From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Leukemia claims Jesuit Father Tony Lehmann, 73

the Inland Register

(From the March 21, 2002 edition of the Inland Register)

Jesuit Father Tony Lehmann, longtime alumni chaplain for Gonzaga University, died March 8 from complications from leukemia.

He was 73.

The vigil was held Sunday, March 17, at Martin Centre on the Gonzaga University campus. Martin Centre was also the site of the funeral the next morning.

He was born Sept. 10, 1928 in Pinckneyville, Ill.

Father Lehmann spent his childhood in Murphysboro, Ill., with three brothers and three sisters. His father was a dairy manager. His mother died when Tony was 5. His father later married Tony’s Aunt Birdie, who helped raise the family.

After graduating from Murphysboro Township High School, Lehmann joined the Army, and his travels took him to Japan and Korea. He visited the site in Hiroshima where the United States had dropped the atomic bomb in 1945, and witnessed the devastation it had caused.

When he returned to civilian life he continued his education at Little Rock College in Little Rock., Ark., where he earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy in 1952. It was during his senior year there that he became aware of the ways of the Carthusians, a cloistered Religious order.

From 1953 to 1959, he lived in a monastery near Fribourg, Switzerland and in 1959 received a degree in theology from the Monastere De La Valsainte, Switzerland. On Aug. 24, 1959 he was ordained a priest. In 1961 he served in various positions at monasteries in Calabria, Italy, and Pisa, Italy, until 1969.

It was in 1969, on a trip to Florence to renew his passport, and later to help out an Italian priest friend, that Father Lehmann stopped by Gonzaga’s school in Italy to visit with (the late) Jesuit Father Clement Regimbal, who then headed the Gonzaga-in-Florence program.

“He asked me if I could fill in for the summer months to say Mass for the Anglo-American community there,” Father Leh-mann said. His Carthusian superiors agreed to allow Father Lehmann a leave-of-absence.

Father Tony liked his experience so much that he stayed until 1972, serving as chaplain, treasurer and in a variety of other assignments. He took a liking to the Jesuit way, and returned to the United States and entered the Novitiate at Sheridan, Ore., in 1972 to become a Jesuit. He received renewal in Scripture/theology from the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, Calif., and received permission to pronounce final vows in the Society of Jesus in August 1974.

Father Lehmann served as coordinator of Campus Ministry at Gonzaga University in Spokane from September 1974 until May 1976, then returned to Florence as dean of students from 1976 to 1982, when he returned to Spokane and began his work as Gonzaga’s alumni chaplain and assistant alumni director.

He was a man for all occasions – weddings, funerals, wakes, baptisms; he did them all for Gonzaga alumni, their family and friends — literally anyone who asked. He performed more than 1,000 weddings alone.

“I’m lucky that a lot of the things I have done in my job are things I’d do if I had the free time to do them,” Father Lehmann said recently.

Father Lehmann’s life was a testament to his zest for living.

“We have a very good God, out of which I accept great personal dignity, a sense of purpose and a promise of great destiny,” Father Lehmann said. “What I do is directed by gratitude rather than duty. I speak with engaged couples about keeping promises. It is a constant reminder of the promises I have made. I can’t lip those words and not keep them myself.

“What is really great reinforcement for me is to see someone who was once a student and now a parent, tell their child something that I had told the parent long ago. It reinforces my beliefs.”

And as he prepared for his death and entrance into God’s kingdom, he was at peace, rock-solid in his belief of a greater destiny and warmed by the relationships that have nurtured his life.

“To whom shall we go, Lord,” he would recite from John 6:68. And he’d answer genuinely, “We shall go to you, Lord, for it is you who has promised lasting relationships.”

“Relationships are not ending,” Father Lehmann said. “Just changing.”

As Father Lehmann always said, “To be continued.”

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