Father's Day Featured Articles


A Life Lived in Christ

I still learn from my dad

By Kathryn Jean Lopez

My father knew priorities. He knew love. He knew faith.

Every day, I miss him. But every day I learn from him.

His life was service. To his family. To the Church. To education. To the guy who came up to him and asked for help. Always present, as Christ would be. Always sharing.

The endlessly fruitful thing about a life well-lived is that you leave a legacy. You continue to teach and inspire.

You never leave your daughter without a father. Because you walk her even closer to our heavenly Father.

Joseph Patrick Lopez spent his life in Catholic schools. From St. Columba to Cathedral Prep and the college program at St. Joseph’s Seminary and later to Manhattan College.

Thanks be to God the priesthood wasn’t his call.

And he’d teach eighth-grade year after year – having never left Catholic education after entering as a student in the first grade. He taught almost three decades at St. Rose of Lima School in Washington Heights in upper Manhattan, and then as principal. Where he’d work hard, sharing his talents, being a role model, educating children and mentoring others along the way. Respecting everyone he met.

And enjoying it. Life. His family. The gifts. And what a gift to know your father considers you, your mother, and your brother and sister such precious ones.

He had a seemingly boundless love for his family, the Church, and the education of not just the inner-city children he devoted his career and so much time to, but love for education itself. We were always learning. On family vacations. Watching television. Eating dinner.

Teaching was at the heart of his vocation. Our archdiocesan paper, Catholic New York, captured our family life a little when they profiled my mother and father, then both principals, in 1990: “Married … With 660 Children.” Teaching wasn’t a mere job, it was a call. Everything was a snapshot in a longer adventure.

His was a dedication to Truth.

And even when he didn’t know the answer, he knew its Source.

Very occasionally, you see, a math problem in my seemingly endless homework would only temporarily stump him, say, by my third year of high school. That had to be a cross for him – I was awful at it. But he never did he show frustration, only patience and resolve, demonstrating a sense of duty and vocation – and peace in the face of my occasional tearful outbursts!

Years after he died, a friend of mine from college told me that she thinks of Mr. Lopez – as so many knew him – every time she hears anything about the Beatitudes. “He is my everyday saint,” she told me. Someone who “probably won’t be canonized, but nonetheless, he has touched so many lives.”

What greater lesson could a man’s life teach? How to be in the world and not of it. To be a man who seeks and encourages holiness. And one of authority. One who commanded respect, because so much of what he did was born of just that. One who brought so much of the model of the original St. Joseph to earthly life again.

Earlier this year, not too long after the eleventh anniversary of his death, I read, from the late Dominican priest Father Servais Pinckaers: “The Beatitudes, each in its own way, detail all the happiness man can hope for…. The chief purpose of the Beatitudes is to form in us that spiritual appetite which is the prerogative of the poor, the humble, the meek, and all who follow Christ on the road of suffering…. The Beatitudes... often transcend our ideas and feelings and even turn them upside down, so as to lead us further into the reality of things under the guidance of faith…. We might say that the Beatitudes seek us out, rather than we they, since they contain a Word incomparably more penetrating than human words clothed in human language…. Each time we accept to commit ourselves to the path of one of the Beatitudes, the Lord Himself mysteriously accompanies us by the grace of His Spirit, and travels anew, with us and in us, the road to the Kingdom which He has taught us.”

That grace is the fruit that lives on in the memory of the life of a man who knew happiness and its Source. The Accompaniment we share. The Hand he passed me on to.

When my father died suddenly, some said it would get better. That, of course, can be an infuriating thing to hear when all you want is to hit “rewind.” But it is something remarkable when you realize your Dad only continues to draw you closer to our eternal destination, to Love Himself. That’s what he did in life. And that’s what a man who loved his wife and children more than himself continues to do in eternal life.

Always united in the Eucharist. Until we meet again.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online.