'Superlative' priest, loving shepherd
Msgr. Clinton J. Doskey, the charismatic pastor emeritus of St. Pius X who served for 58 years as a priest in the Archdiocese of New Orleans, was remembered at his funeral Mass as an inspirational example of the priesthood and beloved “servant-leader” whose dedication to his flock was unwavering.
Msgr. Doskey died peacefully on April 22 of complications from a heart infection. He was 81.
“If I speak of him in superlatives, it’s because he was a superlative priest,” said Msgr. Earl Gauthreaux, homilist at the April 27 standing-room-only funeral at St. Pius X Church, noting that Msgr. Doskey personified Pope Benedict’s XVI’s assertion that “a priestly life, well-lived” brings nobility to the church, invokes the admiration of the faithful and sends a ripple of blessings into the wider community.
“He loved God’s people and made God present to them,” said Archbishop Gregory Aymond, recalling his first meeting with Msgr. Doskey as a college seminarian. “I often thought to myself as I saw him at work, ‘If I can be just a little bit of the priest that he is, I will thank God for that.’ And Clint, I want to say that to you today: You have inspired me in priesthood.”
Degrees in canon law
Born the second of six children on Jan. 28, 1931, Msgr. Doskey grew up on Foucher Street in New Orleans’ Milan neighborhood. At age 13, upon graduating from Our Lady of Lourdes Elementary, he followed the lead of his priestly contemporaries by attending high school at St. Joseph Seminary in St. Benedict and later studying at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in canon law from The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and a licentiate in canon law from The Pontifical Lateran University in Rome.
“I just always knew Clint was going to go into the priesthood – he made thatknown in the middle of grammar school, around the fifth or sixth grade,” said Richard Doskey, recalling how his older brother was president of Our Lady of Lourdes’ altar servers and enjoyed fishing trips to their grandmother’s home in Clermont Harbor, Miss.
“We were always together because we were only a year apart,” Doskey said. “He was a little heavy, but he was always so full of life.”
A litany of parishes
Ordained to the priesthood in 1954, Msgr. Doskey’s first assignment – as assistant pastor at St. Rose of Lima – was followed by assistantships at Our Lady of Lourdes, Violet; Annunciation, New Orleans; St. Frances Cabrini; Sts. Peter and Paul; and Mater Dolorosa parishes.
His first pastorate was at St. Francis de Sales, followed by tenures at St. Ann, St. Philip the Apostle, St. Leo the Great and Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Kenner.
Msgr. Doskey’s final assignment was at St. Pius X, where he served as pastor from 1991 through his 2009 retirement. He remained in residence there for the rest of his life, celebrating his last weekend Mass on Easter Sunday.
“Monsignor loved being a priest. He loved the church,” said Father Patrick Williams, who succeeded Msgr. Doskey as pastor of St. Pius X. Father Williams would often find Msgr. Doskey in his office late at night, immersed in the annulment cases from his work with the Metropolitan Tribunal.
“He said, ‘You know, I like the law, but it’s always about the people,’” Father Williams recalled. “I think that is the legacy Monsignor leaves: It was always about the people. I think it was evident in the fact that he knew your name from the very beginning. How often he would call people by name was a sign of his affection and of his bond.”
Bolsterer of the laity
Known for a resonant speaking voice that could be at once commanding and compassionate, Msgr. Doskey would become especially animated when talking to children, leaning in to address them eye-to-eye. Afterwards, he would dismiss them with a firm yet gentle, “Listen to your parents!”
“He would always tell the kids, ‘There are only two people in the world who have never messed it up: Jesus and Mary.’ The kids knew that by heart,” said Pam Fulham, who became school principal in 1991, the same year Msgr. Doskey replaced the late Msgr. Arthur T. Screen as pastor.
“He knew that Father Screen had a vision to build a gym, so when he became pastor that’s the first thing he did; he rallied parishioners and formed a building committee,” Fulham said, noting that Msgr. Doskey also had students take a more active role in school Masses and created St. Pius X’s first school board in 2001.
Msgr. Doskey built up parish ministries by continually challenging the laity to discern their talents and commit to at least one parish need. He had a special love for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, whose Saturday meetings he would attend throughout his retirement. In a pastoral practice begun at St. Leo, Msgr. Doskey conducted a home visit to every First Communion and confirmation candidate.
Mourners said they would miss the joyful, no-nonsense priest who always had a new story to share and who would warmly invite those seeking counsel into his office for a cup of coffee.
“He always had time for you, no matter what – in good times and bad. I would send people to him,” said Nancy Kearney, the St. Pius X parishioner Msgr. Doskey would always remember as the St. Rose of Lima first grader who was too little to place the floral crown on Mary’s head.
