I met Father Pilarz a month or two after the start of my freshman year – his freshman year too, I guess. He knew one of the guys on my floor and was anxious to get to know students. He took us out to dinner downtown.
That first impression was a lasting one. He’s the kind of man that makes you instantly feel at ease, as if you have just been admitted to some exclusive club that, it turns out, isn’t really exclusive at all.
He asked us about Marquette and was genuinely interested in our thoughts on mundane subjects such as the food at the dining halls, visiting hours in the dorms, the $5 charge for tennis courts at the Rec Center and the other woes of a young freshman on campus.
When he spoke, I held on to each word, knowing he had a wisdom and wit that was rare, even at such a university as Marquette. And yet, despite this, Father Pilarz listened. When I spoke, he made me feel as if there was nothing quite so important as the words I was speaking that very moment. Then, he challenged me. He’d ask why I thought that and how I came to that specific conclusion. On more than one occasion, I realized I had no idea.
Another thing I couldn’t help but notice was his deep spirituality and love of life. He challenged me, multiple times, to ponder what I wanted to do with my life and how God was involved. Pilarz showed me that God doesn’t have to be kept within the confines of a church but is subtly present all the time. God could even be fun.
Perhaps this wonder of life can best be expressed through his love of poetry. In his first year as president, Father Pilarz sent out an email during poetry month with the poem “Mysteries, Yes” by Mary Oliver. The closing stanza could not be any more indicative of how I have come to view Father Pilarz as a man:
“Let me keep company always with those who say / ‘Look!’ and laugh in astonishment, / and bow their heads.”
I only met Father Pilarz perhaps four or five times, and none of them were within the past year. Yet, I will forever cherish each and every time I stood in his presence because they all stand out as important moments in my life. Moments where I truly stopped and thought about the man I am today and the man I want to be tomorrow.
I trust Father Pilarz, even if I disagree with the way his resignation occurred. I understand that however hard and strange it must be for all of us as students, it cannot compare to what he must be going through. While I cannot speak to his actions or abilities as president, for I am woefully unqualified to do so, I will say this — Marquette has lost one of the most fascinating and intelligent men I have ever had the privilege of meeting in my short 20 years. So, Father Pilarz, I wish you all the best as we part ways, and I hope that our paths cross again soon. God bless.