November 17, 2012
Brother Mel Anderson, FSC
Most Rev. John Cummins, Father and Brother Provincials, Esteemed
Dominicans and Christian Brothers, family and friends of Father LaBelle.
When Father Patrick Leo LaBelle, OP, Class of 1961 was serving at Oregon State University he was asked by Brother William Beatie, who was at that time Vice President for Student Activities to come to Saint Mary’s and review the Campus Ministry program, which was in dire need of direction. Father Patrick came and crafted a thoughtful comprehensive report. Brother William read the report, thought about it and realized that the only person who could conduct the Campus Ministry as needed was Father Patrick LaBelle himself. Father Patrick was asked to serve at Saint Mary’s and though he was quite content in Oregon, he thought that the need at Saint Mary’s, his Alma Mater was significant. He was appointed Chaplain, the then term in vogue, Resident Director in De La Salle Hall and faculty member in the “Great Books” Collegiate Seminar. However, within a short time the Dominican Provincial realized that Father LaBelle’s talents would be an asset to the success of the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology, especially in fund-raising and he was appointed its President. That task, a demanding one, turned out to be his busy day job. But as many people did and still do to make ends meet, he retained his night job and residence to some extent as Resident Director. Once his term at DSPT came to an end he was appointed full-time Dean of Student Life.
When Father Patrick assumed command as Dean, he immediately brought a sense of decorum and class to student government. In his first experience of attending a Student Council Meeting, the Student Body President at the time brought the group to order by banging a beer bottle on a table. Most of the elected participants, dressed in casual attire, approached student government in relaxed, laissez-faire style. It was not long before Father Patrick insisted on coats, ties, skirts and blouses, a store-bought gavel, formal protocol, Roberts Rules of Order and the rewriting of a new set of by-laws.
Father LaBelle's leadership characteristics became apparent in 1959 when then junior Leo LaBelle lived in Aquinas Hall, a residence hall that featured a small common phone booth in the lower hallway. Students in several American colleges, from MIT in the East to Saint Mary’s out in the Far-West were inspired by an article that described a caper by students in Durban South Africa who claimed that they stuffed a telephone booth with more students than anyone else. Leo LaBelle and friends tried to better that claim by stuffing the booth in Aquinas Hall, but it was much too small. LaBelle sought an ordinary A.T. and T. booth, and had it delivered to the lawn area in front of the chapel. After a selection of volunteer students and numerous practice sessions, the newspapers and magazines were called and the booth was stuffed with 23 svelte students. Life Magazine featured a full-page photo of the event, making it international "booth stuffing" news.
Twenty-five years later, in 1984 the now Reverend Patrick Leo LaBelle, OP, Dean of Student Life, raconteur that he is, told students about the 1959 booth stuffing and displayed photos. The enthusiasm of students to re-enact the ’59 stuffing overflowed and a telephone booth was again delivered to the front lawn area, courtesy of Pac Bell. After careful student size selection and serious practice, the event was staged, beating the previous record by two, but this time with TV present as well as news cameras. The event again was deemed nationally newsworthy. Father LaBelle and one of the “stuffed” students, the late Peter Dowley, were flown to New York by ABC-TV to appear on “Good Morning America.”
As the disciplinarian, Father Pat’s sense of humor soft-gloved the heavy hand of the law. A group of lively students awakened Father Pat late one night, about 2:00 AM, with loud music and partying. He diffused the party and returned to bed. Later in the morning, about 6:00 AM he awakened the revelers saying, “Good morning and greetings all! Since you shared your evening with me, I’m pleased to share my morning with you.”
The Senior Chair Committee, designed as a disciplinary measure, became a peculiar kind of honor among wayward seniors. Anyone who merited some minor punishment was named to the Senior Chair Committee that was assigned to setting up 2000 chairs in perfect order for the Commencement ceremonies. It is hard to say how many resumes contained the line: Member of the Senior Chair Committee.
Father Patrick's thoughtful and caring advice and authentic generosity, such as his willingness to provide priestly guidance and hear confessions, the cooking of creative dinners for student leaders and bringing resident students together, his networking for job opportunities, his advocacy for students in need, his promotion and encouragement of successful events such as the cherished “The Family Casino Nights,” and the “RA’s Revenge,” his occasional matchmaking, conducting numerous weddings, his effervescent congeniality, and his personal integrity evoked numerous testimonials to his weaving a tapestry of endearing admiration.
