Reflection On The Year For Priests
Published: September 17, 2009
This past August 15, the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, marked 40 years since our Lord called me into his service and the service of the church. Forty years, 28 as a priest—that’s remarkable. When God called me to serve him as a religious brother I never imagined he would extend that call to the priesthood, but he did.
In those 40 years some remarkable men have brightened my life. Father Herman Goldschmidt, CPPS, first comes to mind. He was in his 90s when I met him in 1968, tottering around the novitiate. Father Goldschmidt was born in the 1880s. He was a circuit-riding priest who rode horseback through the Colorado Rockies in the early 20th century, celebrating the sacraments as he visited the mining towns. Father Goldschmidt was a tough-as-leather priest who prayed his breviary riding from town to town and would “chew garlic upon entering town to keep the confession time down.” He was an old German with a heart filled with the love of God, ready to forgive the foolishness of a young novice. He was a great role model and a priest who could as easily talk to a horse as forgive a sinner.
Father Gene Wilson, CPPS, was the first African-American priest from Cleveland, Ohio. He was my first pastor in the 1970s. A man who had to contend with the racial politics of the ‘70s while guiding his flock as a shepherd in love with his congregation, Father Gene stood just over five feet tall and had a smile that could melt butter, but when he had to be, he was as tough as nails. One day I saw Father Gene storm into a drug house to disarm a gunman shooting from a second-floor window. Father Gene once was referred to as “the teddy bear that bites.”
Then there was Msgr. Mike Manning of the Archdiocese of Atlanta who in his younger days would drive to the North Georgia mountains and celebrate Holy Mass off the back of a pick-up truck at the various campgrounds so that people would not miss Mass. I had the privilege of getting to know Msgr. Manning in his latter years, and we developed a friendship. As he lay dying at the Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cancer Home, I asked his blessing and he asked mine. It was my privilege some years later to serve as pastor at Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Decatur, a parish he founded.
The reason I recalled the memories of these wonderful priests is to say the heroes I’ve known in my life have been priests. These men were willing to lay down their lives for the sake of the Kingdom of God: real men, real heroes, not actors, not comic book characters, but flesh and blood men who loved the Church. They had their weaknesses and had the need to go to confession, but they were open to the grace of God and grew in holiness. Today we have priests just like this in the Archdiocese of Atlanta. Not plaster, cold images of holiness, but real holy men who work in parishes, schools, diocesan administration, military chaplaincies, etc. We have great men who work in cultures not their own, and speak in languages not their own, having left home, family, and countries to serve in the Catholic Church of North Georgia. I am humbled to call these men “brothers.”
So in this Year for Priests, say thanks to your priest and say a prayer for those who have left all things to follow Christ.
Father Richard Wise is the pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Church, Blairsville. He was ordained a priest of the Atlanta Archdiocese in 1981 after serving 11 years as a religious brother in the Society of the Precious Blood.