Editor's Introduction: Those who attended the funeral Mass for Bill "Bix" Bichsel on Saturday, March 14, 2015 experienced one of the most extraordinary and uplifting eulogies that I can remember. Dotti Krist-Sturbick, friend of Bix's and member of the St. Leo's and Tacoma Catholic Worker communities, wrote and presented the eulogy. Afterwards, my wife said that it [the eulogy] needed to be shared widely, as it represents a guide of sorts for us - to help us be in the world in some small way as Bix lived. May you find something here for the journey. In Peace, Leonard
For Fr. William Jerome "Bix" Bichsel S.J.
with Love for his Beloved Family and Community:
A Eulogy by Dotti Krist-Sterbick
I would like to invite you to say Presente after I name a person or a group of people who were among the many who were a part of his life and work. He would never tell stories without mentioning people who had been significant to him.
For those who wish fullness of life for everyone…Presente
For those who long for peace…Presente
Before his death, Bix said he wasn’t sure what would happen afterwards but that he hoped he would join a Cloud of Witnesses. Perhaps we refer to this reality as Our Ancestors or the Communion of Saints.
Cloud of Witnesses….Presente
We are one community today of people from various religions, non-religions and history, some of us have known Bix all our lives, call him uncle, great uncle, brother, Godfather and friend the who was always there for us, but a little late. And some of us went to school with him, watched the strapping young man play football, called him Fr. "what a waste" when he entered the Jesuits right after high school; some of us are Jesuits who have shared with him the life of the Society of Jesus, brotherhood, priesthood, its particular vows, challenges, sorrows and graces. Some of us have gone to prison with him, engaged in Buddhist drumming while praying people over the line, shared ancestral prayers and smudging with him. Some of us have studied theology and German with him, washed dishes, argued, cussed, drank, got sober, laughed, and sung with him. And we heard last night, some have planted trees with him, and some(actually perhaps one) have wrestled with him over the tree several times, thereby killing the tree planted in honor of his Godson. Some have lived in the same G street community and Catholic Worker House with him. Many here have been baptized by Bix or celebrated their marriage with him. With some he has journeyed during a loved one's death and funeral. Outcast by society because of ability, ethnicity, addiction, mental health or orientation, some of us found an ally who, on our behalf, would not back down. Some of us built houses, programs and community with him. Some of us have had our lives radically changed through Bix's help or just by his simple presence. Some of us have never met him, but he has somehow touched or intrigued us, inspired our imagination. We are here because Bix’s heart was full of love and yeses. He lived a fullness of life that included all of us.
We can look to his mother and father and see the rich soil in which they gave him to grow. His father was a a union organizer. His mother would feed working poor during the depression.. A strong Catholic family, the Bichsels followed the precepts at that time which included abstaining from meat on Fridays. Men would come up from the train tracks and have breakfast on the porch of the Bichsel home. His mother would always fix the same meal everyday--fried potatoes, bacon, and eggs, homemade bread. Even on Fridays. And young Bill would tell his mother not to feed them meat on Fridays because it was a sin. And young Bill would try to convince her that she was wrong. She assured him that this was OK with God and they didn’t have to worry about, quote, “that kind of a thing”. He also would tell you of stories of rock throwing wars in the neighborhood, boys forming gangs, anger and revenge. I think Bix wanted to be sure no one mistook him for a saint. He also loved his family very much.
Let us recognize some of his family from the Cloud of Witnesses.
Sarah “Sadie” Bichsel…presente
Mary Theresa Twohy…presente
We can look to his life in the Society of Jesus to see bits of the Bix we know today. As Bix moved into adulthood, into his priesthood, his discipleship, he began reflecting on fullness of life. What is fullness of life? In his Gospel studies he encountered Jesus who promises the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom we can encounter now. Bix often referred to this as the Kingdom of Peace. But how to attain it? Jesus seems to be clearer on how not to attain it--do not seek power/control, wealth/possession, esteem by your peers. One needs to be free to love, free of attachments—free to receive the unconditional love of God. Free to love one another as God loves us—to love our neighbor as ourselves. Bix studied that we must will the one thing We must attach ourselves to the one desire--to love as God loves us. Any other attachments make the task much more difficult and ultimately unsuccessful.
This is a difficult task, to embrace this unconditional love. Regardless of our spiritual beliefs and to search for this kind of love takes practice. Takes lots of practice that one takes up every day. And one soon discovers that it takes a letting go of one's very self. (Grain of wheat.) Bix seemed to think this was a very important part of his own discipleship, priesthood.
In 1988 Bix wrote a poem honoring a friend, a Jesuit priest working in Alaska, Bob Corrigal SJ who died young. He is saying in it basically, may I be a priest like you. And eerily we can notice that Bix actually is describing himself.
"Your spirit call
led you to those
who were broken,
rejected, and without hope
In obedience to your call
you were fashioned into a Servant and let fall away
any clerical structure
that gave you
rank and privilege
and divided you
from your people."
Let us recognize some of the priests Bix loved who went before him.
Fr. Bob Corrigal … Presente
Fr. Robert “Rock Reckofki… Presente
Fr. Jimmy Boyle… Presente
Fr. Bill Houseman… Presente
Fr. Dick Mercy… Presente
Fr. Gerry Morin… Presente
Fr. Jack Morris… Presente
Fr. Pat Hurley… Presente
Archbishop Oscar Romero… Presente
During the turbulence of the 60's and 70's Bix becomes especially present to those who are being denied fullness of life. He marches for Civil Rights in the south and works here for African Americans; he works against the Vietnam war which is wiping out people and the land, he experiences his first arrest of 46; he reaches out to the mentally ill, with others he builds The G Street Community, the Martin Luther King Center, the Hospitality Kitchen, the Neighborhood Clinic. He is willful and tireless. By the late 80’s he cofounds the Tacoma Catholic Worker and has his first heart surgery…and throughout he has been struggling with his own demons.
