Msgr. Howard Basler, who died last week, was an outstanding priest. He was a priest who was thinking outside the box long before anyone ever heard of that phrase.
He was something of a Renaissance man. He loved to read, to discuss new ideas, to watch the Mets and to be around his friends.
He fully understood that before he could be a good priest, he had to be a good person. He was both.
I first met Msgr. Basler more than 50 years ago when I entered Cathedral Prep in Brooklyn. He was our first year religion teacher. There was no textbook. We studied his notes that he would hand out day after day. He wasn’t going to be hemmed in by what one person wrote in a book. Little did I know at the time that that was his style.
After a day in the classroom, you could see Msgr. Basler donning the Cathedral baseball uniform and heading out to the Prospect Park Parade Grounds to coach a game. We used to kid him about the time our pitcher threw a no-hitter and lost 1-0 on an error to Bishop Loughlin.
As students, we could easily relate to him because he seemed like such a regular guy. If someone acted out in class, Msgr. Basler was not about to issue a demerit, which could lead to detention. It was more likely, he would say something like, “Come on, you guys!”
Later, of course, I came to work more intimately with him here at The Tablet. Fortunately, when I became editor in 1985, I inherited him as one of our editorial writers. I could depend totally on him arriving in the office on Monday with his copy and his column.
A monsignor once told me he always knew which editorial was written by Msgr. Basler – it was the one with the most nuance. Sometimes there was so much nuance, I had to read and reread the piece several times before I actually understood what he was proposing.
Msgr. Basler was relentless in his energy. It seemed like he never rested. Whenever you saw him, he was on his way to another meeting. As the secretary to the Priests’ Senate, he was faithful to publishing the minutes for every meeting in a timely manner. As a writer for The Tablet, he would attend the national bishops’ meetings in Washington and offer insightful commentary. As social action director for Catholic Charities, he was always chasing down causes to make sure justice was being served to the poor, the immigrants and the unfortunate.
Above all, there was never any doubt that Msgr. Basler was a priest of the Church, as Father Robert Lauder said in his homily at the funeral Mass. He referred to him as “all-priest.”
For about the past 10 years, Msgr. Basler was restricted in his daily activities because of physical ailments. It must have been a living hell for a man who was always on the go. Sadly, it took him out of circulation.
Through his trials, you never heard him complain. Even when I cut his words in a Tablet piece, he never said a word. He knew what his job was and he appreciated the jobs other people had to do.
One young priest told me that he didn’t know Msgr. Basler. That’s a shame! He had so much to give. Those of us who did know him appreciate the great gift that he was.
He was a man ahead of his time, sometimes so far ahead that we didn’t understand where he was going.
I am certain, however, of where he is now. He enjoys the Beatific Vision that for so long he strove to understand and implement here on Earth.