Even before the late great Gil Hodges was finally elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame this past December, the faithful of Our Lady Help of Christians, Midwood, had a tribute to the legendary Brooklyn Dodger in the works.
April 2 marks the 50th anniversary of Hodges’ death. On that day in 1972, Hodges suffered a fatal heart attack during an Easter Sunday round of golf with New York Mets coaches Rube Walker, Eddie Yost, and Joe Pignatano during spring training.
He was just days shy of his 48th birthday.
So 50 years later, Our Lady Help of Christians celebrated a memorial Mass last Saturday to commemorate Hodges’ enduring legacy in Brooklyn. He and his family attended Mass there regularly when he played for the Dodgers, and his funeral Mass took place there as well.
Dozens upon dozens of parishioners turned up for the noon Mass, which was also livestreamed on the church’s website, Facebook, and YouTube pages. Many of these folks were children when Hodges died, and they can still remember his towering presence in the pews at Mass.
The memorial Mass was the brainchild of Father Dwayne Davis, administrator at Our Lady Help of Christians who also serves as the pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas, Flatlands. Hodges’ name came up as the parish was celebrating its 95th anniversary, so Father Davis wanted to further honor the longtime slugging Dodger first baseman and manager of the 1969 Miracle Mets.
Though he was certainly not around for Hodges’ playing or managing career, Father Davis knew from talking to parishioners how significant this celebration would be. All these years later, Brooklyn baseball fans are still passionate about Hodges, who served as a role model and a pillar of faith for so many youngsters in the borough.
“It really was the talk of the town and was very meaningful to a lot of people,” he said. “I don’t want to say they are starstruck, but he (Hodges) was a big deal. People tell me stories about him being in church and them being on the block he was on, especially after they won the pennants.”
Father Davis celebrated the Mass alongside concelebrants Father Kieran Udeze, parochial vicar at St. Thomas Aquinas; Msgr. John Boyle, in residence at St. Thomas; and Father Joseph Hugo, parochial vicar at Our Lady Help of Christians.
For the Mass, the church was adorned with special floral arrangements in Dodgers and Mets colors. There was a section set up with baseball memorabilia shared by parishioners as well. Father Davis also dedicated the newly refurbished St. Joseph statue near the altar to Hodges.
In his homily, Father Davis spoke about how Hodges embodied God, church, family, and sports. These were the true themes of his life, and despite his stardom, he never forgot his faith.
“He was indeed a gentleman,” Father Davis said. “Everyone remembers him as the great American gentleman. He’s not just a family man and a church man.”
Hodges’ daughter Irene attended alongside her family members. Two of Hodges’ great-grandchildren, Emma Savelli and Layla Ojeda, performed the readings and brought up the gifts. Also in attendance was Our Lady Help of Christians Pastoral Council Chairman Mary Ellen Murphy.
Murphy and her husband, Bob, moved into the parish in August 1969 – just about the time when the Mets went on their miracle run to capture their first National League pennant and eventually the World Series title. Murphy recalls taking her two boys ages 1 and 3 to Hodges’ house right after the Mets won the pennant.
“I packed them up in the carriage, and we went over to Gil Hodges’ house,” she said. “Sure enough, Gil came home and signed autographs for whomever was standing there. He was a humble guy.”
For Murphy and so many lifelong parishioners at the church, the 50th anniversary Mass allowed them to fondly remember one of their own and also one of Brooklyn’s most beloved baseball heroes.
“A lot of them were there for the funeral, so this Mass was really their coming home,” Murphy said. “They were very excited about it. Even some of the younger ones who weren’t there at the time caught on to the excitement too.”
Hodges is set to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., on Sunday, July 24. Stay tuned for coverage right here in “Good Sports.”
Contact Jim Mancari via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.