The value of a life

The message was written out large in white styrofoam drink cups stuck in the chain-link fence along the first-base line. “Pray for Gus,” it read. So I did.

I was taking one of my early evening summer drives and had wandered over to Arcola. It’s my own Grover’s Corners, Thornton Wilder’s mythical, lyrical setting for his play “Our Town.”

But Arcola is real as rain, and I’ve written about it before. Some repeat information. Though it sits only about five minutes outside Fort Wayne, Indiana, Arcola is all-rural Midwest America, a four-way stop-sign community with maybe a hundred homes and a softball field right across from St. Patrick Catholic Church that sits in a landscape of corn and soybean.

Just over the center-field fence and short of the railroad tracks that dissect the town is “Home Run Jesus” — a statue with the cross and Jesus flanked by two angels. It bears the legend, “Jesus I Trust in You.”

St. Patrick’s was founded in 1845; the current church was dedicated in 1899 and had a grammar school until 1969. There’s a parish cemetery about a mile and a half away with the earliest date of burial being 1854.

The entire sign that read “Pray for Gus” was followed by a heart and “Miss You.” The obituary told his story.

Gus was Dennis M. Trahin, dead at 71 this June. My heart breaks at times over the goodness of people as they leave us. Let me note a few things about Gus of Arcola as described by those who knew him.

A plumber and steamfitter by trade, he graduated from St. Patrick’s school back in the day, and the parish and his faith would become central to his life.

Gus was St. Patrick’s Church. He did all the practical stuff — fixing the parish plumbing, overseeing the construction of a new parish hall, restoring the church bell and tower. In his retirement he opened the church every morning, set up for Mass and, when necessary, cleared the snow from the walks.

He built the parish softball field and ran the parish softball leagues. He dragged the dirt of the softball diamond and chalked the lines before every game. He also built “Home Run Jesus.”

But it wasn’t only the loving work of his hands. He was a sacristan, a loyal Knights of Columbus member and an extraordinary minister of holy Communion who took the sacrament to the sick and the homebound. He served as an RCIA director for converts and was a religious education teacher for the kids and youth group leader for the teens.

Gus took care of the cemetery, and a parishioner remembered how he “had physically jumped down into a 6-foot-deep burial plot to smooth out the last bit of soil to lay many members of St. Pat’s to rest.”

He taught kids baseball and taught adults the Divine Mercy Chaplet. He rooted for the Cubs and got a partial reward in this life when they won the World Series last year.

He married later in life to a spouse he adored.

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My favorite of the parishioner’s recollection: “Gus, you left us too soon! No, seriously. I don’t know how to plumb toilets .... We will have to manage as you enjoy your most deserving glory in heaven.”

There are guys like Gus — gals like Gus — we meet on the pilgrimage. They make the Faith alive for all of us.

At the end of “Our Town,” the stage manager is asked if anyone really understands the value of life as they live it. “The saints and poets, maybe — they do some,” he answers.

This is for Gus, the saint of Arcola. May his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, rest in peace.

Robert P. Lockwood writes from Indiana. Follow him on Twitter @BobPLockwood.