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Father Dan Once Again

Saturday morning my friend and pastor Dan Begin died at the home of his sister Donna. This is very hard for everyone who knew him, but he chose—and I emphasize chose—to ease the way for us all by his attitude of acceptance.

Father Dan was a glass-half-full sort of person. His sister Laura always said that Danny got up every morning looking to see how the Creator of the Universe had rearranged things for his entertainment. She also jokingly complained that he used up her family inheritance of serotonin. He was not, by any stretch, a depressive. So it makes sense, doesn’t it, that the day before he died he said, “I hope everyone is learning about dying from me. Don’t be afraid! It’s beautiful!”

And one of the last times I saw him, he asked me to pass on this wisdom: “We complicate life, but it’s really very simple.  It’s all about getting our basic needs met and seeing that others’ basic needs are met. Beyond that, all everyone really wants are family, a meal, playing some games, having fun. We complicate everything, we make wars, and we create drama. But it’s really all about finding joy in each other.”

Before you dismiss these attitudes as simplistic and Pollyanna-like, you need to understand how Father Dan spent his time, amidst more darkness and pain than most of us ever encounter. He sat by countless bedsides of people dying and performed hundreds of funerals—averaging three or four a week in recent years. In his large family, he witnessed debilitating illnesses and terrible accidents. Seven years ago, the diocese of Cleveland ripped away his church, his community, and his home of thirty years. He counseled victims of incest, rape, and other abuse.  He had a special ministry to people with addiction. He endured his own profound losses of parents, siblings, and friends. He himself suffered various ailments, even before the cancer that took his life. He knew and loved way too many people who died of gunshot wounds, suicide, and overdoses. He saw and confronted injustice everywhere.

No wonder that sometimes the good cheer gave way to dark humor and startling bluntness. I’ve heard more than one homily in which he said, “You know those people Jesus healed? They’re all dead now.” He meant that Jesus didn’t come to take away our problems. In fact, if you choose faith, you often choose a harder way. A few months ago, I heard him preach, “Our stories never end happily. It’s always a sad ending.” Of course, he had profound faith in an ultimate happy ending, but he was talking about the end of our lives on earth. “Life always has a tragic ending,” he said, and I thought then he was preparing us for what came on Saturday.

The astonishing thing about Father Dan is not his sunny optimism. It’s that it was so hard won. It’s true he was blessed with a sanguine temperament, but in order to deal with exhausting pain in his life and ministry he dived deep and prayed. He spent hours alone in nature, alone with Scripture, alone with music. He deliberately worked his way through grief and sadness. When I asked him once why he was so happy, he said, “It’s a decision. It’s conscious, and it’s a habit.” He didn’t avoid the dark tunnel. He chose it. He entered it willingly and suffered his way to the bright light at the end.

22 Comments

  1. Michele garrett wrote:

    So beautifully said

    Monday, February 20, 2017 at 5:03 pm | Permalink
  2. Robin koslen wrote:

    I am learning so much about Father Dan from your posts. This one in particular is pretty instructive. How to choose to live life well. Quite a concept. Thanks

    Monday, February 20, 2017 at 5:18 pm | Permalink
  3. Lee Wilberschied wrote:

    This eulogy would have made him proud, and it fills my heart. Thank you for sharing, in your own time of loss. I hope that you find comfort and blessing in sharing, not only his wisdom, but also your profound understanding. With sincere sympathy, Lee

    Monday, February 20, 2017 at 6:09 pm | Permalink
  4. Jane Hammond wrote:

    What a loving friendship you both shared. And thank you for this thoughtful entry and a bit of his voice.

    Monday, February 20, 2017 at 7:38 pm | Permalink
  5. Mary Mudler wrote:

    You put in words what we felt about Fr Dan and how we feel now. Blessed and saddened.

    Monday, February 20, 2017 at 8:05 pm | Permalink
  6. Rina Connor wrote:

    I have known many priests in my time and very few have been as warm and loving as Father Dan, He will be greatly missed Our thoughts and prayers are with his family. May God Bless Him.

    Monday, February 20, 2017 at 10:56 pm | Permalink
  7. Joanne westin wrote:

    What a beautiful tribute. To care so much about others in his own pain and to see the beauty in life in spite of observing and enduring great tragedy is truly remarkable.

    Monday, February 20, 2017 at 11:10 pm | Permalink
  8. Thanks for this. I met Dan’s brother, Bob, a couple of times when I pastored on the West side.
    Your writing spreads his impact. I’m keeping this one. Anything that teaches me how to die well also teaches me how to live well.

    Tuesday, February 21, 2017 at 7:35 am | Permalink
  9. mary Lako wrote:

    It is true that being happy is a decision. Father Dan always appeared joyful. I so enjoyed the times He was at your family functions. I will miss him, but I know he is with our Lord so his happiness is now complete.

    Tuesday, February 21, 2017 at 9:22 am | Permalink
  10. Marian lynch wrote:

    What a privilege it was to know this wonderful man. Truly God has a special place for him in
    His kingdom.

