Robert P. Lockwood is the retired president of Our Sunday Visitor.
The message was written out in large plastic drink cups stuck in the fence along the first base line. “Pray for Gus,” it read. So I did.
I was taking one of my early evening relax-a-bit drives at the shank of spring and had wandered over to Arcola. Arcola is my own Grover's Corners, Thornton Wilder's mythical, lyrical setting for “Our Town.”
But Arcola is real as rain. Though it sits only about five minutes outside Fort Wayne, it is all Midwestern rural, a four-way stop sign community with maybe a hundred homes, maybe a hundred families.
The softball field right across the road from Arcola's St. Patrick church is where the plastic drink cup sign was displayed. St. Patrick's was founded in 1845, current church dedicated in 1899, and had a grammar school until 1969.
Just over the centerfield fence and short of the railroad tracks that bisect the town is “Home Run Jesus” – a statue with the cross and Jesus flanked by two angels. The first base sign concludes with a heart and “Miss You.”
I grew up in America's urban Catholic northeast, where the churches were built on crowded city streets not far from the factories and docks where the people worked. The Arcola church is bordered by a road that turns to unpaved gravel and dust about 150 yards later.
There's a parish cemetery about a mile and a half away with the earliest burial date being 1854. Like most Hoosier cemeteries, it is history in microcosm with veterans from every war and names that define the region – Cavalier and Clark, Minich and McGrath, Wessel and Wilhelm.
I found out later that Gus was Dennis M. Trahin, who died at 71 this past June.
Let me note a few things about Gus of Arcola as those that knew him described 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 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 cleared the snow from the walks.
He also built that parish softball field across from the church and ran the softball leagues. He dragged the diamond and chalked the lines before games. He built “Home Run Jesus.”
Gus was a eucharistic minister who took the sacrament to the sick and the homebound he regularly visited. He served as an instructor in the faith for converts and a religious education teacher for the children. He was a youth group leader for teens.
Gus took care of the cemetery and a parishioner remembered how he “had physically jumped down into a six-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 rooted for the Cubs. He got a partial reward in this life when they won the Series last year.
He married later in life to a spouse he adored.
My favorite moment of the parishioner's recollection: “Gus, you left us too soon! No, seriously. I don't know how to plumb toilets and there are three left in the barn for the old hall!”
Spring gave way to summer. And every plastic cup stuck in that fence along the first base line stayed in place. But when I rode by on the first day of fall, they were gone. The baseball season was over.
At the end of “Our Town,” the Stage Manager is asked whether anyone really understands the value of life as they live it. “The saints and poets, maybe – they do some,” he answers.
Say a prayer for Gus: the saint of Arcola.