I am grateful that my sister has already posted about the legendary Mr. Butz on her blog, because much of what I wanted to say has now already been said. If you haven’t read her post (and by the way it traveled around Facebook, anyone from the city of Lafayette probably has), I highly recommend it as a way to catch a little glimpse of the man who left us the other night. My brother also posted about him at the occasion of his retirement, and I recommend that post, too.
A group of us at Aquinas have a custom at three o’clock to gather in our little chapel and pray the Divine Mercy chaplet. The day after Mr. Butz died, I offered as one of my intentions the repose of his soul, daring to express out loud that he was a “family friend.” If only the whole world had been blessed enough to call that man a friend — because everyone who knew him was changed.
As I prayed, I thought about what a life he had lived as a the true Renaissance man. Nothing anyone could tell me about him would cause surprise. I think the only thing that would put doubt into my mind would be if someone said Mr. Butz didn’t do something. He had a sculpture in the Louvre, for heaven’s sake. And yet he taught me religion as a sophomore in high school.
I had to laugh when Jill posted, “Mr. Butz was so legendary that I don’t know where the truth blurs into myth.” I had the same thought, thinking over his life. He taught a friend of mine how to lay brick, and he built the Grotto behind our school with his own hands. Every set in our high school musicals had his touch, and he could do amazing things with Syrafoam. So when I heard “Did you know he built the stone wall in his yard out of Styrofoam?!” of course I believed it.
We all have our favorite memories of him, and almost all of mine relate to Etymology class my sophomore year in high school. It was an elective and Mr. Butz offered it before school started, at 7:15am. Sixteen year olds coming to school in the dark to learn about words? You would think there would be about five or six nerds dotting the classroom that early. But no, the room was packed. Everyone wanted to learn from the man. (It helped that our verbal SAT scores showed evidence of the early morning rising, too.)
Mr. Butz usually just sat at the desk in the front of the classroom and taught us the roots of words. It was fascinating, because he made it fascinating. He had us in the palm of his hand, especially when he would tell us stories. We were all in wonder of the fact that his mom was still alive, since high schoolers think anyone over the age of 60 is old. I remember during one story he mentioned something like, “my grandmother said to me yesterday-” and we all gasped and almost fell out of our chairs. His grandmother? She must be 120! He burst out laughing, that deep laugh of his, and we knew we had been too gullible. At times he would get up and scribble on the board, his handwriting legible but clearly male. As my brother mentions in his post, Mr. Butz would do anything to help you remember the words, even breaking into song.
I don’t remember the word (that’s certainly not his fault), but there was a ballet term in our list of words — likely plié or arabesque — and none of us in the class will forget Mr. Butz, in his 78 year glory, demonstrating the ballet move in front of the whole class. Any other teacher may have received a snicker or two, but we were in awe. We knew we were sitting in the presence of greatness – that’s why we were at school when it was still dark out.
As I thought about his life and legacy, however, one thing stood out clearly as the individual memories faded. He wouldn’t have considered his life extraordinary. He wouldn’t have thought his stories were a thing of legend. Anyone who knew him believes his life is the material for a biography, but he wouldn’t have thought so.
Why? Because deep down, his life was ordinary. Yes, he had a sculpture in the Louvre. And yes, he made an impact on generations of students who have gone on to do a variety of things. (One of his students will be celebrating his funeral Mass.) But in the end, he lived an ordinary life. He taught. He worked with his hands. He prayed. He studied.
But he used the talents God gave him for others – and that made it extraordinary.
Aren’t we all called to do the same?
Every year Mr. Butz went to Lourdes to volunteer in the baths, helping the sick in and out of the healing waters. Every year we thought it would be his last trip, as he grew older, had his knees replaced, etc. But he continued to go. And that’s one of the best images for his life. In the eyes of the world, perhaps it was an ordinary life. But it was really anything but. He used his time, his talents, and his life as a channel of God’s goodness and grace, and that has made all the difference.