Feb 2021 - Could Joe Possibly Miss Our Virtual Reunion?
Editor's Note: The Golden Domer normally doesn’t publish obituaries, however this story is about a class coming together in support of one of their classmates. Our sympathy goes out to Joe’s classmates and appreciation to Mary Ellen Woods ’80, class secretary, for writing such a beautiful story.
“Could Joe Possibly Miss Our Virtual Reunion?”
The world didn’t notice when, Joseph G. Slovinec, Class of ’80, died in Chicago on January 22, 2020. But his classmates did, and transformed what might have been another faceless tragedy into a celebration of their friend’s life.
I didn’t know Joe well as an undergrad, but came to know him better through a class program that helps classmates attend Reunion if their circumstances make it difficult. Joe applied for help both in 2010 and again in 2015. He was our only encore beneficiary. At the time, Joe was living in supportive housing in DC. Even in 2010, Joe’s life’s journey was challenged by the mental illness that plagued him. Joe’s symptoms were evident in college though his inherent intelligence and good nature allowed him to earn his ND degree with honors and to go on to earn two Masters’ degrees.
In 2019, Joe announced that he was leaving DC and returning to Chicago, the city of his birth. His friends here in Chicago, some of whom were close friends since their days at Marist High School, had grave concerns about this move. Joe had no money to speak of. The weather in Chicago can be much colder than DC and housing options are very limited. But Joe was undaunted.
Nonetheless, Joe moved back to Chicago, residing at the Pacific Garden Mission. His friends checked on him, often at a distance. Joe loved his old friends, but struggled and even rebuffed them when they tried to help him.
In June of 2020, with ND on lock down, our Class hosted the first-ever ND virtual reunion. We met by the increasingly ubiquitous Zoom. Among the 250 who joined us, Joe was nowhere to be found. This was highly unusual as Joe loved reunion and the opportunity to return to see all his ND friends.
Late last year, one of Joe’s old friends wrote to me that he had driven by Pacific Garden looking for his friend to no avail. We could no longer ignore the nagging sense that Joe had gone missing. An ad hoc group of friends set into action. One contacted Joe’s cousins; another found his date of death – among a listing of the indigent who had passed away in Cook County, Illinois; and yet another got permission and retrieved his cremated remains. One of the heart-breaking lessons was that Cook County keeps the remains of the indigent for one year. Had we been just a bit later, our friend would be buried in the modern equivalent of a “pauper’s grave.”
We were all heartened when the Sexton of Cedar Grove cemetery, on the ND campus, gained extraordinary permission to have Joe interred there. Many of us joined together as our class Chaplain live streamed a memorial Mass for Joe. The Mass offered a moving and hopeful goodbye while acknowledging the ravages of mental illness and homelessness. Friends and a number of Joe’s family came together for an Irish Wake. As you might imagine, we all had our own “Joe stories.” Joe’s cousins appreciated our efforts and will be invited to his service and interment.
We take great comfort in knowing that Joe is loved, and that he will forever rest close to the home he most loved. Through the generosity of his classmates, the costs of Joe’s interment have been assured. We will dedicate the extra to help others attend future reunions allowing them the opportunity to be among friends and to return to campus, just as Joe would have wanted.
Rest well, dear friend. May Our Lady watch over you and all those who came together to say good bye to our friend: And a special thank you to all those who befriended and loved Joe over the years when he wasn’t always easy. In the words of one of those who tried to help him, “The world would be a much better place if more people had friends like Joe did in his ND community.”
Joseph G. Slovinec, born February 26, 1958, died January 22, 2020.