Essay: The Passing of a Patriot & Priest

Jun 11, 2015

A longtime Milwaukee clergyman will be laid to rest today.  Lake Effect essayist Mark Siegrist says he was a man worth knowing, regardless of your faith tradition:

The Jesuits lost a good man the other day, a model priest, and patriot.

94-year old Father Larry Jonas passed away last Friday after making quite a presence in this world.

In fact that was one of his titles at Gesu Parish where he served as longtime associate pastor – The Minister of Presence. And boy was he good at it.

Picture a healthy Ronald Reagan in a pair of glasses standing at the altar fully vested.

The essay is dedicated to Father Larry Jonas, who recently passed away.
Credit Jesuit Midwest

You get the picture. He was tall, and strong, handsome, and engaging. Even in his advancing years.

Father Larry also shared another one of the former president’s characteristics.

A gradually fading memory.

But he handled it with great humility and dignity.

Sometimes while celebrating daily mass in Gesu’s lower church Father Larry would lose his place in liturgy.

The regulars in the front pews would respectfully offer verbal cues.

He took them graciously, got back on track, and moved on.

But on Sunday mornings in the main church when the pews were packed and the organ was on full throttle he was in the zone.

In fact a particular Sunday is still vivid in my mind.

That’s when Father Larry stepped away from the pulpit and began defining the gifts of the Holy Spirit during a free flowing homily.

He nailed it.

The brevity and beauty of the moment left the congregation a bit stunned.

The Spirit was upon him.

Father Larry also had his own way of making a high church exit.

Gesu Parish is big on processions – walking to and from the altar.

Usually with a long line of faithful, lots of incense, sacred banners, and a lively hymn.

Father Larry would often lag far behind as it headed for the door, engaging parishioners and visitors in light conversation with his wireless microphone still hot.

Sometimes that made for an interesting narrative during the closing song.

But that was all part of his pastoral persona.

He loved people.

And anyone who stepped into his church, whether a street person, or Marquette lawyer, was made to feel welcome.

Larry Jonas was a man of peace, inspired by war.

World War II.

The Army Air Corps assigned him to Nigeria. That’s where he and his buddies helped supply the U.S. forces in South Asia.

The poverty he encountered during his wartime service helped inspire a vocation to the priesthood.

Three years ago Father Larry was invited to take part in an honor flight to Washington D.C.

And later he was a guest at a Field of Honor public thank you to veterans at Miller Park.

He considered both occasions a highlight in his life as a priest and patriot.

On Thursday evening fellow Jesuits, family, and parishioners alike are gathering at Gesu Parish to say farewell.

His funeral Mass is being celebrated in the same church where Father Larry Jonas was ordained a priest 56 years ago.

One last exit down the aisle for a man of great presence whether in service to his faith or country.

Mark Siegrist is a television producer in Milwaukee.  His next major project is the upcoming MPTV documentary, Milwaukee's Diamonds in the Rough.