Despite an awkward beginning, our family built a special relationship with our parish priest, Father Dan Gilsdorf , who married my husband and me in 1987.
That occasion, which took place on a frozen Saturday afternoon in January, may have given mellow Father Dan a clue about the organizationally challenged family he had gamely befriended.
As we rehearsed that Friday night, he mentioned that we would need our witnesses to sign the wedding license.
My Dad, who had volunteered to pick up the license earlier that week, looked startled.
“What happens if we don’t have the license?” he asked casually but with mounting panic.
“Then you don’t get married,” the good priest said.
My dad excused himself from the proceedings, hustled out of the building and made a few phone calls. Later, both Father Dan and I learned that Dad had contacted our alderman, Frank Mousley, and they had persuaded the county clerk to unlock the courthouse, which had closed for the weekend, to retrieve our license.
Six years later, also in January, I saw Father Dan cautiously making his way across our icy front porch. Having read that my father had died suddenly, Father Dan came over to offer his condolences. He made a few house calls that week to help us plan the funeral and he presided over a meaningful service that helped soothe the awful grief.
Through the years, Father Dan has baptized my children and was the celebrant at their First Communions and First Confessions. In 2001, I asked him to bless a St. Cecilia medal for my then 12-year old daughter Katherine, who was about to sing the National Anthem at Lambeau Field. He blessed the medal and the singer.
He even accepted our oldest son Charlie’s request in 2004 to be his confirmation sponsor.
Yesterday, my mom and I visited Father Dan, a gracious man even in the final stages of cancer. We chatted for a while and he mentioned that, though he had fought the cancer as aggressively as medically possible when he first received the diagnosis in October, he was now resigned to his fate. Meanwhile, he welcomes visitors.
Our children have known only two priests in their years as members of St. Therese parish, Father Dan Gilsdorf and Father Bill Hoffman, both good priests and admirable men.