Fairfield Now - Spring 2007
The Hardest Prayer
By Joe Duffy '65
|Joe Duffy '65 (at left in the above 1962 photo) remained a lifelong friend of his Fairfield roommate, Joe Ploszay '65, whose quiet valor in the face of disability inspired Fr. Joe McCormick (below) to call him a "walking parable."|
Joseph S. Ploszay III '65 died from post-polio syndrome on his birthday, May 26, 2006. Were Fr. Joseph McCormick, S.J., still living, our legendary Jesuit Dean of Students perhaps would have noted a Providential timing to his good friend's birth into eternal life. Almost from the day Joe Ploszay arrived at Fairfield, Fr. McCormick was the first Jesuit to realize the profound spiritual depth of my roommate. The inimitable Fr. T. Everett McPeake, S.J., was close behind.
In 1954, before he contracted an extremely virulent case of polio, "Ploz," as he was known back in our Hartford, Conn., neighborhood of Parkville, had demonstrated uncanny baseball instincts. Only a sixth grader, the young second baseman already had an awesome arm and the legs of a born base-stealer. All that promise ended abruptly. Instead of his spot on the championship school squad, Ploz got an iron lung to keep him breathing. His career of quiet valor was in its opening innings, as he became a man before the rest of us.
Fr. McCormick knew the whole story of how Ploz cheated death. Now, however, he watched daily the courage of the new frosh, barely over a hundred pounds, on wooden crutches and wearing heavy iron leg braces like the indomitable president, FDR. In our time, there was virtually nothing handicap-accessible on campus, so Ploz got to ride the elevator with our "Jebbies."
I will forever cherish the honor of having lugged his thick book bag with my own. A lean Waterbury guy, Dick Curulla '65, was our sturdy backup, becoming our friend for life. As Fr. McCormick saw the steel will in Ploz, his reserve caved in before this walking parable. He'd plainly tell all of us - "Joe Ploszay's spirit covers a lot more ground than most of us here!"
Fr. McCormick and I were forever debating Aquinas' proof of God's existence. The immortal Jesuit, subtly or not, managed to assert that my roommate's life itself trumped any text or backstairs theologizing with a living instance of God's loving presence. Abounding with Scriptural wisdom, Fr. McCormick loved St. Paul. In Ploz was his unarguable proof that Pauline spiritual athletes still exist.
When, like dauntless mail carriers, Ploz and I crossed the old campus from Loyola to Xavier and back to Canisius in snow, sleet, wind, and rain, I saw what the wise Jesuit meant. Once, we got stuck on an ice patch. As I fretted that my buddy's crutches would slip, wind gusts almost knocked us both down. With heavy book bags in one hand and gripping Ploz in the other, we won another fight and finished our Pauline race back to lunch in the old Loyola café.
As Fr. McCormick had foreseen, Ploz prevailed and graduated a math major, did advanced work at the University of Connecticut, and graced United Technologies with distinction for a quarter century. He married Mary Kane, his childhood sweetheart, and they had two sons, Joe '03 and Stephen. Fittingly, they are superb athletes and blessed with the ineffable character of the Ploz I loved like a brother.
As I reflect on my friend of over a half century, I know much was asked of him by Almighty God. Just days before his unexpected passing, Ploz and I sat at his kitchen table mapping his exercise regimen. I remembered the risks he took on his lone winter visits down wet steps to the old Loyola basement chapel. I was speechless as he lifted a finger upward and whispered, "You know, my real home is still up there," a mystic echo of his mentor, Fr. McCormick. Now, they are reunited.
Whenever Ploz would see another person hurt, he would ask, "How many tests does a person have to pass in this life?" While it was never a question he asked about himself, in my eulogy for him, I haltingly attempted a response for all of us who had loved and lost this splendid human being. "You, Joe, with dignity sublime, have always passed all tests with the hardest of all prayers - Thy Will Be Done."