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OP-ED: The ‘Facebook Funeral’ brings students and alumni together

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Most people who know me would describe me as an extrovert. Some even go so far as to say that I’m a social butterfly. I don’t really have a problem with that — I’ll admit that I love being around people. But that comes with a cost. Spending so much time with people means that I have less time to spend on social media.

I have trouble understanding the idea that students can actually spend hours of their day on social media. It troubles me to hear people say that they are too busy to spend time with friends. I’m always tempted to ask how much of that “busy time” is spent on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Buzzfeed and whatever else is out there. My own usual ritual of checking Facebook usually takes about one minute from logging in to logging out. All of that changed about a week ago, when Father John Naus passed away.

Naus was also an extrovert, a social butterfly. Aside from being one of the most well-known and well-liked members of the Marquette community, Father Naus was a man I’d known my entire life. He was a professor, priest, counselor, clown, mentor and friend. I have many memories of him from my early childhood up to a few weeks ago, before his second stroke. Father Naus was close to my family when I was growing up, but he and I became closer in an entirely new way when I worked with him as a music leader for the famed Tuesday Night Mass that he presided over every week.

The night that he passed away, I was beginning my usual brief Facebook check-in. A quick glance confirmed that I had nothing new to bother with, when I looked at my newsfeed. A post from a friend about Father Naus caught my eye. I took the time to read it, and then noticed that the post had close to a hundred likes. That grabbed my attention since news about Father Naus’s passing had just reached the community only a few hours earlier.

I caught myself scrolling down my newsfeed. I noticed one or two other posts about his passing. For my own part, I was still struggling to cope with the idea that he was gone.

When we first heard the news, a friend’s comment sparked the image in my mind of Father Naus sitting outside the gates of Heaven, teaching the Wisconsin handshake to everyone on their way in. On a flash of inspiration, I chose to share this observation with the Facebook world. Everyone (or at least 80 people), liked it.

The next day I read, once again on Facebook, a testimonial that a friend had written about Father Naus. I was incredibly moved by this post — re-experiencing both grief and love for the clown who cared so much for others. I couldn’t help but share the post in my desire for shared grieving.

In the days following Father Naus’s death, I observed social media become a beautiful tool for bringing people together to remember our lost friend. Alumni, who no longer lived in Milwaukee and would be unable to travel in for the funeral, were able to share their own favorite memories of Father Naus. I suspect that I’m not the only person who found consolation and joy in reading some great Naus anecdotes. People designed and announced the “Father Naus Day of Kindness.”

As one of several people who reached out to fellow alumni to help with the funeral, I found Facebook to be a useful tool, especially for contacting friends whom I hadn’t seen in a few years. Many friends of Father Naus uploaded pictures of him with his contagious smile always prominently featured.

Personally, I had two favorite moments that people shared on Facebook. The first was a video recording of a group of people singing the Hail Mary. The group was approximately 200 students, alumni and staff who attended the Tuesday Night Mass that was held in memory of Father Naus. It was a particularly powerful moment, and I’m so grateful that technology allowed us to share it with those who were unable to attend. The second video almost overwhelmed me when I first saw it. The video was posted late in the week following Father Naus’ funeral and burial. While he was still alive, someone recorded a video of Father Naus singing his trademark song: “It’s Hard to Be Humble.” In many ways, the video felt like a final goodbye from the man we loved so much.

As all of us return to our normal routines, a thought keeps occurring. Father Naus’ passing showed me a truly positive and uplifting side of social media. The “Facebook Funeral” that allowed so many people to share their grief and love for Father Naus is something truly special — allowing us to come together as a community regardless of physical distance.

I admit, I much prefer that to postings about Miley Cyrus and the VMAs; how much someone doesn’t like his or her classes or major; information about people’s dating lives that maybe don’t need to be announced publicly; or intense opinions about political issues. Even with those examples, social media can be a valuable tool. We can use it to unite people, to promote discourse and to share resources.

But through all of this, one thought persists: Father Naus didn’t spend much time on social media. He was always focused on the person right in front of him. We must remember how important he made each and every person feel. We need to commit ourselves to following his example. To all who remember and mourn Father Naus and to the Marquette community as a whole: let’s honor his memory by dedicating ourselves to spending less time with online media and more time with each other. Let’s try to make our friends feel important every moment we can, face-to-face. And let’s try to greet every person we see with a good old Naus grin!

Andrew Mountin is the O’Donnell Hall Minister. He graduated with his B.A. from Marquette in Spring 2012. Email Andrew at andrew.mountin@marquette.edu.

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