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Celebrating Bob Bullock PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, January 05 2005 19:00
What a consolation it was for me last week to take part in a community celebration of a dear friend’s life! Gathered in Temple Israel in Sharon, almost 500 people watched, listened, and sang as Jewish leaders in that town and others paid tribute to my friend, Father Robert Bullock, who died five months ago.

As a friend of more than 60 years’ standing, I was privileged to recall, on a videotape shown to the audience, my classmate Bob’s personal characteristics as an adolescent. We first met when he was 14, the beginning of a friendship that flourished until his death. To be among people who esteemed him highly and loved him dearly offers me some solace for his departure.

The event in Sharon was the second such celebration in which I took part that week. Earlier, Facing History and Ourselves, the Brookline-based agency that educates students and others about the Holocaust and prejudicial attitudes toward Jews and other groups of people, had celebrated the memory of Father Bullock. From the beginning, he had taken a leading role in that organization and provided a vital link with the Catholic Church.

For 26 years, Father Bullock served as pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows parish in Sharon. He brought to that position wide experience in ministry, as well as a consuming interest in the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Jewish community. In Sharon, I saw an outpouring of respect and love for him from people of the Jewish faith, attesting to the grace with which he brought these two communities together.

In his taped reminiscence, another high school classmate, Bob O’Shea, said of Bob Bullock: “He always spoke the truth.” Summing up our friend’s many personal qualities, O’Shea added: “That, to me, is a good priest.”

A young woman rose to say of her pastor: “He was visionary and wise.” She felt grateful to him for having served her as “a moral compass.” Television reporter David Boeri called him “a light in the darkness.”

A quality in Bob that could be seen only by friends like O’Shea and me was the way he developed over the decades. This development was best expressed in a letter written by his brother, Father Myron Bullock, who was in the class ahead of us. Myron was possibly the best student in the school, consistently receiving higher marks than his brother Bob.

In the letter Myron compares himself with Bob and says: “He was something far greater, far more extensive, and far, far more enduring. He was wise with a wisdom that cannot be taught and that only a few develop to its full capacity. His was true wisdom. He was understanding and could penetrate to the heart, the substance, whether of a book, or situation, or person. He could see farther and deeper than most because of a finely tuned 20/20 moral vision.”

To me, one of the many advantages of longevity is that I had the privilege of seeing my friend grow and develop into his full stature. Far from troubling me, I take pleasure in acknowledging that he far outdid me in his moral character and in his impact on the community at large. Of course, we were never competitors but friends and colleagues who welcomed one another’s achievements and did not judge one another by our accomplishments.

It is a mark of our time that many of us in late life discover ways of developing further our still latent personal gifts. Such discoveries can crown a life-long process of growth that allows us to complete our life with some sense of fulfillment. Of course, this does not usually mean a straight march toward completion but rather a journey that involves many detours and false starts.

How did my friend Bob grow so spectacularly?  Some things we know: He read, hungry for knowledge; he became an attentive listener; he cultivated a vivid sense of humor; he learned from the many young people with whom he dealt; he dared to speak to power, becoming a prophet when his Church went askew.

Bob must have had interior trials that were difficult to accept. A rabbi friend said of him: “He could also be a very lonely man.” When Father Bullock called for the resignation of his bishop, Cardinal Bernard Law, he inevitably had to face criticism, some of it from fellow priests. And he knew that Law had probably done more than any other American bishop to further warm relationships between the Church and the Jewish community.

When it came time for him to die, he did so peacefully. Of his death he wrote to his parishioners: “It is not for me a great misfortune but a necessary part of my life to which I feel called. I have always felt fortunate, blessed by the Lord, and I do now.”

I count it a blessing to have had a long friendship with this unforgettable man.

Richard Griffin