In January of 2014, when I was at my desk, I checked my cell phone and got the following text message from the parish council president at Saint Athanasius:
“The lion in the hospital.”
Those close to Fr. Sid knew him affectionately as “the great lion” or simply “the lion.” This nickname, which none of us would ever dream of using in his presence, arose because Fr. Sid looked and acted something like a lion in human form. The nickname seemed all the more fitting because the Church in the United States these days can seem something like a jungle.
His physical appearance, even in his mid-eighties, was imposing. He measured nearly 6’6″ and weighed about 250 pounds. But his physical stature was far not even half of it. The main reason that we called Fr. Sid “the great lion” was his character. Like a lion, he never backed away from a battle that we believed needed to be fought.
I was not surprised when a priest told me that Fr. Sid’s parting advice to him on his deathbed was “to start kicking ass” in order to get the New Evangelization going in his diocese.
Fr. Sid learned how to fight, first in the Army and then when he began doing battle with his addiction to alcohol when he joined the Alcoholics Anonymous fellowship more than fifty years ago (Fr. Sid died with more than fifty-one years of continuous sobriety). He put these skills to use in industry as a manager and labor relations negotiator. When Fr. Sid saw a cause that was worth fighting for, he threw everything he had into it. I have to admit that his reasoning did not always make sense to me, but as I got to know him better, I began to understand and appreciate it more and more.
Once in confession, after I had just made a particularly honest and searching manifestation of the state of my soul, Fr. Sid said to me, “The Holy Spirit just gave me a word of knowledge: ‘This is a true servant of the Lord.’ ” Past experiences had taught me to be prudently skeptical of those who claim to get regular messages from the Holy Spirit in this way, but I had no doubt that he was convinced that, for all of my faults, I wanted to serve the Lord.
When I later ran into some challenges in returning to active priestly ministry, Fr. Sid’s phone calls to me were always encouraging. He would frequently remind me, “Never be afraid, you can do all things in Christ who strengthens you.” He believed in me and convinced me that God believed in me too. My own experiences with authority figures before meeting Fr. Sid was that many of them were interested me only insofar as I was useful to their ambitions. Not so with Fr. Sidney Sidor.
One of the last things that he said to me on his deathbed before giving me a long list of books to read and spiritual work to do was that no human being should have had to go through what I went through to return to active priestly ministry. When he perceived injustice, he made his opinion heard. Fr. Sid told it like he saw it. I found that refreshing.