Earl Madary loved the water.
In his sleep, Earl would dream of diving down deep in the water and swimming, said his wife, Marci.
Since he was a child, she said, he'd go into lakes at night and lie on his back and look at the stars from beneath the water.
He taught Marci and their children to do the same.
"He walked in this world with wonder and awe for people, for nature and certainly for God," said Marci, whose 19th wedding anniversary with Earl is Dec. 30.
Earl Madary, professor and chair of the religious studies and philosophy department at Viterbo University, a founder of Place of Grace, father of 17-year-old Rachel and 13-year-old Joseph, a man known to deliver lectures for his environmental spirituality course from a canoe, whose name a colleague once called synonymous with Viterbo, who another colleague said helped students begin to believe the rocks in Hixon Forest were God's gift and who Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration President Sister Marlene Weisenbeck said sang St. Francis of Assisi's "The Canticle of the Sun" with his whole life, died of cancer early Sunday.
He was 42, and had been diagnosed with the disease in October 2006.
"He was our soul," said Deacon Richard Sage, executive director of Catholic Charities in La Crosse, who along with Earl and others founded Place of Grace, a Catholic Worker House in La Crosse. "Souls live on."
Bishop Jerome Listecki, head of the Diocese of La Crosse, said Madary was a man who understood his faith.
"There are few people in life that literally elevate the human spirit by the presentation of their lives," Listecki said. "Earl was one of those people. He brought an attention to grace, God's activity among us, by the way he lived."
Many others also spoke of Madary as a person who elevated the human experience.
Emily Dykman, 31, an instructor of religious studies at Viterbo and former Madary student, credits him for her path of ministry.
"He's able to see potential in people long before any of us see it in ourselves," she said.
When Dykman sang in the campus choir under Earl's direction, she said, he helped them turn music into prayer.
To listen to Madary's "I Go to the Water to Remember You," click here.
Tom Thibodeau, a longtime friend and former teacher of Madary's, put it like this: Earl would turn ordinary events into extraordinary encounters.
"At the Place of Grace, every meal was a feast," said Thibodeau, professor of religious studies at Viterbo. "Anytime he picked up a guitar, it was a concert. When you were canoeing, it was an adventure. A party became a celebration. And prayer was awesome."
Earl Madary was born May 1, 1965, in Ferndale, Mich.
With a bachelor's degree in music, a master's degree in theology and a doctorate of ministry, he was a man whose mind many praised.
Thibodeau said Madary once told him he'd been thinking about God's overwhelming goodness.
"That's what we're created for," Thibodeau remembers Madary saying. "He said, 'What we always regret is when we've been hard-edged, been harsh with someone or critical. But I have never regretted being generous.'"
And while anyone who came into Earl's company felt loved, Thibodeau said, what cannot be missed is the depth of love he felt for his family.
Earl and Marci, 39, met while in their teens.
Marci said she fell in love with him for his sense of humor, his sense of play, his intelligence and his faith, which he lived in real ways, not pious facades.
"He adored me," Marci said.
And he loved his kids, too.
"Anything he did, we were first," she said.
In the summertime, she'd be doing dishes and suddenly be soaked with cold water - Earl spraying the garden hose through the window screen.
Marci said the last thing her husband told her when his mind still was clear Saturday was she was the best thing that ever happened to him.
"It's the same for me," she said. "Our relationship was a great love."
A Mass celebrating Earl Madary's life will be at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Viterbo's San Damiano Chapel.
Joe Orso can be reached at (608) 791-8429 or email@example.com.