Howe great in graciousness as well as in hockey

Pallbearers carry the casket of Gordie Howe from the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Detroit following a June 15 memorial Mass for the hockey great.

CNS PHOTO | REBECCA COOK, REUTERS

Pallbearers carry the casket of Gordie Howe from the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Detroit following a June 15 memorial Mass for the hockey great.

June 27, 2016
MIKE STECHSCHULTE
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE

He was Mr. Hockey, but he was also Mr. Family.

That's what Father J.J. Mech will take away from his experiences with Gordie Howe, the hockey legend who died June 10 at age 88.

"I think that's probably what he was the most proud of, to be honest," said Mech, rector of the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament and a long-time friend of the Howe family.

"Even though he was Mr. Hockey, I think they were his real gift, his family. And I think he recognized it. I find that to be a testimony to who he is."

Mech celebrated the memorial Mass for Howe June 15 at the cathedral.

Though Howe was not Catholic, several of his family members are, Mech said, and they requested the Mass at Detroit's cathedral to honour their father's legacy as an icon of the Motor City.

The Mass was not a funeral Mass, but Howe's body was present in a closed casket. The liturgy followed the order of a weekday Mass.

For all Howe meant to Detroit and to professional hockey, it was his down-to-earth nature that touched almost everyone who met him, friends and fans alike, Mech said in an interview.

Despite his celebrity, Howe always made time for the average fan, signing autographs and chatting with hockey moms and dads at rinks and in supermarkets across the Detroit metro area.

CAME ALIVE WITH FANS

"He was such a great person in the way he dealt with fans," Mech said. "They were not a burden; in fact, it was the exact opposite. He came alive when he was working with fans."

Gordie Howe, in 2008 in Nashville

Though Gordie Howe was not Catholic, he always responded generously whenever asked to help - and sometimes even when he wasn't - said Mech.

During the Mass, Howe's casket, decorated with red and white flowers - Red Wings colours - was placed in front of the altar next to Howe's picture.

While Howe's prowess and toughness on the ice was well-documented, it was his generosity and selflessness off it that touched mourners.

Dr. Murray Howe, who gave a eulogy for his father before the Mass, recalled that "Mr. Hockey" always had time for everyone, no matter where he was.

"If a fan told him a story, he would not interrupt, no matter how long they spoke. He would not correct them, even if they insisted they watched him play in the summer Olympics in 1906," he said to laughter.

THE FAITHFUL SERVANT

Although Gordie Howe "did not lead the league in church attendance," his son said, "his life was the epitome of the faithful servant."

"Jesus tells us, 'Whatever you did for the least of my brothers, you did to me.' 'Mr. Hockey' loved God, but he loved everyone," Murray Howe said.

Mike "Doc" Emrick, NHL play-by-play announcer for NBC Sports, described Howe as "a wonderful human being who could also play hockey really well."

"He really lived what Jesus taught. He may not have been someone who talked about the Scriptures and all of that, but he lived it," said Emrick.

Howe was known in the Detroit area as being generous with his time and talents, said Deacon Bill Jamieson.

Jamieson, who from 1982 to 1996 was public relations director for the Red Wings, said Gordie needed no instruction when it came to being charitable.

"He was always available when we'd do a charity event, and he didn't need much guidance," Jamieson said. "I'd just try to step back and watch, and I was allegedly the coordinator."