My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
Last month in celebration of Mother's Day, I shared my brother Joe's reflections about our mom, Veronica Paprocki. In anticipation of Father's Day, I want to share with you some reflections from the homily that I gave at my dad's funeral on Dec. 16, 1997.
Dad's full name was John H. Paprocki, Jr. Dad was known as John, not Jack, not Johnny, and, although as a child and as a young man he was called "Junior," it was a name he never really liked, seeing to it that his own son John Leo would not be a "Junior." John, Dad's baptismal name: the name of the Baptist who prepared the way of the Lord. John, the name of the beloved disciple close to the Lord at the Last Supper, who remained with Mary at the foot of the cross. That was Dad: often sharing at the table of the Lord and, especially in the last years of his life, sharing in the suffering of the cross of Jesus.
Paprocki: a noble Polish name. Dad was proud of his ancestry and of his father's profession. He took up pharmacy and carried on the work of Paprocki Pharmacy which his dad had begun in 1919 and which he continued when his dad died in 1947. He would also take up the banner as president of the St. Casimir Parish Holy Name Society, which Grandpa founded. Moreover, Dad was a loyal American, having done a tour of duty in Europe while serving in the Army during World War II, and continuing for years thereafter as a member and commander of the Catholic War Veterans, St. Casimir Post 1399, and as a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Mount Vernon Post 2796. And so it was fitting that during his life he would serve as president of the Polish American Pharmacists Association: proud to be Polish, proud to be an American, proud to be a pharmacist, and proud of the name of Jesus.
The most puzzling part of Dad's full name, though, was that enigmatic middle initial – H. Dad himself admitted that he was never really sure what his middle name was. His birth certificate said Henry, but somehow during his Army years it became Harry. Then again, his baptismal record showed "Hieronymus," which in Latin starts with an "H," but in English translates as Jerome, so maybe he was really John J. Paprocki!
Perhaps it's just as well that he was never really sure what his middle initial stood for, because we can use that "H" to describe all kinds of things that stood for Dad. First of all, we can rule out a whole list of things that would clearly not describe him: he was certainly never a hard man, or harmful, hateful, or hurtful. Nor was he hasty, hectic, or hurried. While he was clearly not a heretic, neither was he a hermit. He was not hollow, or a hypocrite, and he definitely would never want ever to have anything to do with hell.
On the other hand, there is a whole bunch of words beginning with "H" that do fit:
"H" stands for hockey: Some of you might think I'm kidding, but if you knew Dad and you know the Paprocki's, you know that we take our hockey very seriously. Dad introduced the whole family to the great game of cold steel on ice. As children we would take the bus to 1800 W. Madison and climb the stairs to the unforgettable second balcony of Chicago Stadium. I still remember Dad's excitement when the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 1961. Thanks to Dad, some of us have not yet quite grown up, still playing his, and now our, favorite game.
"H" stands for happy/humorous, sometimes even hilarious. Certain things could make Dad smile, like his beloved penguins. The "penguin thing" started innocently enough when we were kids and Dad took us to the zoo. The exhibit that amused him the most was always the penguin pavilion, chuckling as he watched the tuxedoed birds waddling about flapping their wings. After we gave Dad his first toy penguin, his genuine delight only encouraged us to give him more stuffed penguins, penguin books, penguin videos, penguin birthday cards, you name it: if it had a penguin on it, we gave it to Dad.
"H" stands for honest and honorable: This was the way he ran his drug store and his life, never cheating a customer and always making his money the old-fashioned way: by earning it fair and square with a hard day's work.
"H" stands for husband: He was not only married to one woman for 49 years, but for all that time he loved Mom and was absolutely faithful and devoted to her.
H" stands for harmonious: Dad got along with everyone. I never recall him ever getting into a fight with Mom.
"H" stands for hospitable: with nine children in the house, Dad taught us how to be hospitable: he always made our friends feel welcome in our home, following the Polish saying, "A guest in the home is God in the home." Speaking of our household,
H" stands for home: People have often asked me how our parents ever managed to raise nine children. Dad recognized that the only way to keep this nuclear family from exploding was God's grace: Above the transom of the doorway leading into our dining room was a framed sign that said: "God bless our home."
H" stands for humble: Dad's was no rags to riches story. There were no rags, but there were no riches, either. He was content to live in his humble surroundings. I remember once, when applying for a loan, he was asked to list his assets. He replied, quite seriously: His assets were his family, his wife and his children; he had invested everything in us. On another occasion, at a Thanksgiving dinner, he looked around at his family and offered a toast, boasting that he was the richest man in the world.
H" stands for hero: Yes, Dad was my hero. As a child, I loved cars, mostly because my Dad drove one, in fact, the same one — a 1949 Chevy, which he called "Betsy," until 1962. He might have kept that car even longer, except by that point it was tough fitting seven children into a four door sedan, so it was time for a station wagon. Any chance I had as small boy, I would go with Dad to the gas station, or to park the car in the garage we rented across the street and down the block behind the bowling alley. And after we parked the car, I would walk home with him: my little hand held by his firm but gentle grip. I'm sure my brothers and sisters experienced this as well: holding Dad's hand, feeling the wedding band around his finger, and knowing that we were safe in the hands of our father and our mother. Dad knew I loved cars, and so one day he went to the auto junk yard and bought me a steering wheel — just a big black steering wheel — so I could pretend that I was driving my own car. It was a great idea until I destroyed the living room sofa "driving" my car. So for Christmas I got my own battery-powered Firebird 99 dashboard, complete with shiny red steering wheel and working windshield wipers! Yes, indeed, Dad was my hero.
H" stands for holy: Dad's authentic holiness was another way that he was a hero. He seriously considered the priesthood, graduating Quigley Preparatory Seminary in 1939 and even attending Mundelein Seminary for a year. When he decided that he did not have a vocation to be a priest, that did not end his quest to figure out what God was calling him to do with his life. Long before Vatican II spoke of the universal call to holiness, Dad knew what it was to strive for holiness as a layman.
Finally, "H" stands for hopeful: Seeking holiness, Dad knew what it meant to be hopeful: There were so many times he could have given up, such as when the business was marginal and he had eleven mouths to feed, tuition bills for all of us to go to Catholic grade schools and high schools. He never gave up, because he had reason to hope: his family, in whom he had invested everything, and his faith. Dad wanted us to have hope: confidence in the future reward of God's kingdom and the promise of heaven.
May God give us this grace. Amen.