My good friend Daniel Peper died a month ago. He was only 57 years old and, apparently, in great health. His death was thus a great shock for both family and friends.
I thought that Daniel would live well into his 80s or 90s, barring some unforeseen tragedy, and Daniel thought so too, given his family history and because he was physically fit and committed to regular exercise and other healthful activities.
Daniel was six years my senior, one of five boys in his family. In my youth, I knew better his younger, twin brothers — Ed and Bill — from our years at St. Mary of Redford Grade School in Detroit, until the Pepers moved out to the suburbs in 1973, as so many families in Detroit sadly felt inclined to do during the 1970s.
I got to know Daniel beginning in the mid-1980s, after he had recovered from a very severe traumatic head injury suffered in a car accident. His recovery was remarkable, graded in the top 1% percent of those who suffer such injuries, and I saw him manifest his renewed fitness in one particularly memorable athletic performance.
Daniel was a fellow Wolverine, a graduate from the University of Michigan, and he went on to work at General Motors for more than 30 years, taking early retirement. He grew in his faith as an adult, and he became a daily communicant following his injury rehab. He enjoyed pro-life ministry and assisted Jesuit Father John Hardon in his priestly endeavors, which cultivated Daniel’s love for apologetics.
Regarding the latter, Daniel was fond of saying that arguments, properly understood, should be engaged, not avoided, because “argument” comes from the Latin arguere, which means “to make clear” or “shiny.” That is, to bring light to the truth, most importantly Jesus Christ ( John 14:6).
Daniel committed his adult life to knowing the surpassing truth and worth of knowing Christ and his Church (Philippians 3:8) and sharing that truth with others. That included fostering a great love for Our Lord’s Blessed Mother. Whenever we would travel, Daniel would conclude our pre-travel prayers with, “Our Lady of the Way, pray for us.”
Daniel had a quick wit and a great sense of humor, witnessing regularly that the life of Christ could and should be a joyful enterprise. And his family, particularly his 14 nieces and nephews, with whom he loved to spend time, saw that edifying joy. And that joy permeated his and his brother John’s living together as Catholic bachelors for many years. I became fond of calling Daniel and John, standing at 6-5 1/2 and 6-6, respectively, the “Twin Towers of Metro Detroit Chastity.”
A Man for All Seasons was both mine and Daniel’s favorite film, and we would often quote lines from it. The words that come to mind now are those of St. Thomas More at his trial:
“Death. ... Comes for us all, my lords. Yes, even for kings he comes.”
Despite his apparent great health, Daniel had a vulnerability that we did not know of, that even he and his doctors had not detected. Daniel’s arteries were in good shape, but the coroner determined that he had died from ventricular tachycardia, which caused sudden cardiac death in his case. Daniel was talking to John on the phone one moment, and then he was gone the next.
Yet Daniel was ready to leave this world, and that provides great consolation amidst much sorrow. In advance of our getting together, or after an outing and looking forward to another time together, Daniel would regularly say, “God willing.”
Daniel knew this life was fleeting, that this earth was not our ultimate home, and thus he regularly entrusted himself to God’s providence. In short, Daniel was ready to meet the Lord, despite whatever time in purgatory he might have to spend (1 Corinthians 3:11-15).
Even more recently, Eric Stoutz, my friend and former colleague at Catholics United for the Faith (CUF), died after a heroic, several-months battle with pancreatic cancer. Eric was a loving husband and father, and he, too, was ready to go, though we pray for the repose of both Eric and Daniel’s souls, as they themselves would want (2 Maccabees 12:44-46).
Daniel's and Eric’s deaths are a sober reminder for all of us to be ready (Matthew 24:44-46), and yet their lives exemplify that, in Christ, we should approach death with hopeful confidence (Wisdom 3:1-9; 1 Corinthians 15:51-58).
Tom Nash is a theology adviser at EWTN and the author of
Worthy Is the Lamb: The Biblical Roots of the Mass (Ignatius Press).