Dennis Ezekiel, who made his living by selling newspaper advertising, was in his grave less than a week when he was praised by Pope Francis.
Not by name, of course. But when the pope released his apostolic exhortation on holiness, “Gaudete et Exsultate” (“Rejoice and Be Glad”) in April, he might as well have been thinking of Dennis, a man who worked at a cluttered desk at the Star Herald for 22 years and never stopped cursing his computer.
The pope wrote then that he liked to contemplate the holiness of “those parents who raise their children with immense love, in those men and women who work hard to support their families, in the sick, in elderly religious who never lose their smile.” With the exception of being a vowed religious, that was Dennis.
Now, as the church prepares to celebrate the feast of All Saints and All Souls, is a time to remember all those relatives, friends and co-workers who were not martyrs or visionaries or eloquent apologists for the faith, but who lived decent and selfless lives. An example, for us at the Star Herald, was Dennis, a man who had the happy-go-lucky charm of a teenage boy and the sense of responsibility of a World War II general.
We remember him wearing a plaid shirt, carrying a Daily News, a large Wawa coffee, a bag lunch — always a peanut butter sandwich — and a candy bar as he arrived at the office. He was unfailingly cheerful, despite being out of bed for long hours already to fulfill family obligations before starting the long drive from his home in lower Gloucester County to the northernmost part of Camden County.
He remained cheerful as his cancer diagnosis and symptoms worsened and his treatment options dwindled, when he was hospitalized and finally sent home on hospice care. In his own bed less than a day, he died on Good Friday of this year.
An Air Force veteran, the man who wore SpongeBob SquarePants pajamas in the hospital was given a somber military graveside service. As the color guard folded the American flag that had draped his casket and presented it to his sister — his wife unable to attend — and as Taps was played, a granddaughter sobbed.
We’ve been fortunate at the Star Herald that Neal Cullen has taken Dennis’ spot and joined Paul Worthington in the advertising department. But of course we still mourn Dennis, a man who rarely talked about faith but lived it. He worked conscientiously, he took care of his family as best as he could and he was kind to everyone.
His one extravagant indulgence was good Scotch, which he learned to like in the service while stationed in Scotland. But when I think about him I don’t picture him sipping whiskey — I see him with ice cream. Long before he worked at the Star Herald, he drove a Mister Softee truck, and it’s easy to picture him passing out cones and orange creamsicles to neighborhood children on a summer day. It’s also easy to see him taking money from his own pocket for any child who was short of cash.
Carl Peters is the managing editor of the Catholic Star Herald.