60 years a priest
Dominican Father Austin Green
My life as an ordained Dominican priest began 60 years ago. It has given me the opportunity to serve the people of God in many ways, as a theology teacher in seminary and in college, as parish priest, as hospital chaplain, as chaplain for a religious congregation, as priest for the deaf community and for persons with disabilities.
Above all, it has meant the opportunity to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for and with the people of God. That daily opportunity to praise, adore and thank our Lord and Savior in the liturgy of the Mass, especially in his sacramental presence on the altar, has been and continues to be the action which gives most meaning to my life as a priest.
I continually thank God for giving himself so generously.
Jesuit Father Rodney Kissinger
My whole life of 98 years (born June 14, 1915) can be expressed in just two words – two words repeated over and over again like a broken record.
Thanks, sorry; thanks, sorry; thanks, sorry.
And I pray that my life will end with only one word: Jesus.
The good die young, the smart leave, and here am I celebrating my 60th jubilee as a priest. This proves once again the Gospel truth that the Lord really does choose the weak to confound the strong and the foolish to confound the wise.
When we enter the world we are completely dependent on others, and when we leave the world we are completely dependent on others. In between the entrance and the exit, we act as if we are completely independent, even of God.
Such is human nature.
Father Oneil Monzillo
As my life is fast drawing to a close, I realize the wisdom of the following: “Happy memories keep the past ever present.”
Centering on the joy of giving my mother my first priestly blessing on my ordination day – May 30, 1953, in Fresno, Calif. – I recall the many people who encouraged and supported me in my priestly quest, including my family, the priests and nuns at St. Lucy’s in Newark, N.J., to my last assignment in LaPlace.
Psalm 73b: “They h(e)ld my hand.”
50 years a priest
Dominican Father Victor Brown
It is not easy to put into words an answer to the question you’ve posed after these 50 years of priesthood. Even as a small child, when I went to Mass with my parents, I decided that “when I got big” I wanted to become a priest so that I could give Jesus in holy Communion to lots of people.
That was my overriding concept of the function of the priest. And it hasn’t changed since then. I am no longer in a position to distribute the Eucharist, but I can look back over some 50 years of diaconate and priesthood and give thanks to the Lord for having been able to do it so many times. And I can still pray for those to whom I gave the Bread of Life and the Word of our Christian preaching.
I know that some regret a life not well spent. I don’t claim to be a saint, since one can remain a sinner even when preaching and administering the sacraments. But of this I am sure: the “merchandise” that I handled in my “business” was top quality, and was capable of doing an immense amount of good. I am deeply grateful to God for this.
Benedictine Father Lawrence J. Phelps
In August 1953, six years after graduating from Redemptorist Boys and Girls High School in New Orleans, I gave the company where I had been working notice I’d be leaving to learn if I had a vocation to the monastic life. It was the result of the good example of the Redemptorist priests and brothers, of the School Sisters of Notre Dame and of the Religious Sisters of Mercy of St. Alphonsus Parish, and of my family – both sides.
At the age of 23, I came to our northshore seminary, where I saw and was conquered. Three years later, St. Joseph Abbey accepted me for the novitiate. Professed in 1957, I continued learning to be a monk and began studying to be ordained a monk-priest on June 1, 1963.
One thing I’ve learned is how God writes straight with crooked lines. Another is, God willing, to never stop learning.
After teaching some 20 years in the seminary high school and college departments, and serving in administration, I opened my mouth once and found myself learning to be a pastor at Annunciation Catholic Church in Bogalusa after having turned the calendar on my 69th summer. It became one of the most challenging, self-knowledge learning, growing, happy, blessed and unexpected experiences – with mistakes for good measure – I’ve ever had. Tremendous!
The mistakes I regret most were turning away with excuses instead of help to requests from the needy for financial aid.
Among the greatest joys was being of service to persons I had never met before. They wanted to see a priest; I happened to be the priest. I celebrated the sacrament of reconciliation with them, officially witnessed their marriage vows, anointed them and gave them holy Communion. Within a week, they completed their life on earth. Those times, for me, were awesome, humbling experiences of God at work in the hearts of ordinary, good people.
Never did I think of being so blessed or living this long or of being so used by God to be of service to fellow human beings: a kind of gopher. Incredible!
It’s sure a mystery to me when God does all the work. And, I’m still learning.
