Ring. Ring. Ring.
“Hello, Theology Department.”
“Hi, is this Tom Healey?”
“Yes it is.”
“Hi, Tom, this is Jim Michals, you may remember me.”
At the point in time at which this phone conversation took place I had known Jim for over ten years, and his “you may remember me” didn’t faze me in the least. In fact, it was the kind of dry, almost desert-like sense of humor that I had come to expect from Jim.
It is with great sadness that we at Saint Ignatius mourn the loss of long-time teacher, mentor, coach, colleague and friend Jim Michals, but intertwined with that sadness is a good deal of joy and a number of fond memories as we ponder what Jim meant to the community as a whole and to each of us as individuals.
My strongest memories of Jim are in relation to my son Kevin, who had Jim as his physical education (not gym!) teacher as a sophomore. Kevin was more of a scholar than an athlete and so was a bit ambivalent about the B that he had earned in Jim’s class. Two years later Jim, Kevin, and I were waiting for the light to change so that we could cross Lorain on our way to our cars at the end of the day. Amidst the small talk Jim said to Kevin, “I bet the B you got in my class was the only B in your entire Ignatius career.” It was, and Kevin was not thrilled by the sardonic grin that accompanied the statement of his old physical education (not gym!) teacher.
Little did I know that less than three years later I would be kneeling at the Grotto at Notre Dame praying for deceased loved ones, and especially for Kevin, when my eye would notice something very familiar among the personal mementos and flowers that people typically lay on the pedestal of the statue of St. Bernadette. It was a prayer card with a Celtic cross on it. I rose from the kneeler, walked to the statue and picked up the card, turning it over on the one-in-a-million chance that it was what I thought it might be. As I turned it over I looked at the card and the words on the first two lines confirmed what I had prayed to see:
IN LOVING MEMORY OF
Kevin Christopher Healey
I was beside myself with emotion, knowing that someone had not only come to Kevin’s favorite place at Notre Dame to pray for him, but had placed the card from his wake and funeral as a remembrance of a beloved young man. Only later, and – of course – not from Jim, did I find out who placed that prayer card at the Grotto. And when I did find out it did not surprise me in the least.
For those who only knew the surface of Jim Michals – the old school, by the book, give you a jug, phys ed/health teacher – this story probably comes as a revelation, and possibly an epiphany. For those who knew the man behind the persona, there is a recognition of the true Jim Michals, and most probably a recollection of similar stories of quiet thoughtfulness and love.
In some ways we are all enigmas to the rest of the world, and probably most of us are enigmas even to ourselves. I have never met a person of real depth who the world properly understood, even if that person was greatly loved. Jesus comes to mind as the perfect example.
Now, I know that Jim would take me to task for even hinting at a comparison between himself and Jesus, but he could not argue with the fact that as with Jesus there was more to Jim Michals than was obvious to the casual observer. There was a depth of care and concern for each of his students that spoke of a desire for them to be the best that they could be – without cutting any corners. The same held true for all of his colleagues at Saint Ignatius.
And after witnessing the huge crowd who attended his wake and funeral Mass I know that I am one of many, many people who have benefitted from having Jim Michals as a part of our lives. And each one of us can answer the line “you may remember me” with a resounding “Yes, Jim, today and for all days, I remember you.”
Jim Michals, Requiescat in pace.