During the first week of the New Year, I attended a liturgy celebrating the life of my friend George, who passed away a few days before Christmas. Because George was an inspiration to others, often moving them to action, there is no doubt that more than a few people left the church feeling gently nudged by George to put their 2012 resolutions into practice.
George was a pillar of his parish, Padre Serra in Camarillo, and the local community. He exuded positive energy. He was a jokester, never seemed to meet anyone he could not get along with, and was especially aware of what was going on with young people. One Sunday morning years ago as my oldest son was preparing to serve Mass and experiencing a spell of anxiety, George noticed his discomfort and stepped in to calm his fears. Others who knew George tell similar stories.
George moved to Camarillo nearly 30 years ago, well into his golden years. He became well-known in both church and civic circles. He was heralded as a philanthropist due to his funding and work with the Friends of the Library, Meadowlark Service League, Boys and Girls Club of Camarillo, FOOD Share, Rotary and the Camarillo Health Care district, to mention only a few.
He was equally involved with the Catholic community, supporting St. Mary Magdalen School and St Bonaventure High School in Ventura. He was always selling raffle or event tickets, attending sporting matches or helping out with the Knights of Columbus. Recently, he funded a chapel at St. John’s Pleasant Valley Hospital in Camarillo. He was a sacristan and Eucharistic minister and could often be found at daily Mass.
George didn’t spend a lot of time talking about God, but it was evident he was a devout believer, a holy man who celebrated the life God gave him, always finding the good and the positive.
If Padre Serra parish had a mascot, it would have been George. He greeted everyone with a mischievous smile and a bit of humor. While his outgoing personality kept him front and center, his funding of church projects was not as well known. He watched and listened, and when help was needed he would quietly take care of it, whatever “it” was.
Still, George lived simply despite his ability to make major contributions to so many organizations. He loved to spend Saturday mornings cruising through town checking out garage sales. It was meeting the people who were out shopping that motivated him most.
While he will be remembered for his generosity, I will remember him as a very kind man of faith, a man who took his faith out the church door and into the world. He didn’t spend a lot of time talking about God, but it was evident he was a devout believer, a holy man who celebrated the life God gave him, always finding the good and the positive. He seemed to know how to face difficulty and move to the next stage of life.
George was widowed twice, once as a young man with a young family and then just a few years ago when his wife Alda died very suddenly. He could have resigned himself to loneliness; instead he embraced the remainder of his life with optimism and continued to look for opportunities to engage with and help others.
When my father moved to town, I took him to a parish dinner where he met George. From that evening on my father had a new best friend which delighted me almost as much as it did him. Together my father and George would carry out their sacristan and Eucharistic minister duties and travel throughout the town, drumming up raffle items for whatever fundraiser the parish was having. They enjoyed golf and had a good time. Their common interest in and love of the church gave them plenty to talk about.
George lived by the two greatest commandments: He loved God and he loved his neighbor --- publicly and proudly.