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On a day dedicated to honoring the priesthood, remember those who mean so much in your life — Joseph P. Owens

Priests from the diocese join Bishop Koenig at the chrism Mass on April 12, 2022, at Church of the Holy Cross in Dover. Dialog photo/Joseph P. Owens

They tell me Priesthood Sunday is Sept. 24.

The way I see it, every Sunday could be Priesthood Sunday. We pray for vocations every week, if not more. We rely on our priests to help bring God to our hearts. And so much more.

Like most Catholics, the most important earthly part of my connection to our faith is our parish priests. Very often, it’s our pastor. For those lucky enough to have one, it could be an assistant pastor.

Also, like many of us, the list is long for me. So many priests have had a positive impact on my life.

Most of us have the towering presence of our boyhood pastor. Some have priests who were the same age as us when we thought for sure we would always be younger.

Father John McGinley celebrated 60 years as a member of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales.
Dialog photo/Joseph P. Owens

As for legendary pastors, mine was not Oblate Father John McGinley or Father John J. Kavanaugh. It was for many people in the diocese as both priests spent time leading great parishes in Wilmington.

I spoke once with Father Kavanaugh, who died this month at 92, but did not know him. He had been a priest longer than anyone currently in the diocese and judging from the feedback since his death had a positive impact on many.

Father McGinley, who died earlier this month at 82, was never the parish priest at my church. I never knew him as pastor, but we were friends and I knew him long enough to expect he was almost certainly a very good parish leader.

Some who knew him as pastor may not have known the significant and lasting impact he had as an administrator and instructor in higher education.

That’s where I came to know Father McGinley 25 years ago. I was a longtime newspaper editor who had been in the business so long I hadn’t the time or wherewithal to gain a college degree.

Who has time for school when you’re already working the job you always wanted? Still, my missing college sheepskin in a profession that mostly requires one always gnawed at me. And, of course, once you get past a certain age (mid-30s, in my case), you come to figure you’re never going to get one.
That was around the time colleges began to realize there was a great market for returning students. Colleges needed to make it more doable. Accelerated programs were developed, aimed mostly toward working people.

I’d sheepishly sought out an admissions person at De Sales University in the Lehigh Valley, where I was living and working at a Pennsylvania newspaper.

You can do it, she told me. Then she explained I would begin with two of the best instructors in adult education.

“You’re going to love Father McGinley,” she said. “And he’s going to love you. Two Philly guys.”

She was right. I remember the first time I asked for a private moment. “Father, It’s been 20 years since I was in a classroom. And I wasn’t very good at it when I was there.”

“Once we get you get started, you’ll be fine,” he said.

I scarcely recall much from Father McGinley’s theology class that got me started in the late 1990s. Or his class I took after that. I know for sure I tried to enroll in as many of his classes as I could. I also remember he taught me something I hadn’t previously considered – teachers have an interest in your success. So many of us lose sight of that in high school.

We lost track when we left De Sales, Father John on his way to lead St. Anthony’s, me grasping that diploma he was convinced I would achieve.

Many years later, I was considering applying for the job as editor at The Dialog. I barely knew anyone in the diocese, but I remembered that Father McGinley had the St. Anthony’s experience. He was in retirement at that point but I caught up with him and he told me he surmised the editor, Joe Ryan, was nearing retirement.

And here I am.

Father John Kavanaugh

Around this time two years ago, I was working on an item about jubilarians. The diocese celebrates milestones of men and women religious at a Mass in their honor. Father John McGinley was on the list. I had been told by Oblate friends that Father John’s health had become an issue. His memory was failing.

“He won’t remember you,” one friend said.

He didn’t. But I got to say hello and remind him how much he meant in my life and how I would always be grateful.

He acknowledged, but not really. It didn’t matter. I had seen my friend and told him what he meant to me.

He may not have been remembering, but I was.

Upon learning of his death, I was recalling how we shared trade secrets about our favorite cheesesteak hideouts, shook clenched fists about those lousy Phillies and talked about the Bulletin, everyone’s favorite city newspaper that was long gone but was the first place I worked. “I used to deliver the Bulletin,” he said, like so many in this region over the age of 55.

I recall how he helped me inch my way to finding the impossible.

That’s what I owe this priest. He is who I am remembering on Priesthood Sunday.

God bless you, John McGinley and John Kavanaugh. And God bless all the great priests like them.

Joseph P. Owens is editor of The Dialog. Email him at jowens@thedialog.org