Opportunities to learn and challenges to grow and to be of service to others continue to occur every day. I believe the best is still to come; I’ve seen nothing yet. All is gift. All is God’s love, mercy, grace and goodness. Amen.
40 years a priest
Jesuit Father Edward V. Vacek
God has given me the privilege of serving the church as a theologian of the Vatican II era. Asked by our church to update moral theology, I engaged this contentious task with my best efforts and have been rewarded for that.
I’ve devoted my priesthood, especially, to all those on the margins of the church, and it has been a great gift to walk with and help these God-seekers. It has been my blessing (and burden) to write and teach about topics from “love of God” to “sexual ethics” – the first is even harder than the second!
Meanwhile, my sustaining joy has been creative pastoral work with so many good-hearted people.
25 years a priest
Father Philip Landry
Priesthood is a journey of self-discovery and self-sacrifice. It is ministering and serving the people of God entrusted to his spiritual care; and surrendering and allowing Jesus Christ to work in and through him.
Recently I received a telephone call from the wife of a parishioner who requested that I visit her husband because he was dying. He was an atheist most of his life, but as he approached death he had some questions he wanted answered. I said to myself: “Here we go, a battle with a non-believer.”
I went to his home, and he was sitting in his chair waiting for me. He was an attorney who taught law at a prestigious university. This man was extremely educated and well spoken. He was baptized Catholic as an infant but never practiced the faith. He explained to me that after years of study of philosophy, theology and psychology, he made a decision that he did not believe in God.
If God truly existed, then he would not have allowed all of the suffering, hate and starvation in the world. He said, “I have invited you here to prove to me that there is a God.”
For the next 2 1/2 hours, this gentleman pounded me with questions. Suddenly, I realized I was quoting Scripture, quoting church fathers like Irenaeus, Clement and Justin, quoting saints like Augustine, Bonaventure and Aquinas. I could not believe what I was hearing! This was indeed the Holy Spirit working in and through me. There was no doubt whatsoever in my mind that I was being used as an instrument – a vessel of God’s grace and healing power.
After that visit, the gentleman tearfully expressed his gratitude and asked if I could call on him again. I said absolutely. He said I had given him some important information on which to ponder. I offered to administer the sacraments should he ever decide he would want to receive them. As I left the house, I was totally drained but felt a great sense of peace. I was truly convinced that it was the Holy Spirit and not Philip working in this ministerial experience.
A few days later, the gentleman himself telephoned the parish office and requested that I visit again. This time I was greeted with a warm hug by an obviously changed man, crying, “Father, I believe! I really believe!”
We shared a special moment, and he requested the sacraments. I heard his confession, anointed him and he received holy Communion. The gentleman returned to his bedroom and died peacefully a few days later. A soul was saved.
That is what our vocation is all about. That is what the general mission of discipleship is all about. And that is what my priesthood is all about.
I was ordained as a member of the Southern Province of the Dominican Order in 1988. Since that time, I have lived in several different cities and been involved in campus ministry at Tulane, formation ministry in St. Louis and San Antonio, and ministry in a downtown parish in Memphis. Since October, I have been back here in New Orleans as part of our provincial leadership.
As a Dominican, I have understood my priestly ministry through the lens of the preacher. I have preached in parishes, schools and universities, prisons, retreat centers, convents and houses of formation throughout the country. I have shared my knowledge of preaching with priests, deacons, seminarians, men and women religious and lay ministers in many different settings.
I have been blessed to participate in the preaching and sacramental life of the church in so many different places. I have been very blessed to meet so many wonderful people who have preached to me by sharing their stories of faith. I hope I am able to continue to take part in preaching the Good News of the Gospel for many years to come.
Immense joy is at the heart of ordained priesthood for me. These 25 years have included formidable challenges, an abiding love of the sacraments and preaching, and a profound experience of noticing God’s graces poured out extravagantly.
It is clear that the ordained priesthood is the vocation in which I am continually pushed to conversion. Those entrusted to me to anoint in the sacrament of the sick are often so heavily burdened physically, emotionally and spiritually that my desire is to unburden them in quick-fix fashion. However, healing comes from God, and the best I can do is to let another know how much he or she is loved by God and allow God’s graces to enter both of us.
It is when I have a grateful heart in the midst of the inevitable frustrations and challenges, rejoicings and insights, that I can glimpse inside myself the harvest of continuing to fall in love with God and neighbor in Christ. In washing others’ feet as an ordained priest, it is my desire to grow in the humility I lack and in the holiness for which I strive.