DANVILLE – The Danville community has lost a man considered to be an institution with the quiet passing of Monsignor Charles Bourke Motsett early Monday morning.
Known by most simply as Father Motsett, the Catholic priest spent more than half of his 98 years in Danville and was known throughout the community.
Diana Carey, director of social services at North Logan Avenue Health Care, and a longtime friend of Monsignor Motsett, was among a small group with the priest at the time of his death.
"It was very peaceful. He just went to sleep," said Carey, who has known the priest since she entered Schlarman High School as a student more than 40 years ago. "We were able to share a lot over the time he was here."
Carey said people came from all over the U.S. and Canada to visit with the man they considered a mentor, role model and friend.
"He recognized everyone and always had a story about them," Carey said. "His remarkable memory brought laughter. He could tell stories on people that happened when they were just kids. He could even remember their dogs' names."
"He always prayed that his mind would remain intact," retired Circuit Court Judge John O'Rourke said. "His prayers were answered."
Always a strong personality, Monsignor Motsett was in control until the very end, Carey said.
"Toward the end, he was very selective. You could come in and wish him a nice day. If you expected to interact, he was totally in control to the end," she said. "The only thing he didn't have control over was the time of his death. He would pray he'd wake up in heaven and when he woke up here, he'd be disappointed."
"It was a privilege to help take care of him," Carey said.
Monsignor Motsett was born Jan. 12, 1908, in Des Moines, Iowa. He attended Spaulding High School in Peoria and went on to the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., where he served as equipment manager for Knute Rockne's 1929 and 1930 national championship teams. He next attended seminary in Rome and was ordained there Dec. 8, 1934.
He served in Farmington, Kewanee, Gibson City, Danville and Farmer City.
Being named pastor at St. Paul's Catholic Church in 1948, he served there until 1974. During his leadership, he was instrumental in starting Schlarman High and St. Paul's Grade schools. He returned to Danville in 1982, after eight years in Farmer City, to serve as chaplain at St. Elizabeth Hospital.
"I also went to the prison every Saturday for 15 years and once a month for another three," Monsignor Motsett said in a 2004 interview celebrating 70 years in the priesthood. "Then, I decided to retire altogether."
Becoming a priest wasn't what Monsignor Motsett had in mind as a young man.
"I liked the girls and I liked to dance," he said in 2004. "When I was young, I went to visit this priest in Fairbury and had this friend with me. As I was leaving, the priest called me back and said, 'She's a lovely girl, but don't get too serious. God wants you to be a priest.' And he was right."
In retirement, Monsignor Motsett continued to say daily Mass in the dining room of his Washington Street home and to attend as many Schlarman High School and community events as his health and time would allow.
"Father Motsett's passing is a real loss for the entire community," said Rep. Bill Black, R-Danville. "What's that old saying? 'They don't make 'em like that any more.' Well, in his case, that is really, really true. He was a remarkable man."
O'Rourke was among the many who would visit Monsignor Motsett regularly and act as his chauffeur to an event or just for a drive to get out of the house.
"It's hard to describe what he meant to me," O'Rourke said, choking with emotion. "He was a role model and an inspiration for all who knew him, even for those who briefly came in contact with him.
"He loved his priesthood and he loved Schlarman High School, but his relationships went beyond the Catholic community. He was admired and appreciated by everyone."