By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — Deacon Richard J. Muraski, Sr. loved and was loved by all who knew him. He was a husband, father of 8, grandfather of 30 and great-grandfather of 2, ordained permanent deacon, teacher and spiritual director, loyal friend, winemaker and joke teller, all rolled into one. Above all, he loved God.
Dick died June 8 at home, surrounded by his family, ending a 9-year struggle with Alzheimer’s. He was 83. The visitation was held June 14 at Visitation Church. The Mass of Christian Burial, also at Visitation, was celebrated June 15 with Father Patrick Rush presiding and concelebrated by Fathers Don Farnan, Tom Weiderholt, Mike Mulhearn, C.M., and Lloyd Opoka. Many Kansas City-St. Joseph diocesan priests, including Fathers Steve Cook, Bob Stone and Sandy Sinclair, and deacons were also present. Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Eucharist, Mercedarian Sisters and Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet came to bid Dick farewell as did Serra Club members and dozens of friends and family members.
Before Mass, sons Col. R.J. Muraski, Jr., and Pete Muraski, and attorney John Gordon, spoke to the assembly about Dick Muraski as a father, a spiritual director and as a man of God, “celebrating the joy of love and life.”
Col. Muraski’s initial remark summarized his father’s life: “Our father is in heaven. In fact, if there was an express lane to heaven, he would have had that opportunity. … He was the real deal. … All were welcome in our house. … I think Dad picked the Year of Mercy to go be with the angels because he loved everyone unconditionally.”
Deacon Dick served as John Gordon’s long-time spiritual director, and a close family friendship developed. He shared recollections of their friendship, memories of trips to the Holy Land and to Lourdes and one story that had everyone laughing.
“Did you know that an angel once appeared to Dick?” Gordon said. “… He’s in the emergency room semi-conscious. He has a wife and eight young children. It’s his heart and it doesn’t look good. His wife … will bring Holy Water, a candle, and pictures of Our Lady and Jesus. That would be the Muraski Way. Then the angel appeared, but she brought nothing. Her name was Angel Beattie. … She leans over him, takes him by the shoulders and screams, ‘Richard Muraski! Don’t you dare die! You’re not going to leave me with 8 children!’ And Lazarus rose! Beattie was a proactive angel, just doing her job.” It took a few minutes for the laughter to fade.
Pete Muraski, wearing a floral Hawaiian print shirt, similar to those Dick often wore, described his father as “all about celebrating the joy of love and life.” His world was constantly getting larger, Pete said. “When Dad met Mom and proposed to her, his God and his world doubled in size. He was so proud to show Beattie off, not as a trophy, as the most loving person he ever met.”
In his homily Father Farnan shared many of Dick’s life, love and faith stories with the assembly. “Dick Muraski knew well the Father’s House and its many dwelling places. Everything that he did in his life was a prelude to his grand entry there. On earth, he imitated the Father’s house … with an open door, open arms, and open heart. The center of his house, like the center of this house of God, was the family table. … The table … came from his parents who passed it down; it was a dining table, a study table, a wedding table, an altar table. Meals were sacred: it was the place for everyone to be nourished and challenged: nourished physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, whether you lived in the house or not.
“Dick’s love of family and faith began in his infancy — the youngest of five children, growing up in Rockford, Ill.” His father died when he was 10. “Dick was a star student-athlete and good friend to many. Drafted by Notre Dame to play football and chosen governor of Boys State in Ill., lunching with President Truman more than once as a teen, he never bragged about his achievements. In his final year … at St. Norbert’s College in De Pere, Wis., [a clerical error got Dick] drafted by the U.S. Army and sent to Fort Knox; and that’s when he met his southern belle: … Beattie, along with some sister-workers from AT&T, affectionately known as “the call girls,” met him at the “half-way house”; she was dancing with his friend, Bill, and he was dancing with her friend, Betty. But Beattie had her eye on Muraski and said to her friend: “Let’s switch.” When she kissed him that night, Dick said she curled his toes. [When] he got released from duty, his buddies said that he shouldn’t let Beattie get away —he didn’t. They were married … June 9, 1956.”
