I visited him in the Carmelite Nursing Home, the acme of compassion, care and respect for the priesthood. He was sitting in a wheelchair, decked out in a Roman collar, hiccupping, and looking very frightened. There was an empty look in his eyes. He spoke no word but hunched in his chair almost as if he expected some kind of blow.
He was my classmate. We were ordained together over 50 years ago when we were full of enthusiasm and hope and laughter. He had been orphaned early in life when he and his brothers were "farmed out" to different families which took them in for rearing and healing. Their name had been Skomro and my classmate was called Karol like his look alike, John Paul II. But under the weird thinking of the 1940's he was ordered to change his name to White. No longer could he glory in the gorgeous Slavic tradition of bearing the beautiful Eastern European nomenclature. He had to try to "pass" as some kind of hybrid Wasp or "Standard American." But Karol or Charlie or Chud (as his close friends called him) obediently accepted what seemed (to most of us) an irrational artifice.
He had difficulty with studies in the seminary but like another "marginal" student called John Vianney, Chud had some utterly remarkable qualities. Everyone could see that we had an extraordinary candidate here. He wouldn't write fancy books or give illustrious lectures or be elected to leadership posts in his community. Everyone sensed by a kind of pre-rational radar that Chud would be a "dandy" of a priest.
Everywhere he went- Clemson, Los Angeles, New York, Boston - he was a sensation. Was it that captivating eternal smile he had? Was it his gentle understanding? His unconditional acceptance of everyone he met ? His ferocious loyalty to what and whom he admired? Was it his generosity? His willingness to drive any of us to the airport or Philadelphia or North Caorlina? Nothing seemed too demanding for him. If you want his help, you've got it. Was it his profound need to be accepted? To be a part of a family he never really had?
One thing was obvious. He profoundly loved being a priest. This identified his self concept above all. If he were asked which held priority in his life, priesthood or community, he needed only a millesecond to respond. He really felt the he---Karol, Charles, Chud--was, in fact, the Alter Christus. When he was clearly "losing it" he insisted on saying Mass in the chapel each day. It mattered not whether there were attendees there. He believed that he was offering the Perfect Sacrifice before the very court of Heaven. A sound Theologic base recomended by John Paul II.
Alone at Mass? Not at all. He was surrounded, he believed, by angels and saints and the Mother of God and Jesus Himself. He told me --before he lapsed into his present quasi vegetative state---that he was able to say Mass every day during that trying time.
His devotion to Christ in the Eucharist was patent. He would sit in the front pew and simply gaze at the tabernacle for long periods of time. As his disease progressed, he slept before his Master and seemed comforted by the Blessed Sacrament.
A simple, humble and holy man was this man Chud. If there was any single trait that drove his confreres to distraction, it was his need to talk at great length----just so we would understand what he was trying to say. The common wisdom was that Chud always had a good introduction to his presentations (even in one on one conversations),a reasonable body of thought---but--man--he never had a conclusion.
But his goodness and brotherhood more than overrode such a tendency. He was just a loveable and holy child of God. What I saw in the nursing home was some kind of shell. It looked like Chud. But it wasn't truly Chud. The Lord knows what He is doing obviously. We accept the basic proposition of Life's intrinsic value--even in such a depressing and incomprehensible situation as this. Perhaps, Chud is simply doing his mission in another form. But let us forget the hot shot big talk. This is the bottom line of life. May we all be blessed under God by Chud's simple, direct awareness of the Lord. Would that we could share some of his holiness. It was a privilege and honor to have known him.