Lasting gift of love

by Alice Varela Murray

North Texas Catholic

August 3, 2018

An undated photo of Robert Downtain with his godson and four of his godson's children (courtesy photo).


NORTH RICHLAND HILLS — A parishioner at St. John the Apostle in North Richland Hills who spent his lifetime as an educator has bequeathed the parish a $750,000 gift that will help educate young Catholics for years to come.

Robert “Bob” Downtain, a longtime teacher at Tarrant County Community College Northeast campus in Hurst, died on Jan. 18 at the age of 79, and left the money as part of his estate.

More than 100 people learned of Downtain’s generosity at the annual Legacy Society Appreciation Luncheon. The Legacy Society recognizes persons who have designated planned gifts to be made to the Diocese of Forth Worth.

Bishop Michael Olson told the audience that God is the creator of the world, that all that we have comes from Him, and that we are given to share and share generously.

“Bob understood that very well,” Bishop Olson said. “On behalf of my predecessors and my successors, whoever they are, thank you.”

Father Jack McKone, pastor of St. John the Apostle Parish, recounted to those assembled at the luncheon the story of Downtain and his remarkable gift.

Downtain, the only child of William Leslie Downtain and Mary Belle Cooper Downtain of Ranger, earned a history degree from St. Edward's University in Austin.

“Bob, while he was in college, had a same sex attraction and was a faithful Catholic,” Fr. McKone said. “So, he had to figure out, ‘how to live my life—marriage is not an option.’”

He found a welcoming Catholic family from among his classmates, and Bob became attached to this family. “When their son was born, they asked Bob to be the godfather. So, Bob figured that somehow God has something for him in mind, “Fr. McKone said.

Even though Downtain would not have a family of his own, he realized that through this family he could find some way to give of himself to his faith community.

“He and my dad were buddies when they were both going to university,” said Downtain’s godson, who asked not to be identified. “They met at church and they used to go see ballgames together.” 

Downtain’s godson said he was a baby when they moved to California and the family fell out of touch.

“My dad made a trip to Texas in the early ‘90s and touched base with Bob. When he returned, he said ‘you will be getting a call from your godfather,’” the godson said.

“It started a relationship and we started writing letters back and forth, and he sent me a picture of me in front of the church with my mom and dad — he still had a picture of that,” the godson said.

Downtain realized a call to “really be the godfather to this boy,” once the godson’s father died, Fr. McKone said.

“I was thrilled to have him in my life. I have six kids and he knew them all,” the godson said. “He was a special man — I miss him a lot, for sure.”

Robert Downtain and his godson (courtesy photo)

“He kind of just dropped out of the sky into my life and he made his presence known. He gave love and support all these years.”

The godson said St. John the Apostle had a special place in Downtain’s heart. He joined the parish in 1969.

“He just loved St. John,” he said. “The church was a beneficiary to his investments that he had. I know he gave generously to St. John, and he gave generously to Catholic Charities Fort Worth.”

Downtain lived very modestly, said the godson, who is helping administer Downtain’s estate.

“When he was young, his mother left him an oil and gas lease, which he was told was worthless,” Fr. McKone said. “But over the years he would get a check for $50-$75, and was told many times ‘just sell it.’”

But Downtain’s friend at Wells Fargo advised him to hold on to the lease.

“Well, fracking came along and somehow this little worthless gas lease became very valuable,” Fr. McKone said.

This spring, Fr. McKone got a call from Wells Fargo Financial Advisers who said, ‘we need to talk to you about the Downtain legacy.’”

The adviser told him, “I want to let you know that Bob has left almost three quarters of a million dollars to your parish,” Fr. McKone said.

Fr. McKown said the Downtain bequest was left to the discretion of the pastor on how to use it.

“Our school, like many Catholic schools, is struggling. Our principal and I are trying to get it on firm financial ground,” Fr. McKone said.  “We are paying our bills, but essentially running in place.”

The parish is trying to see how to better its school to better its children.

“And suddenly we have this legacy gift,” he said.

“We figured very quickly that as much as we need it today, we are going to put it in the Advancement Foundation as an endowment for the school and then publicize it to the parish as a vehicle that people can make donations to,” Fr. McKone said.

The gift “has really been a spark into moving us along and for people to come on board,” Fr. McKone said.

Father Hoa Nguyen of Holy Family Catholic Church, formerly was at St. John Parish and said “Downtain was a longtime member of St John and was actively involved as lector of the church, went to Mass daily, and was faithfully involved with the support group for gays, lesbians, transgender in the diocese.”

Fr. Nguyen said Downtain helped train lectors for the church and was very generous with his finances towards school and outreach ministry.

“In the early years, Bob was very involved in the Vietnamese refugee program, hosting several families in his home,” said Colleen Cargile, director of social outreach at St. John. 

Cargile said Downtain began the Samaritan House ministry at St. John to provide food and fellowship at a local center for patients with HIV and AIDS, she said.

“The beautiful part of Bob Downtain’s story is that he was the only one who knew what he was going to do about it [the bequest],” Fr. McKone said. “He expected no monument, no bronze plaque, no street named after him. It was just a love for his brothers and sisters in the body of Christ that allowed him to do something which has already meant so much for us.”

And what is also remarkable, is that he loved his godson, who is married with a family of his own, Fr. McKone said.

“He left a tremendous amount to that young man and that young man is taking up the mantle of his godfather and has already made plans about how that fortune will be used to help other people,” Fr. McKone said.

“Generosity is contagious.”

NORTH RICHLAND HILLS — A parishioner at St. John the Apostle in North Richland Hills who spent his lifetime as an educator has bequeathed the parish a $750,000 gift that will help educate young Catholics for years to come.

Published (until 8/3/2035)
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