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Friends recall Fr. Stockhausen's spirit, heart

By JACK WALSWORTH/ VN EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
On January 26, 2016

The words remain etched in Si Hendry’s mind.

Nearly nine years ago at a country club gathering in Grosse Pointe, Gerard Stockhausen, S.J., president of the University of Detroit Mercy, was speaking to alumni, when he announced that UDM had once again made it into the top tier of Midwestern universities in U.S. News and World Report’s annual rankings.

But “what really matters is not the ranking,” Stockhausen added. “What really matters is what we’re doing here for our students and what we’re doing here that advances them and the Jesuit and Mercy mission of the university.  … What are we doing that’s really valuable?”

“I thought then, I want to work for this guy,” said Hendry, a fellow Jesuit.

And he did. Hendry was hired as director of Catholic Studies.

Over the past several weeks, as Father Stockhausen’s health declined, friends and acquaintances have felt a flood of memories washing over them.

Stockhausen, UDM’s president from 2004 to 2010, died on Jan. 12 after a year-long battle with leukemia. He was 66.

One of his longtime friends was Robert “Roc” O’Connor, S.J., who entered the Jesuit Novitiate the same day as Stockhausen, Sept. 1, 1967. On that day, the novices were arranged by order of birth. Stockhausen sat across the aisle from O’Connor. It was the beginning of a rich friendship.

“He had insights into the scripture, he had insights into human nature and into God that were, I always thought, profound,” said O’Connor, who is associate pastor at Church of the Gesu in Milwaukee, where Stockhausen’s service was held.

Early on, Stockhausen – “Stock” to his Jesuit friends – worked on American Indian reservations in South Dakota and lived in a community with other young Jesuits in North St. Louis called North House.

“He had a good sense of wanting to serve people on the margins,” O’Connor recalled.

It was partially that sense that made UDM such a good fit for Stockhausen.

“He respected the heck out of Sister Maureen Fay (his predecessor as UDM president), he knew (Jesuit) John Staudenmaier and respected him both as a scholar and as a friend, but he was committed to Detroit and the urban university that is UDM,” O’Connor said. “It’s like going back to the time in St. Louis when he was at North House. He had this mindset of ‘I don’t want to be at some fancy place that doesn’t connect to the world of folks that are on the margins.’ He wanted to be right there.”

O’Connor said it was during his years at UDM that Stockhausen not only found himself but felt as if he was found in a whole other way.

 

McNICHOLS AND LIVERNOIS

The Jesuits at UDM live in Lansing-Reilly Hall and get to know each other well, sharing meals, prayer and social activities.

At nine o’clock most nights, Stockhausen made popcorn and sat in the recreation room, talking with whomever came into the room. “As a Jesuit, he was a great guy to live with,” Hendry said. “He was community focused.”

Sister Mary Kelly’s office in the College of Health Professions building overlooks the front lawn and pathway that leads to Lansing-Reilly.

“Seeing him walk home, it felt to me like a symbol of his engagement with the entire university… The leadership, the accomplishments, the financial work, all that we needed, he took it to heart like it was his home,” she said. “It was his, and he was going to do his best to make it the best.”

Hendry described Stockhausen as a quiet man who tended not to draw attention to himself. But when Stockhausen talked, he was worth listening to, said Hendry.

“He had a sense of vision of the university and that came through,” he said. “That was really crucial.”

That vision was apparent during his inaugural address on Oct. 1, 2004.

“I want to see the university grow not only in size and reputation, but in fulfillment of our mission,” Stockhausen said. “I want it to grow continually for a healthy, vibrant and sustainable future.”

Through town hall meetings and wine and cheese gatherings, Stockhausen helped people from different parts of UDM get to know each other.

“He fostered a sense of all of us being in it together,” said Hendry.

 

THE ECONOMIST

An economist by education (he received a doctorate in economics from the University of Michigan), Stockhausen was interested in hearing the accounting and financial information about UDM.

Vince Abatemarco, vice president for business and finance, said that when he or someone else would be explaining fiscal variances, budget minutiae, forecasts or enrollment trends, Stockhausen understood all of it.

“He had an appetite for it,” Abatemarco said. “He was extremely comfortable with numbers.”

From 2000-04, Stockhausen served as academic vice president. One of his “behind the scenes” roles was as point person for UDM’s Prioritization Process during dire financial years.

“He came, he saw what needed to be done and he marshalled the effort to make things happen,” said Abatemarco.

One of his greatest accomplishments was putting the university on better footing.

Students, faculty and staff don’t have to search far for physical proof of Stockhausen’s contributions.

“The fitness center is a very visual symbol of what he did for the campus,” Provost Pam Zarkowski said.

Stockhausen departed the university before it was completed but his leadership led to its construction. It was the first free-standing building erected on the McNichols campus in more than four decades.

Zarkowski said she and Stockhausen worked well together, especially since he had once been in her position.

“We could laugh about some things too because I inherited some challenges that he had, so he was happy to pass those over to the next person,” she said with a chuckle.

 

BIKING, BEACHES AND MUSIC

While in Detroit in his spare time, Stockhausen regularly drove to one of the Metroparks and biked for 20 to 25 miles.

A true sports fan, he remained in great shape. He attended Detroit Titans athletic events, and savored throwing out the first pitch while wearing his personalized Detroit Tigers jersey at UDM Night at Comerica Park.

He also enjoyed sharing his love for music, heading his own folk group, Taking Stock. He held season tickets to the Detroit Symphony, too.

“As part of his inauguration he played the guitar,” Zarkowski said. “He would, every now and then, show up at different venues and sing with his guitar. He was very talented that way.”

When he got the opportunity to visit a beach while traveling on business, he usually returned with a tan.

If the weather was nice, Stockhausen could be found near the campus fountain when he ate his lunch. It was there, in the heart of campus, where students, faculty and staff would often stop to chat with him.

“That’s kind of where he kept office hours,” Zarkowski said. “He very much liked being outside.”

Stockhausen didn’t always wear the traditional priest outfit of a black shirt and Roman collar. Sometimes he would come into the office in a pair of pants, an ordinary shirt and Birkenstock sandals. His casual appearance made him approachable.

One aspect of his personality resonates in particular with friends: his sense of humor.

“He was a hilarious punster,” said Si Hendry. “He liked puns. They would just come out. It was kind of the way his mind worked. They would be hilarious and often really insightful.”

He peppered his convocation speech with them and three or four corny jokes.

 

MOVING ON

Stockhausen’s tenure as UDM president ended in 2010 and with it, his time at McNichols and Livernois.

It was difficult for Stockhausen to leave UDM, said O’Connor, his close friend from Milwaukee. But when Stockhausen began working at the American and Canadian Jesuit Conference headquarters in Washington, he “made that place hum” by organizing big meetings and keeping all the key players in touch with one another.

It was about a year ago, O’Connor recalled, when Stockhausen’s body failed him.

“He lost everything and I don’t know why he didn’t rail against that, but what he showed was gracious acceptance,” O’Connor said.

When he became unable to work and to travel to visit friends, Stockhausen talked of patience.

“I don’t who was in more denial, him or me,” O’Connor said. “I know I was until the last two weeks. I always figured he’d come out of this thing.”

Friends at UDM followed Stockhausen’s struggles over the past year, and news of his death hit hard on campus, especially within the Jesuit community.

“There’s a sense of loss, a sense of a hole in our hearts,” said Hendry. “Somebody that we loved and respected and trusted and were willing to follow isn’t here anymore. … There was a real goodness to him, a real sense of integrity and a real sense of caring about people. He was a real Jesuit.” 

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