Thursday, May 24, 2007

In those days there were giants upon the earth

Homiletics & Pastoral Review has a feature in every issue called "My Favorite Priest". I like it for several reasons. First, it is good to read good things about priests for a change. Second, it inspires me to try harder to be a better priest. Unfortunately, they don't always get enough submission, so the editor issued a call for more submissions. This caused me to consider the priests who have positively impacted my life. Here are the ones who have gone to their reward. (I don't want to give the living ones big heads. It is hard to find hats if you have a big head. I should know. Mine is size 8.)

Msgr William McDougal Msgr. McDougal was the rector of the Cathedral of the Madeline when I cam into the church. Despite the fact that I only talked to him once, I was touched by his preaching and the reverent way he said Mass. At all times, there was an air of holiness around him. Msgr. was a delayed vocation. He started out as a journalist. He found himself working in Hong Kong when WWII began. He managed to escape and was sent by the UP to cover the war in the Dutch East Indies. He was on a ship that was torpedoed trying to escape and spent the rest of the war in a Japanese internment camp. (He published two books about his experiences which are unfortunately out of print.) It was there that he received is vocation. At various times in his priesthood, he edited the diocesan newspaper and was rector of the cathedral for over twenty year. It was largely due to him that nothing strange happened their during the 60s and 70s. Due to him, I was able to come into the church in parish where the Mass was normal.

Father Thomas Meersman Fr. Meersman was another WWII vocation. He was a bombardier (or navigator, I can't remember which) on B17s. He was shot down and spent over two years as a PoW in Germany. In the camp, he discerned his vocation. At first, he tried to be a Trappist, but it wasn't for him. He then studied for the diocesan priesthood at the North American College. This led to his love of all things Italian. (In his heart of hearts, Fr. Meersman believed himself to be Italian.) As a young priest in rural Utah, he farmed on the side to help support the local parochial school. There are many stories about his confronting non-practicing Catholics in anything but a gentle manner. However, this tough love got them back to the Faith. He was a pastor several times and also chaplain at the Utah State Prison. If you have seen The Executioner's Song, you have seen father. He played himself in the scene of Gilmore's execution. He also had a 15 minute TV show that was shown very early on Sunday morning. I can't count the number of people who have told me that Meersman profoundly influenced their lives. He told me once, "Erik you are supposed to be a priest. If you don't do it, you will never be happy." The rolled around in my head until I realized he was right.

Father Emmanuel Clark OSB (See this previous post partly about him.) Many of us learned from Immy that you could be a man's man and a good, holy priest.

Msgr. John Sullivan, PA Most priest (and a good part of the laity) in Utah will tell you that he was the very best priest Utah has ever had. He was a local boy born and raised in Tooele (yes, that is a real place). After a stint as curate, in which he taught school and stoked many coal furnace, he was a pastor. If a parish was hard or in trouble, Sullivan was the man for it. He straighten out many problems and built several churches. More importantly, he was a true shepherd of whatever flock was his. Years after he had left a parish, people still talked about him with reverence and awe. He had an Irishman's great laugh and great temper. While he was living many priests turned to him for solutions to pastoral problems. (WWJSD: What Would John Sullivan Do). He was a great friend and is sorely missed.

Bishop Joseph Lennox Federal Bishop Federal retired the year before I became a Catholic. I got to know him as a seminarian when he was living in retirement at the cathedral. He was a southern gentleman from North Carolina who was our auxiliary bishop before becoming our ordinary. He was a council father and at the time of his death one of the oldest bishops in the world. He also had one of the best and driest senses of humor I have ever encountered. As his health began to fail, he would be given the National Catholic Distorter to get his blood pressure back up to a healthy level. He detested Dick McBrien. (I gave him his own McBrien dartboard one Christmas. He used it to torture a liberal priest friend of his.)

This last one isn't dead, but, as the slacker has retired to California, I will mention him anyway.
Msgr. Francis Pellegrino (aka Turbo Pell/Msgr. Clean/The Walking Saint Encyclopedia). Msgr. Pell is also a Utah boy. He grew up in Helper, Utah where I served as pastor for seven years. (Which was great because: first, Pell would visit and second, I got to hear all sorts of stories of the troublemaker he was growing up.) Pell is another of those priest that was legendary wherever he went (and not just for his cleaning skills). He often labored in out of the way places and was not as appreciated as he should have been, but he was always faithful to his calling. I spent one Summer driving Pell around as a seminarian. (Learning important pastoral skills and how to invite myself to dinner.) He gave my mom instructions when she came into the church and allowed me to baptize her when I was a deacon. Until he retired, I would usually con-celebrate Mass with him on my day off. He is still active and busy as a priest in Sacramento. (In spite of his being technologically impaired and technophobic, he reads this blog each morning with the help of a friend. Pell, you are missed and I hope this embarrasses you!)
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