Msgr. Reynolds Left Footprints On Our Hearts
Published: January 20, 2011
The man is blessed who can count 10 really good friends in his lifetime.
Some come into our lives and the spark of friendship lives on for a few years, and then we go separate ways and, even though the contact continues periodically with cards, letters, phone calls and visits, we grow apart.
Really good friends stay with us, understand us and love us, even from great distances or too often, with rare contact.
But of the 10 good ones we make over the years, only a few, probably no more than five, if we are lucky, would we “be willing to march into hell” even “for a heavenly cause.”
Msgr. Paul Reynolds, who died Dec. 18, was that kind of friend, that kind of man. I am not alone in believing that.
Father Paul (“Father” is more descriptive of the man than Monsignor) was a skillful paladin, a sacrificing and spiritual man, a singular and dynamic shepherd, a kinetic worker. He has been our blessing and a blessing to the church in Atlanta.
Of the dedication ceremony of St. John Neumann Church in Lilburn, back in December 1979, I wrote in The Georgia Bulletin, “How could one man, a very spiritual priest, see to the building of a physical plant and at the same time guarantee the fullest spiritual needs of his people, is beyond me. Kinetic worker is not enough—maybe true believer, mustard seed grower, mountain mover, water walker, might better describe the man (if he would dare permit it). But that’s not fair to the man’s humanity.” (Vol. 18, No. 3)
Before and since that time, parishioners in Smyrna, Roswell and Johns Creek, as well as the priests and bishops of Atlanta have muttered the same question. How he served them all so well and at times, through a lot of agony and pain, whether in a parish or at the chancery is a story that only they can tell: I’m sure they will for years to come.
Father Paul was friend, brother, father, guide, inspiration, leader, priest, counselor and a joy to be with. And that’s only my recollection. To so many others in the Atlanta area, he shared all those qualities and more.
Corinth and Thessalonica, Ephesus and Philippi had St. Paul; Smyrna, Lilburn, Roswell, Johns Creek and Atlanta had Father Paul. St. Paul left letters and the basis for our Catholic theology, Father Paul left footprints on our hearts, a burning directional arrow in our minds, an aching side when we shared his laughter, and a warmth in our guts that may cool as time goes on but will be a rekindled fire every time we think of him.
How I loved the man. How my wife and son loved the priest. He baptized my son, the “first son of St. John Neumann” he would call him, as he was the first on the books of the new parish in 1977.
My wife, Sharon, has often said since we left Georgia in 1980 that Father Paul is the standard she uses to judge every priest, especially as to how he bent down to talk with children, even getting on his knees to greet them.
Father Paul gave so many of us a new life in the church when we started the parish in Lilburn. What excitement he brought to the area, what dreams, what a spiritual force. He made us ask the simple question daily, “What does God want?” The answer removed selfishness, competitiveness and jealousy and gave us all courage in building up the church in Atlanta.
He brought joy with him whereever he would go. He had that sense of atmosphere about him. Gifted with a native intelligence and a dead keen wit, he used his Irish poetic sense of humor to make us all united in the love of God and for one another. He always made pleasant company and had a permanent smile fixed below those dark eyebrows that had grown gray these last few years.
He wished the best for all he knew or met—and he really believed that. He had that truly common touch and understated charm that was like the rising sun. His presence didn’t scorch you all at once, but after a few moments you luxuriated in his warmth. His life is a legend that will grow greater in the telling but never to the height of the stature of the man—the good and faithful servant that Father Paul Reynolds will ever be in my life.
Speaking of his Irish wit, it was as constant, melancholy and sweet as the song, “I’ll Take You Home Again Kathleen.” It never diminished. He was ever interjecting Irish quotes, stories, legends and proverbs into our conversations. Most made me smile, few I remember, but each was a perfect fit for the moment. I do remember and cherish the one he wrote in a Mass card on the occasion of my mother’s death in 1997. He signed off his note of condolence with the proverb: “God gave us memory so that we can have roses in December.”
Thank you God for both my memory and for Father Paul. His memory will ever bloom roses for me in the December of my years.
Bill Karabinos was a parishioner at St. John Neumann Church, Lilburn, from 1977-1980 and a contributing writer for The Georgia Bulletin from 1975-1980. Now retired in Virginia, he can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.