Sometimes in life we get lucky, and whether layperson or priest, no matter, we get to meet someone special in whom we can see a glimpse of the living Lord. For me that person was Very Reverend Archpriest David F. Clooney, a dear friend, my spiritual father and a great priest. I first met with Fr. David almost twenty years ago at St. Josaphat Ukrainian Catholic Seminary in Washington DC, where he was the rector, mentoring young men as they worked toward the priesthood.
On a hot day in September, just as I arrived from Ukraine to study for the priesthood, Fr. David greeted three fearful students at the door of the seminary with a very strange greeting: “Huey, Dewey, and Louie welcome to America.” I don’t know what the two other students were thinking at that moment, but I thought to myself “Oh my God” this new rector of the seminary is giving me a new name that I don’t like and it scared the hell out of me. Funny, it took me a while to learn about the triplet cartoon characters that Father often referred to in his conversations and the sense of humor of “batya” – Ukrainian for “dad,” the name we seminarians gave him.
And what a great dad he was for all his American and Ukrainian students. Even when seminarians weren’t able to move forward with their studies, struggled and were not responding to the rigorous seminary academic program, he continued to love and support them. Fr. David had a depth of compassion and love that would keep him working with a student as long as he could to help the young man find his way in life, either in the priesthood like in my case or being a good lay Christian man. He supported and cared for us with sensitivity and warmth, with a sense of deep concern for our physical and spiritual well-being.
I’ll always remember his deep love for the Liturgy, fostering our growth in prayer and a love of study.
I’ll remember memorable rides to stores in his small white Volkswagen Passat, my first trip to the hospital after I broke my hand playing soccer and Father giving me a pomegranate to cheer me up on the way back home. What great memories.
After completing seminary and becoming a priest myself, I also observed firsthand what an extraordinary parish priest Fr. David was and how much he was respected among his parishioners and brother priests. In my estimation, he was a deeply spiritual man, a very holy man, a very prayerful man, and he loved being a priest.
As Fr. David’s strength and energy diminished over these past few years of sickness, he remained a presence of humility and gentleness. He was not afraid of death. He continued to draw strength from the Lord whom he served so generously and well for all his life and the words of Jesus “I am the Resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me will live.”
I’m saddened by your death my good friend David, but I am grateful for that one day you touched my life by greeting me “Huey, Dewey, and Louie welcome to America.” You have done your best to make me feel very welcomed and at home in America. Thank You.
In English, the language that you taught me, when we say goodbye it seems so final. Today I don’t say goodbye to you in English, I say to you in my native Ukrainian ‘Dopobachennia,” which means ‘until we meet again.’
‘Dopobachennia,’ good friend Fr. David, until we meet again on the other side.