Andy had a style of living out his ordination from his own unique composition of military training, fire marshal operation, and role as the family patriarch. It turned out like nothing you would imagine. He didn’t give up on people. He loved us.
When Deacon Andy got to heaven, which was probably immediate, I can imagine him passing through those pearly gates with an eye on everyone around him. I see him escorting folks ahead of himself. Those newcomers probably thought he was one of the staff.
Andy and Annemarie McKee
By John Pearring
King Joash, the lousy leader of the ancient Israelites, as recorded in 2 Chronicles, triggered my reflection this week. Joash would have been a great king and certainly a better man if he’d only known Deacon Andy McKee. Andy died on June 12.
Andy knew how to lead. Service, prayer, inspirational stories, regular gatherings in God’s name, and persistence. Joash didn’t know squat.
Some folks don’t know this, but our Old Man Group, the OMG, was started by Andy. He recruited the stalwarts of our organization and focused them on prayer, song, and food. In that order, I believe. He’s also the one who initiated our annual retreat. Dan Rector may know more details, or check in with Don Sohn. Several of the early fellas are gone now. Our prayer and service organization began somewhere between 1986 and 1990. That’s not long ago, but when you start an organization in your 50s and recruit fellas in their 60s, you only have so much time.
Deacon Andy was all about the blessings. The first time I met Andy was in 2008 when I was in the hospital. I believed for a long time that it was he who visited me to bring Holy Communion. He remembered meeting with a Catholic who couldn’t take communion. So, it must have been me. I wasn’t eating anything at the time of his visit. I was on a feeding tube, so I declined, but he held my hand and gave me a blessing I’ll never forget.
Lots of folks met Andy in their hospital bed. Or at their front door. Quite a few encountered him in a nursing home, on a fire line, in the military, or at a prayer service. He got around. After 2002, Andy, finally ordained a deacon, shook your hand, gave you a hug, and left you with a blessing.
Getting a blessing from Andy is one of the fantastic treats of our Catholic faith. Our Church lives by blessings from the ordained. Andy didn’t just take blessing people seriously; he knew that his ordination as a deacon was special. I believe at his own ordination, he heard the following:
As ministers of Word, deacons proclaim the Gospel, preach, and teach in the name of the Church. As ministers of Sacrament, deacons baptize, lead the faithful in prayer, witness marriages, and conduct wake and funeral services As ministers of Charity, deacons are leaders in identifying the needs of others, then marshaling the Church’s resources to meet those needs. Deacons are also dedicated to eliminating the injustices or inequities that cause such needs. But no matter what specific functions a deacon performs, they flow from his sacramental identity. In other words, it is not only WHAT a deacon does,but WHO a deacon is,that is important.
(United States Catholic Conference of Bishops)
Anybody who knew Andy can attest to his faithful fulfillment of these holy orders. He had the privilege and honor to baptize, witness marriages, perform funeral and burial services outside Mass, distribute Holy Communion, and preach the homily. As a group, we men of The OMG have watched and received all of these sacraments from Andy’s faithful exercise of his orders.
Andy had a style of living out his ordination from his own unique composition of military training, fire marshal operation, and role as the family patriarch. It turned out like nothing you would imagine. He could be relentless, but his passion had to do with the heart of people, not their conformity or their grasp of rules. He didn’t give up on people. He loved us.
When Andy got to heaven, which was probably immediate, I can imagine him passing through those pearly gates with an eye on everyone around him. I see him escorting folks ahead of himself. Those newcomers probably thought he was one of the staff.
There’s one thing we can be sure of, though. As Andy watched all kinds of people discarding the stuff they brought, he also looked at himself. New saints quickly realize they don’t need those watches, cell phones, fancy hats, high heels, and whatever else people managed to take with them. Andy would have done the same thing. He’d look down at that fanny pack and rip it off, finally realizing that no matter how useful it was to him, it was the ugliest piece of outerwear that a man could wear.
Andy took teasing well. That’s because he could tease, too. His jokes are a treasure. They take a while to get used to, though. There are stand-up jokes, dad jokes, and Andy jokes. We can’t remember many of his jokes because they were composites of anecdotes rolled into various deliveries that mostly left us confused. That didn’t matter because after his delivery, and during that awkward silence, Andy would tell us, “I love you guys.” We’d all melt.
There’s a book of daily inspirations out there, or there used to be, that Andy sliced into hundreds of pieces. He made copies of various disconnected pages, then pasted those copies into two-sided handouts. They were terrific conversation starters he’d hand out wherever The OMG met.
“It’s something for you to think about,” he’d tell us.
We’d read them out loud during our breakfast gatherings. Sometimes they were topical stories with a spiritual twist. Most of the time, they were tales about saints. I teased Andy that the saints were made up.
I reminded Andy of Saint Maximilian the Undertaker, who grew coffee beans in Venezuela in the 17th Century. He served coffee for free to the orphan boys who worked in the coffee fields 28 hours a day. Forty-four of those boys eventually became priests, serving the Pygmies in Africa. Andy explained that the Pygmies were actually just starved people who, when the priests fed them, grew up to be regular sizes.
Andy reacted to that joke with his inimitable smirk. When I told him that story — which had to be a decade ago — I remember him telling me I needed to go to confession.
I never found out where Andy got all those stories. I’ll always remember Sant Mary Margaret, the unofficial first woman Santa Claus of Romania. She changed her name to St. Ralph and trained reindeer to dance with the gypsies. (Yes, Andy, time for another confession.)
Sometimes at the OMG we would take up donations for someone that Andy was helping out. If you were sick, sad, or lonely, Andy would come to see you. His daily visit routines are legendary. He’d bring communion to people’s homes, to the hospital, and to several nursing homes in the morning. He’d perform a funeral service for someone he knew who died without family or friends in the afternoon. Then he’d be at church getting ready to help some priest in one of a half dozen parishes with any number of liturgies. The man was religion’s top soldier and servant. Andy never saw a person’s religion, though. He just saw hurting people who needed God. And funny enough, everyone was just that kind of person.
We all needed Andy.
In Andy’s last days, we insisted that he give us a blessing at our meetings, even though he’d not be able to get through the prayer or sometimes even remember to bless us. Annemarie would assist. We’d slowly bless ourselves out loud and watch him smile as we grabbed his blessings out of the air. Straight from God, through him to us. We knew special graces were on their way.
At our last meeting, we closed out with a blessing from Andy, this time from his new perch in Heaven.
Further info on Andy: https://www.tributearchive.com/obituaries/25113965/anthony-andy-mckee