I met Fr. Bob Streveler during St. Anthony’s Volunteer Week in the summer of 2015. I have to admit that I was a little bit intimidated by him. After all, he had a powerful voice and a confident gait. And he was probably at least a foot taller than my 5’3”. Plus, he wasn’t afraid of the bats that sometimes flitted down the hallways of St. Anthony’s after dark. I discovered his nonchalant attitude towards the resident bats whilst I was thundering around the cloister on the first night of Volunteer Week, 2015, having arrived too late from Michigan to take my daily five-mile walk outdoors. I rounded the corner into the east corridor from the south corridor and saw Fr. Bob, whose name I didn’t yet know, about three-quarters of the way down the corridor, walking towards the room that I later discovered was his office. I also saw a bat flying towards him (and me) from the northeast corner of the house. The bat skimmed right over the top of Fr. Bob’s head, but Fr. Bob kept walking, totally unfazed. (Seriously: I don’t think he even SAW the bat, let alone realized that it had almost touched the top of his head.) I, on the other hand, stifled a scream, made a very quick about-face, and beat a hasty retreat to the safety of my room. On my journey away from the bat, I thought “Who is that unflappable person?”
In the summer of 2016, while spending almost the entire month of July in volunteer service at St. Anthony’s, I got to know more about that unflappable person. I got to know that he was intelligent, thoughtful, articulate, and an excellent homilist. I got to know that he had biked through all 72 counties in Wisconsin, once even ending up in the middle of a corn field on a road bike because his map had led him wildly astray. I got to know that his first-grade teacher had not, as was customary when he attended grade school, required him to stop using his left hand because the lefties had everyone else outnumbered: over half the class was left-handed. (Left-handedness for the win!) I got to know that he and some of his brother priests, while in attendance at a TEC (Teens Encounter Christ) Conference, jokingly declared themselves to be members of an organization called OPEC: Old People Encounter Christ. (Somehow, an oil can and a hubcap were also involved in this story. You know: the other OPEC, not the one that stands for Old People Encounter Christ.) I got to know that his sense of humor let no opportunity slide to make a joke, but that his sense of reverence was equally as profound as his sense of silliness. I got to know that he was joyful and kind and generous. I thought “I like this guy.”
And then I came to live at St. Anthony’s as resident director, and I got to know this guy as a brother – a fellow community member. I benefitted more times than I can count from his wise counsel and years of experience as a pastor. I began sharpening my own wit, in a pitiful effort to keep up with his! I discovered again and again what I had already known to be true: that he was a reverently joyful, generous, kind, compassionate, and intelligent person. I thought “I love this guy.”
Because how could I not love Fr. Bob? He sort of exuded love wherever he went. It was clear that his priestly vocation was rooted in his deep love for God, a love that naturally spilled over into a deep love for his brothers and sisters in Christ. He genuinely cared about people and wanted not just to bring them the Good News but to live out the Good News for his brothers and sisters, for all of Creation, for the Good God who created all things.
I had the great privilege of serving as the cantor and accompanist at Fr. Bob’s Golden Jubilee Mass here at St. Anthony’s last May. When I noticed that our little chapel was packed full of guests seven minutes before Mass started, I decided to sing a prelude piece. I chose Donna Peña’s “I Say Yes, My Lord” because it seemed like such an appropriate tribute to Fr. Bob’s 50 years of ministry. He was always willing to say “yes” to God’s call. He was always willing to say “yes” to justice; “yes” to caring for the poor and the outcast; “yes” to making the world a more compassionate place. He was always willing to say “yes” to love.
I hadn’t expected anyone to sing along. But those of you who were there sang along enthusiastically with the refrain and the assembly echo in the verses, even though you didn’t have the words or music in front of you. It was sort of like this tribute to Fr. Bob’s ministry – this thank you and gift – could not be quenched, no matter what obstacles might have stood in the way of your singing. It was beautiful, just as his life and ministry were beautiful.
Thank you, Fr. Bob, for everything you were, for everything you did, for all the joy and love you brought to all of us. We will hold you in our hearts always. And may they, in bearing your memory, become more loving hearts.
Eternal joy, rejoicing, and more than a few good jokes grant unto him, O Lord!