"I know, " says Sherie Dodsworth, Class of ’78, and fellow Trustee, "that Father LaBelle has made a great difference in the lives of many Saint Mary’s students and to the College. His clearly articulated comprehensive views on issues as a Trustee is a most appreciated asset.” Shawn Pynes, Student Body President in ‘86 observed that “Father LaBelle made the Church more a guiding light than an authoritarian institution by being a human friend like Christ himself.” ConferenceDirect C.E.O. Brian Stevens, ’77, nostalgically recalls “those wonderfully memorable off-campus leadership dinners at Father Patrick’s friend’s vacation home with chef LaBelle’s menus and discussions filled with stories, ideas, plans and jocular episodes."
The attitude of Saint Mary's students was well framed by the San Francisco Airport caper, its description is on paper at your table, when an unaware Father LaBelle stepped off a plane from Seattle to be met by Brother Raphael and a group of admiring students. It’s a creative story that will be told many generations hence.
During a two and a half year respite from his twelve years of residence hall living, he served as Pastor of Saint Mary Magdalen Church in Berkeley. It was while at Berkeley that Father Patrick learned of an opening for the Catholic campus ministry at Stanford University. Though the Society of Jesus seemed to have had a red-carpet advantage for assuming the Stanford Catholic ministry, Father Patrick checked with his Provincial and applied. He was strongly recommended for an interview by the local pastor to the Bishop of San Jose, the Most Reverend Pierre DuMaine. Father Patrick undoubtedly impressed the Bishop since a few days after the interview while Father LaBelle was on the Russian River serving the Brothers at their summer camp he received a phone call telling him that if he wanted the assignment, it was his. Bishop DuMaine, a thoughtful and wise man, and apparently a good judge of leaders, later remarked that appointing Father Patrick to the Stanford apostolate was the best decision he ever made. Naturally, those of us at Saint Mary’s believed that his experience in Rancho Moraga was the formative model that prepared him for his success at The Farm.
Several months after Father Patrick assumed direction of the Catholic Community at Stanford, we arranged to have dinner in the Stanford area. When the meeting day arrived I left early enough to be on time. After I had travelled for quite a few miles I realized that I had forgotten to bring with me the directions Father Patrick had provided to find him on campus. So I rather than turn back and be late, I tested my luck, and when I arrived on campus and I asked several people where I might find Father LaBelle. Everyone I asked knew who Father LaBelle was and where I could find him. Even Condoleeza Rice whom I met walking along an arcade knew who he was and where he was.
Father Patrick began his thirteen years at Stanford by sending a letter to all students with Catholic-sounding names. The number of Catholic students and faculty who soon turned up for Sunday Mass filled the 1,400 seat Stanford Memorial Chapel for the main Mass. The Stanford newspaper observed that the largest crowds for Stanford events were the football games, basketball games and the Catholic liturgy for Sundays. When Secret Service personnel showed up for Mass, Father Patrick knew that Chelsea Clinton would be attending. Patrick recruited a sizeable choir and orchestra for the liturgy that became so well known that they performed on occasion apart from the liturgy, to local acclaim. They also graciously performed for several Christian Brothers Provincial events. The Stanford Director of Admissions, a Manhattan College graduate and thus a Lasallian alumnus, and a musician, joined the group as organist and active participant in Catholic affairs. He became an admiring personal friend of Father LaBelle. A few years after joining the choir, he informed the Stanford President that he was resigning his crucial academic position as Admissions Director. He had been accepted by his Diocesan seminary. Today he is Father Robert Kennelly, Rector of the Seminary, Vocation Director for the Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut, Trustee of Sacred Heart College and remains a close and trusted friend of Rev. Patrick LaBelle.
If ever there was an ideal fit with a person’s vocational calling, Father LaBelle’s vocation to the Ordines Praedicatorum, the Order of Preachers, is one of the closest matches Divine Providence deigned to inspire. As a master homilist, preacher, eulogist, raconteur, commentator and teacher, Rev. Patrick LaBelle has developed the art of elocution par excellence. He created themes that connected Revealed truth to daily human drama, he was orthodox but never pedantic, preached insightfully without being preachy, inserted wit with meaning, captured the attention and devotion of others while letting no one off the hook. Yet he hooked almost everyone he contacted with his persuasive charm, personal integrity and religious commitment.
Father Patrick, your imaginative leadership at Saint Mary’s College as Campus Minister, Dean of Student Life, as homilist and confessor, advisor and faculty member, your unbending devotion to your Alma Mater, the Christian Brothers, the students and alumni and your generous assistance to the Christian Brothers of the Province on numerous occasions are but some of the causes for honoring you as a Brother to us all.
As an Affiliated Member of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, who tutored you early on in your career and together with whom you served with masterful acuity, contagious but moderated effervescence, congeniality, energy and prayerful devotion, we salute you, welcome you and bless you. And so, in the name of Saint John Baptist De La Salle, we say, loudly and clearly: May Jesus live in your heart, forever!
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