By Dale Goodwin (’86)
Father Tony Lehmann, S.J., one of the most loved and cherished men ever to walk the Gonzaga campus, left all who walked by his side better for having known him. He never said good-bye. He ended every conversation with “to be continued.”
Closing each issue of Gonzaga Magazine – and now starting a University blog – named To Be Continued, is our way of keeping Father Tony’s spirit close. A man of keen observation, he seemed to sense how much more we wanted to engage with him. If not for time, he would have continued the conversation with every one of us, for he cared so deeply about everyone he met.
Who Was Father Tony?
A native of Murphysboro, Illinois, Tony entered the Army after high school. During his tour of duty he visited Hiroshima, and a nearby lepers’ colony. He was struck by the happy faces he found on those afflicted. It was then that he decided to become a priest.
This extraordinary man, priest, friend, lived for 16 years as a cloistered Carthusian monk in Swiss and Italian monasteries, spending his days in silence, praying. On a 1969 road trip to Florence to renew his passport, he stopped by Gonzaga-in-Florence to visit with Father Clement Regimbal, S.J., director of that program. Father Reggie asked him to say Mass for the summer months and Fr. Tony was hooked. He became a Jesuit, and served as GIF dean of students, assistant director and chaplain of the Alumni Association, and men’s basketball chaplain.
Padre, as he was affectionately known, lived a celebratory life. He performed more than 1,000 wedding ceremonies and baptisms. He had a quiet calmness about him. Whether it was ministering to an ill student with Monk’s Medicine, as he called it, or taking students on a tour of the Holy Land, Fr. Tony always brought an aura of peace with him.
It was on a basketball trip to New York that Tony took ill. His Leukemia progressed rapidly. He knew the next chapter in his life was soon to come, and he was ready.
If Love is Power, Who Could Be More Powerful?
When faced with Leukemia in early 2002, Padre and I had a long conversation in his Jesuit House infirmary room. He talked about the prospect of chemotherapy and its side effects, and the chance it would not result in a positive outcome. After careful discernment, he decided to leave his future in God’s hands, not surprising for a man who always talked about “trusting without understanding.”
He died March 8, less than three months after diagnosis. The way Father Tony died is a reflection of how our dear friend lived . . . with grace, a positive spirit, a sense of humor, immense care for others and total trust in God.
More than 3,000 of his “best friends” attended his standing-room-only funeral Mass at the Martin Centre where he had sat on the end of the bench as basketball chaplain for 20 years. Trustee Tim Barnard, from Bozeman, Montana, was a Florentine with Fr. Tony in the early ‘70s. In his eulogy he recited Father Robert Spitzer’s take on love and power. “Love becomes power and power becomes love until they are inseparable and indistinguishable,” Barnard recalled. “So if love is power, then who could be more powerful than Fr. Tony?”
But Padre didn’t leave without continuing the conversation on what he called the pivotal reflection points in life: “1. Nothing is the end of the world except the end of the world. 2. The best gifts we can give each other which have lasting significance are our deliberate gifts of attention and interest. 3. We have a good God. 4. Imitation is the most sincere form of appreciation and flattery. 5. We’re made in the image of the Author of Life. 6. All that is expected is that we let our light of faith and perspective shine so that God’s goodness may be made visible in the eyes of others.”
To be continued . . .
[Author Dale Goodwin (’86) has seen a lot over his 33 years at Gonzaga, some of which he is at liberty to talk about. A story teller at heart, he encourages you to share your stories with him, as well. Goodwin@gonzaga.edu or 509-313-6133.]