Remembering a fearless man of faith

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(CNS photo/Rick Musacchio, Tennessee Register)

This is a direct quote. “There are few among us that live their lives as a saint or an angel walking among us.” It was written by Pat Nolan, a longtime, very respected political analyst and commentator in Nashville, Tennessee. Usually, his weekly, widely read columns deal with elections, legislative acts, and the back and forth of politics.

Nolan added to a recent column a tribute to Father Charles F. Strobel, who died in early August after a long, slowly progressing illness, in the 80th year of his life, 53 years after his ordination as a priest of the Nashville diocese. Nolan said that, in Father Strobel, an angel walked the earth.

His passing, and the eulogies that followed it, made headlines in Nashville because of Father Strobel’s work for homeless people.

A friend to the homeless

Mayor John Cooper (D.-Nashville), an Episcopalian, mourning the priest, said that Father Strobel awakened the entire community to the plight of the homeless, and to the fact that, regardless of personal situation, everyone is God’s treasured child, with the right to demand the respect and active compassion of every person.

Forty years ago, Father Strobel became pastor of an old, under-resourced but solidly Catholic inner-city parish. Many times every day, people out of luck came to the door asking for help. Rather than giving them a sandwich and closing the door, Father Strobel planned, organized, recruited help and raised money for what became the most effective, imaginative and inclusive sanctuary for the homeless in the city.

Nashvillians of all faiths took notice. The city will soon open a large, comprehensive facility for the homeless. It will not be a Catholic operation, but Mayor Cooper announced that it will be called the “Father Charles F. Strobel Center.”

Unafraid with the Lord

Several years, leaders in Nashville from every category of life honored Father Strobel. He recalled his years at the Theological College, in Washington, D.C., where candidates for the priesthood study at The Catholic University of America.

At the time, the university had one of the finest Scripture departments in the world. He said that, in the classes, he heard again and again and again about the prophets and about Jesus. Father Strobel realized why the Church sees as so critical its outreach to the poor, why caring for the poor and speaking up for the poor is so essentially Catholic, so everlastingly important in Church history, an uncompromised priority. He learned that the Lord excluded no one, punished no one, gave up on no one. Each and every human being is precious.

Some years ago, on Dec. 8, solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, Father Strobel’s widowed mother, a gentle, loving and loveable soul, went to holy day Mass at his parish. She then vanished. Police found her body in the trunk of her car. She had been overwhelmed in a parking lot, robbed of $34 and stabbed to death. They caught her assailant, who was tried and convicted.

The prosecutor asked for the death penalty. Father Strobel himself went to the court to plead for the assailant’s life. He argued that every life is precious.

Father Strobel once said that he was never afraid, tired or discouraged because he knew that the Lord was with him.

Saints and angels among us

The little church that he had pastored could not hold everyone who wanted to pay tribute. Nashville came together in an impressive ecumenical memorial service. Every big name in town was there, country music stars, ministers of other religions. A former governor spoke.

Thousands upon thousands prayed that, in God’s kingdom, he forever would be with the Lord, who never left him alone.

“Praised be Jesus Christ!,” one person, hands uplifted, called out to Nashville Bishop Mark Spalding as the bishop arrived for the ecumenical memorial.

Praised be the Lord, indeed, for sending saints and angels to walk with us, especially when we have nowhere to go, without friends and without hope.

Msgr. Owen F. Campion

Msgr. Owen F. Campion is OSV’s chaplain.