August 16, 2021
Below is the eulogy delivered by Dr. Thayne McCulloh at the Vigil for Reverend Stephen R. Kuder, S.J. on Sunday, August 15, 2021.
Eulogy for Father Stephen Kuder, S.J.
For Steve +
Preparing these remarks has been difficult because of the various roles in which Fr. Kuder and I knew one another. But first - on behalf of Gonzaga University, I want to express my deepest condolences to Father Kuder’s family: his sisters, brother, in-laws, nieces, nephews and all who love him. I extend our condolences as well to his Jesuit brothers, especially those of the Spokane Region. It is an honor to be with you all this evening.
Father Steve Kuder was the first Jesuit I ever met. I would have been 17, Steve would have been 39 – already “middle aged”. He was the coolest, most enthusiastic and outgoing priest I had ever met. I didn’t know it at the time, but that chance encounter would become the first of many encounters over the years.
When I did eventually show up at Gonzaga, in the fall of 1986, I learned with great pleasure that Steve was one of two Jesuit priests who lived in the residence hall to which I was assigned – the other being the legendary and somewhat problematic Tony Lehmann. Steve’s approach to teaching underscored his fun-loving nature, his care for students, and a somewhat unconventional commitment to individual success. He would indeed phone students who failed to show up for class – sometimes from class. He held after-hours study sessions the night before tests, and made us all a deal: we could turn in successive versions of our term papers to him for edits and re-grading, as many times as we wanted, until we got the grade we were happy with. Even as a teacher of religion, he was always an English professor at heart.
Steve loved words, great quotes, language. He loved collecting and sharing profound quotes he had discovered. He understood the power of story to try and make a point, or teach a lesson. But he would take his stories, his teaching, his homilies a step further, animating them with what I called “Kuderistics.” A correct response would elicit an enthusiastic, “Yes – that’s it!” A classic was “Whōa!” “Whoa!” he would exclaim, his huge hand and thick fingers outstretched when trying to highlight a particularly deep or profound revelation.
Over the years, our relationship evolved. I came to understand more deeply how truly invested he was in Jesuit works, Ignatian spirituality, and a commitment to serve the communities of which he was a part. Steve was generous. People would ask if he could be at one event or another, or serve on a board or committee and – after a quick check of his Daytimer – he’d say, “I’m in! I’ll be there.” And he would be. The obituaries that have already been written describe his years of service in various capacities locally, regionally, nationally. They don’t come close to describing the countless Masses, weddings, baptisms, family liturgies, funerals, anointings, dedications, benedictions, speeches and other events at which he celebrated the moments that mark our lives, our works, and the communal experience of living in relationship with each other and with God.
Steve loved to joke, and to tease. Teasing was a sign of his affection – but there were more than a few times I watched as he irritated his brother Jesuits with his ribbing. His teasing was an expression of another dominant characteristic: to try not to take life too seriously. Of course, this worked spectacularly if everyone was all in agreement on the fundamental point, and could join in the fun. In a world full of serious people focused on serious matters, he took special delight in poking those he thought were overly so, imploring them to loosen up and find the humor, if not joy itself, in the situation.
Because for Steve – and this truly was rooted in his fundamental faith in God – there was always great cause for joy. In the study of religion, we come to deeply understand how, over millenia, humans have been in a living relationship with the Divine, a constantly evolving relationship. For Steve, it was important to remember this was not one-sided: it went both ways. People changed, and God changed too. Placing our own experience into this much larger, longer arc convinced him that the road we all were traveling together was but a brief part of a much longer religious and transcendental journey. At the heart of this experience was an understanding of Jesus as a living, breathing connection that we actually could be a part of.
The main thing is to know the main thing, and to keep the main thing the main thing.
For Steve, the main thing was to remember that we are loved: God loves us unconditionally, and that alone is cause for joy; the human challenge – with all our faults, limitations, burdens and challenges – is to obey the commandment: Love one another, just as I have loved you. Keep working to love one another, just as we are loved. That’s it.
Steve and I would text each other – not regularly, but frequently enough. And inevitably those texts were laced with humor. Once in a while, I’d see something I thought he’d appreciate and send it his way; he would do the same. While on a trip to Bigfork, Montana, Julie and I spotted an antique placard in a shop window I knew he’d appreciate; it said: “If you’re looking for a sign, this is it!” Not infrequently, our texts would be a simple “check in.” In these last few years, more frequently these would have to do with health-related concerns. “If you have some prayers to spare, you can send them my way,” he wrote. “Going in tomorrow for surgery. Am now on a bourbon pre-op regimen.”
I give thanks to my God always, remembering you in my prayers.Not long ago, Steve texted me these words: “I give thanks to my God always, remembering you in my prayers.” It is a line from Paul’s Epistle to Philemon. It was a poignant text for me, given the tough times he was having, and though different - tough times he knew I was going through as well. I responded with a paraphrased line from that same Apostle, from Ephesians: “I . . . never stop giving thanks for you.” Steve experienced the Living God through his relationships with those he knew and loved, and those who knew and loved him: his parents, sisters and brothers; his nieces and nephews; his Jesuit brothers and lay companions; parishoners, retreatants, students, fellow faculty and staff.
I imagine Steve now, even more deeply a part of the communion, gathered together now with those who have gone on before us – filled with joy and mirth, and awe, and wonder. Whoa! With a tear in his own eye, I imagine he would gently chide us for mourning his departure: “Don’t linger too long in this space,” he’d implore us. “We always knew this was how things were going to go. I’m ok, you’re ok, and it’s all going to be ok.” (For emphasis he’d add Oscar Wilde: remember, “Everything will be fine in the end. If it’s not fine, it’s not the end.”)
So tonight, we gather to acknowledge our sadness, to give thanks and to say farewell -- for a little while.
And to you, Father Kuder, I say: Thank you . . . brother, uncle, friend, minister, teacher, mentor. Thank you, on behalf of a grateful University, for the thousands of students you taught, the generous sharing of your gifts with colleagues. Thank you for sharing the joy you found in your faith; for inspiring us with the power of storytelling; for reminding us not to take ourselves too seriously; and enjoining us to love and be loved. We give thanks to our God always, remembering you in our prayers. God bless you (whispered) Didáskalos (teacher). Amen.
Related Messages & Media
Thoughts & Prayers – Loss of Fr. Stephen R. Kuder, S.J. (8/6/21)
Thoughts & Prayers – Fr. Stephen Kuder, S.J., Service Information (8/11/21)