Msgr. Clinton Doskey, the retired pastor of St. Pius X Church who preached the homily at the funeral Mass of Archbishop Philip M. Hannan last October, died April 22 at Ochsner Medical Center from complications of a heart infection. He was 81 and had been a priest for nearly 58 years.
Father Patrick Williams, pastor of St. Pius X, announced the news Sunday morning to parishioners at Mass. Father Williams told parishioners funeral plans are incomplete but that the funeral Mass would be celebrated at St. Pius X Church.
“The image that keeps coming back to me is that he was a very faithful servant,” said Father Williams, who succeeded Msgr. Doskey as pastor at St. Pius in 2009. “He was always there for the parishioners’ needs, and just faithful and dedicated to them.”
Msgr. Doskey had celebrated Easter Sunday Mass and weekday Masses through Thursday of the following week when he experienced pain and went to the hospital.
“They figured his blood levels were out of whack,” Father Williams said. “Most of us thought this was just another trip to the hospital, and that they would do something and he would come out.”
Msgr. Crosby Kern, the rector of St. Louis Cathedral who served under Msgr. Doskey for four years at St. Leo the Great Church in New Orleans, said he will always remember Msgr. Doskey’s fidelity to the priesthood and to the less affluent.
“He was a dedicated priest and had a special heart for the disenfranchised and the poor,” Msgr. Kern said.
Less than two months ago, Msgr. Doskey was honored by The Touchdown Club of New Orleans for his decades-long service as the club’s chaplain. He said he always considered being with the lay faithful as a fundamental part of a priest’s duties.
“This is the way I look at it,” Msgr. Doskey said in the Feb. 18 Clarion Herald. “A priest should be part of the life of his people, and I see in the life of the people of New Orleans two main things – Mardi Gras and the Saints. Therefore, I decided to be involved in both of those things. Why not?”
In addition to his chaplaincy duties with The Touchdown Club, Msgr. Doskey has served as chaplain of the Krewe of Endymion, dating back to the days when he was pastor of St. Leo the Great Church and the parade started on DeSaix Boulevard in Gentilly.
Msgr. Doskey, who was ordained in the Marian year of 1954, was selected by Archbishop Gregory Aymond to deliver the homily at Archbishop Hannan’s funeral Mass.
“That was quite an honor for him,” Father Williams said. “One of the parishioners told me today that it was kind of after that that they felt he started to decline. That was one of his last big accomplishments. It was special to him to be able to do that.”
Archbishop Hannan, who died Sept. 29, 2011, at the age of 98, had named Msgr. Doskey the first head of the archdiocesan Social Apostolate, which was a ramped-up social service outreach to the needy.
In his homily at Archbishop Hannan’s funeral Mass, Msgr. Doskey said Archbishop Hannan was truly a bishop for all the people, establishing the Summer WITNESS program in 1966 to provide academic enrichment and recreational activities for the city’s poor children.
The Summer WITNESS program developed into a broad neighborhood and community outreach in which Archbishop Hannan used not only private funds but also federal dollars to establish a food bank that became the Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans and Acadiana.
As always, Msgr. Doskey was the point person for Archbishop Hannan, directing those efforts while also serving as a pastor at St. Leo and St. Pius X.
“Msgr. Doskey was a role model and champion of the poor,” said Gordon Wadge, president and chief executive officer of Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans.
Msgr. Doskey said at the Oct. 6 funeral Mass for Archbishop Hannan that “the words of Scripture became alive and incarnate through the workings of Archbishop Hannan. He always heard the cry of the poor.”
Like Hurricane Betsy, which began their more than 40-year friendship, Msgr. Doskey said the lessons he learned from his old boss, mentor and friend Phil shook up his ideas on what it meant to be a parish priest.
For example, when the archdiocese couldn’t effect change on its own, Archbishop Hannan would encourage his priests to take their fledgling projects to the decision-makers in local, state and federal government.
“He would say, ‘The elderly have no place to go, so we’ve got to build them apartments. Now, where are we gonna get the money?’” Msgr. Doskey recalled. “He knew politics, top to bottom. When the Legislature got bogged down on anything, he invited (elected officials) up to the seminary. He was very good at resolving problems.”
Msgr. Doskey, who had been tapped by the archbishop to head up the Social Apostolate, recalls speaking directly with public officials to shore up support for the Supplemental Food and Infant Formula Program.
“He wanted us to be out there. ‘You get up there and meet with Congress. Meet with the City Council. Get up to Baton Rouge. We have to work with our civic leaders. We can accomplish so much together!’” Msgr. Doskey said, noting that the archbishop’s collaborative spirit was also seen in his enlistment of Protestant support for Catholic efforts such as the Archbishop’s Community Appeal.
“He had Catholic, non-Catholic together,” Msgr. Doskey said. “If you could accomplish this – getting the money we need to take care of the poor – you were at the table. He offered us so much on what we could do together.”
Archbishop Hannan would apply his “wide net” approach to the establishment of the Summer WITNESS program of neighborhood-based camps for low-income children, sending local priests, sisters and laypeople on staff recruitment trips to seminaries and convents in the Northeast and even enlisting the help of Boston’s archbishop, Cardinal Richard Cushing.
“We had top-flight seminarians who came out of Boston – generous and wonderful,” Msgr. Doskey said, noting that the effort helped staff a year-round Summer WITNESS program and Social Apostolate branch on the grounds of St. Philip the Apostle Church in New Orleans’ Desire neighborhood.
During the racial flare-ups in New Orleans in the late 1960s, Archbishop Hannan encouraged his brother priests to keep their focus on helping the marginalized. Msgr. Doskey witnessed much of the racial discord firsthand as a young priest.
In May 1968, Msgr. Doskey, then assistant pastor of St. Francis de Sales, helped protect the parish plant when protesters attempted to break into the school to stage a rally, and helped defuse the situation by reminding the protesters that St. Francis de Sales was a racially mixed parish and its priests staunch supporters of integration.
In a later incident, when Msgr. Doskey was celebrating Mass as pastor of St. Philip the Apostle, a group of Black Panther militants disrupted the liturgy by grabbing the microphone. The church was also the target of a nighttime burglary of its statues, crucifixes and missals.
The most serious incident involved Msgr. Doskey’s nighttime abduction from St. Philip’s rectory, an ordeal that ended peacefully after a long car ride and a period of intense questioning.
“Archbishop Hannan said, ‘Look, I had to face Tiger tanks in World War II and we’ll face this, too, and everything straight on.’ He was undaunted,” Msgr. Doskey recalled. “When things were bubbling up at St. Francis de Sales, he said, ‘I want you to get out and walk the streets – just like the police walk the beat. If you find people gathered, go up and talk with them. Get out there. Try to bring peace in the area.’”
Msgr. Doskey is survived by his elder sister, Dominican Sister of Peace Betty Doskey, and brothers Richard, James and David.
Beth Donze contributed to this report. The Clarion Herald will update Msgr. Doskey’s funeral plans when the details become available.