by Joseph Kepes and Joanne Kepes
Note: This publication was independently produced but is being distributed in conjunction with NACMS.
When you think of a love letter, the image of two caring people separated by distance is often the image that is conjured. But for Joseph and Joanne López Kepes, a married couple of more than 55 years who live in Dayton, Ohio, their most recent love letter is something quite different: a labor of love for a beloved friend and holy man, Marianist Father Phil Hoelle, whose good works have shaped the lives and spiritual lives of so many.
The Kepeses have penned Philip C. Hoelle, SM: Servant Priest, a 108-page biography about their dear friend who died in 2005 at the age of 93. His life is not only notable for its length but more importantly for what Father did with it during his nine-plus decades. Describing the project, the authors had this to say:
This is a portrait of Father Philip Charles Hoelle, SM, a man for all seasons, a
model servant priest and apostle. Having known Father Phil as a personal friend,
confessor, and mentor for many years, we feel it is our privilege to have been
entrusted with telling something of his life story. It is our prayer that this portrait
will do justice in presenting an image of this humble, loving, and quiet man who
has inspired so many people. In accepting each person as he or she is, Father made
it possible for each one to see who they might become and the good they might be
capable of doing.
The Kepeses remind us that it is through the “ordinary events of one’s life that God works and speaks.” So it is a fitting tribute to Father Hoelle that their word portrait of him spans from the cradle to the grave.
As Father Hoelle was other-centered and nondirective by nature, perhaps many within Marianist circles are not aware of his voluminous works, which include helping to establish the Marian Library; a lay-oriented missionary program; Bergamo Center for Lifelong Learning; Christian-Jewish Dialogue; and the Dakota Center, a social-service agency serving inner-city Dayton residents.
Philip C. Hoelle, SM: Servant Priest is a fitting love letter to a man who dedicated his life to doing whatever God told him.
Do whatever He tells you.
This is a portrait of Father Philip Charles Hoelle, SM, a man for all seasons, a model servant priest and apostle. Having known Father Phil as a personal friend, confessor, and mentor for many years, we feel it is our privilege to have been entrusted with telling something of his life story. It is our prayer that this portrait will do justice in presenting an image of this humble, loving, and quiet man who has inspired so many people. In accepting each person as he or she is, Father made it possible for each one to see who they might become and the good they might be capable of doing.
It is through the ordinary events of one’s life that God works and speaks. The family, childhood and adolescence, friends and schooling, what is read and written, what is jotted down, and extracurricular interests and activities provide the framework in which to place the person. What excited the imagination, what fired the enthusiasm, what guided the choices made? Father Phil had mentioned that the “best way to know a man is through his correspondence,” quoting Cardinal John Henry Newman. But Father left very little written correspondence and did not keep a journal. What is available are his extensive notes, the ideas that he jotted down, and interviews with people who knew him.
Emphasis of this portrait is on the character of Philip Hoelle and on the gift he was to all of us. His legacy lives on in the people he has touched. How did we come to take on this task? Joanne first met him just after World War II while a high school student in Cleveland, Ohio, and Joe met Father Phil in 1953, the year before he witnessed our marriage. We had stayed in contact with him over the years. His presence in Dayton was certainly a factor in Joe’s decision to join the faculty of the University of Dayton in 1962. We saw him more frequently as he started to edge into semiretirement.
One evening in January 2005, while returning him to his lodgings after having dinner, we asked him if he had ever thought about writing his memoirs. It seemed that it would be a fitting capstone to his life’s work. We said, rather casually, that if there was anything we could do to assist him in such a project we would be pleased to do so. We assumed it would be some typing or illustrating, something that Joanne had done for him in the past. He said he would give the idea some thought. Several weeks later a note arrived saying he has decided to accept our kind and generous offer. To our surprise, when we visited him a few days later, he greeted us at the door of the retirement center with a number of boxes of material containing records of many of his activities over the years. He added the comment about how happy he was that we would take on the task of writing about his life. Father Hoelle said we could do with the material as we wished and to take as much time as we needed. His only request was that his Ph.D. thesis be deposited in the Marianist Archives, and he suggested the theme of this book should be “Do whatever He tells you.”
I. Farm Boy 1912-27 1
II. Marianist Beginnings 1927-39 9
III. Early Priesthood Years 1939-53 17
IV. University of Dayton Years 1953-67 27
Marian Library—Missionary Activity
V. Provincialate Years 1964-73 39
VI. Bergamo Center 1973-93 53
VII. Evening Years 1993-2005 67
VIII. Servant Priest 79
Favorite Sayings and Stories 85
Time Line 99
Selected Bibliography 103