Bronze Chair Memorializes Fr. Tony

Feb. 22, 2006

SPOKANE, Wash. - "To be continued."

That's the way Rev. Anthony "Tony" Joseph Lehmann, S.J., known to a legion of friends and admirers as simply "Father Tony", always chose to end his conversations. It was his outlook on life - and immortality.

The priest who was perhaps best known - and recognized - as the guy at the end of the Gonzaga basketball bench for years, will have his legacy honored in the McCarthey Athletic Center for all to see and remember. An empty, towel-draped bronze chair - with a basketball on the floor nearby - has been installed in the northeast foyer of the McCarthey Athletic Center. On the chair is the inscription: In loving memory of Fr. Tony Lehmann, S.J. "to be continued..."

Fr. Lehmann passed away March 8, 2002, after a short battle with leukemia.

Fr. Tony Lehmna,, S.J., was a fixture on the Gonzaga basketball bench.

"We wanted to do something to pay tribute to a man who dedicated a good portion of his life to Gonzaga University and Bulldog athletics. He was an ambassador for all of us," athletic director Mike Roth said.

The work was sculpted by local artist Vincent De Felice, a lifelong Spokane resident who began attending GU basketball games at "about the age of 10."

"I had met Fr. Tony on a few occasions and I felt there was enough respect and love for the individual that a project like this made sense," De Felice said.

De Felice said he began the 150-pound sculpture in September.

Among De Felice's other works people may recognize are the Fr. Pierre DeSmet bronze bust at DeSmet Hall on the Gonzaga campus, a bronze crucifix located in the Gonzaga Law School chapel and the bronze statue of Joe Fan that adorns Spokane's Joe Albi Stadium.

Fr. Lehmann was born Sept. 10, 1928, in Pinckneyville, Ill., and passed away and returned to his beloved Lord on March, 8, 2002, in the Jesuit House Infirmary at Gonzaga from complications from leukemia.

Rev. Lehmann was a cloistered monk for 16 years, hidden away in a walled, mountain hermitage. He lived in a small cottage, saw others only at church, and didn't speak except during once-a-week outings into the mountains.

But for the final 33 years of his life wild horses couldn't keep Father Tony away from people. He was officially alumni chaplain, but more accurately Gonzaga's ambassador of goodwill to its alumni and friends and anyone with whom he would come into contact.

Some knew Father Tony as the Gonzaga men's basketball priest, as he occupied a special spot at the end of the Bulldog bench for the past 20 years.

To others, he was Gonzaga University's version of Lil' Abner's "Marryin' Sam."

He was a man for all occasions . . . weddings, funerals, wakes, baptisms; he did them all for Gonzaga alumni, their family and friends -- literally anyone who asked. He performed more than 1,000 weddings alone. Not bad for a priest without a parish.

At 73, the ever-youthful seeming Father Tony showed no signs of slowing down until his body, fatigued by a ferocious travel schedule, finally said "Wait a minute" while he was on the East Coast to perform a wedding and attend Gonzaga basketball games against Monmouth and St. Joseph's late in December, 2001.

Lehmann was admitted to a New York hospital on Dec. 29, 2001, utterly drained of energy. He had leukemia, and his immune system was in dire need of replenishment. Rest was the best treatment.

Lehmann returned to Spokane Jan. 6, 2002, aboard the private jet of Gonzaga University Trustee Tim Barnard, Bozeman, Mont. Barnard had established a strong relationship with Lehmann when he spent a year with Father Tony at the Gonzaga-in-Florence (Italy) program in 1971. Barnard later helped establish the "Padre Lehmann Scholarship Fund" at Gonzaga to assist students fund a year of study abroad.

Lehmann spent his childhood in Murphysboro, Ill., with three brothers and three sisters. His father was a dairy manager. His mother died when Tony was 5. His father later married Tony's Aunt Birdie, who helped raise the family.

After graduating from Murphysboro Township High School, Lehmann joined the Army, and his travels took him to Japan and Korea. He visited the site in Hiroshima where the United States had dropped the atomic bomb in 1945, and witnessed the devastation it had caused. He also visited a lepers' colony, and was struck by the happy faces he found on those afflicted.

It was then that Tony Lehmann knew he wanted to be a man of peace.

When he returned to civilian life he continued his education at Little Rock College in Little Rock., Ark., where he earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy in 1952. It was during his senior year there that he became aware of the ways of the Carthusians, a religious order in the Roman Catholic Church. He visited the first American foundation of the Carthusians in the solitude of the mountains of Vermont.

"I went, I saw, and I was conquered by the beauty of the area," Lehmann said.

From 1953 to 1959, he lived in a monastery near Fribourg, Switzerland and in 1959 received a degree in theology from the Monastere De La Valsainte, Switzerland. On Aug. 24, 1959 he was ordained a priest. In 1961 he served in various positions at monasteries in Calabria, Italy, and Pisa, Italy, until 1969.

It was in 1969, on a trip to Florence to renew his passport, and later to help out an Italian priest friend, that Lehmann stopped by Gonzaga's school in Italy to visit with (the late) Rev. Clement Regimbal, S.J., who then headed the Gonzaga-in-Florence program.

"He asked me if I could fill in for the summer months to say Mass for the Anglo-American community there," Lehmann said. His Carthusian superiors agreed to allow Lehmann a leave-of-absence.

Father Tony liked his experience so much that he stayed until 1972, serving as chaplain, treasurer and in a variety of other assignments. He took a liking to the Jesuit way, and returned to the United States and entered the Novitiate at Sheridan, Ore., in 1972 to become a Jesuit. He received renewal in scripture/theology from the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, Calif., and received permission to pronounce final vows in the Society of Jesus in August 1974. Father Tony served as coordinator of Campus Ministry at Gonzaga University in Spokane from September 1974 until May 1976, then returned to Florence as dean of students from 1976 to 1982, when he returned to Spokane and began his work as Gonzaga's alumni chaplain and assistant alumni director.

And as he prepared for his death and entrance into God's kingdom, he was at peace, rock-solid in his belief of a greater destiny and warmed by the relationships that have nurtured his life.

"To whom shall we go, Lord," he would recite from John 6:68. And he'd answer genuinely, "We shall go to You, Lord, for it is You who has promised lasting relationships."

"Relationships are not ending," Father Tony said. "Just changing."

As Father Tony always said, "To be continued."



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