There’s some resemblance with the Angelic Doctor…
I’ve known Father Luke Dempsey OP since the mid-1980s. Born: February 7th, 1934 – Died: February 9th, 2020. Quick witted humor. Diplomatic hospitality. Brilliant in his dealings with the Dominican Sisters from the Philippines and Sicily who took care of us. He very much voted for the underdog, but was without pity for any entitlement mentality, or any immorality. Out. Gone. Instantaneous.
In 2003, coming from Australia and landing on a mountain top near Viterbo, I called him up just to say hello and he responded instantly by inviting me down to Rome the next day so as to offer me a room at the college where he was once again the rector. Mind you, the waiting list can be one or two years long and he might well have tossed someone to get me in. That college was attached to the Dominican’s Angelicum University. Back to the good old days, thought I.
Luke sponsored me some ten years earlier when I was not attending the Angelicum (which was otherwise the rule). I was going to the Jesuit’s Pontifical Biblical Institute. Luke was ever the ecumenist with the Jesuits, as he himself had been the rector of the somewhat rival École biblique et archéologique française de Jérusalem. Good for him.
Significantly and over the years, Luke introduced me by way of long discussions and provisions of books to the first rector and founder of the École biblique, the Servant of God, Marie-Joseph Lagrange, O.P. Lagrange became a great hero of my thesis on Genesis, particularly because of his volume on Genesis, pretty much all copies of which the Dominicans burned everywhere in the world, though I was able to get my hands on an original purple-carbon-typewriter copy, and then an extremely rare copy of the published book. ;-) In it I found a most faith-filled respect for the Jewish inspired human authors of the Scriptures and their take on mythology, Lagrange’s attitude being entirely against the heretics and modernists, entirely contra mundum. Wow! thought I. This is great! This guy should be canonized for his humility and fidelity to the Church over against the modernists, but he should also be recognized for his heroic stance for respect for the Jews, especially in those years leading up to the holocaust. Even in far away Jerusalem he was pretty much taking his life in his hands going against all biblical scholars of the day, particularly the murderous scholars who were followers of Hitler.
One of the people Luke also had staying at that college in Rome procured some huge perspective changes for me. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Arnold Frankin (RIP), a layman, one of Europe’s most noted attorneys and a world-class ancient Semitic language scholar specializing in the old northern Canaanite languages. He carefully combed through my manuscript and daily came to the Biblicum library to assist me with cuneiform texts…
Anyway, back to Luke.
I remember once in the summertime when we had only one full table seating 12 in the refectory of the college. Father Luke was, of course, presiding. An Australian priest studying moral theology got very loud and boisterous singing the praises of condoms. Luke hates that kind of thing. He also likes people to be polite. Having studied at the original JPII Insititute for the Family, I mercilessly talked over the Australian priest, telling him how stupid it was to shove a hose up a woman so as to effectively do no more than masturbate with someone you respect no more than a piece of meat. (Sorry for graphic language!) Father Luke laughed loudly – turning deep red – and, to his great credit, leaning back in his chair with a broad smile, congratulated me profusely whilst the Aussie took the hit, stunned into silence. When the Aussie finally started to mutter some sort of response, Luke smacked him down again. Hah!
At meals until this very day I always fondly remember Father Luke as he made a big deal of prayer before and after meals. NO ONE could eat in the huge refectory until we prayed, though sometimes we would wait for ten minutes, a couple of times more than half an hour for famous guests to arrive. There were very often dignitaries from the Catholic or other churches, or politicians from all over the world. It was almost obligatory to visit Father Luke’s lunch table before meeting with the Holy Father in the Vatican.
The meal blessing was always in Latin:
- BENEDIC, Domine, nos et haec tua dona quae de tua largitate sumus sumpturi. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.
Likewise, NO ONE could leave the meal, even if it went on for 90 minutes as it very often did, until the final prayer for the repose of the souls of the faithful departed was said. It would be appropriate for all of us to say that together for him, now that he also has passed away:
- Fidelium animae, per misericordiam Dei, requiescant in pace. Amen.
Pray for us, too, dear Luke.