Thanks to Mr. Papes

Guest post by Allison Salerno 
As a child, I went to Mass every Sunday with my mom and my dad and my brother and my two sisters. Our church, the converted gym of the closed brick parochial school, was always crowded. I grew up in a large suburban parish in the 1960s and 1970s, when families of four, six, or eight children were common. Our family—with four children and two parents at Mass—was unexceptional.

I’d like to say I paid a lot of attention to the liturgy or understood the homilies. Instead, I wiggled. I bickered with my sisters. I observed what my classmates were wearing. Mostly, I watched the other families. Always, I paid attention to the Papes family and the dad who was taking his four children to church. His wife did not attend because she wasn’t Catholic. This made me notice him.

Mr. Papes was a devoted husband and father who attended church every Sunday. He coached Little League teams and cheered his children on at swim meets at our country club. The Papes kids were athletes and strong students. They would always greet me with a smile. They were encouraging and kind and enthusiastic. Mr. Papes was an unassuming man who exuded a quiet kind of confidence.

* * *

Sunday night a high school classmate called, one of his daughters-in-law, saying that Mr. Papes had died on January 8 and that the funeral was Wednesday, January 13. He was 81 years old and had been battling cancer. His four children were all married. He had 10 grandchildren and a loving marriage of 54 years.

All these years later I can still see him—genuflecting at the pew and then kneeling unabashedly in prayer. I see him singing in the choir and receiving communion.

At his funeral one of his sons said that when Mr. Papes dropped his sons off at middle school, his parting remark was “help someone today.” Mr. Papes had let his children know in ways big and small what really mattered.

That story triggered a memory in me. When I returned home that night, I remembered how Mr. Papes’s eldest son, Matthew, then a senior at the University of Michigan on the baseball team, stopped by my dorm room during my first week of college there. He asked me how things were going, gave me his phone number, and said to call if I needed help or had any questions.

* * *

Reports in the Wall Street Journal and New York Times recount how Theodore Constantine Papes was born in Gary, Indiana, in 1929, the son of immigrants from Greece and Italy. He landed a job at IBM in 1952, the year he graduated from the University of Michigan Phi Beta Kappa. He was a U.S. Navy veteran.

Mr. Papes climbed the corporate ladder at IBM, rising to the rank of Senior Vice-President and Group Executive, Director General of IBM Europe/Middle East/Africa. He founded Prodigy Services Inc. One tribute describes him as “a pioneer of his times,” whose company “provided online news, email, shopping and other services years before the World Wide Web.

Quite apart from his professional accomplishments, Mr. Papes’s actions told me about the importance of faith. He lived his faith by loving his wife. He lived his faith by taking his children to church weekly. He lived his faith by reminding his children of their duty to work hard while lending a helping hand to others. He lived his faith because while he had achieved great professional success, he was a humble man who treated people with respect.

To watch him at church and to see, as the years passed, how the values he and his wife shared bore fruit in their children was a privilege. Even after his death, Mr. Papes continues to inspire.

"Vaya con Dios, Leonard; Rest in Peace."

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  • Anonymous

    Excellent! A very beautiful tribute to a wonderful man. You can feel the faith and dedication of Mr. Papes through your eloquent words. Thanks for sharing your memories!

  • Anonymous

    A moving tribute. He sounds like he was a wonderful person, and my condolences for the loss of your friend. Mr. Papes' life and example reminds me of St. Francis' famous saying "preach the gospel at all times; if necessary use words."

  • Maria

    Ordinary goodness, once so common, and now so rare, makes Mr. Papes seem, well, almost exotic. Finely crafted piece.

  • Anonymous

    I loved this and it reminded me of a tribute I wrote about my father, another man of simple yet profound (far reaching) faith. Well done!I also enjoyed it because I love the fact that Webster and Frank are willing to share the "glory" of posting. Not only does it add to the richness of this blog, but I hope it gives them each a little more time to spend with their families!S.

  • Anonymous

    A lovely picture of the Catholic Faithful you paint. It would be great if more folks were like Mr. Papes.

  • Anonymous

    Mr. Papes reminds me of many people that I knew growing up, whose faith was expressed in love of family *and* concern for those less fortunate, and social justice above all. My parents never used the phrase "help someone today"– they just did it, and all the kids learned it by example. I'm sad that I don't see as many examples of this these days as I used to.

  • Anonymous

    I think we all know a Mr. Papes. This post called to my mind a few. They are seldom recognized or celebrated, but that's ok b/c they have a much larger effect on those who witnessed their lives. These people are our guides and God Bless them!

  • Anonymous

    i love this. i like how this shows how people used to act.