Wednesday, April 24, 2013

My Friend Father Everett Hemann

To some Father Everett Hemann was a priest, a holy man, someone who lived the gospel and always knew how to make someone laugh. To me, he was Ev, a man, with a hell of a lot of experiences, but most importantly he was my friend, a mentor, and I miss him.

I first met Ev at St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames, Iowa across the street from Iowa State University, my alma mater. My first year at Iowa State, 2007, he was just some priest, that talked at Mass, and inspired me once in a while. I was not truly introduced to him until the summer or 2008, after my freshman year .

Ev, two other students, and myself all went to a campus ministry conference. I don't remember a whole lot from that trip in terms of the conference, but I do remember Ev. He was extremely outgoing, funny, crazy, and a kid, just like us. He knew lots of people, wanted to sight see, entertain, and most importantly, wanted to know about us. He took the time to get to know each one of us three on the trip.

After that trip, I became more involved with St. Thomas. I joined the outreach team, helped with service activities, and just plain started to become a part of the community at St. Thomas. Fr. Ev wasn't very involved with the students (our church was a parish as well as a student center and he focused mainly on the parish), but he still made time to call, text, or google chat with me. Most conversations were short, brief, and didn't have a lot of content, but they were personal. He asked about my life, how triathlon was, if I met any cute Catholic girls yet, or if I had heard about the latest tech fab. The conversations weren't formal, well thought out, or even at regular hours (usually after 11pm!). It was a friendship.

A year later I was hit with sad news, Ev was moving. It was summer of 2009 and Ev was assigned to a new parish, after 12 years of being at St. Thomas. That hurt. After telling me of his leaving, he assured me that we would stay in contact. That felt good to hear, but I knew that was too good to be true. Ev have been at St. Thomas for 12 years! There was no way he was going to keep in contact with a college student he only knew for a year, I mean he has grown thousands of friendships like that right?

I don't know why, maybe (probably) some act of God, Ev kept in contact with me. Every time he came back to Ames (which was frequent) he always called asking if I was available for lunch. Most times I was too busy with school, St. Thomas, triathlon, and life to meet with him, but he would continue to ask how we could meet up. Eventually, we would find a time to meet up, even if it was for 10 minutes, at least to say hello (and to fix his Blackberry problems).

Almost two years ago to the date, Ev was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. We were informed that he may only have a month to live. One month! How could a healthy man go from great to one month!?!

A group of college students that still knew Ev from St. Thomas went up to see him a week later. Even up to his last days, he told many that the day when the college students came to see him was one of the hardest days for him. Ev was a strong man, and was ready to accept God's plan for him, but seeing us was truly a great experience for him.

Fr. Everett Hemann's condition continued to deteriorate, but God wasn't finished with him on this earth yet. Ev started to do chemo every two weeks, he explained it like the worst pain in the world, but needed to continue his work until God was finished with him. Over the next 11 months, Ev preached about "learning to live through dying." He was strong. He continued celebrating Mass for almost 9 of those months.

Upon visiting him during the summer (only a few months after his announcement) I had the privilege to celebrate Mass with him at an assisted living home with 5 other people. After we celebrated the Mass, he told me, "When I am too weak to take care of myself, I want to come here." I will never forget that. It was the first true realization that he wasn't going to be around much longer.

After that visit, Ev kept me in the loop, before he posted anything (on his blog), made a big announcement, or even came to Ames, he would always make sure to tell me personally first. I don't know why, but we were becoming close and it hurt knowing he would be leaving soon.

Two more events stick in my head before his passing that I want to share with you. It was Thanksgiving 2009, I called Ev asking if he had any time to meet during my Thanksgiving break, he told me yes, but it wouldn't be at his place, but rather his sisters. I was being invited to a family meal with Ev. There is much more to this story, but the main point is, I don't know why, but Ev truly cared deeply about me. I learned a lot that night about the "boy" behind the man that is Everett Hemann. He was just a small town farm boy that loved planes.

That night he told me about the greatest gift I have ever received from another individual (besides my parents). At this time I was the event chair for St. Thomas's dinner and auction for the college students to go on immersion trips. At that point we were still looking for items to put on the live auction and I had mentioned this to Ev in a previous conversation. He took me into another room and told me (as close to memory as I can recall), "Now Kevin, I know you had asked me if I had anything to contribute to the auction for St. Thomas." He pulls out a frame. "This Kevin, is a painting that has been hanging over my bed for a number of years. It is the prayer that I have said almost every night as a priest. It is called Nunc Dimittis. A parishioner painted it for me a few years back, and I think it is time that it is returned to the parish." I was in awe at this extremely personal gift. But before I could say anything, he told me, "Now before you take it from me, I want to keep it for a while longer and I will have it sent to you when the time is right."

My last story of Ev revolves around the dinner and auction I was the event chair for. It was January 2012, and I called Ev asking for something I wasn't sure if I could. I wanted him to celebrate the event with us. No one was even sure if he would be alive in a month, so how do you ask a dying man to come to something you aren't sure if he will be around for? Well the simple answer is with humor. Sometimes death is easiest explained with humor, it hurts less. Ev basically told me not to plan for him, but keep a ticket for him if by some miracle his body could handle the travel.

Two days before the event (January 26, 2012) I get a call from Ev, "I'm coming. I won't be there for long, but I will be there for a bit." This was one of the biggest nights of my college career and one of my best friends was going to make it for the community he loved so much. It was one of the happiest days of my life, a perfect event, my family, my friends, and my mentor-- together. At this point in his journey, his joking tone was fading and all that was left was the unconditional love he had for everyone. For the event he put on a smile, laughed, made conversation, but was in major pain after. I guess its easiest to have life hurt the most behind closed doors when you inspire so many. 

Ev stayed around for a few months, moved to assisted living, and grew weaker and weaker by the day. He called me one last time at the end of March 2012 and asked to see me one last time, he said his time was near. My last conversation with Ev. His sister (who was helping him in assisted living) told me we only had 20 minutes, no more. Ev insisted on making it an hour. The conversation was slow, but he still remembered everything about me and had a ton of stories to tell me. At the end, we hugged, he was so small and frail, and he told me, "I love you Kevin." After that our last words were, "I'll see you later."

April 24, 2012 Father Everett Hemann, a priest of 40 years, and community member of 6 different parishes, passed away. The funeral was huge. Celebrations were had. Conversations of the stories of Ev were had. Ev was a great servant of God; but to me he was a great friend.

I'm sure others have stories of Ev and many just as personal as mine, that's just who he was, personal with everyone. So today we remember a friend, brother, priest, mentor, son, godfather, servant of God. We ask him to pray for each one of us. Fr. Ev was a servant to all of us and an inspiration of how Christ can shine through us in a positive way. We all struggle to serve others, but it's a good thing that we have one more soul up there praying, "watch over Your children, though at times they are idiots, forgive them because I want to see them again!"

Father Everett Hemann,

Pray for us

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