May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of his hand.
— Traditional Irish blessing
We may still be in the midst of Lent as spring gets underway, but the parish community of St. Jude in Redmond has reason tonight to celebrate the mystery of the Resurrection early: its founding pastor, Gerald F. Lovett, was lifted up to God this morning after a lifetime of cheerful and compassionate service.
Neither the parish nor the Archdiocese of Seattle have made an official announcement yet, but St. Jude families have been sharing the news with each other all day, and a few parishioners have posted fond remembrances on Facebook.
Father Lovett was the pastor of St. Jude Catholic Church for some twenty-five years, beginning with the parish’s founding in 1978, before it had a permanent home at the corner of NE 104th and NE 166th in woody north Redmond.
Appointed by then-Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen, Lovett brought energy, vitality, and a much-appreciated Irish wit to the young parish community.
St. Jude’s founding families celebrated their first liturgy on September 16th, 1978, at Redmond Middle School. Just three years and a month later, the parish moved into its new building, with Hunthausen joining Lovett for the dedication of its altar.
Over the next two decades, Lovett would continue to shepherd the growing parish as the City of Redmond experienced tremendous growth. He baptized quite a few of Redmond’s Catholic millennials during those years – including yours truly.
Lovett was born in Kilmoyley County, Kerry, Ireland on December 1st, 1935. One of twelve children, he hailed from a family that was very devoted to the Catholic Church. According to a story on his retirement published by the Archdiocese of Seattle, five of his nine sisters became women religious. And he was not alone among his peers in deciding to take holy orders: thirty of his one hundred member high school graduating class chose to enter the seminary.
The aforementioned story gives a good account of his service as a young priest:
Ordained for the Archdiocese of Seattle at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Kilkenny on May 31, 1959, Father Lovett was an assistant at St. James Cathedral Parish and then at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Seattle.
After earning a master’s in social work from Catholic University in Washington, D.C., he returned to the archdiocese and served as assistant director of Catholic Charities (now Catholic Community Services) for eight years, while also serving several of those years as pastor of St. Paul Parish in Seattle.
St. Jude would be Lovett’s final posting. By the Archdiocese’s reckoning, he started out with a community of about four hundred families. By the time he retired in mid-2003, more than 2,300 families belonged to the parish.
To say that Father Lovett was beloved by the families he served would be an understatement. He had a great sense of empathy and connected with everybody. He was also an excellent homilist. I can still vividly remember him ending one of his sermons with these words: “We are an Easter people — Alleluia, Alleluia!”
He also liked to say, “God’s crazy about you!”
Father had a great sense of humor and loved to joke with parishioners. In 1997, after returning to St. Jude after a spiritual retreat in Ireland, he responded to a silly Internet rumor about Bill Gates buying the Catholic Church by quipping, “I wasn’t on sabbatical. I was on a committee negotiating with Microsoft over the takeover.”
Father remained in touch following his retirement from St. Jude.
On May 16th, 2005, he called and left me a voicemail expressing his sheer delight at having opened that morning’s edition of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer to find a guest column by me rebutting an obnoxious Tim Eyman op-ed that had run in the paper only a few days prior. (It was my first op-ed in print.)
I’ll never forget listening to that congratulatory message. Father was overjoyed that one of his flock was standing up to defend Washington against Tim Eyman’s destructive initiatives. I could tell the column had really resonated with him. He encouraged me to keep on building Permanent Defense and NPI – and I have.
I had the pleasure of visiting with Father on his seventy-eighth birthday back in 2013; that was the last time I saw him. When I greeted him, he remarked that I was very tall and asked me if my work with NPI was going well. (Having won a huge victory with the defeat of Eyman’s I-517 just a month prior, I assured him it was.)
Later, while we were visiting, I asked him what he thought of Pope Francis. Father smiled broadly and declared, “He should have come fifty years ago!”
Father was one of those people who could say a lot without actually saying a lot. Even when he didn’t have a homily or sermon prepared, he would still speak with conviction. And whenever he had something to say, people listened.
A fellow St. Jude parishioner captured Father’s remarks on his seventy-fifth birthday back in 2010 on video. Watch, and you’ll get a measure of the man Father was.
It saddens me to think I’ll never get an opportunity to visit with Father Lovett again. The Church has lost a good and gracious man, a kind and devoted shepherd. But I am comforted in knowing he is with the Lord now. Easter came early for him this year. Father spent a lifetime preaching the Gospel and ministering to the people of the Pacific Northwest. Today, he got to share in Christ’s Resurrection himself.