MILWAUKEE — Christmas joy was mingled with Paschal suffering for one noted Milwaukee Capuchin.
During the last week of Advent, Fr. Michael Crosby was diagnosed with stage three esophageal cancer. But Fr. Crosby, 76, recognizable to many American Catholics from his extensive writings, lectures and years of activism, tells the Milwaukee Catholic Herald he is anything but despondent.
“I am hopefully living for Christ, and whether we live or whether we die, we are Christ’s, and that motivates me,” said Fr. Crosby. “I believe God wills me to be faithful no matter what, and here’s another chance to be faithful.
“Unlike married people, grandparents, others who have spouses, kids, grandkids, babies on the way, I don’t have any great need to live … I’ve had a very full and productive life. I’m not going to be volunteering for it, but I got no desire to postpone my death…. I’m very much at peace with it all.”
The diagnosis came after Fr. Crosby experienced difficulty swallowing in early summer, which his doctor initially attributed to acid reflux. Tests in late December revealed a four-centimeter mass where the esophagus meets the stomach, as well as cancer in the colon. Cancer had also entered one lymph node lodged between the stomach, esophagus and pancreas. He is undergoing six weeks of radiation and chemotherapy at Columbia St. Mary’s.
Fr. Crosby is originally from Fond du Lac and entered religious life in 1959. He said he is being supported not only by his brother, nieces and nephews, but also several cousins he is close to who live in the Brookfield area.
He lives at St. Benedict Friary with other Capuchins. “It’s a wonderful place to be, and I get a lot of support,” he said.
A writer and speaker, Fr. Crosby is also the executive director of the Seventh Generation Interfaith Coalition for Responsible Investment (Seventh Generation CRI), which focuses on social ministry and activism through investment.
A subgroup of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, the Seventh Generation CRI is comprised of Midwestern Catholic entities that include the School Sisters of Notre Dame, the School Sisters of St. Francis and the Diocese of Green Bay, which become shareholders of companies like Exxon Mobile and Kohl’s Corp., and subsequently engage with them on social justice issues such as fair wage and environmental impact.
He said he plans to continue with his work during treatment, but that colleagues like Frank Sherman, associate director of the Seventh Generation CRI, are “more than able to take my place and continue our work.”
“There’s no reason for any kind of worry or anxiety or anything. It’s a peaceful time,” he said.
“He recognizes that the treatments are going to impact his travel over the next several weeks,” said Sherman. “He had a few retreats scheduled over the next few months that he’s had to back off of, and our national ICCR meeting in February. But he’s fully engaged on phone dialogues and feverishly on the internet and email, so he’s not slowing down.”
Sherman said Fr. Crosby’s far reach in Catholic and secular circles is becoming even more evident during this health crisis.
“A lot of people are engaged from various places around the country, on both sides of his ministry – on his retreats and missions as well as his corporate responsibility work … in fact, one of the companies (of which Seventh Generation CRI is a shareholder) reached out to me and asked what can they do for him. And it’s just to me a bit ironic because he has been a thorn in the side of this company for 20, 25 years. There’s a tremendous amount of respect these companies have (for him). He challenges them on multiple issues, but they have a respect for him and his perspective.”
As he faces the trying weeks and months that stretch before him, Fr. Crosby said he will be praying especially for the intercession of Venerable Solanus Casey, whose relic badge he carries with him. Fr. Crosby was the Capuchin tasked with writing the Positio for Casey’s cause for sainthood.
“I’m finding God in the cancer – I want to find God everywhere. You’ve got to. As a kid you were taught God is everywhere – well, if God is everywhere, God’s got to be speaking to me in my cancer,” he said. “And seeing as God is love, God’s love is speaking to me in my cancer. And I’ll just have to live in that love and continue to remain in that love as we’re getting in the Scriptures this week, and guided in that love and try to be an expression of that love to others.”