Just before heading home from a several day conference in support of the life of priests which took place in California this past week, I received the sad news of the death of William Neenan SJ of Boston College. During the years that I was blessed to labor in the offices of The Church in the 21st Century Center at that celebrated Jesuit institution, one of the best daily blessings received was the apparent happenstance that the C21 offices were located in Heffernan House on College Road upstairs from Father Neenan’s office.
In retrospect, this daily good remains one of the lasting benedictions of that time. Father Bill Neenan was already for thirty years a Boston College legend at that time. The welcome, camaraderie, and kindness I found in him from day one is an experience shared likely by thousands over the years of his life and priesthood. Many times a week we would run into one another in our little Heffernan kitchen, outside his office, or on the walkways leading to the building. Occasionally he would climb upstairs to our area of the building and be rightly received as a revered visitor.
Every meeting with Bill Neenan, no matter how incidental, was a moment, a conversation, a celebration in the company of a man who embodied the Gospel of Christ. He was through and through a member of the Society of Jesus. His words and actions and demeanor proclaimed Jesus with quiet, love, and a sense of inevitable goodness.
His story-telling skills brought to life past decades and places half-way across the country, making them present and real. In that same sacramental sense his person made present the One whom he served with great heart, always and everywhere.
Dorothy Day called her autobiography The Long Loneliness. This believer, known as a pre-eminent social activist, recognized an empty place at the heart of life. She also found the fullness that is divinely provided for that human space and spoke of it in these terms:
We cannot love God unless we love each other, and to love we must know each other, We know Him in the breaking of bread, and we know each other in the breaking of bread, and we are not alone anymore. Heaven is a banquet and life is a banquet too, even with a crust, where there is companionship.
At the Table of the Eucharist and in the Eagle’s Nest, this beautiful man loved God in us all, invited us to the breaking of bread and to the recognition that happens only there, and helped us not to be alone. Bill Neenan was an emissary from that best of all banquets.
There is a lot of fist-bumping going on around the celestial dinner table tonight.
Thank you, Father Neenan, for every moment. Exult in joy.