Al Michael has died. Many of you will remember Al because he sat on the west side of the chapel near the organ during nearly every Mass. He was tall, quiet and struggled with his eyesight. He was soft spoken and walked with a walker. Even though he has been away from our community for these past few years, I want to remember him and celebrate his life of prayer and service.
Al lived in our building for over thirty years. His residence was on the second floor that is now Andy Noethe’s office. He ate only the leftovers from the kitchen. He was never given a stipend or any money from the parish community. I arrived in 2002 and about a year later, he suffered a mild stroke and then made his residence at the MacDonald Residence.
Al had been a seminarian in his youth. He lived his entire adult life serving the Downtown Chapel. He lived among the marginalized even when fatigue, age and ill health got the best of him. He was devoted to the mission of this community, especially dedicating himself to prayer and janitorial work in the building.
I remember Al’s presence in the mornings. Al prayed the rosary and his devotions around 5:00am in the sacristy. He wore a red stocking cap because the mornings were cool. He sat in the sacristy with the light on the Tabernacle praying through the door. He did so because he did not want to wear his cap in the chapel. He was a man of complete routine, ritual and never varied from his formulas. I admired what I saw as I would pass him in the early morning to head out to walk by the river.
His morning routine also included collecting the trash in the building. He would wheel a red two-wheeled cart beginning at 6:00am. He came up to our kitchen to collect the trash and garbage from the evening meal. He would empty the can into a larger one. The juices would run on the floor and the leftover fluids would collect in the bottom of the trashcan. We tried to convince him that it was all right to use a fresh, plastic liner. He would not consider such a luxury. He repeated his trip after lunch and at the end of the day. He was very proud of his work here.
Former pastor and Jesuit priest, Peter Byrne noted, “ Al was like a character out of a Dickens novel, slightly eccentric, observant and wary of those in power and perceptive of their misuse of power. He was well read and erudite and quite cultured in his own way.”
I want to express my deep appreciation to Katherine Wilson. She is the member of our parish that cared for him during all these years. She cared for Al when he had his strokes and had to make his home apart from our parish building. Katherine has dedicated years of her life caring and loving Al. We should all express our appreciation to Katherine.
Most of us only knew Al in his later years. I hear that he had been an athlete and a vigorous voice for prayer and service among people living in poverty. God, receive Al into your Kingdom. Provide him room at the feast with his red cap and old sweater.