There’s nothing I liked better than to sit down with Father Dan Begin over a cup of coffee, ask a question, and then just listen. I had this privilege over many hours, and I’d like to share my good fortune with others. Beginning as a transcription of these conversations, my book, Lead Me, Guide Me: The Life and Example of Father Dan Begin, transformed into a memoir of a friendship, centered around Father Dan’s remarkable Christ-centered life, his sense of humor, and his unique insights into ministry.
Before his death from esophageal cancer in 2017, Father Dan spent about forty years ministering to the poorest neighborhood in Cleveland, sometimes rated the poorest city in America. He was a white priest who was welcomed into the homes (and church communities and funeral homes) of African-American families. He was friends with celebrities and athletes as well as homeless families and his impoverished neighbors. He raised seven young men without a breath of scandal. He was one of thirteen children, full of stories of growing up in the fifties and sixties in a hardscrabble household of thirty-seven people on Cleveland’s West Side. His first-hand views of poverty and the Church’s role in the city are especially relevant now, as rates of poverty rise in the very neighborhoods where Catholic churches, including Father Dan’s, are closing.
I did not foresee that I would be writing and trying to publish this book after Dan’s death. His life and stories are now enhanced by the poignant, inspiring example of his death and dying. Two days before he died, he led the family and friends around his bed in singing a hearty chorus of “Amen.” He died as he lived, consciously trying, as his son Tim put it, to “show us how to do it.”
Shanti Arts, a Maine publisher, will publish Lead Me, Guide Me in 2020. Shanti will make Father Dan’s hopeful perspective and loving example available to an engaged audience of people of all faiths.