Deacons like Dan Offer Wisdom of Experience

By Unsworth, Tim | National Catholic Reporter, August 27, 1999 | Go to article overview

Deacons like Dan Offer Wisdom of Experience


Unsworth, Tim, National Catholic Reporter


Daniel Joseph Collins was an elevator operator, security guard and, later, the site supervisor at the 645 North Michigan Avenue Building on Chicago's Northside. You couldn't miss him when you crossed the lobby. He greeted everyone. He nudged people out of their compulsive little egos and made them feel good.

Ursula and Stanley Johnson run a high-level art gallery at 645. Jean and I visited Often, responding to Dan's greeting with a smile and a nod of the head.

My friend Marty Hegarty once had an office in that building and, years ago, informed me that Collins was one of the Chicago archdiocese's now 595 permanent deacons and that he worked with people with addictions. Beyond that, I didn't know much about "Deacon Dan," although I later learned that he liked my columns. Had I known that, I would have brought him boxes of candy.

Recently, I learned that Dan Collins had been found dead in his Elmwood Park home of what appeared to be cardiac arrest. He was 73 and had long suffered from diabetes. He had never married, There were no immediate survivors. He gave his body to science.

I learned, all this when his friend, Fr. John Lynch, pastor of St. Catherine-St. Lucy's in Oak Park, Ill., called and suggested that I come to his funeral service at Our Lady of Ransom Parish, where Dan served as a deacon. "Come and hear the people's stories," Lynch said. "You'll learn a lot."

I went and met St. Francis of Assisi.

Daniel Joseph Collins would merit at least six pages in the Old Testament. "The Old Testament is filled with raw passion and great characters," John Lynch said during Dan's memorial homily.

"Dan belongs in the Old Testament." He could make Moses blush. There were no empty calories in his homilies or talks. His language was often R rated, but you never missed the message. In a world where even dioceses hire public relations people to spray deodorizer over their decisions, Collins simply thundered the truth in unfiltered, unvarnished language. "I've been there. Done that. Don't do it," he would say. "But if you do, I'll be there.'

To one of the thousands of troubled teenagers he dragged kicking and screaming out of addictions, he was known to say: "Pay attention! Listen to me! Or I'll drop kick your ass out of here!"

They listened.

Collins had been there all right. He was raised in a wealthy family in Cincinnati. He learned drinking at his mother's knee. The poor soul wasted her family's money and eventually drank herself to death. She bequeathed her alcoholism to Dan.

He was bright and industrious with a good head for figures. He entered the Jesuits with the intention of becoming a priest. Somehow, he got close to the cash box and, when the Jesuits dismissed him for failing to keep the cork in the bottle, he took a bundle of cash with him funds essential to his drinking.

There was a series of other jobs, all seemingly near the check-writing machine or cashbox. At one bank, he worked his way up to head teller before being let go for drinking and after he had cleaned out some cash from the vault. Finally, he spent a period in another congregation where one version has it that he was placed in a position of trust -- near the money. He was invited to leave when his drinking became obvious. He cleaned out their cash drawer and left, went on a spree of drinking and traveling, confident that this was occult compensation of some kind.

This time the feds followed, and he went to the slammer five years for embezzlement. While there, he enrolled in Alcoholics Anonymous, not to stop his addiction, but to cut his jail time -- so that he could get back on the bottle. …

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