Clarence

For the last several weeks, we’d wonder, would we see Clarence at 9:30 Mass for his usual  duty as usher.  He died Oct. 14.  Monday, several hundred of us bade farewell to our friend at Basilica of St. Mary, Minneapolis.

Two or three months ago, some time after Clarence had told a number of us that a cancer diagnosis was terminal, cards had been distributed to those who wished to congratulate our Pastor, John Bauer, on a significant anniversary.  A portion of the photo on the card is below.  I looked at the card showing the entire congregation posing, with the altar in the background, and there was our Clarence Birk.  (He’s the guy in the blue shirt.  The photo is undated, I do remember being at the Church that day).

Monday, Father Bauer wore a blue cassock, rather than the more traditional black – ” blue was Clarence’s favorite color”, he said.  He also said that, with Clarence’s death, an era had ended.  Clarence spent almost all of his 88 years as part of Basilica of St. Mary; 65 of those years he’d been an usher.

Basilica of St. Mary, exact date unknown, Clarence (per above photo) is at lower right.

So it went, as we said goodbye to a good friend.  Visitation on Monday was at what I call the ‘back’ of the church.  I’m sure there is a fancier name.   But it was not lost on me that we were gathering to celebrate Clarence’s life at the place where he ushered, it was said, for 65 of his 88 years.  There was only one Clarence!

Clarence’s ashes were displayed at the Mary chapel at that same  “back of the Church”.  In a sense, Clarence was right at home for our farewell:

Everyone who knew Clarence will have their own special memories.  He was a common man – but who of us isn’t a common person?  But in assorted quiet ways Clarence made a difference in people’s lives.  He is at peace.  We’re better for having known him.  Farewell.

*

In an earlier post, I talked about Clarence and my affection for him.  Here’s what I offered:

“…One especially, though, is my friend Clarence, who was one of the first other than family visitors when I was in intensive care last December.  Some months later Clarence, now 88, was diagnosed with advanced cancer – pancreatic, and is certainly close to the end of his time as a friend to so many of us.  It won’t be long for him.  We haven’t seen him at church for some weeks now.  Great, great guy.  As I heard a minister eulogize a younger man years ago who’d died in a car accident, Clarence definitely ‘lived before he died’.  At 88, he won’t need the rest of that long ago eulogy “died before he was finished”.  Clarence has run the race with grace.

[Phone message overnite Oct 14: Clarence Birk has died.  Funeral at Basilica of St. Mary on Monday Oct 21 11 a.m. visitation followed by funeral at noon.  RIP]

I’ve become fond of saying that “the main cause of death is life“.  None of us are “forever young”, whatever the age.  Best to live as best we can, one day at a time, giving back in the sundry ways available to us, such as the young lady taking my ‘pitcher’ this morning!  Work for a better world.”

My last photo of Clarence Birk, August 14, 2019, at Basilica of St. Mary, Minneapolis. We’d just spent two or three hours ‘touring’ his old haunts, one of the main ones being Basilica of St. Mary which was his lifelong parish.

Hands of Basilica of St. Mary parishioners. September 28, 2019. The parish is celebrating 150 years this year.

Clarence Birk (back row center) Feb 8, 2001, Habitat for Humanity group from Basilica of St. Mary. Clarence was very active in Habitat projects, and otherwise ‘handy’ in the manual arts!  This would have been about the time I got to know him.  One doesn’t keep tabs on such events – possibly I had just started working as an usher at the church, where Clarence was already involved.  I just don’t know for sure.

Downtown Minneapolis (zoom lens)as seen from Clarence Birk’s boyhood backyard in north Minneapolis August 14, 2019. Clarence and others walked to Basilica School.

Habitat for Humanity Construction Crew September 11, 2001, lunch break on the porch.  This photo probably was taken during the day, before any of us knew that the Towers were going to collapse.   There was a radio at the site, but that was the only outside communication.

Basilica of St. Mary Oct 27, 2019

COMMENTS:

from Mary: Thank you for sharing this Mr. Bernard – so thoughtful and touching.  He was indeed a good man.
It was nice to talk with you and your wife yesterday.

3 replies
  1. Tom Geisen
    Tom Geisen says:

    Clarence was a one of a kind and will always appear in my mind as I enter 9:30 Mass. We always exchanged comments and shook hands and traded smiles….miss him…

    Reply
  2. Donald Wolesky
    Donald Wolesky says:

    The Basilica describes ushers as “ministers of hospitality,” and Clarence was the embodiment of hospitality. As Fr. Bauer remarked during his funeral, if Clarence wasn’t there to greet you, it didn’t seem like a valid Mass! So true! We were not close friends, but each Sunday he greeted me by name and often offered some subtle witticism. He even commented on one or two letters to the editor that I had submitted to the ‘Strib and he had read. His warm, genuine and friendly greetings are already sorely missed. Rest in Peace, Clarence.

    Reply
  3. Br Bob Roddy
    Br Bob Roddy says:

    A kind and holy man….

    Clarence and his late wife, Caroline, were regular retreatants for our Married Couples’ Retreats. They always spoke of their love for their parish community, the Basilica of St. Mary. After Caroline was called by Sister Death, Clarence became a “regular” on our February Men’s Retreats. A kind, generous and holy man, Clarence never put the spotlight on himself, yet he was probably one of the first to offer a helping hand or a word of encouragement to others. I’m sure that his love, encouragement and gentle humor will continue to call all of us to be kinder and gentler souls.

    Br. Bob Roddy, OFM Conv.

    Br. Bob Roddy, OFM Conv., Director,
    Franciscan Retreats and Spirituality Center
    16385 St. Francis Lane
    Prior Lake, MN 55372-2220
    952-447-2182

    Reply

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