Today I was most gratified to see the magnificent many-faceted coverage of Rick’s funeral in this Sunday’s Journal-Sentinel. What briefly can I add from a more personal perspective as one of the funeral’s concelebrants?
The celebrant, Fr. William Kelly, S.J., longtime chaplain of the Marquette men’s basketball teams, prepared intensely for this funeral as a labor of love for both Rick and his family and close friends who were especially grieving Rick’s death. The Gesu pastor, Fr. Karl Voelker, S.J. kindly provided hospitality and his church and parish resources for the funeral.
The Gesu church was full - though some were standing at the back, maybe they were typical Catholics who are reluctant to take the remaining spaces in the front pews.
Flanking Fr. Kelly as celebrant at the altar where the presidents of St. Louis University, Fr. Larry Biondi, S.J., and Marquette, Fr. Scott Pilarz. About 15 other Jesuits from Milwaukee and St. Louis concelebrated.
I was especially moved before Mass talking to the St. Louis University team members who played for Rick and who were pall bearers, plus others who had played for him in previous years. Their reverence and love for Rick their coach, and that at least 15 of them had traveled from St. Louis for the funeral, awed me. Usually Gesu uses an elevator to get a casket up to the main church level, but with so many strong players as pallbearers, they simply carried the casket up the many steep stairs leading into the church.
Not only were Rick’s St. Louis players there, but many former Utah players also came, including Al Jensen who gave a heartfelt eulogy at the end of Mass. Many former Marquette players from the Al-Hank-Rick era teams, who were quoted in the paper, also came. But Rick’s friends were far more numerous than just former players, coaches, and basketball figures.
Gesu holds 800, and pretty close to that number were paying tribute and saying goodbye to Rick. Personally, I waved to Doc Rivers, saw Mayor Tom Barrett, and thanked Senator Herb Kohl for attending. Of course, John Dodds knew far more of those attending than I did.
Fr. Kelly’s powerful eulogy compared the Jesus’ Gospel command to love one another with how friendship and love and concern to help others was a central attribute of Rick’s life. Beyond his immense love for his family and close friends, when Rick related to others like his basketball players he treated them like friends, concerned not only for their success on the basketball court but for their academic success and future employment in many areas of life after basketball.
I was not able to attend the reception in the Alumni Memorial Union ballroom after the funeral, where Rick’s many friends could share their fondness for Rick. As the paper described, the final tribute of the day to Rick took place about 5 p.m. at the Bemo Harris Bradley Center after the teams were lined up and had paid tribute to America.
Both Marquette and Badger fans were asked to remember Rick with a moment of silence. May you rest in peace, Rick, and thank you for your huge-hearted friendship to so many of us.