Winston Churchill wrote: “Never give up! Never give in! Never, Never, Never, Never—-in anything great or small, large or petty—-never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.”
Father Patrick Rager lived these words of Winston Churchill. Affectionately known as Father Paddy, he loved everything Irish, and was a man of many talents. Born on August 14, 1959, in West Homestead Pennsylvania, he attended St Mary Magdalene School where he served as an altar boy. At Central Catholic High School in Pittsburgh, Paddy excelled in both athletics and academics. Today his picture hangs in their alumni hall of fame.
In 1981, he earned a bachelor’s degree from Duquesne University where he studied theology and psychology. While attending Duquesne, he earned his emergency medical technician certificate and served in the Air Force Reserves for two years achieving the rank of lieutenant. In the same year, he earned a master’s degree in theology from Christ the King Seminary in New York and a master’s degree in clinical psychopathology from St. Bonaventure University in New York. On May 11, 1985, he was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Anthony Bevilacqua at St. Paul Cathedral in Pittsburgh. His first assignment was as parochial vicar at St Sylvester in Brentwood, a Pittsburgh suburb, where he served from 1985 to 1987.
The first sign of illness appeared when he was a seminarian. His knee gave out during a baseball game. More falls and weakening lead to many medical tests and several misdiagnoses. Finally, after fifteen years, a diagnosis of ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, a slow and fatal paralysis, was made. Father Paddy’s condition deteriorated and in 1987, he moved into an apartment in his parent’s home. His priesthood changed direction there. Although he was confined to a wheelchair and eventually bedridden, he did not stop serving others. He wrote articles for Catholic publications. He developed a telephone and mail ministry that offered prayer, support, encouragement and counseling for persons with disabilities. After an article about him appeared in a national Catholic newsweekly, this ministry expanded to people in different areas of the world. Even with his many physical limitations, Father Paddy’s priesthood was incredibly alive and strong. His great love for Jesus showed in Father Paddy’s joyful attitude.He would flash a radiant smile and his dark eyes lit up when a joke or funny story was afoot. He enjoyed watching football games on TV, especially when his favorite team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, played. He focused on the lighter side of things, the goodness of life, and rarely complained. He was more concerned about hearing what others had to say than talking about himself. His strong devotion to Mary was revealed in his attentiveness and readiness to offer hope. He wrote: “Storms arrive in all of our lives with some regularity. Many times they arrive without warning. They test our strength and resolve. In these difficult circumstances, we must remember that Jesus is in the boat with us on this chaotic, turbulent sea of life, just as he was in the boat with the apostles, calming them as he rebuked the winds and the waters. For the moment, he may appear silent, but he never forsakes us.” A priest wrote to him: “Perhaps you have been selected as a martyr witness to many of the rest of us who should be better priests.” When he could no longer speak, he wrote using eye movements and a computer screen. Father Paddy’s priesthood was used in a way he could not have imagined at ordination. On the 20th of July 2010, at the age of fifty, he went home to Jesus from the home where he was born and raised.
Father Paddy’s former bishop, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, said: “He really was an example of heroic virtue.” Indeed, Father Paddy never gave up. He exemplified everyday holiness in prayer, in service and in suffering. Along with Paul the apostle, he could write: “I rejoice in my sufferings. In my body I do all that I can to fill up what has yet to be endured by Christ for the sake of his body, the Church.” (Col 1:24) Testimonies are being gathered to support a potential cause for his sainthood.
John of the Cross once wrote: “And I saw the river over which every soul must pass to reach the kingdom of heaven, and the name of the river was suffering. And I saw the boat which carries souls across the river, and the name of the boat was love.”
CAROLYN HUMPHREYS, O.C.D.S., O.T.R. is a discalced Carmelite secular and a registered occupational therapist. She is author of several books, including: From Ash to Fire: A Contemporary Journey through the Interior Castle of Teresa of Avila, Carmel Land of the Soul: Living Contemplatively in Today’s World, Mystics in the Making: Lay Women in Today’s Church, Everyday Holiness: A Guide to Living Here and Getting to Eternity and Living Through Cancer,a Practical Guide to Cancer Related Concerns, Her articles have been published in Homiletic and Pastoral Review, Spiritual Life, The Priest, Review for Religious, Carmelite Digest, Spirituality, Religious Life Review, Mount Carmel and other Catholic journals. You can find her reflections online at: Contemplative Christianity Org.wordpress.com