Let us recognize some of those from during those times who are now a part of the cloud of witnesses.
Sr. Anne Flagge… Presente
Jean Sheoshimee Mura… Presente
Mary Jo Blenkush… Presente
Fina Chouinard… Presente
Mary Russo… Presente
Lewis Jones… Presente
Eva Hill… Presente
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. … Presente
We know what it is like to struggle with our own demons. What human doesn’t? WE know too well our anger, fear, resentments, greed, competition, our desire for security, our apathy. These create an unhappiness in us that can fill us, spilling out to those around us. We no longer experience fullness of life, nor do those around us. Through the years, Bix became ever more honest with himself; he knew this was important to cultivating peace within himself and around him.
A well-educated Jesuit and an observer of society, Bix also noticed that when these human desires and unhappiness become part of our institutions, it is the vulnerable who pay the price. Someone without power becomes the victim or is to blame. Systems are created that exclude, judge and separate people. As a culture we do not allow fullness of life for everybody. Bix would underscore all the time the need to work for justice so that all would have fullness of life which includes health care, education, employment, housing and a place in community.
Bix would word it this way in a reflection for the St. Leo bulletin:
"Well, on this September day I said goodbye to Paper Man, Red and George and headed down the sidewalk. What will become of them? In the ordinary course of life in our cities and towns I know they will never receive the resources needed for a full human life. They will not be recipients of health care, education, employment, or housing. Nor will they become respected members of an established community. They will drift and die--unknown and unhonored."
For Bix, the ultimate symbol of institutional injustice, of humans creating a system that works against fullness of life is the Atomic Bomb. The Atomic Bomb represents our country’s whole military industrial complex and its ultimate priority.
He came to know the government’s military priority as he watched officials train foreign governments to kill their own people. He saw the resources that go to our military spending that could go to who he called "the vulnerable ones." He saw the horror of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, how ultimate and final these bombs were in robbing people, animals, plants, trees, all of creation of fullness of life, let alone life itself. And yet, we say these bombs make us more secure. We barter away our own fullness of life in the name of security, in the name of preserving "our way of life."
Bix wrote: "These thoughts led me to an inner feeling of futility; thoughts of how deeply embedded American people are in this culture of death when we allow our vulnerable to disappear and consent to the use of nuclear weapons which will bring global death to millions."
The feeling of futility would come and go for Bix. Many of you here who have faced prison, or dedicated your life to justice and helping the vulnerable ones probably know this feeling intimately. The question haunts, what can one person do in the face of such principalities and powers?
During a particularly difficult time Bix was also not getting good news about his health. His heart was not predicted to last very long, he was going to die.
How did he not give up?
Bix ultimately received consolation at the gravesite of Chief Joseph in Nespelem, Washington. He encountered a feeling he called "Resurrection". He felt the earth beat in concert with his own heart beat; he felt tremendous peace.
Speaking of this experience and of Chief Joseph he wrote: "His spirit speaks quietly and strongly to my soul. I wanted to spend some days there on retreat living in the Jesuit parish church next to the graveyard. Much of my time was spent being quiet next to his grave. The spirit of the chief who quit his heroic struggle with the US cavalry in order to save his people rises out of the earth. With his words, "From where the sun now sets, I will fight no more forever." He stopped the violence of the US cavalry and the violence that comes out of battle. His compassion, humility, and strength lighted his path of nonviolence."
From the cloud of witnesses:
Later, during his Plowshare action when he and four others cut through a fence at Bangor, sprinkled sunflower seeds and got incredibly close to the nuclear weapons, he wrote "We all experienced a great joy after being arrested, cuffed, hooded, and forced flat onto the cold earth. It came to me that beyond my furthest hopes, we were witnessing to the power of the Resurrection. Even in this place of fear, death, and hopelessness, the power of life, hope and love can rise."
Let also recognize the Plowshare and other peace activists who have recently gone before him:
Sr. Jackie Hudson…Presente
Sr. Anne Montgomery…Presente
Bix believed strongly that love is stronger than hatred. Love is always looking to infuse new life even in our darkest hours. He told the National Catholic Reporter: "I know it sounds idealistic, but I do feel very strongly in the Resurrection and how we can act together…I believe strongly in my heart in the power of God and the power of creation and the Resurrection. They are much stronger than the powers of death,"
As Bix entered his last week of life it was no less full of this powerful love. Community like today, gathered around his bed at Jean's House, told jokes, stories, sang songs, held silence, held the love for Bix that he had so freely given. All of you who couldn't be there were there in spirit. And the cloud of witnesses was also there. The community found it hard to let go of him, so the vigil continued as he fell more deeply into a coma. But, ultimately the community had to let go of the physical Bix, so Bix could do his own letting go. He did not want to leave his community. He did not want to leave his family. But ultimately he let go with great peace.
And so here we are, together again, the beloved community joined with the Cloud of Witnesses. And Bix is alive in our hearts. And we get to sing love songs to him. We get to claim for him the words and poems he meant for another.
"In a world cold and frozen
you hugged warmth
into our brittle bodies
until suppleness returned,
you breathed hope
into our sagging
and desperate spirits, and
you reflected our worth
in your moon-lit face.
You bid us to sell
the pearl of great price
to use so that
no one stand in need.
You taught us
not to hinder
the work of the spirit
in any life, and
that we can learn
to take wing
and soar together."
In the Cloud of Witnesses:
Fr. William Jerome ”Bix” Bichsel…Presente.