Stories Without End

Mike Garvey ’74 undoubtedly would consider this one of the top three or four eulogies delivered in his memory.

Author: Michael Baxter ’83M.Div.

Garvey Barbara Johnston

Editor’s Note: Michael Garvey ’74, the longtime assistant director in Notre Dame’s media relations office and superb writer who contributed essays to this magazine, died February 13, 2022. His good friend, Mike Baxter ’83M.Div., gave this eulogy at a funeral Mass at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on February 18. Baxter, who taught at Notre Dame for 15 years, is now the director of Catholic studies at Regis University in Denver.

So many stories, so little time. And I‘m nervous because I’m afraid of Garvey’s editorial comments, that may await us in the beyond. One time, after I gave a homily at the Catholic Worker House on Cedar, he told me that he and Denny Moore ’70 talked about it and he had decided that it was “the fourth best Advent homily I’ve ever heard.” He knew how to combine affirmation and irony.

I first met Michael and Margaret Garvey in November 1981, when I dropped off at their house on Napoleon Street, Tom Cornell, a peace activist who burned his draft card while Dorothy Day looked on. I returned the next morning to pick Tom up for a draft counseling training on campus. Michael stood in the kitchen hoisting his son Michael Francis above his head, bragging about siring him. Margaret was pregnant with number two, Joseph, born two weeks later.

I came to know Michael and Margaret in the years that followed, mainly by sitting at the dining room table on Almond Court, eating pasta, drinking wine, listening, talking, arguing, interrupting. It was at the Garveys that I learned to carry on two entirely different conversations at the same time.

And we told stories. About the Davenport Catholic Worker, working with Dawn and Tom Crotty, guests with names like Wood Chopper and Three-fingered Floyd. Stories about Dorothy Day: how she chided Margaret to start the paper; and how people went out drinking after her wake and woke up the next morning without hangovers; “It’s the first miracle” people said — a story Michael told with a twinkle in his eye.

Stories about the Garveys of Springfield: his mother saying that the only explanation for managing to raise all these kids was the Holy Spirit; his father running Templegate, the family-owned and operated publishing company, putting out books like No Abiding City by Bede Jarrett and In Solitary Witness by Gordon Zahn. Stories about Michael’s siblings, all of them, so vivid that when I finally met them, sometimes years later, I felt I already knew them. And, of course, stories about the Church.

In the introduction to Confessions of a Catholic Worker, Michael wrote: “I was raised in a Catholic family and a happy one. We were brought up to believe that it is much better to be in the Church than out of the Church. For me, and for most people in it, the Catholic Worker Movement, or at least the practice of hospitality, is the best way to experience and express the presence of the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ at work and play in the world. Goofy experiments with the liturgy, boring debates of bishops, we will always have with us, but we also have the Gospels, seven sacraments, the lives of the saints, and a rich tradition. The practice of hospitality is generated by, and brings us closer to all of them.”

Michael and Margaret continued this practice by opening their home on Almond Court — and later, on Osage Drive — to others. Many of us here have spent many days and nights sitting at that long dining room table, with the Dom Hubert van Zeller relief of the Last Supper on the far wall; icons, crucifixes and paintings hung on the other walls. Joseph Benedict said to me one time, with inherited sarcasm, “I think we need more religious art!”

Going over to the Garvey house, you had to be ready to meet other people. There were the kids, of course: Michael might be lecturing them on the Civil War. And then in would walk Sister Jean, or the Eids, the Deguaras, the Moriartys, the Wilbers, the Moores, the O’Briens — to catch up, gossip, commiserate. Social life at the Garvey household exploded into large-scale revelry on Saturdays after home football games. Garveys from out of town would reunite with in-town Garveys. Friends would bring friends, and they would bring their friends. No one knew everyone who was there except perhaps Michael.

St. Patrick’s Day parties were equally expansive, the drinking even more intense, because Michael would fast from alcohol every Lent but he would give himself a dispensation and thus come roaring back on March 17.  

Michael and Margaret: you can’t talk of one without the other. Their marriage was a meeting place, a crossroads. And not just for partying. People poured out their troubles at that dining room table: the kids, cousins, friends, struggling with relationships, vocations, family troubles. I certainly did. And I can still hear Michael’s voice: “I know.” “I don’t know.” “We’re praying for you.” “Baxter, you’re totally screwed up: I say this with all love and charity.”

On quiet nights, I’d step into the house, ask what’s up, and Michael would answer with a line from Yeats: “Oh, you know, ‘The best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity.’” If Margaret was saddened by some human tragedy large or small, maybe at Logan Center, Michael would recite Hopkins: “Margaret, are you grieving / Over Goldengrove unleaving?” When she shuffled downstairs in her bathrobe to say goodnight, Michael would paraphrase the Song of Songs: “Hark, my love comes leaping like a gazelle over the mountains.”

He and I would stay up reading favorite passages from Flannery O’Connor, Christopher Hitchens or Evelyn Waugh. Or this one from “Grace,” a short story in Dubliners, in which James Joyce describes five aging men talking about past and present popes, and then suddenly falling silent, and I quote: “The light music of whisky falling into glasses made an agreeable interlude.” He loved that quote, read it 50 times to me. He was trained by the monks at Portsmouth and by Frank O’Malley of Notre Dame. He loved words, savored sentences. I’d leave at midnight. He’d stay up reading.

We’re fortunate that the University of Notre Dame hired Michael back in 1980. Not only did he have the requisite qualification — he’d “been graduated” from Notre Dame; he did not “graduate from,” he insisted — but also he brought wit, wisdom, intellect and an unmatched way with words, spoken and written. Granted, he brought to his job a certain irreverence about his work in public relations, “I tell lies for the University,” he would say (though I do not think that is true). And he was skeptical about words like “brand” and “interface.”

He never aligned with a political party, for which he was greatly misunderstood. “I’m a deserter from the culture wars,” he used to say — and he meant the culture wars within Notre Dame and the Church, too. But his skepticism and satirical quips were born out of profound love for Notre Dame and faith that lies at the heart of it — still. The record is there in press releases, faculty profiles, and, alas, in the many obituaries he wrote.

I am going to miss Michael — his wit, his banter, his one-liners, his faithful friendship for 40 years. We are all going to miss him. I suppose we have been preparing for this. These past few years have been hard. First, breaking a leg bringing groceries to the crypt at Sacred Heart; a kind of on-the-job injury performing the works of mercy. Then cancer, the COVID thing, pneumonia.

I was fortunate to see him last week. With Margaret, we all talked for two hours, then he and I for five minutes. We said goodbye. “It’s been a good run,” he told me. We quoted the closing line of Diary of a Country Priest: “grace is everywhere.” At one point, he said to me, “Michael, I’m going to miss you.” I thought about that at the moment, and since. That statement only makes sense if, as it says in the Eucharist Prayer, “life is changed, not ended.” He died in that faith, in the presence of his wife and children.

Monica said on the phone this week that it was so peaceful. And so we grieve the loss of Michael. And we grieve for ourselves, too — ourselves without Michael. As Hopkins put it, “It is the blight man was for, / It is Margaret you mourn for.” But we should also expect to see Michael again. In the meantime, may he rest in peace, out there with Denny, commenting on things, in some celestial University Club, discussing homilies. And may we, starting at the Morris Inn after this funeral Mass, continue this eulogy by telling stories.