On Easter Sunday this year a great man passed away. His name was George Dabrowski and he was a Catholic priest of the Vincentian order. More importantly, he was a deeply passionate individual who was a giant of a man, and everyone who knew him was the better for having done so.
Father George came into my life during a transition in the Lisbon, ME, Catholic scene, when three parishes were merged into one. Times were getting a little rough to be a Catholic, especially an American Catholic, and I'm not referring to the sexual abuse scandals that would come to light in the years ahead. The congregation was aging, and it wasn't being replaced. Tensions were high. Each parish was like a small country. One of them, St. Cyril and Methodius, was in fact made up of the descendants of Slavic immigrants who greatly cherished their traditions. My family, originated at Holy Family, transitioned into each of the three churches, including St. Anne's. We were extremely active. I was an alter boy and later a lector.
The biggest crisis in Catholic America is the rapidly diminishing supply of priests. If there are fewer young Catholics, then it stands to reason that there are fewer of them who embrace a vocation still traditionally kept to males, even though other denominations have welcomed women for years into their leadership roles. The problem with meeting Father George, the only one, is that they clearly don't make them like him anymore. His first homily in any new congregation was this kind of introduction:
"It's Dabrowski. Not Dumbrowski. Not Damnbrowski."
Yeah, so that's what kind of guy he was. He had a terrific sense of humor. Yet he also gave the best mass I've ever attended. I don't know how it is for other Christians, but mass for Catholics can be a fairly uninspired affair. The whole point is to celebrate our faith, but more often than not it can be a matter of going through the motions, both for the congregation and the priest. When Father George celebrated mass, you were engaged the whole time. Every single homily of his was worth paying attention to. He didn't preach. He brought us together. He drew us in. He inspired us. He entertained us. His homilies were the opposite of the rest of his mass, and yet they were essential to it and reflective of it.
Anyway, he was more than just a Catholic priest. As I said, he was a great man. For whatever reason my family got to benefit a great deal from his presence. He'd regularly welcome us into his home, cook us terrific spaghetti dinners with sauce he labored on throughout the day, packed with kielbasa, with a side of garlic bread. We watched the Cowboys win two Super Bowls on just such occasions. We became a part of his whole act. Everyone knew his obsession with mashed potatoes, but thanks to him, my father had several opportunities to be embarrassed in hilarious ways in public, once on a Moxie Day float in which he and several other guys dressed up as Little Bo Peep and other obviously female characters. My father has a beard, has for as long as I've been alive. Little Bo Peep does not have a beard.
We had tons of running jokes. Father George gave us a pillow in the shape of a clown's head, and claimed that he was always watching us through this stuffed surrogate. My brother won first place in the science fair. Father George knew this because every time we spoke with him, my brother reminded him of it, not out of pride, but because that's the sort of thing you do with friends. Father George had this enormous candle that had particular religious significance to him. It was never to be lit. But we liked to joke about doing exactly that all the time.
Father George is the reason I read comics in 1993. I read a lot of comics that year thanks to him, and that's the whole reason why I was finally able to get into them, after years of deep yearning. But Father George was deeply scholarly. He kept an archive as enormous as that candle, and moving him from one place to another was more a matter of moving that archive. I got comic books from him, and also a desire to build something half as impressive as he'd built for himself. It's the reason I have the library I do today, why I'm always saving things that other people would've gotten rid of years ago, because someday I'll try and make the same effort he did his whole life. We can only be pale imitations of those we admire.
I haven't even begun to express what he meant to everyone. His obituary is here, but that won't tell you the first thing about him, only the second third and fourth. The first is that he was generous in every way, and in ways that my family is probably only now even beginning to appreciate, and it wasn't just what we experienced, but what everyone experienced. He didn't push himself on anyone. He didn't have to. He was a force of nature.
And he will be greatly missed.