Gordie Howe, the Saskatchewan-born superstar known as Mr. Hockey, was remembered as a family man. Mr. Howe passed away June 10 at the age of 88. Register file photo

Gordie Howe was a true family man

By  Mike Stechschulte, Catholic News Service
  • June 14, 2016

DETROIT – He was Mr. Hockey, but he was also Mr. Family.

That’s what Fr. J.J. Mech will take away from knowing Gordie Howe, the Detroit Red Wings hockey legend who passed away June 10 at the age of 88.

“I think that’s probably what he was the most proud of, to be honest,” said Mech, rector of the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament and a longtime friend of the Howe family. “Even though he was Mr. Hockey, I think they were his real gift, his family. And I think he recognized it. I find that to be a testimony to who he is.”

Mech was to celebrate a memorial Mass for Mr. Howe on June 15 with thousands expected to attend.

Though Mr. Howe was not Catholic, several of his family members are, Mech said, and requested the Mass at Detroit’s cathedral to honour their father’s legacy as an icon of the Motor City. 

Though not a funeral Mass in the Catholic liturgical sense, Mr. Howe’s body was to be present in a closed casket with eulogies honouring the Hall of Famer to precede the liturgy, which would follow the order of a weekday Mass.

For all Mr. Howe meant to Detroit and to professional hockey, it was his down-to-earth nature that touched almost everyone who met him, friends and fans alike, Mech said.

“He was the epitome of humility,” said Mech, who last fall celebrated the wedding of one of Mr. Howe’s granddaughters. “With all the challenges he’s had in his older years, he really connected and came alive with little kids. And his family attested to this, too. He loved to work with kids and to be the right kind of person for these young people.”

Despite his celebrity as one of the greatest athletes of all time, Mr. Howe always made time for the average fan, signing autographs and chatting with hockey moms and dads at rinks and in supermarkets across Metro Detroit. 

“He was such a great person in the way he dealt with fans,” Mech said. “They were not a burden; in fact, it was the exact opposite. He came alive when he was working with fans. The family was laughing about that. They might have needed to go somewhere, and they’d say, ‘Well, forget about the schedule; Dad’s with the fans.’ He loved that, and that’s why I think he was such a class act. The ego was not a part of it.”

Cathedral staff had no way of predicting how many people would attend the Mass, which was open to the public. The church seats only about 900 people. 

About 500 family members and dignitaries — including Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, members of the team-owning Ilitch family and Red Wings past and present, not to mention other NHL greats such as Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Orr — were expected to attend. Mech said television stations and media outlets from across North America will cover the Mass.

In anticipation of overflow crowds, a sound system was set up outside for those unable to get into the cathedral. Police were to close Woodward Avenue outside the cathedral during the Mass.

“We have a ton of security all around for lots of different reasons,” Mech said.

Mr. Howe, who scored 801 career goals — second only to Gretzky in that department — is about as close to Detroit royalty as anyone, Mech noted. 

“No doubt, we are truly Hockeytown. That’s our name, and you can’t think about that without thinking about Gordie Howe,” he said. 

“With such a class act that he has been, we are proud to have him — even though he’s Canadian — as our second son.”

A public visitation for Howe was held June 14 at Joe Louis Arena, home of the Red Wings, where Howe lay in state. 

“Mark (Howe) had emphasized and some of the other brothers were laughing and said, ‘I hope people show up,’ because they do want folks to come,” Mech said, tongue-in-cheek.

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