DeKALB – When Billy Imm learned a friend was on the brink of death in 1974, a man he affectionately knew as Father Bob gave him solace.
Father Bob was there when Imm converted to Catholicism, when he got married and when he had his son.
Father Bob, whose actual name was Rev. Monsignor Robert Hoffman, was part of Imm's life – and many others at the Newman Catholic Student Center at Northern Illinois University – for more than 40 years.
Hoffman died about a year ago after a battle with brain cancer.
“I was happy that he was with God and wasn't in pain anymore,” Imm said. “But hit with a huge sadness because he was so important to me.”
On Saturday, the congregation will honor Hoffman by dedicating a house in his name and holding a special Mass and celebration.
“His funeral last year was very sad,” Imm said. “I think it was overwhelming for most of us who were there. But I think maybe now, a year later, this dedication, this blessing, is something of hope and encouragement and joy. And that's what he was all about.”
Hoffman was the second director of Newman Catholic Center, serving as the director and pastor from 1970 to 1982.
“He was very kind and very wise,” Imm said. “And I admired the strength he had.”
The day of tribute for Hoffman will start at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, with the dedication of the Hoffman House, 535 Garden Road. A memorial Mass will follow the dedication at 10 a.m. and a celebratory reception will take place at 11 a.m.
Purchased about 10 years ago, the house is the residence for the three women that are on the center's missionary team. The Rev. Matthew McMorrow started the team during the 2013-2014 school year to strengthen the Catholic presence on the NIU campus. Team members hold small Bible study groups nightly and teach others to be leaders, increasing the number of students visiting the Newman Center.
Hoffman convinced the center leaders to use an $80,000 bequest to start the Newman Foundation rather than the typical use of paying the mortgage. Without the foresight to create the foundation, which has grown thirty-fold, the center would not have been able to buy the house, McMorrow said.
“We wouldn't be able to have the missionary team without the house,” said McMorrow, who has been with the center for two years.
The center has been planning to name the house in Hoffman's honor for about a year. McMorrow expects about 100 people who knew Hoffman who have moved away from DeKalb will converge Saturday with those still in the area.
Beyond knowing Hoffman through the mission he established at the center, McMorrow also knew Hoffman personally.
McMorrow met Hoffman as a child attending Mass at the center. Later, McMorrow would serve as Hoffman's associate pastor at the St. John Neumann Catholic Church in St. Charles from 2005 to 2007, the year that Hoffman retired from active ministry.
He watched how Hoffman would shepherd the community and generously support those who came to the center. He continues to draw from the lessons Hoffman taught him.
“He was very interested in people, especially helping people achieve their dreams,” McMorrow said. “He made time for everyone. He was generous. He listened and cared about people. He was a great example as a pastor.”