Kearney shared Msgr. Doskey’s “special devotion” to the Blessed Mother, which prompted her to give him a wooden Madonna statue once owned by her late aunt, Sister of St. Joseph Louise Aimeé Hanemann.
“I realized that he was the only person I could give it to,” Kearney said. “He was so touched that I would think of giving him something from a nun he had worked with throughout the years. He just loved that.”
A people’s priest
Louis Brunies, who formed a close friendship with Msgr. Doskey over his 22 years as St. Pius X’s maintenance supervisor, recalls his boss’ approachability.
“There was a compassion along with an authority that you felt was directing you the right way,” Brunies observed. “He would sit and talk with you and you would feel much better after. He would say, ‘Lou, you know, you tend to think of things with your head, and I think of things with my heart. If we could only put them together, then maybe we could resolve some of the problems we have.”
“He liked to laugh but he didn’t crack too many jokes,” Brunies continued. “But we did have a running gag between us where he would show me a pink piece of paper and say it was my pink slip.”
Love for New Orleans
In addition to his pastoral work, Msgr. Doskey, who was named a monsignor in 1975, served as a consultor for the Metropolitan Tribunal, vice chancellor, vicar for religious and member of the Priests’ Council. His appointment in 1966 as the founding director of the Social Apostolate – by the newly arrived Archbishop Philip Hannan – began a 45-year friendship that culminated with Msgr. Doskey’s delivery of the homily at the archbishop’s funeral last year. Msgr. Doskey was touched when the archbishop requested to live at the St. Pius X rectory in the early 2000s. He did so until Hurricane Katrina forced the elder’s relocation to the northshore.
“Clint’s knowledge of canon law, together with his variety of ministries – in parishes, the chancery and the Metropolitan Tribunal – gave him an outstanding reputation, and his advocacy work defending the rights of the laity, religious sisters and brothers, as well as priests, was superb,” Msgr. Gauthreaux said. “He fought for justice and did not ‘bite his tongue,’ as we would say, in defense of his clients. Like his mentor, Archbishop Hannan, he was never afraid of a good confrontation.”
Inspired by Archbishop Hannan’s priestly mandate to become “part of the life of the people,” Msgr. Doskey served as chaplain of the Touchdown Club of New Orleans, opening meetings with a prayer that detailed players’ contributions from the previous weekend.
As founding chaplain of Endymion, Msgr. Doskey relished riding ahead of the super krewe in an open convertible. Parade captain Ed Muniz, who in the mid-1950s was one of Msgr. Doskey’s St. Rose of Lima altar servers, said the priest would always end his pre-parade homily with a finger-waving reminder: “Throw to them, not at them.”
Brunies and his wife Carol – Msgr. Doskey’s longtime secretary – shared their boss’ love for food, and would invite him to backyard barbeques, where they fed him favorites such as hamburgers, fried oysters and potato soup. Once, in the early 1990s, Msgr. Doskey presented the couple with a pig’s head.
“I don’t know where he got it,” Brunies chuckled, “but he talked Carol into making hog head cheese.”
Dedicated in illness
After the removal of a cancerous intestinal tumor in August 2000, Msgr. Doskey was diagnosed with lymphoma, enduring painful full-body radiation. When a bout of skin cancer forced the removal of carcinomas from his head, Msgr. Doskey would flip on a cap as he recessed out of church, to protect himself while greeting departing parishioners.
“The only time he didn’t perform his duties was when he couldn’t get out of bed,” Brunies said. “He really pushed himself hard to do the things he needed to do.”
Msgr. Doskey’s resilience was on display when he rode out Katrina on the second floor of the school equipped with the Blessed Sacrament, his Bible, a cot and a jar of peanut butter. He continued to preside over baptisms, weddings and funerals and to celebrate an impressive share of Masses up until his death, said Father Williams, reminding funeral attendees of what his friend’s trademark response would be when times got tough: “Whatcha gonna do?”
“So I’d ask him, ‘What are you gonna do?’” Father Williams said. “He would say, ‘I’m gonna keep on going,’ and that he did. That is the legacy he leaves and that’s what we will keep on doing. With love in our hearts, we definitely will keep on going.”
Msgr. Doskey is survived by a sister, Mary Elizabeth “Betty” Doskey, a Dominican Sister of Peace; and brothers Richard, Jimmy, David and their families. He was preceded in death by his sister, Elsie Doskey McCarthy, his sister-in-law Theresa Doiron Doskey, and his parents C. Clinton and Elsie Zollinger Doskey. Interment was at the Doskey family tomb in Metairie Cemetery.