Hundreds of people gathered at the Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas Friday to celebrate the life of Msgr. James “Scooter” Lavin, a prominent figure on the university’s campus for more than 50 years.
Lavin, 93, had congestive heart failure and died of natural causes Monday, Sept. 17, at the Little Sisters of the Poor residence near downtown St. Paul.
In his homily, the Rev. James Stromberg quoted scripture that Lavin himself chose before his death, saying it was especially fitting.
“We know that when the earthly tent in which we dwell is destroyed, we have a dwelling provided for us by God. A dwelling in the heavens,” Stromberg said.
Mary Jean Loomis, who was Msgr. Lavin’s colleague at St. Thomas, said Lavin died in his room just after a priest finished celebrating Mass.
“He (the priest) said ‘and go in peace’ and when he said that, he went. He died,” Loomis said.
Archbishop John Nienstedt celebrated the Mass of Christian Burial for Lavin, and was joined by nearly 50 other priests.
Nienstedt told those gathered for the Mass that Lavin was a “shining example” for every priest and faced death with grace.
“He knew that he was dying and yet he faced all that with great joy,” Nienstedt said. “I am convinced that the Lord received him with equal joy in the heavenly kingdom.”
Stromberg’s remarks in his homily described how Lavin got his nickname.
Lavin was born a premature twin and both his twin sister and mother died shortly after his birth. Stromberg said Lavin would joke that his premature birth was the only time he was early in his life.
Stromberg said colleagues and students appropriately dubbed the priest they frequently saw rushing late across campus, “Scooter.”
Lavin lived in Ireland Hall both as an undergraduate student and a faculty member until 2002. Stromberg said the priests living in Ireland were the disciplinarians for the St. Thomas students who lived on their floor, but Lavin was always more apt to plead the case of a rule-breaker facing disciplinary action.
“If that was justice, he was mercy,” Stromberg said.
Lavin often sent money bail orders to inmates he had never met, and bailed students out of jail. Loomis said he had a unique ability to understand and connect with people.
“He met people where they were at, their human condition,” Loomis said.
Stromberg said Lavin’s presence as a representative of the university at countless alumni funerals was a blessing.
“If St. Thomas had a Catholic face, it was largely that of James Martin Lavin. He was a model of loyalty and fidelity,” Stromberg said.
Loomis said she experienced calmness and stillness after every visit with Lavin, but especially as she drove to the Little Sisters of the Poor residence early Monday, Sept. 17.
“The sun had just started peaking out and I just knew that he had gone … home to the Lord. You just can’t explain it,” Loomis said.
Nienstedt read a letter from Archbishop Harry Flynn to the assembled to honor Lavin.
“This archdiocese and the University of St. Thomas have lost a great friend, and yet have gained a great friend who will intercede for the archdiocese and this university as he shines his light now in heaven,” Nienstedt said.
Heidi Enninga can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.