Gary Miller, longtime archdiocese employee, remembered for big heart and enormous talent

Gary Miller, a longtime and beloved employee of the Archdiocese of Denver, died peacefully surrounded by his family on Dec. 26, 2020. He was 71.

During his tenure in the planning and construction department with the archdiocese, Miller worked tirelessly on countless construction projects throughout the archdiocese, including the restoration of the Cathedral Basilica. He was well-respected by all who worked with him, and he carried out his job in humble service of those who sought his expertise.

“I believe that Gary did not consider his time at the Archdiocese to be ‘work’ in the true sense of the word, but instead it provided an opportunity to support God’s work through the completion of construction projects,” said Gordon Scott, a longtime friend of Miller’s and one of his co-workers in the planning and construction department at the archdiocese.

As officemates, Schott and Miller would discuss faith, family, friends and Nebraska Husker football, which Miller was a dedicated fan of. Schott also recalled his friend’s warm sense of humor.

“At the beginning of the workday as I entered the office, Gary would often note, I am glad you decided to return,'” Schott said. “At the end of the day, a common parting sendoff was ‘don’t forget to come back.'” 

Prior to working at the archdiocese, Miller spent an accomplished 34-year career designing power plants for Xcel Energy (formerly Public Service Company of Colorado). Upon retirement from Xcel, Miller took a position with the archdiocese, where he worked for almost 14 years.

“Gary is a great mentor and friend! I relied on him for his institutional memory – he worked here for almost 14 years – and his executive expertise,” said Mike Wisneski, Director of Planning of Construction for the archdiocese and another of Miller’s close co-workers. “Gary was a senior member with Public Service Company of Colorado and Xcel Energy and brought an interesting perspective to working with clergy.  I believe that every priest he worked with respected him and liked him.”

Miller had no greater passion in life than his two children and four grandchildren, whom he loved dearly. He and his wife Linda were at every game, concert and school event that his kids and grandkids were, and he loved to play golf with his son and grandson. Another of Miller’s passions was flying, which Wisneski enjoyed hearing about.

“I will miss his long stories of past experiences, especially about his love of flying! He’s the only person I know who has seen the sun set twice on the same day, all due to a rapidly steep climb in a Leer jet on the way from Denver to Steamboat Springs,” Wisneski recalled.

Miller was generous with his time, ushering at his church for 40 years and volunteering for the Optimist Club of Monaca South, where he helped with the Christmas tree lot and serving thanksgiving dinner each year to over 800 children of the boys and girls club.

Miller is remembered by his family and friends as a very generous, giving and caring man. His work with the archdiocese, while thankless at many times, can be seen in the beauty of the parishes and various facilities he worked on. He will be sorely missed.

“Gary’s work on various projects, including his tireless efforts related to the rehabilitation of the Cathedral Basilica, will stand as a testament to a quiet man who preferred to do the Lord’s work in anonymity,” said Keith Parsons, Chief Operating Officer of the archdiocese. “As you look around and see the beauty in our facilities throughout the diocese, remember Gary, whose dedication to our faith-filled mission enabled all of us to see a little bit of God’s glory in the beauty Gary helped create and to which he devoted his enormous talent.”

COMING UP: Moral courage and the many cultures of death

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CRACOW. Thanks to the pandemic, it’s been two years since I was last in Cracow, where for three decades I’ve done extensive research and taught great students while forming friendships with many remarkable people. It was wonderful to be back in one of the world’s greatest cities, and soon after I arrived in late June, I took a long walk to see what had changed. The first major difference I noticed was that the plaza in front of the central railway station (named for my late friend Jan Nowak-Jeziorański, a World War II courier for the Polish Home Army and the man from whom the future John Paul II got real news via Radio Free Europe’s Polish service) has a new, strikingly modern memorial, dedicated to the memory of Colonel Ryszard Kukliński.

That name is not well-known throughout a western world that has largely forgotten the meaning and lessons of the Cold War. But if Jan Nowak-Jeziorański was right when he spoke about the Polish colonel in the mid-1990s, Ryszard Kuklinski was a genuine hero of the long, twilight struggle against communist totalitarianism — the man who helped prevent a bloody Soviet invasion of Poland to crush the nascent Solidarity movement.

An accomplished officer in the communist-era Polish Army, Ryszard Kukliński began to doubt the truth of what he had been told about the West when, as a member of an international commission, he met American military men in Vietnam in the mid-1960s. His doubts about communism and its purposes intensified by orders of magnitude in 1968, when the brutal Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia ground the Prague Spring to dust under the treads of Soviet tanks, and in 1970, when the Polish army shot Polish workers during labor strife. Privy to some of the Warsaw Pact’s most confidential strategic plans, he became convinced that, if the Cold War turned hot and the east bloc attacked the West, the Soviets would sacrifice Poland as retaliatory western tactical nuclear strikes hit the second wave of Warsaw Pact troops pushing west. So, in 1972, Kukliński, risking his life and his family’s safety, offered his services to the United States and for the next nine years was the West’s most important intelligence asset behind the iron curtain.

His greatest service to Poland and the cause of freedom came in the later months of 1980. Thanks to his efforts, the United States knew the entire order-of-battle the Soviet Union had organized to stamp out Solidarity, which had held its first formal congress in September 1980. With that information, and working in concert with the incoming Reagan administration, outgoing national security adviser Zbigniew Brzeziński, with the help of the AFL-CIO’s Lane Kirkland, was able to organize a comprehensive western response to a potential Soviet invasion of Poland: an international economic blockade that would have severely damaged the already-staggering Soviet economy. Faced with economic ruin, the Soviet leadership backed down and the Warsaw Pact divisions that had surrounded Poland withdrew.

Colonel Kukliński and his family were exfiltrated to the West; two of his sons later died under dubious circumstances that may have involved Russian retribution, and Kukliński lived out his life under an assumed name in the United States, dying in 2004. There was public controversy when he returned to his native Poland for a 1998 visit, with some charging that he had violated his officer’s oath by working for American intelligence for a decade. John Paul II, through various intermediaries, quietly passed the word that Kukliński was to be regarded in Poland as a national hero. Zbigniew Brzeziński, who held the exact same view, put it brilliantly, in a comment that appears on the Kukliński Memorial in Cracow: Colonel Kukliński was “the first Polish officer in NATO.” 

Communism was a distinctive form of the culture of death, for the effort to create “Homo Sovieticus” was a lethal assault on souls. Colonel Ryszard Kukliński took a courageous stand against that particular culture of death, knowing as he did that freedom is never cost-free: freedom lived nobly always requires sacrifice. His example should be pondered by Catholic citizens and Catholic public officials throughout the West today, who are called to resist, with similar moral courage and effect, that form of the culture of death that masquerades as the ideology of “choice.” May we and our elected officials be as principled and brave as the Polish officer who took what John Paul II described at the United Nations in 1995 as the “the risk of freedom.”