Santa Clara University

Santa Clara Magazine

Daniel Germann, S.J., Euology

I would like to thank Dan's Jesuit brothers for offering me the opportunity to share some reflections on this wonderful man and such a dear friend to all of us.

We are all here this evening because, at some point in our lives, we had the great good fortune to encounter Dan Germann.

For some of us, that encounter occurred here at Santa Clara, in the first phase of his life after he very happily returned to California from Belgium. During that phase of Dan’s life among us, many of our memories revolve around this very church and the liturgical celebrations we experienced within it. We can all remember the times when we were together with him. Perhaps we were taking one of his classes, most likely his liturgy class, and we may have been preparing a 7 p.m. or 10 p.m. liturgy with him. Perhaps we were members of the 10 a.m. community and were putting together a liturgy in his room in Walsh, or in Graham 100, or in Nobili , or in one of the many houses in the Santa Clara Valley which served as 10 a.m. gathering centers.  Or perhaps we were talking with him about marriage and piecing together the wedding liturgy which he had agreed to witness.

The Christian liturgy, whose origins St. Paul recounted in our second reading this evening, was always a central part of Dan's life. For him, liturgy was about people, about the congregation. In his own role as the priest who presided at worship, Dan regarded himself as called to assist his sisters and brothers in the congregation to discover in themselves the gifts and talents that God had placed within each of them. That discovery of God’s presence was what Dan celebrated when he celebrated liturgy.  \We all have memories of Dan’s wonderful gifts in this realm. We recall how joyous and how profound his liturgies were, whether they were in the Mission Gardens during the festival of St. Clare, at Most Holy Trinity Church , at a retreat at Applegate, or in someone’s off-campus living room.

For others of us, the encounter with Dan occurred during the second part of his life at Santa Clara, when he expanded his focus to embrace the larger community. Maybe we were with him as we were preparing an immersion trip to El Salvador or Chiapas or Dolores Mission in Los Angeles. Perhaps we were engaged in a service activity with Alumni for Others, the group he founded. Perhaps we were helping him lay the groundwork for the establishment of a Day Workers Center in East San Jose. The marvelous fashion in which Dan helped the Day Workers Center become a reality was highlighted tonight by the presence of the silent honor guard of Day Workers between whose lines we passed as we entered this Mission Church.

Whatever the occasion of our encounters with Dan, we all shared the same experience: we were absolutely certain that, during the time that we spent with Dan, we were his central concern. He was entirely focused on us, on our lives, our concerns, and our hopes. We discovered that this was even more remarkable when we had a chance to glance at his calendar, that little day planner that he kept in his hip pocket. Every margin of every page was filled with so many scribbles, arrows, circles, and squiggles that he was surely the only person on the face of the planet who could decipher it. Dan was an incredibly busy man, who had more demands and responsibilities on him in one week than most of us have in one month. Yet for the hour or two that he would spend with us, he would never let on that he was so busy, because he was entirely and exclusively focused on us. He put us at the center of his consciousness.

Dan loved being with people, laughing with us, celebrating with us, going out to dinner with us, having wine and cheese with us, meeting with us. In fact, those of us who worked with Dan or planned liturgies with him quickly realized how much he enjoyed interacting with us. When you were in a meeting with Dan, you quickly discovered that you could do many things. You could out-talk him, you could out-schedule him, you could out-present him, but you could never, ever outlast him!

At some point during our time with Dan, each of us would begin to realize that Dan knew us better than we knew ourselves. More than that: we began to realize that those parts of ourselves that might make us uncomfortable–our weaknesses, our anxieties, our faults, our failings–were not obstacles in our relationship with Dan. They did not create any distance between him and us. If we were having a problem, he was always there for us. But he would never lecture us, never place demands on us, or scold us. Instead, he would invite us to “come and see” in the way that Jesus did as we just heard in the Gospel reading.

Dan deeply believed that the God who created each of us was present in all the inner recesses of ourselves, including those parts that we were reluctant to acknowledge. He wanted us to know and appreciate that. He wanted us to know that the God who knit us together was present in the weak, vulnerable, imperfect, and flawed fabrics of our being. Dan Germann loved us totally, through and through, and he tried to teach us that God loves us in exactly the same way. He tried to teach us that when we honestly connect with all aspects of ourselves and with each other, we ultimately connect with God.

That desire–to connect with the vulnerable–led Dan, at an age in which many of us are beginning to find comfort in familiar and settled routines, to seek out an entirely new set of experiences. Dan left this campus and took up residence in the east side of San José. He made his home among members of the community who were vulnerable, marginalized, and who faced challenges of all sorts. He became one of the founding members of the East Side Project and thus he played a very significant role in helping Santa Clara shift its focus more directly toward social justice. He loved living in such a diverse neighborhood. During this period of his life, one of his most favorite days of the year was Halloween. He would spend days buying candy and carefully arranging it near the doors of the house, so that he could be ready for the neighborhood children. He would ask each of them what their costumes meant and he listened with great delight to their explanations.

Dan worked tirelessly to connect his experiences on the East Side with the Santa Clara community in which he had lived for so long. He helped the University to learn from the community and the community to benefit from the University. This type of connection was his deepest joy.

When Dan moved to the East Side, he was a person in transition. As expressed by the author of the Book of Ecclesiastes, the times of his life were shifting. Late one night in the mid-1980s, he came home after what was for him a typical evening: a wedding couple to see around 7:30 p.m. and after that a student liturgy planning meeting around 9 p.m. Then, around the kitchen table in the residence on Franklin Street, he told the people he was living with that he thought he should see a doctor because he was experiencing a slight tremor in his hand and wrist that he could not control. Dan learned that these were signs of Parkinson’s disease, an affliction that he would live with for the next two decades. We all know that Dan refused to let this disease control his life.

This was not an easy journey for him. He did not like discovering that his reflexes were not sufficiently acute to allow him to drive any more. As someone whose personal ministry was very often informal—he sometimes described it as the “ministry of walking around”—he did not like discovering that his body would no longer allow him to stroll around campus as he pleased.

Yet he fought the power of his disease every step of the way. His courage, strength, and determination became an inspiration to everyone who met him.

In fact, he accomplished more after he contracted that disease than many people do in an entire career.

For me, the outstanding fact about this part of his life is this. Of all the people in this church, the one who was most accepting and most patient and most faith-filled about his condition was Dan himself. Most of us were upset and angry--and I know that some of you, like me, are still upset and angry–that such a good and generous man was made to suffer so intensely for so long. But not Dan. Despite his illness, you could still see his determination, his good humor, and his consistent and undiminished concern for each of us, which he demonstrated in as many ways as his capacities allowed him.

When Dan was our campus minister, he taught us to accept the weaker parts of ourselves. When he lived and worked on the East Side, he taught us to seek a humble solidarity with those who are vulnerable.  Over the last 20 years of his life, Dan literally became what he had so long taught us: before our very eyes, he himself became so weak and so vulnerable. The courage and grace with which he accepted this was his final gift to us.

During Dan’s final days, the nursing staff at the Jesuit infirmary in Los Gatos and the housekeeping and kitchen staffs as well would come by his room. They would hold his hand and tenderly kiss him goodbye on the forehead. To witness this was to realize that even under the most trying of circumstances Dan was still Dan. He was able to do at Los Gatos what he had done so often with us 10, 20, or 30 years ago, and what he will help us continue to do as long as he lives on in our hearts: connect with people and witness to them God’s love: an unconditional, powerful, and endless love.

—Robert M. Senkewicz