NCR McClory's life celebrated in home parish

Books and picture on top of McClory casket (Photos by Tom Fox)

EVANSTON, IL -- Family and friends gathered here on a clear spring day April 11 to celebrate the live of longtime NCR correspondent Robert McClory. They packed St. Nicholas church to share their sorrows and stories and to express personally their admiration for a man recalled as priest, husband, father, grandfather, teacher, mentor, reporter, author, activist and faithful dissenter.

The name “Robert McClory” is very familiar to NRC readers. Bob began writing for the paper in 1977 and continued in reports, feature stories, columns and later in blogs, through five editorships (Jones, Fox, Roberts, Feuerherd and Coday) until only weeks ago when a blood disease weakened his frail body.  He died Good Friday at the age of 82.

It wasn’t just what McClory had done that drew people to the church. It was how he had done it: his personal and caring style, his open and seeking mind, his endless desire for more fairness and justice within the church and through the wider world.

And all this delivered with his special dry wit, a humor that could defuse tension, pierce darkness, and not infrequently, open a door or offer a sliver of hope. “If McClory isn’t depressed, well, then why should I be?” I read recently that humor is carbonated holiness. McClory kept cases of it around.

NCR editors enjoyed working with McClory. He was, as they say, an “easy edit,” meaning his copy came in cleanly, on time, and at proper length. His writing, meanwhile, was crisp, his prose straightforward. He was a first rate storyteller. More often than not, without a hint of peachiness, his reports managed to point to a larger celestial question or greater truth.

McClory had been a Chicago priest for years before leaving to take up journalism. So it was natural for him to see journalism as a ministry, that is, to tell stories that would not otherwise be told, often of a little guy getting it in the gut.

His journalism career overlapped with the pontificates of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, years of retreat from the openness of the Second Vatican Council of the mid-1960s, which had so shaped his life and values. But he also lived through the first two years of the Francis pontificate, which seemed to give this committed Vatican II-minded author more encouragement.

McClory was a co-founder of Call to Action, a long time board member, and remained active in the group through his life. He wrote nine books, each of them somehow questioning the status quo, asking his readers to take another look at the injustices McClory saw scarring the human scene.

Beginning Friday night, admirers began to descend on St. Nicholas. They stood in line waiting to say a few words to McClory family members waiting at the front of the church. They continued to come and line up before the 12:15 mass Saturday, each hoping to share condolences with Margaret and other family members. At the center of the church was Bob's wooden casket and upon it were two books, both tattered, a modern translation of the New Testament by J.B. Phillips and an old copy of The Documents of Vatican II, clear instruments in McClory's work over the years.

Slowly the assembled moved into pews as the parish began singing the liturgical entrance hymn, “How Can I Keep from Singing.” It was to be an upbeat liturgy.

Former St. Nicholas pastor Father Robert Oldershaw, an old McClory friend, celebrated the mass, punctuated by a Gospel reading chosen by Bob shortly before his death, Luke 24: 13-32, Jesus’ mystical encounter with his disciples on the Emmaus Road.

Bob liked the mystical and the fact that Jesus appeared to women before men, and that unlike the men, the women recognized the Risen Christ. The men were doubters until they shared a Eucharist with their old friend. This scripture packages a lot of meaning and ends on a hopeful note, resurrection, transformation and the thought that men eventually come around, though more slowly than women.

Fr. William Kenneally, another Chicago priest and friend, in his homily noted that Luke, like McClory, was a good storyteller whose prose was simple and clear. 

In a short reflection following the liturgy, Bob’s daughter, Jennifer, said her father for years had taught his journalism students the Ten Commandments of Journalism.  She said she once asked him to share his “Commandments of Life.” Commandment One summed up much of his life, she said. It was “to be open, creative and never afraid.”

Roger Boye, a colleague at the Medill school of Journalism at Northwestern University, spoke of McClory as a “kind and patient teacher, always generous and careful with advice; a cherished colleague; a highly accomplished yet humble journalist and author.”

Said Boye: “A famous line of literature reads:  ‘A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.’  So fitting are those words to this occasion that you almost get the idea that by some type of osmosis, Henry Adams had Bob McClory in mind when he wrote them a century ago.”

Processing to the back of the church, as the assembled worshippers sang the hymn, “How Great Thou Art,” Oldershaw and pallbearers moved slowly as McClory family members, following the casket, held on to each other for comfort and support. Reaching the back of the church, the priest opened the doors, announcing "the light of transformation," which shined brightly into the church and upon the casket. 

Bob’s body, for the last time, left his parish grounds, assisted by friends who placed it into a hearse waiting to carry it to a local cemetery.

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