By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
Gregg Hoogerwerf hadn’t attended Mass in years, but from his hospital bed he accepted an invitation to have a priest visit and administer what the gravely ill man thought of as “last rites.”
Gregg was suffering from bile duct cancer and didn’t have much time left to live. His mom, LouRae, took steps to have a Catholic chaplain at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, Father William Kaska, administer the sacrament of the anointing of the sick and the Eucharist as viaticum. Fr. Kaska’s position as chaplain was funded by the Annual Diocesan Appeal (ADA). He has since retired.
Sr. Laura Goedken, OP, director of development for the diocese, said many patients arriving at the University Hospital are gravely ill or victims of very serious accidents. Also, patients from local, smaller, hospitals that are not equipped to handle their care are most often sent to the University Hospital. Such patients are often in need of a priest. “Getting their local pastor or one of the priests in Iowa City not at hospital can be quite challenging. Having a chaplain on hand for such a huge hospital is very important.”
Gregg was raised in the Catholic Church and had received the sacraments of initiation: baptism, Communion and confirmation.
The family settled in the Iowa City area in 1968 and joined St. Thomas More specifically because its religious education program was held on Wednesday nights. “We only had one car and my husband worked. So St. Thomas More met a critical need.” Gregg attended religious education classes there and was confirmed in that parish.
Gregg graduated from City High School in Iowa City and then attended the University of Iowa. Encouraged to submit a portfolio to the Art Institute of Boston, he did so. Instead of being on the typical waiting list of two years, Gregg was accepted within two months, his mom said.
Upon graduation, Gregg ran a photography business in Boston. With his main clients in Boston and work hours sporadic, he moved back to Iowa City to be closer to family. “He would fly into Boston to do photographs for architects and magazines as he was needed,” LouRae said.
His return to Iowa City did not mean a return to the Catholic Church. “It was upsetting to us, but he could make his own decisions.”
In 2004 Gregg was diagnosed with cancer and given four months to live. He tried several experimental treatments, which extended his life an extra year. “He had 11 very good months.”
LouRae wanted her son to have a Catholic funeral when the time came. But she wasn’t sure whether that was possible because he had not been to church in years.
She called St. Thomas More Parish and was connected with Sr. Goedken, who then served as director of evangelization and stewardship for the four Iowa City parishes. Her office was at St. Thomas More.
Sr. Goedken talked with LouRae and reassured her that her son could have a funeral Mass in the church, and connected her with the person to talk to about arrangements.
As the end neared, LouRae met with Fr. Kaska. She told him she wasn’t sure how her son would react when Father arrived to administer the sacraments, even though Gregg had accepted the invitation. “I was very pleased with the way it turned out,” she said.
“Gregg never complained while he was in the hospital. And he never cried until Father came,” she said.
In the final days Gregg told his mom that he had a visit from Jesus. He told her he could see Jesus “everywhere.” “I figured he was on too many drugs,” she said. But when she talked to several priests, they said they had heard the same thing from some previous patients.
LouRae felt a sense of peace because Gregg had never truly given up his faith.
On July 26, 2005, Gregg died at age 47. His funeral was held at St. Thomas More. Eventually his cremated ashes were buried in a family plot at Mount Calvary Cemetery in Rock Island, Ill. He had donated his body to scientific research.
Today LouRae attends St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City.
ADA supports local Church
The Annual Diocesan Appeal kicks off this weekend, Sept. 27-28.
The appeal supports the Church in the Diocese of Davenport and its goal is just over $3 million, which is a large portion of the $4 million diocesan budget. ADA funds are used to support ministries, programs and services of the diocese:
Evangelization (youth ministry, Catholic education, faith formation, multicultural ministry); vocations (seminarians, deacons, lay ministry); chancery (diocesan offices, contributions to the wider Church); Catholic Charities (social action, immigration, hospital chaplains, tribunal, victim assistance); clergy (retired priests, clergy education, priest assistance); technology (communication, archives); stewardship (planning, development); and finance (administration, assistance to parish bookkeepers).
Pledges may be paid by check, automatic deduction or through the Office of Development for stock transfer, gift of grain or other assistance.
For more information contact Sister Laura Goedken, OP, diocesan development director, at (563) 888-4252 or email Goedken@davenportdiocese.org.