Sunday, April 27, 2014

Robert Donald Western: RIP (AD 1919 - 2014)

Today my grandfather passed away.

It was a happy death.  Many thanks to all for the prayers.

A 1930s pilot.  A WWII hero.  Father of 12 children.  He was a frugal and humble man.  A survivor of the Great Depression, and his heart was beating during two world wars.  He marveled that man had put a man on the moon.  He was a prince among men.

He believed in driving the speed limit.  He was a prudent and honest man who took pride in having what he described as "common sense,"  a virtue which he would explain is not something that all people have.  

He traveled to Rome to see two popes.  He often flew.  That was his joy.  To be in the air.  He had been a flight instructor.  Each year for many years he flew to Florida and California.  Earlier this year, while on holiday on the Gulf of Mexico, he fell and broke his hip.

I remember when Pope Benedict walked by him in the Sala Nervi of the Vatican.  Grandpa reached out to the Pope.  Inches from him.  I had never seen him so happy.  

He loved the school Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and often spoke of them.  He was without a father and the good sisters took him under their wing at Cathedral School.  He graduated from a Christian Brothers military high school, Cretin, class of '38.  He paid his own way with a paper route in his boyhood neighborhood of Cathedral Hill. 

He saw Cardinal Pacelli when the Cardinal Secretary of State came to St. Paul and celebrated Low Mass in the Cathedral in October of 1936.  That morning the Cathedral was packed with high school students.  

He was raised under the shadow of the dome, of the Cathedral of St. Paul.  He worked in a corner drug store.  Working for the druggist, he once even told me he knew where the neighborhood spot was where clandestine abortions were being done.  He was involved briefly in Boy Scouts.  He had an older sister who married and lived at 1280 Hewitt.  With the advent of Pearl Harbor, Grandpa joined the Navy and was sent to Florida, where he met and married my grandmother.   

He loved the North Star State, Minnesota.  For him, it was home.  And he enjoyed his lake cabin, which he proudly purchased in 1958.  My first time in an airplane, he flew us up in a tiny plane he rented and flew us high above that cabin, on Sand Lake, in Wisconsin, next to the cabin of Fr. Raymond Lucker.   

On his Facebook page last July this is what he wrote: "3,000,000 Catholic Youth praying together in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil at the World Youth Meeting. Wow.  It's surely fun to see a million Catholic young people praying together in Rio, they are our future. Thanks, Lord."

He was always generous.  I remember the trips to Red Lobster, or the time he picked me up and took me to the annual air show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.  Or the time we were together on 9-11, in a suburb of San Diego, California. 

He was a master at small talk.  A champion of toast masters.  A star volunteer like I have never seen.  He believed in giving back to the community.  A gentleman from the old school.     

This is what he wrote in 2012 in memory of his First Holy Communion: "It's so far back, I believe it was 1925. It was a memorable event at the Cathedral and the good Sisters of St.Joseph, God Bless them handled it beautifully, fasting and all. We learned reverence for the Blessed Sacrament. I have a life-time debt. They were probably the most important part of my life. I had hoped for the same for my kids but that wasn't in the cards."

This was his last e-mail to me earlier this year, dated Feb. 8: "Thank you, John, for the kind words. I have been a happy Catholic most of my life, and have such protection from God and also have been fortunate to have so manly beautiful friends.  I am still indebted to the Sisters of St. Joseph for my grade school faith formation. There was none at home but the good sisters did it.  Love you all, Grandpa Bob."

The last time we spoke, last January, I chided him in regard to his gift of longevity.  With a wry smile he squinted and replied: "I am not in charge."

He was a star volunteer.  Into this very year he carried the Blessed Sacrament to the sick at United Hospital weekly.  He would say, "Howdy, what's the good word?"    

Reverend and dear Fathers, please kindly offer a Funeral Mass for the repose of his soul.

From the words of Christ in John 11: "I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me, though he be dead, shall live; and everyone that liveth and believeth in me shall not die forever."  

We pray at the foot of the bier:

"May the Angels lead thee into paradise; may the Martyrs receive thee at thy coming and take thee to Jerusalem, the holy city.  May the choirs of the Angels receive thee and mayest thou, with the once poor Lazarus, have rest everlasting."

Go with God and His angels!  The Master is here and He calleth thee.  


  1. May he rest in peace.

  2. My prayers for this good soul and for your family.

  3. John, You have my prayers for you Grandfather. Ironically, my Grandfather is of the same age as yours, and had many similar experiences growing up and living in MN. He also is on the last leg of his journey here on earth. My Grandfather, like yours, has done a great job of passing on the faith to me and his other grandchildren. He has a tremendous and devout faith in the intercession of our Mother Mary. It is because of this that I believe he is being blessed with a happy death as well.(He is of sound mind and still recieveing the sacraments!) We are lucky to have great men like this to be our example.

    Fidélium ánimæ per misericórdiam Dei requiéscant in pace.