With a keen eye for detail and a sense of design, Msgr. David S. Slubecky received a funeral Mass he would be proud of, because he crafted it himself, picking the hymns and readings long ago. The funeral for the retired vicar general and moderator of the curia for the Diocese of Buffalo took place at St. Joseph Cathedral on the chilly morning of Feb. 18, six days after he passed away quietly.
Bishop Richard J. Malone served as main celebrant, with Bishop Edward U. Kmiec, bishop emeritus of Buffalo, and classmates Bishop Robert J. Cunningham of Syracuse and Bishop Robert C. Evans of Providence, R.I., concelebrating.
"He's a wonderful priest, wonderful person, very dedicated, very pastoral. His heart was always out there, generous as can be," said Bishop Kmiec shortly before the Mass. "We're all shocked and saddened by his passing, but trust he is with God. He was a very spiritual man and a great priest. I think the Lord is going to welcome him very openly."
Msgr. David G. LiPuma, who served in the Buffalo chancery with Msgr. Slubecky, offered a homily that showed his late friend's deep faith, love of Italy, and that peculiar sense of perfection.
After graduating from St. John Vianney Seminary in East Aurora, Msgr. Slubecky went to Rome to study for his theology degree. The North American College coat of arms bears the motto "Steadfast is My Heart."
"It would be a motto David embraced long before he knew he would be a priest," Msgr. LiPuma said.
Although he had dreamed of being a parish priest since childhood, after his ordination he spent only four months at St. Mary's in Batavia, before being sent back to Rome to earn a graduate degree in Theology. It helped develop a love for the history, art and food of Italy.
"Anyone who knows David, knows that he absolutely loved Rome. David loved the Church. David loved being close to the see of Peter," Msgr. LiPuma said, adding there was no better tour guide than Msgr. Slubecky, who could wax eloquently about popes and Roman architecture. He also knew the best places to eat.
Msgr. LiPuma was not the only one to point out that Msgr. Slubecky had a sense of precision in him. His desk was always very well organized, with pictures on the walls hung straight. To stir up his playful side, people would drop paperclips on the floor outside his office to see how quickly he would pick them up.
Msgr. LiPuma admits to moving statues and pictures in his office, "only to watch him go apoplectic when he went back in to put everything back into place immediately."
Even Bishop Malone felt the need to pull a fast one on his right-hand man.
"At moments like this, when we lose someone we are close to, we are flooded with memories of all kinds," the bishop said in his closing remarks. "The last time we were in the cathedral kitchen, I knew he would be retiring, I went into the kitchen and I pulled every single draw out and opened every single cabinet, then walked out. I knew for David it was the ultimate horror."
On a serious note, the bishop credits Msgr. Slubecky's perfection with driving his commitment to serving the bishops, priests, deacons, religious and lay faithful of the diocese as vicar general and moderator of the curia, a position that coordinates the administrative duties in a Catholic diocese.
"I saw how much attention he gave to that position. That position, people wouldn't know it if you didn't work at the chancery, has immense detail to it in every aspect of the Diocese of Buffalo. There's all kind of complex challenges. It's a very stressful position. ... He handled it so very, very well. He kept it in balance with his other interests. Also, as you all know so well, especially those who were his parishioners, a man of tremendous compassion. He was a man of a lot of sensitivity and spirit. We're going to miss all of that."
The bishop closed by offering his deep sympathy to the Catholic community as well as the Slubecky family who were present.
Daniel Slubecky summed up his brother's life simply by saying, "He was always a priest."
"He was always caring about other people, always concerned that everyone was taken care of and happy. As he grew, that became more and more. He would drop what he was doing if one of us needed him. He was a great man and a super priest," said his sister Elaine Hudson. "He will be missed."
Hudson, with Daniel, brother Donald, and sister Rita Gibney, all smile when they recall him wearing a towel as a stole, but they tear up thinking about him being gone.
"My brother loved to have fun. He was great with everyone," said Gibney. "We kept him grounded. We didn't let his head get too big. He was David."
Bishop Cunningham, former chancellor of the Buffalo Diocese, attended St. John Vianney Seminary with Msgr. Slubecky. He recalled him as a gifted student who was fun to be around.
"He was a, I don't think ringleader is the right word, but he was always the one who would pull people together," Bishop Cunningham said. "He enjoyed life and enjoyed the Church. David was one of those outstanding priests who was always happy, always joyful, always glad to do what he was doing. I think he's an example to all of us."