HILLIS: Spirit of Naus always in the house

Pressing his wheelchair throttle to full speed as he entered the St. Joan of Arc Chapel in the fall of 2010, Father Naus made a strong first impression on me. He flew threw the doors like a horse just out of the gate, enthusiastic about his “favorite hour of the week.” That was how Father Naus entered every Tuesday night Mass I attended freshman and sophomore year — full of joy and enthusiasm.

This Tuesday was supposed to be a stressful day for me between class, a presentation for my internship, preparation for the career fair, training for my new position on campus, a stop by the farmer’s market and homework. Tuesday Night Mass, including an hour practicing with the choir beforehand, has always been a part of my routine – something that I don’t let go from my schedule easily. This week, however, the idea of forgoing mass to have two extra hours to check a few more items off of my to-do list seemed tempting.

Mid-afternoon Tuesday, I was scrolling through the “#FatherNausTaughtMe” tweets when I realized what Father Naus had taught me: live every moment of your day with joy and gratitude. Do not miss opportunities to share a smile with others. With that in mind, I knew Tuesday night Mass was a must.

By 9 p.m. I was in the chapel, warming up with the choir. There were more singers than I had ever seen, including alumni who had come from Madison to celebrate Father Naus’ life.

The university set up speakers outside of the chapel in anticipation of the overflow. Students started lining up at 9:20. In true father Naus spirit, when the doors of the chapel opened, dozens of students came bounding in, matching the wheelchair speed of the man they were there to celebrate.

There were a few tears, which Father Naus would not have wanted tears. He was a man of laughter. The mass was not sad, but it was emotional. How do you celebrate the life of a man who spent his days celebrating the lives of others?

We sang, as we always do. We prayed, as we always do. More importantly, we laughed. We laughed at the Father Naus anecdotes, such as singing “Happy Birthday” to no one in particular. We laughed as Father Santos and Father Hendrickson showed us Father Naus’ interpretive version of the sign of the cross. When the re-sponsorial psalm read, “Let us go to the House of the Lord,” I accidentally replaced “house” with “Naus” and giggled at the perfection in my error.

Father Hendrickson’s homily perfectly summarized the sense of community Father Naus brought to Marquette. Over the last few days, Facebook and Twitter feeds have been full of everyone’s Father Naus stories: lessons on the Wisconsin handshake and table chats in the AMU. Father Naus did all of these things to make us feel important, not only for our own self worth, but for the trust we feel in our community as a result of his kind words.

Our closing song was “This Little Light of Mine.” The lyrics perfectly summarized the gregarious spirit of Father Naus. His love for his community -our community – did not fade when he passed away. It shone brightly in the St. Joan of Arc Chapel and will continue to shine as we honor his legacy for years to come. Whether that be through smiling at a stranger, or taking an hour from our day to celebrate the lives with others, Father Naus’ community will live on at Marquette.

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