Janesville's Father John Auby leaves a legacy of laughter and love

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Catherine W. Idzerda
July 24, 2015

JANESVILLE—His laugh was like an unexpected explosion.

He didn't ramp up with a series or chuckles or the silent shoulder shakes.

No, when the Rev. John Auby laughed, it came out fully formed, an unchecked whooping that made everybody around him laugh, too.

Auby, 58, died Thursday in hospice care from complications related to liver disease. He is survived by a sister, Mary, and the 800-plus families who make up the congregation of St. William Catholic Church.

Along with his laugh, parishioners remember his kindness, his work ethic and the way he related to the children at St. William School.

Auby was born in Madison on May 7, 1957, to John and Audrey Auby. He got a social work degree from UW-Madison and worked as a social worker before deciding to become a priest.

Auby attended Mundelein Seminary in Illinois and was ordained May 27, 1994, at St. Raphael Cathedral in Madison. Before coming to Janesville, he served at St. Bernard in Middleton and a two-church parish in Spring Green. He was also the director of vocations for a short period of time.

In 2003, he came to St. William following the retirement of a popular priest, the Rev. Del Klink—not an easy position for anyone to be in.

But parishioners took to him, said Diane Rebout, principal of St. William School.

The kids did, too, which is surprising considering Auby's personality.

Auby was one of those people who kept everything tidy.

“To say he was 'meticulous' was putting it nicely,” Rebout said.

Parishioner Harry O'Leary said Auby was one of those guys who kept the boxes his shoes came in. His shoes were always polished to perfection, and even when he was in hospice, he was concerned about his vehicle's weekly trip to the car wash.

The Rev. Douglas Dushack served with him at his first post at St. Bernard, and the pair were like television's “The Odd Couple,” Rebout said.

“He said, 'Guess which one of us was Felix,'” Rebout said. “That was easy.”

Felix was the obsessively tidy roommate of Oscar the slob on the television show, “The Odd Couple.”

Now consider: Kids get messy sitting still.

But Auby loved visiting their classrooms. The kids would convince him to do stuff like put his hand inside a freshly carved pumpkin to feel its gunky insides.

He even went on field trips.

During one trip to an amusement park, a teacher on a ride got sprayed by water canon.

“She thought one of the kids had sprayed her, but it was him,” O'Leary said. “He was pumping quarters into this thing and just laughing.”

At the weekly school Mass, Auby would come down from the altar for his sermon. He always started out with a question for the kids and then tied it in to that day's Gospel message. Of course, the kids didn't always come up with exactly what he was looking for, but Auby rolled with whatever he was given.

O'Leary worked with Auby on a campaign to pay off the church's remaining mortgage and another to support seminary students.

“He didn't like to ask for money,” O'Leary said. “But when he'd ask, people would respond because they knew if he was asking it had to be important.”

Auby was happiest performing his pastoral duties: celebrating Mass and being a shepherd to his congregation.

“Those pastoral duties--those are the reason he became a priest,” O'Leary said.

His parishioners knew he could empathize with them.

“He was a person who happened to be a priest,” O'Leary said. “He wore his emotions on his sleeve. If it was a happy time, he couldn't help but laugh along.”

And he was also known to cry at funerals, especially after his own mother died in 2010.

The pair had been close, as Auby's father died when he was very young.

There was a gentleness to his personality that people found comforting.

“Sometimes I'd have him over to talk to a kid who was in my office,” Rebout said. “He'd say, 'I'm not here to yell at you. I'm not here to punish you. I want to help work this out.'”

He wanted kids—and his parishioners-- to know he really cared for them, Rebout said.

In exchange, they loved him right back.

About a week ago, a staff member organized a prayer service for him.

“We only had about 24 hours to get the word out,” Rebout said. “But I bet we had 500 people show up. They wanted him to be at peace.”

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