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A shining example at life’s end

Timothy Fuerst recently died after a fight with cancer. He was a father, husband and professor of economics at the University of Notre Dame. I never met him, but simply reading about him makes me want to be a better person. You might have the same experience.

What first got my attention about Fuerst was a tribute letter that a colleague wrote in a campus paper, The Observer. The author, fellow economics professor Joe Kaboski, described Fuerst as “a good friend, a brilliant economist, an energetic teacher, a wonderful colleague and a dedicated and loving father and husband,” the usual heartfelt terms used in mourning a good person. But Kaboski continued: “But that doesn’t capture it. There was something different about him. ‘Special’ would understate it: There was something noble, something holy about him. To me, he was almost a sacrament: a visible sign of Christ in our community, and a true instrument of God’s grace.”

Just before Christmas, Fuerst was interviewed by another campus paper, The Irish Rover. In it he talked ahout being 10 years old and seriously ill in a hospital. “[A]ll I remember in my hospital room was a crucifix at the end of my bed. I would fall asleep at night with the sure confidence that the Lord Jesus was watching over me, that I was not alone and that all would yet be well. Now some four decades later, this same Lord Jesus walks with me and my family. He helps us to bear this very heavy cross. He reminds us that we are not alone, and that all will yet be well.”

About the cancer inflicted upon his body and the lives of his wife and children, he said: “Suffering is an evil. But God permits it because He can draw forth great good from suffering, a good that we may not completely see in this life.”

Fuerst went on to talk about “great European cathedrals, specifically his favorite, Chartres, and its “amazing stained glass windows.” They started, he said, as

“piles of broken colored glass, all of which seemed useless and with no purpose. But then the master took these pieces and formed them into something no one could have anticipated … So it is with our experiences in this life. Many of these are times of happiness and contentment, but others are filled with great sadness and suffering. But the master takes all of these pieces, both good and bad, and makes something truly beautiful for God. Only when the window is done and filled with glorious light do we understand why each piece was needed, why each piece was essential for the glorious whole. It is with this confidence that we offer up all our sufferings to Him who brings light to our darkness.”

Obviously, those are the words of a man of faith, in the truest sense, tried and tested. The Mardi Gras parties happening right around now and the subsequent Ash Wednesday and Lent observances are more than mere rituals. They’re windows into a bigger picture, making some sense, albeit mysterious, of what we see around us and how we live in the midst of it.

As “(h)is body broke and, at 6-foot-6, resembled a skeleton toward the end, … it only made his great soul shine through even more,” Fuerst’s colleague Kaboski wrote. Even during chemotherapy, Fuerst researched, published and taught and advised. “It was heroic; the normalcy of his life was a way of coping, but it was also a testament to the fact that Tim had always lived his life the way that God had called him.” He even made sure his wife got flowers for Valentine’s Day during the last week of his life on Earth.

Cancer is terrifying. It has taken some greats of late, famous and obscure, inspirations to the world and inspirations to their communities. Others are fighting valiantly while discovering a supernatural peace amidst the pain. Their courage is a witness for us all, to something more, to a better aim for life than the way we often go about our days.

The “only time I ever knew Tim to make someone unhappy was when he suffered with cancer and eventually died,” Kaboski wrote. Upon reading about Timothy Fuerst, it’s hard not to be drawn to pray for his family, and pray also that we might resemble him on our best and worst days.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review Online and founding director of Catholic Voices USA. She can be contacted at

Kathryn Lopez

Kathryn Lopez

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