I’ve heard it said that if in life you have one or two “real” friends–people with whom you have a mutually loyal, lasting closeness, who will always be there for you and you for them–you are fortunate indeed.
That made perfect sense to me. Yet it strikes me now that I have been blessed with more than a few such true friends; certainly more than I deserve. And it leads me to reflect, with profound gratitude and humility, on how God, throughout my life, has guided me toward various callings–the pro-life movement; principled political campaigns; a career of service to the Church–that have brought me together with faithful, virtuous people who have gifted me with their friendship.
I’m thinking now of one such friend, Kevin Clancy, taken from us five years ago this month.
I had first met Kevin more than 40 years earlier when, as a teacher and moderator of a pro-life student group at a local Catholic high school, he connected with our group, Long Island Youth for Life and Justice. He quickly immersed himself in our work, becoming an effective educational speaker, advocate for pro-life legislation, and political organizer.
I admired Kevin’s independent spirit. A cum laude graduate of Notre Dame, his career prospects seemed limitless. But Kevin wanted no part of being controlled by monetary pursuits or societal expectations. He had such a broad range of knowledge, interests, and talents, and he wanted to be free to follow wherever he felt life was leading him at any given time.
He embarked on a life journey that took him from a gold coast estate on Long Island–where he rented a room while writing a novel–to years later living in a tiny cabin he built on mountainside property in upstate Deposit, New York, roughing it with no electricity and only a wood-burning stove for heat in the region’s frigid winters.
In between, he stayed involved in pro-life and political activities–managing our friend Bruce Duncan’s state Assembly primary campaign that very nearly upset the then-mighty Nassau GOP machine–and enjoying the social revelry that was always part of who we were as pro-life young people.
Over the years our interactions waxed and waned depending on physical distance and various turns our lives took. But our friendship endured, and we were there for each other during important times in each other’s lives.
Kevin served as an usher in both my and my brother John’s weddings, and was a loving godfather to John and Brenda’s daughter Theresa. In turn, John, Brenda and Theresa were with Kevin through his final days, accompanying him on his journey home to Jesus.
He actively supported my political activities during the 1980s, and years later, when I became editor of The Long Island Catholic, he worked to promote the paper and its mission.
My brother and I were privileged to assist him with editing as he continued his writing pursuits with a book on the Civil War. Because I had saved copies of many chapters, I was able to help rescue the book when Kevin’s cabin burned down one cold winter night (“my guardian angel woke me,” he told me about his escape), and he lost his computer and discs. While his earlier novel was never published, Kevin’s “Ten Intriguing Questions about the Civil War” is available on Amazon Kindle, as is his “Augustine’s Life in Psalms.”
When he was diagnosed with cancer, Kevin underwent radiation treatments, followed by surgery. But it had spread too far. John and I were able to drive up and visit him several times, including a very special Palm Sunday when we took him to Mass in the village’s quaint little Catholic Church, then spent the entire afternoon at a little restaurant in town, talking, laughing, reminiscing–and meeting many of the locals whose affection for and friendship with Kevin was so gratifying, if unsurprising, to us.
Months later, when he was buried from that same church, the outpouring of love from the people of Deposit– and of deep sadness at his death but profound gratitude that he had been part of their lives–reflected our own feelings on what he had meant to us as well.
Kevin had immersed himself in the life of that community, contributing to it in various ways. He taught many classes in the local “Summer Fun” program, and for several years operated Seven Pines, a combination Civil War, chess, and education store.
The prevailing culture would view the life Kevin chose as a waste of his extraordinary gifts. But he was being faithful to himself, and to the God he knew was the source of those gifts. He loved the Book of Psalms, and his life conformed to the words of Psalm 62: “Though wealth abound, set not your heart upon it”; for he knew, as the same Psalm proclaims, that “Only in God is my soul at rest.” We’re filled with faith that his is now.
He was a deeply spiritual, prayerful Catholic, and everything he did–his teaching, social and political activism, his daily interactions with the people of his adopted community, and his enduring friendship with those of us from his youth–bore witness to his faith.
We had talked at times of organizing a reunion of the pro-life friends of our youth. It never happened during Kevin’s life; but, inspired by the gathering of some of those friends at a Mass for him back on Long Island, we made it happen–and, although interrupted by COVID, we plan to do so again.
And so in death, Kevin Clancy left us one final legacy. He drew us together again, renewing and deepening those lifelong friendships built on our shared commitment to and love for God’s gift of life.