set with a Manhattan in his hand. He loved praying, reflecting, and writing in his journal in the midst of nature.
The final leg of our sacred journey was at Creighton during Dick’s last eight weeks, as my brothers and I did home hospice with him, in his “room with a view.” He loved praying and journaling each morning overlooking the Jesuit Gardens.
In his room, Dick came to terms with dying, which he described so honestly in his last homily to his Renew group that met regularly for the last three decades. At that Mass, he reflected on the Gospel reading of the day: “Everyone who believes in him will have Eternal Life,” he said. “My focus on finding God in this life is the right focus, but it hasn’t made me look forward to the next life.” He paused: “I like this life and I don’t want to die.” Then he reflected: “The spirituality I’ve been doing would be enhanced by a realization that this life is a prelude to the next life.”
At the end of Dick’s last homily, he asked a question that he often did in a dialog homily: “What occurs to you as we begin to think about our next life?”
Dick’s great gift is to remind us to always look to our God, to speak to the one who loves us so deeply, and to find that Spirit in our hearts.