By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
CHILLICOTHE — The key to understanding what drove the life and priesthood of Father Thomas Richard “Dick” Saale can be found in Chapter 17 of Luke, said Father Robert Mahoney, his friend of nearly six decades.
“When you have done all you have been commanded, say ‘We are unworthy servants. We have only done our duty.’”
“Saale did the things a good priest was supposed to do,” said Father Mahoney, delivering the homily for the Oct. 3 funeral of his dear friend — whom he constantly referred to endearingly and only by his last name. “But Saale reminds us we need to do more.
“We can’t be complacent, going to Mass on Sunday and only doing the things we’re supposed to do,” he said. “We must do more.”
Father Saale, who died Sept. 29 exactly two weeks before his 87th birthday, did more, Father Mahoney said.
Father Saale was a Golden Gloves boxing champion in his youth, and carried that fighting spirit through his life.
But Father Mahoney said it gave him the confidence of a boxer to keep his head and defuse violent situations, such as when he convinced a group of angry young men during the Kansas City race riots in 1968 to put down a can of gasoline and talk.
“He was able to persuade them in terms they understood, and they respected him for it,” Father Mahoney said.
There was the burglar at Blessed Sacrament School was confronted by Father Saale, then the pastor.
“When the burglar came out, he was looking at the wrong end of Saale’s shotgun,” Father Mahoney said. “But in an instant, he sat the man down, talked to him, listened to him, and turned him around. And he is a good citizen today.”
Father Saale did all the things a good pastor does at a parish. But when he looked around Blessed Sacrament Parish and saw the needs, he had to do more, Father Mahoney said.
Seeing people without high school diplomas, he started a parish program staffed entirely by parish volunteers to tutor adults for their GED tests. That program, launched in 1966, was the model for a federally funded GED preparation program at nine sites throughout Kansas City, including Blessed Sacrament.
In 1965, when the call went out for clergy of all faiths to join Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., after marchers were brutally beaten back at the Edmund Pettis Bridge, Father Saale was in a large contingent of Kansas City priests and religious sisters who went. He had to do more, Father Mahoney said.
As Father Saale neared retirement in the early 1990s, he gathered a group of priests together who would meet “religiously” every three weeks. Father Mahoney, a career sociology and criminology professor at Rockhurst University, was in that group who gathered on the pretext of poker, but really came to talk with brother priests.
“In that group, we could say anything, and we did,” Father Mahoney said.
“In that group we had nearly 400 years of combined pastoral experience, and Saale was the key member of that group,” he said. “It was like a seminar.”
Father Mahoney looked at the mourners gathered at St. Columban Church, which Father Saale’s ancestors helped Father John J. Hogan — later the first bishop of both St. Joseph and Kansas City — establish and build some 160 years ago, and said that each of them will take from Father Saale’s life one piece that he touched in his special way.
But everybody he touched should remember Father Saale’s example that there is always more to do.
“If we learn that lesson from Saale,” Father Mahoney said, “we will definitely find a teaching moment here today.”