On Saturday night, there was knock on my front door. I had already gone to bed, and just as I was dozing off, my dog Smokey started barking with great gusto. Going downstairs and turning on the outside light, I saw it was a dear priest friend. When I opened the door to let him in, he told me that he had been calling me but I must have not heard the phone. Well, he wanted me to know that another wonderful priest friend had just passed away.
Monsignor Art Valenzano had been sick with leukemia for nearly ten years. A mentor and friend to both of us, we knew his time on earth was coming to an end, but when death comes, it always seems to arrive with a jolt. Both of us had the chance to visit him in the last few weeks. When I was driving down to see him on the 14th of August, I was a bit nervous and didn’t know what to expect. When I entered his study at the Archbishop’s residence, he was sitting in a wing chair reading the paper. Although he was certainly sick, he looked good. The next forty-five minutes flew by, and we laughed about many shared memories of working together for nearly twenty years. I could tell he was tired when I was getting up to go. On impulse, I asked for his blessing, which he kindly gave. I am grateful for the time we spent together that day.
As fate would have it, I arrived in Baltimore twenty six years earlier to the day (8/14/89), to attend Johns Hopkins. The day after I arrived, and knowing that the 15th is the Feast of the Assumption, I went downstairs to the front desk of the hotel where I was staying, and asked if there was a Catholic Church nearby. The man pointed to the front doors and said, “there’s a big one just across the street.” Little did I know that I the church he spoke of was the Basilica of the Assumption, the oldest Catholic Cathedral in the United States. During my time at Johns Hopkins, I tried to make it to the early evening Mass most days. That church holds wonderful memories for me, more so when Msgr. Art became the 24th rector of this historic church. Over the last few years of his life, I went down to see him when I could, which, now, in hindsight, was not nearly enough.
Words cannot adequately express the gift he was to me, as a pastor, a mentor, a friend, a coworker in the vineyard of the Lord. He taught me how to be more Christ-like in every circumstance. He embodied holiness and modeled it day in and day out. Those that worked with him will fondly remember his “It’s a praise Jesus kind of day” shout down the hall. Now, he’s praising Jesus for all eternity. Well done, good and faithful servant. May he rest in peace.