“He sat there with us the whole time, waiting”

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This piece was originally printed in the IVC DC/Metro Maryland/Northern VA December Corps Connector.

I bought Tattoos on the Heart by Greg Boyle, S.J., this year’s book, on my Kindle. I read it on the plane to Florida for a family reunion with my sisters and brothers—there are six of the eight of us left—and as my spiritual reading during the week.

You may have discovered this happening to you, namely, every time I picked this book up the tears began to flow. By the end of the week, I finished the book and cried six five-gallon buckets. Did you get as attached to Greg’s Home Boys and Girls as I did? Greg’s adventure taps deeply into my memories as a young priest in Louisville, KY. I was assigned to Sts. Simon & Jude parish in the South End. We had one of the largest housing projects in the city in the boundaries of our parish. It was the early sixties and we weren’t plagued by drugs and gangs like Greg. But when you stuff so many families into small living spaces called “projects” and they barely have enough money to live on, then that’s a potentially volatile mixture. A lot of the kids enrolled at Simon & Jude are from the projects and a lot of them eventually wind up in trouble with the law.

I soon got as attached to these kids as Greg, though our times and circumstances were different. I found myself quite frequently sitting in Juvenile Court, speaking up for them before Judge Louis Jull, a very compassionate juvenile judge, and together we keep a lot of our children out of Kentucky Village, a juvenile detention center.

I used to say, “I spend more time in Juvenile Court than I do in the rectory!” I remember one night the Louisville police, responding to a lot of complaints about juvenile crime in our area throw out a dragnet and pull in a whole raft of kids—maybe twenty or thirty—and they’re to be arraigned in Juvenile Court tomorrow. Early the next morning a parishioner calls the rectory saying his son just got picked up.

Father Bill Hartlage, our pastor, takes the call and asks me to go down to the courthouse and talk to the parents. When I get there it’s chaos. Kids and parents are sitting or standing all over the place. Over in a corner I find our parishioner, his wife and their sixteen year old son. When they see me I see the shame and embarrassment in their eyes.  These are good people, very active in the parish. And their son has never been in trouble before. We say hello and talk about what happened.

It’s about eight o’clock and they tell me his arraignment isn’t scheduled until noon. So what do I want to do? Leave or stay with them? I decide to stay. So we sit there together, not talking much, for nearly four hours. Juvenile court isn’t as formal as regular court, so his son is arraigned before a young social worker. Because I’m there—a priest and I speak for him—he’s released to his parents’ custody. A week later Fr. Bill tells me the boy’s father was just by and says how touched he was , “…and Father Bowling sat there with us the whole time, waiting!”

Isn’t this what IVC volunteers do? Do you come riding in on your white stallion as savior of the poor, the homeless? Don’t you rather come as servants giving of your time and talents? Doing as Jesus does? Show up for your one or two days a week and witness their pain and suffering and rarely, if ever, do you find out how special your presence is to them. Even if all we do is answer the phone, keep the books, or help raise money. Yet most often when asked about your IVC experience you remark: “I’m more blessed by them than they are by me.”

Dick Bowling was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Louisville in June, 1960 and left the active ministry in December 1968. He got a Masters Degree in Counseling from the University of Kentucky in 1968-69 and worked as a college counselor at Northern Virginia Community College from 1969 to 1995. Dick began to  volunteer as an assistant to the IVC Northern Virginia Regional Director in 2005 and continues to this day. He also serves as a spiritual reflector for this region.

8 Responses to ““He sat there with us the whole time, waiting””

  1. Christine Curran

    Dick, a wonderful story and an example of true ministry, walking in the footsteps of Christ. Thank you.

  2. Emilie Gillanders

    Had read this before-it was “spot on” the first time and the second as well! Thanks, Dick.

  3. Camille Devaney

    Your comments about the book are so true, can’t read this without tears and a transformation in attitude. Your story about Juvenial court struck a bell for me in my ministry in two nursing homes. What do I, not much, but listen. I do bring Eucharist but that in reality is frosting, the cake is the visit, the listening, and often crying on my way home. Yet they are very happy and hugs are free every visit.

    • Jeanie Sweeney

      Love this. Sitting with. I remember doing this with a grandson who was depressed. Later he wrote a note that said, ” thanks, Grammy, for all the heart to heart talks.” There had been no words. O God, we thank you for your presence!

  4. Jeanette Herbert

    Wonderful Dick!! We never know what we do. Oftentimes it’s simply being there. Peace, Jeanette

    • Louise M Sandberg

      Thank you for sitting with. I work with Spanish speaking mothers on Long Island. I was hit by a car in December after day one of the 9 day Posada, and the ladies went to every length to come and sit with me. They came in such numbers that I had to get up with my walker and go across the hall to the visitor’s lounge so we could all sit together. Their presence told me a little of what my presence means to them. One of them who came I had been in court with as she negotiated an English speaking system. It was only a traffic violation, but court, none the less. And presence in both our situations, is prayer.

  5. Helen Taney

    This story about you doesn’t surprise me at all, Dick, though I know you didn’t mean the focus to be on you.. There must be very many others who are so grateful for your loving ministry. I know I am. I have benefited in so many ways from your warm and gentle kindness.

  6. Chepi DiCalogero

    Since I’ve only been an IVC volunteer in Northern Virginia for a couple of months, I decided to go back over some of the previous reflections. Thank you, Dick, for reminding me that presence is what it is all about not what I might be doing but just being where the Lord has sent me. I look forward to learning much from you.


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