Published September 11, 2008
Dr. Stearns died Sunday, Aug. 31, at the age of 67 after a long illness. He is survived by his wife of 42 years, Mary Lucy (Franzman), and his children, Katherine R. Stearns, Kristine R. Lively and her husband, Ty, and Thomas R. Stearns.
Gratitude for his service to the Atlanta Archdiocese was made evident by the presence of over 25 priests and deacons, monks from the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, and other religious who joined the main celebrant, Archbishop-emeritus John F. Donoghue, for the Mass of Resurrection celebrated Thursday, Sept. 4, at St. Stephen the Martyr Church in Lilburn.
Msgr. Richard Lopez, religion teacher at St. Pius X High School in Atlanta, recalled his own trips to the dental chair, a place many often approach with trepidation.
“But what would people do when they saw Dr. Stearns? People would smile,” he said after alluding to the Gospel of John that explains how “perfect love casts out fear.”
The priest shared stories demonstrating the dentist’s ability to make anyone feel “like the greatest person at the present moment. He made you feel special, loved and wanted.”
Whether it was his travel adventures, interest in coins and photography, his family life, profession or faith, the “Renaissance man” was a culmination of many traits and much depth and a walking example of how one can be to others “a letter from Christ … written not with ink but with the Spirit of God on human hearts,” Msgr. Lopez said.
Before the final commendation, in his remarks, Archbishop Donoghue explained how as archbishop he was in the unique position of understanding “the extensive quality and quantity of (Dr. Stearns’) generosity” to the church community.
He praised Dr. Stearns for his compassionate service and for demonstrating perhaps the “hardest of virtues, humility.”
“It’s a testimony, I think, of his generosity, (of) how many priests, deacons and religious he helped out … and never did he seek recompense or recognition.”
Dr. Stearns was born in Evanston, Ill., on Oct. 12, 1940. After attending Notre Dame University he graduated from the Chicago College of Dental Surgery (Loyola University) in 1967 to serve as an officer in the U.S. Navy in Albany, Ga., from 1967-1969. Dr. Stearns practiced general dentistry in Winder but assembled the “perfect” staff in Lilburn where he worked until his retirement in 2006. There one could find priests, seminarians, deacons, sisters and monks, waiting their turn for his care.
But outside the office, adventure travel, scuba diving, numismatics, underwater and wildlife photography and the Georgia Aquarium were just a few of his interests. His most significant trait was unbridled enthusiasm for anything he embraced, which in later years included the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and the Lilburn Relay for Life.
Other survivors include his brother-in-law, Father Thomas Franzman of Chicago; his mother-in-law, Margaret Taylor Franzman; and six cousins.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Leukemia/Lymphoma Society of Georgia—Rachel Benson Chapter, 3715 Northside Parkway, Bldg. 400, Suite 300, Atlanta, GA 30327.