Dick completed his degrees in Economics and Philosophy, and “then helped his brother straighten out the finances of his fledgling company. As a young couple, they knew that, besides the table, every Christian home needs two other items: a crucifix and a cradle. Their first five kids were born in the first six years of marriage and they strengthened their faith while the Second Vatican Council … gave rise to lay theologians. So … the family moved to San Francisco where Dick got a master’s degree in applied theology before being auctioned-off to Monsignors Tighe [Visitation] and Schumacher [St. Elizabeth] in Kansas City. Arriving … on Father’s Day 1964, they … purchased a big house on 56th Street near Brookside Park. Dick later was in the first class of permanent deacons since the earliest days of Christianity.” He was ordained in 1973. “He was a man of faith. I’ll begin and end by saying that it was authentic. Through his eyes of faith, he saw everyone as God’s child; he welcomed each one just as Jesus did: lepers, addicts, the marginalized, the forgotten, and any of his kids’ new friends that crawled up to his porch for refuge. His mother-in-law, Mimi, lived with them for 21 years and nothing pleased him more than having generations of faith gather at his table. … Dick would wake early and work hard all day long; when he came home in the early evening, he would sit down to rest for a few minutes before holding court at the dinner table, while welcoming strangers and giving instructions. Then he’d shave and head off to random parts of the diocese: teaching, listening, taking care of, and solving problems for, the faithful who were placed in his path. He would return home very late and then repeat the whole routine again the next morning. He was salt of the earth and … light for our world. He genuinely cared about others; his bear hugs were symbolic that the abundance of God’s love is so great that it almost hurts.
“What he taught his children was more from his actions than his words.” Col. Muraski had recalled stories of his childhood. “The Muraskis were not always angels,” he said. “After the initial yell demanding to know who was responsible, Dad would stare at us and count to 10. Then in a reasonable voice, he would use the incident to teach us. ‘Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to throw snowballs with rocks in them at cars on Brookside Blvd., or to have Roman candle fights with your brothers …’”
Father Farnan continued, “His seven sons’ greatest goal in life is to become like him — but his daughter is, in some ways, most like him. As the oldest, Martha was their second mom.
“Though Dick worked too hard, family vacations each summer were the highlight of his year—and theirs: Colorado, Canada, the Wisconsin-dells, Grand Tetons, or the Frisco Bay — they lived, learned and loved. Because big families take care of one another, you allowed him to take care of others, and, I believe, granted him a long life. Dick inherited his [dad’s] work ethic but was granted an incredible grace in Beattie and the children to live a well-balanced life. At the center of it was his trust in God.”
In conclusion, Father Farnan said, “Monsignor Tighe … became a father-figure for your dad; they were, in many ways, a lot alike. They could carry on theological discussions with the best of ‘em, but could also get on the floor or all-fours to engage little ones in joyful play. Like him, Dick was larger than life; he had strength and strength of character. Their booming voices and love for all people, regardless of creed or culture, were exemplary for all of us and they were both great teachers to me. From them I learned that the first and most important principle of priesthood is to love the people and, if I could do that, the rest would take care of itself. That’s essentially what Jesus taught his disciples, too. I will always remember their words but, more importantly, their acts: the acts of apostles in our modern world.
“So, we come to the table one more time with Dick Muraski. The meal was always sacred in your house because your house was a reflection of God’s house, and that’s where he is now: that eternal dwelling place prepared for him. He will help get it ready … one day … it will be your dwelling place, too, as you gather again with him sitting at the head of the family table.”
It was always a partnership between him and Beattie—what they did, they did together. Following the Final Commendation, Father Rush told the assembly that “Dick and Beattie had a pact: to be buried together. But not yet.” There was no cemetery service at that time, but all were invited to share a meal in the church’ lower level in Dick’s honor.
After the Mass, Beattie hugged a well-wisher, saying, “Don’t be sorry! He’s in heaven jokin’ and laughin’ with folks from Visitation, and his St. Elizabethans.”
Contributions in Dick Muraski’s memory may be made to Birthright of Greater Kansas City, 6309 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64113; Mercedarian Sisters, 2116 Maturana Drive, Liberty, MO 64068, or Sisters of St. Francis, 2100 N. Noland Road, Independence, MO 64050.