July 24, 1933- August 11, 2014
I knew Benjamin Russell for nearly 40 years. My relationship with him was as a brother, mentor, and friend. First meeting him when he would come regularly to Dubuque from Madison (where he was pastor of Blessed Sacrament) for various activities, my relationship with him grew when I went to Blessed Sacrament for my Deacon Internship. It was then that I discovered his wisdom and humor. A year later I returned to Madison for my first assignment. It was then that I developed a deeper appreciation and respect for the man. He was a perfect mentor for a raw priest. His practical experience combined with a keen intellect to provide a reliable source of applicable wisdom.
Benjamin will be remembered for many things but one which profoundly influenced me was his skills at building community, whether it was as prior of Blessed Sacrament or as pastor. One cannot think of Benj without making more than passing reference to his love for the stage. He used this to begin a parish talent show. It was such a popular community event that there was universal demand that it be repeated and was called “Encore”. It still continues.
His background in literature made Benjamin a wordsmith of the first order. He put this to fine use in his preaching, teaching, glorying in the fine art of conversation, or doing crossword puzzles.
Within the house he was also the force around whom everyone gathered. While Benjamin had a disdain for formality he led some of the best (read: short and effective) meetings I have ever experienced. Always sensitive to everyone, he made sure every voice was heard and respected. And then there were the late nights watching old movies with Matthew Powell, Peter Witchousky, and Jim Marchionda. We watched the greats and we watched some real trash (both of which we relished). But the real joy was the time together.
Humility is not be a word that will be readily spoken in conjunction with Benj Russell. But, when push came to shove (which it sometimes did), he truly manifest it. A time came when he had to be confronted with a particular issue with which he had battled for years. When he came through it he would freely cite the brethren and our real love and care for him as the true source of his recovery.
In my mind Benjamin Russell was a real saint. Yes, his halo was rakishly tilted and perhaps dented and a bit tarnished, but he was really a man of God and a man of St. Dominic. He loved all people, he loved life, and he is a man who I can proudly say was my brother and friend.
– Contributed by By Fr. Stan Drongowski, O.P.
r. Russell was a man of words. Not necessarily a lot of words, but precision in words. I worked with him at Aquinas Institute of Theology; he was professor of philosophy and also Academic Dean. He insisted in precise use of language, and so terrorized students when he corrected papers. At one point he wrote a booklet for students called “A Guide to Writing Research Papers,” which I believe is still in use today. He made it clear that students should say what they wanted to say, say it clearly, and stop. He was also a big fan of footnotes, which most students thought were a ridiculous waste of time.
He was the kind of guy who could tell you the derivation of hermeneutic, or that the proper pronunciation of exquisite was EX-quisite, with the emphasis on the first syllable.
But he wasn’t an intellectual egghead. He also loved the theater, and especially Liza Minelli.
I think he was what we’d call “well-rounded.”
— Contributed by Fr. Charles Bouchard, O.P.
Fr. Bob BotthoF, O.P.
hen Bob Botthof came to Jesuit Hall in his first year of studies, I had an easy time relating to him, both because he had been a Christian Brother (I was taught by them in high school CBC St Louis), and because of his military experience. His career as an educator united the two major high schools of Oak Park, Fenwick and Oak Park-River Forest (Hemingway’s own; Hem got a Nobel prize in literature, thanks to their good foundation, without ever spending a day at a university or college!) Bob became principle of both schools, an amazing fact, like being the Catholic and Anglican bishops of a city, successively. He was a gentlemanly, reconciling soul. May he rest in peace.
— Contributed by Fr. Benedict T. Viviano OP
ast year, before I entered the novitiate, I was in Bloomington, Indiana, as a Dominican Volunteer living with the community. I will never forget the impact of Fr. Bob Botthof. He always had a smile on his face, and joy in his heart. We exchanged many laughs, and shared plenty of deep conversations. In every encounter with him, his compassion always shined through, and I knew he cared for me, as well as all those whose lives he impacted very deeply. When I first arrived in Bloomington, I spent plenty of time apologizing for silly little things that really didn’t matter. One day he pulled me aside and told me, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, you always say I’m sorry.” He went on to explain to me that everyone there, him included, liked me and cared about me and that I didn’t need to apologize. He helped me to accept myself for who I am, accept God’s grace in my life, and share abundant joy with others. He would often compliment me and other members of the community, with a smile on his face, using his catch-phrase that everything was wonderful. He would often reply after I’d tell him stories, ‘Isn’t that wonderful.’ He was a wonderful friar, and a dear friend. I miss our daily conversations very much, but as a prayer card he once gave me said, “Our loved ones only go from us to God, and God is very near.” He will always be near to me in my heart.
— Contributed by