Mourners praise life, legacy of Scalia, call his faith ‘remarkable’

WASHINGTON—Following the Feb. 20 funeral Mass for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, some who attended the funeral shared their profound admiration and fond memories of the late justice.

Michael Novak, a Catholic scholar, theologian and a former colleague of Scalia at the American Enterprise Institute in the 1970s, said the funeral Mass was an event that would have made his old friend very proud.

“It was beautiful, just the way Nino would have wanted it. Every word was just perfect,” he said about the late justice, calling him by his nickname.

Susannah Patton, a member of the John Carroll Society, the sponsor of the annual Red Mass, which Scalia faithfully attended every year, said the Mass was both “joyful and intimate,” even though it was on an historic and grand scale.

Of the late justice’s deep-rooted Catholicism, she said it was incorporated into his life completely. “Justice Scalia’s faith was remarkable,” she told the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Washington Archdiocese.

Patton, who met the Scalias on several occasions, said she knew the late justice to attend daily Mass at St. Joseph Church on Capitol Hill, the closest Catholic church to the Supreme Court building. She recounted a story she had heard years ago of Justice Scalia comforting a troubled homeless woman at St. Joseph’s after Mass one day.

Will Frei, left, and Rhett Williams, seminarians with the Diocese of Charleston, S.C., said they were honored to serve at the funeral Mass for Justice Scalia.
Will Frei, left, and Rhett Williams, seminarians with the Diocese of Charleston, S.C., said they were honored to serve at the funeral Mass for Justice Scalia.

“He held her hands, talked to her for more than 30 minutes and they both wept,” she said. “That was him. He could be boisterous, but so kind and always full of life.”

Presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, attended Scalia’s funeral before returning to South Carolina for the Republican presidential primary held the same day. Cruz said he had revered the noted jurist since Scalia’s nomination to the nation’s highest court in 1986.

“He was brilliant, passionate and full of life. He knew what he believed. Justice Scalia was fighting for those principles with every passion in his soul. He emanated joy,” he said. “His three decades of service embodied a fidelity to the U.S. Constitution that is the essence of a Supreme Court justice.”

William J. Bennett, former U.S. secretary of education, said he was fortunate to count himself among Scalia’s friends. He said he frequently discussed education issues with the late justice.

Bennett also remembered Scalia’s larger-than-life personality. “He would always come to my brother’s annual Christmas party and none of the lawyers there ever wanted to sing, but he always loved to belt out all the Christmas carols,” he said. His brother, Robert, is a well-known Washington lawyer.

Bennett described the Mass as a “simple, powerful and magnificent” liturgy that honored a great man whose “faith was extraordinary.”

Leonard Leo, executive vice president of the Federalist Society and a close friend of Scalia, served as a lector during the Mass. He said the lessons of Scalia’s life, legal legacy and deep faith were blessings that would long endure.

“He was a justice who was a tremendous blessing to all — his family, his friends and his country,” said Leo. “He was a model of dedication to faith, family and principle, and a model for all of us to conduct our lives with integrity.”

For two seminarians from the Diocese of Charleston, it was a huge honor to be part of a service that paid tribute to the life and faith of such an unapologetic Catholic.

Will Frei and Rhett Williams, who attend the Catholic University of America’s Theologic College, are regular altar servers at the Basilica and were asked to serve at the funeral Mass of Justice Scalia.

“We were so blessed to be a part of it,” Rhett Williams said.

Both Frei and Williams said the highlight of the service was the homily delivered by Father Paul Scalia, the justice’s son.

Williams said it was the perfect stage for Father Scalia to express the love of Catholicism and reach out to all present, regardless of their own faith.

The theme of the homily was echoed in the faces of those present, from Church and state. Frei said it underscored the message that while church and state are separate, faith should always inform how we act.

“It was really impressive to see the higher-ups in the Church and in politics come together to celebrate the life of Justice Scalia,” Frei said.


By Maureen Boyle  |  Catholic News Service
Amy Wise Taylor of The Catholic Miscellany contributed to this story.


CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn: The hearse carrying the casket of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia leaves the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington Feb. 20.