LEFT: Father Lawless provided transportation so Native American children on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula could participate in Catholic summer camps.
RIGHT: Father Lawless, whose faithfulness and steadfastness were legendary, stands amid rubble from a church that burned to the ground. The church was later rebuilt with his persistence and a grant from Catholic Extension.
“It Would Be Very Bad and Snowing, but He’d Be There”
Part of a three-century Jesuit ministry that served the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Father Lawless was a circuit riding priest who spent nearly half his life ministering to the Chippewa in this Great Lakes diocese characterized by sub-zero temperatures and blizzards. He was always there for his parishioners, no matter the weather. “Many times it would be very bad and snowing, but he’d be there,” said one parishioner. His faithfulness was legendary, as was his indifference to possessions.
One story about Father Lawless tells of a man who saw holes in the priest’s shoes as he was kneeling in church. He gave the priest a new pair of shoes, but soon the new shoes appeared on the feet of a Chippewa parishioner. Father Lawless had given them away and returned to wearing his old, worn shoes. Whatever gift he received, he gave away. The Chippewa people, whom he served for more than 46 years, called Father Lawless Nish-Ish In-Odeh, a name that means “Good Heart.”
Postscript: Father Joseph Lawless, SJ died in 1995.