In Memoriam: Mr. William "Bill" Strub: Aka "The World's Oldest Altar Boy" Passes at Age 98

I cannot say enough good things about Bill Strub.  He was my mentor at the altar when I was a boy.  Bill passed away earlier this year at age 98.  This saintly man was my first mentor at the altar when I began serving Mass at age 9.  Bill was there in November 1988 when I served my first Mass at the church of the Assumption in downtown St. Paul, Minnesota and coached me in my earliest years.  As I became a regular server at the parish I came to know him rather well.  My father had known him for decades and nicknamed him "the world's oldest altar boy." Bill always drove a Cadillac convertible. 

Bill was a perfect mentor for an aspiring altar server.   Why?  Because he was reverent.  He embodied reverence.  In fact, reverence was the key to understanding Bill.  I watched him through the eyes of a boy and noticed first his reverence.  This virtue is key for a successful altar boy.  I can still recall the impression that was made on me while observing Bill's purposeful comportment at the altar.  I could see he served every Mass as thought it was his first.  Today this display of reverence is a rare thing.  It makes me think of the ancient Roman virtue of pietas, or filial piety, chief among the virtues of ancient Rome.  Even today, it can be said civilization depends upon this virtue being instilled in young men from the example of older men.  

Bill was punctual.  He arrived early for Mass, ever dressed impeccably in his Sunday best.  Donning the Roman cassock and surplice with great humility, I watched Bill as he would ascend up the steps of the altar with holy trepidation, approaching the altar with the greatest piety, obviously cultivated over a period of a lifetime.  

Bill grew up in downtown St. Paul, in a small house next to St. Joseph's Hospital where he lived with his family.  In the 1970's the house was torn down to make room for a parking ramp for the hospital.  There Bill great up, in the shadow of a large Catholic hospital and three parishes within a few minutes walk from his home: Holy Redeemer for the Italians, the Assumption for the Germans and St. Louis for the French.  Bill came from a German family and therefore he attended the Assumption.  In those days there were nuns everywhere in that part of downtown St. Paul, making the neighborhood a small Catholic wonderland.  

Bill was enrolled at the Assumption School by his beloved parents and began serving at the altar in 1929.  When he served his first Mass he was 9-years-old, in the fourth grade.  His training at the altar came from the nuns who were in charge at the Assumption.  Bill served Mass faithfully at the Assumption for 88 years.  He retired at age 95 in October 2017.  Even after Bill graduated from St. Thomas College in 1942 and continued with his life career working for the Burlington Northern Railroad, Bill remained a loyal lifelong parishioner at the Assumption.  After the Assumption school closed in the wake of Vatican II, the number of altar servers diminished.  In fact, for many years Bill served alone, always with the utmost devotion and attention.  Every Sunday morning he served the 9:30 a.m. Mass for decades, vested in his black cassock and white surplice.  Even when the Novus Ordo Missae appeared in 1970, justifying itself as a visitor from the future, Bill missed the good old days and often spoke of how great they were.  

Bill is survived by his dear sister Marie Michel.  Thank you, Marie, for your dear brother.  He was a terrific mentor and a holy man.  We were blessed to know him in life and hope and pray his story will inspire another generation.  May God be praised for His saints...let us rejoice!      

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