    Tuesday, February 21, 2017 at 10:22 am | Permalink
  11. Annmarie Palermo wrote:

    This is beautiful. We forget that he has been through so much loss. I am always surprised when someone says they don’t know Father Dan because it seems everyone should have had the honor of meeting him. I always say “You could have known him for five minutes or thirty years and he would still treat you with the same kindness. He was an amazing spirit and I am going to deeply miss him.

    Tuesday, February 21, 2017 at 3:39 pm | Permalink
  12. Dolores Posey wrote:

    Father Dan was more than just a priest. He was a friend. When I first became a Catholic as a young girl I saw priests as distant. Growing up I began to see priests becoming more warm but when I met Father Dan I saw a priest who really cared about the people he came in contact with. He had a real gift for understanding human behavior and accepting people and their flaws. He had a natural wit and was fun to be around but what has stood out most is his kindness and love of all people.
    I saw him recognize those who felt disenfranchised and how he helped them rise above their problems. A priest’s life is very busy but I have known him to take the time to hear the confession of a truck driver that stopped him while he was out for a walk.He was full of interesting ideas and how to bring them to fruition. He loved to eat and almost every event had food. He even cooked for our meetings at St. Cecilia making delicious soups or grilling hot dogs and hamburgers for special events.They say that God takes the good ones early .I truly believe that . He was great in our eyes and I feel that God saw that too.
    Sincerely
    Dee Posey

    Tuesday, February 21, 2017 at 4:36 pm | Permalink
  13. Amy Kesegich wrote:

    Thanks for this, Kathy. His loss is hard, but your words (and his) help ease the process.

    Tuesday, February 21, 2017 at 9:36 pm | Permalink
  14. Marsha Sedlak-Whitin wrote:

    I had the privilege of meeting Father Dan at my beloved Mother’s 90th Birthday Party! Everyone in our family Loved him dearly! Especially, my Mom!❤A little more than a year later he gave her last rights and performed her funeral mass! We will miss his sweet soul❤ My he rest in eternal peace!

    Tuesday, February 21, 2017 at 11:54 pm | Permalink
  15. Theresa Lucas-Edward wrote:

    Father Dan was the one who brought me back to the Catholic Church. He showed a spiritual side that most priests of his time did not show.You could talk to Father Dan about anything and he would always have some valuable insight on it.He was my priest that married my husband George and I 7 months after holding me up after the death of my father. He was a member of our family,not just a pastor of our church. He will be missed to much to put into words. R.I.P Father Dan.Even though the selfish child in me wants to keep you here I know it was your time to move on.

    Wednesday, February 22, 2017 at 7:59 am | Permalink
  16. Marilyn Petrilli wrote:

    Thank you for sharing. He was so special to so many and I am honored that I could call him friend.

    Wednesday, February 22, 2017 at 8:16 am | Permalink
  17. Theresa Lucas-Edward wrote:

    Father Dan was like a big brother to me. He brought me and my dad to Epiphany Church.He made me feel like my opinion and actions mattered. He was there to hold me up when my dad died, he was there to marry me to my husband George.His council got me through being a step-mom, my husbands 4 strokes,my disability and the decision of what was best to do with my ailing mom. He was a major factor in so many parts of my life it’s hard to think of going on without him here. But I know that I have to let him go. Father Dan earned his time to now RIP. There are no words to properly express how much I will miss him.

    Wednesday, February 22, 2017 at 8:18 am | Permalink
  18. kathleen sorna wrote:

    We were so blessed to have Fr.Dan. we all loved him and we felt his love for us.
    It is bittersweet but he well be wonderfully received and hugged by God.

    Wednesday, February 22, 2017 at 12:50 pm | Permalink
  19. Anna Marie Arsena wrote:

    Thank you for sharing. His funeral mass was beautiful & exactly as he wanted it. What a gift he is to those of us so blessed to have known him.

    Wednesday, February 22, 2017 at 3:07 pm | Permalink
  20. Carol Douglas wrote:

    Father Dan we will miss your wonderful smile and your down to earth personality and the way you made eveveyone your came in contact feel at home,thank you for a all are beautiful memories.

    Wednesday, February 22, 2017 at 6:31 pm | Permalink
  21. Annamarie Kachurek wrote:

    Thank you Kathy for your beautifully written post about our beloved Father Dan. I will miss his infectious laugh, and his loving spirit. Our family came to St. Cecilia Church at time when my faith was wavering in my former church home. I feel that God led me there and Fr Dan bound up my “wounds” and strengthened me, inspired me to live my faith more deeply. I am still working on that but now I have a powerful intercessor who has joined the communion of saints to aid me. I will wait in joyful hope that I may see you again but for now I am filled with gratitude to feel your spirit.

    Thursday, February 23, 2017 at 1:49 am | Permalink
  22. Diana Bertapelle wrote:

    I have such fond memories of Fr. Dan from my youth as a parishioner of Our Lady of Guadalupe. He became a part of our family. While we lost touch over the years, I will forever be blessed by having known him as a young lady. He modeled true discipleship and caring wherever he went, under any circumstances and I loved him for it.

    Thursday, February 23, 2017 at 7:17 am | Permalink

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  1. Kathy Ewing › How to Be Happy, Redux on Thursday, February 23, 2017 at 11:52 am

    […] readers and counting have read Monday’s post about Father Dan. As I posted on Facebook, I can now conclude that people find Father Dan more […]

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