Upon arriving at church this morning I learned that a longtime parishioner, John Leugers, had died last night.  I mourn the passing of this fine man who was to us an “elder” of the community in the fullest sense.  Tall in stature, his gentle presence was that of an oak tree, strong, steadfast, and deeply rooted, and he occupies a special fond place in my heart.  When we first began attending 9:00 mass about 15 years ago, we regularly sat in front of John and his wife, Mary Ann, who died several years ago.  Michael and Kieran went to child care during mass, and Christian, an infant in arms who needed frequent nursing, stayed with us in church.  Mindful of others’ possible feelings about breastfeeding in public, I usually brought a blanket so as to be discreet.  One Sunday after mass, John commented to my husband, with heartfelt feeling, how beautiful it was to see a mother nursing her baby in church and how appropriate he thought it was.  When Joe repeated it to me later, I got choked up to receive such affirmation, unexpected from a man of his generation.  In the narthex after mass today, a friend recollected knowing John at a previous parish when he was a catechist for 2nd and 3rd graders, noting with amusement the sight of such a tall man with the young children.  Gertrud Mueller Nelson’s words about St. Nicholas resonate again and aptly describe John.  “He carries a father image that imbues all fatherhood, and leadership and authority everywhere, with dignity and a powerful creativity.”  The brawl that ended yesterday’s Crosstown Shootout between Xavier and the University of Cincinnati points to our culture’s great need for more men who show toughness without resorting to violence and know how to integrate strength with compassion and nurturing.