Pat preached. He had two points to make, he said, “before I get to Peter.” Peter was the deceased, his friend of 49 ½ years, since the two of them entered the Jesuits. Pat’s two points were that he stood on “holy ground” there in the retirement center for Jesuits of eight upper Midwestern states and that their suffering (as sick, invalided, dying) was “salvific.”
This “salvific” is related to “terrific” in its ending. The s-a-l-v part is related to “salvation,” as of souls. If something is salvific, it makes for, contributes to salvation of souls. It’s a Latin-word-turned-English, a staple of the course on divine grace – God’s gift to people that brings them around to (a) straight-and-narrow-path behavior and (b) everlasting life.
If you knew the vocabulary, as the Colombiere Center congregation did, you got Pat’s message: Pete, stricken with polio 45 years earlier, had not wasted his life. Pat was telling Colombiere regulars and visitors that there was no waste in putting up uncomplainingly, as Pete did, with the nonsense and worse that comes with incapacity.
He compared Pete favorably to men he had known “in the war” in Viet Nam, where he’d been a chaplain, men who had died so others could live. Peter, he said, had shown heroism every day. He commended some in the congregation, contemporaries of Peter in the Jesuits, for overnighting with him at the Louisville hospital where he was recuperating, in the weeks after he was removed from the iron lung.
I was one of them. Pete set the course for the rest of his life in those days. He was easy to be with. Months earlier, he had been a superb athlete. Now he was hoping to walk again – and did, though shakily, for many years, teaching high school, then working as a counselor for college students and couples, before becoming wheelchair-bound some 15 years ago. Life would never be the same after the Louisville hospital stay. But he never complained.