One of my wife’s favorite recent movies is last year’s Bill Murray flick, “St. Vincent.” Murray plays a deplorable man who, through a series of fortuitous events, finds himself serving as a mentor to a young neighbor boy. As an exercise for the boy’s Catholic school class to learn about the qualities of those who have been sainted, the students are asked to nominate someone they know for the honor.
Think for a moment how hard that assignment would truly be.
Enter Mark St. John.
Mark was a unique character in the Indiana political world. His passing this week, while far too soon and provocative of tears and sorrow throughout our community, does create an opportunity for profound and diverse gratitude. He may not be sainted, but there is no question about whether or not the world is a better place having had him here for the past 62 years. It clearly is.
He finished his professional career as a contract lobbyist, just like I am. Well, not exactly like I am. There is no need to get deep into the weeds and list all of the things Mark represented over the twenty years I knew him. Name it. He was likely in on it. But Mark ultimately gravitated, within any debate in which he was involved, to the side of good. So when you look at his resume now, it reads like the description of a giant white hat.
In the days that have followed since his passing, I have read plenty of pieces that list organizations for which Mark advocated or volunteered. And then those pieces are forwarded by someone other than the original writer with an addendum pointing out something else he did that was omitted from the list. I’m skipping that here by writing that Mark cared about people. He wanted good things for people. Reasonable things. Things people needed. Things a country like America and a state like Indiana should want people to have.
Whether it was health care for the sick, homes for the homeless, clean air and water for everyone, or the next right thing, there was Mark. I personally never saw him pounding on a lectern, or raising his voice, although I sense there may have been times that he did. There was a steady sense of predictable passion in his presence. So much so, I had long ago quit asking why he was engaged on a matter, I usually could figure it out without even talking with him.
Mark was never a stranger, but in a strange way. I knew him for a long time, but had no idea how many others did. For example, I have had a few people who recently met him, express their regrets about his passing. These are people who are new to the statehouse crowd who haven’t actually worked with him on anything, but were somehow engulfed in Mark’s orb quickly and for no apparent reason. All of them said these words in their recent conversations about him with me: “he was always nice to me.” That’s a bigger compliment than it might seem. Read it slowly.
Lately, he and I became connected on social media. He would take my weekly blog and share it with his army of connections. Even my rants with which he disagreed. Especially my literary fits he knew might stir things up a little. He never said a word to me about any of them until after the dust settled. Thank you for that, Mark. You were the best surprise partner I could have asked for, and I enjoyed laughing with you about it.
Most weekday mornings for the last couple of years I would walk past him while he ate breakfast at Henry’s with another couple from the hood. One of my favorite writers was in his breakfast club, so with them together, I have a vivid image of their morning conversations. I’m sorry I missed my chance to join them one time before we lost him. His absence will be a hard hole to fill in the Old Northside/Chatham neighborhood we shared.
A mutual friend shared a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson that made us both think of Mark. “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” He may have also been happy, but the rest of this really defines Mark.
Unlike in the movie, “St. Vincent,” there actually is a precise way to be sainted. First, one must live a life of virtue and have it confirmed by a panel of theologians at the Vatican. There also is a requirement of the person to have been the source of one miracle, which will earn one the status of “beautification.” And finally a second miracle following beautification is also required. The miracles establish the church’s need for a divine sign.
There is no question Mark St. John lived a life of clear virtue. But the miracles? I don’t know. All I know is that a miracle to me is nothing more than an ordinary person doing extraordinary things.
The manner and style of Mark’s version of extraordinary is certainly something honorable and compassionate. He leaves a wake of good deeds in his path for us all to appreciate. At a minimum, his life was beautiful. More bluntly though, his was an example of a sadly short life that was awfully well lived. Mr. St. John, you will be missed and we are forever grateful you were here.