After a long battle with illness, Joseph John Hughes of Bel Air went Home to Our Lord on Christmas Eve.
It was the day before his wife Germaine’s Christmas birthday.
And as I think of Joe coming into the Nearer Presence of the Lord, an image comes to my mind, from Luke’s Gospel account of the Infancy Narratives: Joe singing and praising God as he did here on earth:
“And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:13-14)
Who was Joe Hughes?
If you did a Google search, you would find tens of thousands of men named Joseph Hughes in the United States. But if you are from old-time Bel Air, Maryland, you know there is only one Joe Hughes… (Except for his oldest son, of course!)
Joe was a husband, father, and grandfather, a friend and confidante to many, and an Irishman. He was a good and holy man, with a great sense of humor… And he was an incredible model of faith and hope to all who had the pleasure of meeting him.
Germaine Hughes, a gifted artist, painted this portrait of her husband a few years ago.
Their son Joe Hughes, a 1994 graduate of The John Carroll School, reflects:
“Our Mom painted it a few years ago after one of Dad’s recoveries from a stroke.
It hangs in the Family Room on the fireplace mantle where we all gather when we visit.
“Their dog’s name was “Buddy” and they were pals. Buddy would love to sit with Dad as he watched the ball games. A great companion.
“I love how Mom used her gift of art to honor her husband. She was so devoted to her marriage and her vows to love and honor him in many different roles over her life.”
He impacted thousands of lives:
Joe was a gift to anyone who was touched by his work as teacher and counselor in the Harford County Public Schools, at Harford Community College, in the religious education programs at St. Margaret’s, through the local Habitat for Humanity, and as a coach for Harford County Parks and Recreation.
Over and over, we have heard and read stories from people who were touched by Joe. The common theme was that he always made you feel like you were the most important person in the world when you spoke to him. And, indeed, to him, you were.
A former priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Joe lived out the grace of his Holy Orders for the last four decades by doing the corporal works of mercy. He touched people’s lives in a quiet manner, without drawing attention to himself, humble through and through. And he never brought attention to the health challenges that he endured for many years.
Joe was the face of Mercy to many as he prayed with those who were on the last leg of their journey Home to God in his hospital ministry at Upper Chesapeake Medical Center. He led prayer services at Bright View Assisted Living in Bel Air. And he sang joyfully with the men of “The Irishman’s Chorale,” the group that honored him back by singing at his funeral.
Joe’s influence on my life:
Active in my faith as a teen, I met Joe and Germaine back in the early ‘70s when they moved to Bel Air and became parishioners at St. Margaret Church. I saw them regularly at Mass, retreats, and special parish events. Joe’s sense of humor and the warmth of his greeting made me feel important as part of the parish community as a young person.
When it was time for me to prepare for the Sacrament of Confirmation as a junior, Joe was my group’s teacher. Always affirming and uplifting, he told me that I could have taught the class. Of course, those words led to my increased involvement in the sharing and discussions with those in my small group, many of whom were not thrilled about having to attend a church class on a school night.
Over the years, Joe became a dear friend and Germaine was always the face of kindness. Their children attended St. Margaret School and John Carroll where I taught and served as Campus Minister. The Hughes Family was always a joy to encounter. They made you smile. That was part of the grace of the vocation of marriage that was shared by Joe and Germaine over their 42 years together.
Reflections from the Funeral Mass:
During the eulogy last Tuesday, Jack Hughes from Philadelphia spoke of his older brother:
“My brother was a true man for others. Joe had our mother’s compassion and empathy. She taught us to never judge a person because you never know what they are going through. And he had our Dad’s sense of humor…
“The greatest tribute we can give Joe now is to live our lives well. He was my brother, father, friend, confessor, and now he’s my saint.”
Living the Beatitudes:
Principal celebrant Msgr. G. Michael Schleupner called on the refrain from the Broadway song “Seasons of Love” to ask “How do you measure a life?” He spoke of four of the Beatitudes from the Gospel reading and how they were embodied by the way Joe lived his life.
“Joe found his peace and joy by caring for those who were in need, especially those who were seriously ill in the hospital. He was one with others in the journey of life.
“Today our loss and grief is offset by love, faith, and the promises of our Lord Jesus Christ. We take comfort in the hope that one day we shall see Joe again and enjoy his friendship. Amen.”
The legacy of Joe Hughes:
“There is no part of the community that was not touched by Joe. That was the essence of his location.”
—Bernie Mullin, former Guidance Chairperson who retired in 2012 from The John Carroll School
“Joe Hughes was my dearest mentor in high school and beyond. He was my high school guidance counselor at Joppatowne High School in the late ‘70s. He wrote my college letter of recommendation for the University of Maryland. I still have it and look at it from time to time because it was so inspirational.
“After high school, I stayed in touch with Joe from time to time. He is one of the major reasons that I changed careers and became an English teacher. I could call him when I had questions in my early teaching career and he always had the perfect solution.
“Joe was candid, funny, and so kind, and he always made you feel good about life and what you were doing. We will all miss his smile and humor.”
—Christine Siegel Zurkowski, English Dept. Chair at The John Carroll School
“I had the pleasure of working with Joe in his home for several months this past year. During that time I was treated like I was part of his family. Joe persevered despite the obstacles that he faced. He was always very pleasant and had a smile on his face. I am truly blessed to have known both Joe and Germaine.”
—Kim Hill, speech pathologist with Amedisys Home Care
Our Lady of Knock, pray for us:
The Irishman’s Chorale honored their friend and fellow member’s life by paying homage to “Our Lady of Knock” during the Communion meditation at his Funeral Mass on December 29, 2015:
“The great and sad mistake of many people is to imagine that those whom death has taken, leave us. They do not leave us. They remain! Where are they? In darkness? Oh, no! It is we who are in darkness. We do not see them, but they see us. Their eyes, radiant with glory, are fixed upon our eyes. Though invisible to us, our dead are not absent. They are living near us, transfigured … into light, into power, into love.”
—Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner, S.J.