SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
As the needs of the church increase, so has the need for priests to administer the sacraments. For all of life’s changes, priests are a vital component, from blessing a couple’s first child to praying over a dying parishioner. With clergy numbers diminishing and lay involvement on the rise, priests are coming out of retirement in some cases, others not even retiring, in order to serve the church during at time.
Father Vincent Kilpatrick, 78, a priest for 52 years, has served on the southside of Syracuse and was a military chaplain in Vietnam. At his small home in Warners, Father Kilpatrick relaxes in a quiet, friendly, rural neighborhood. He talked about life as a priest, life in the military and life helping others.
Father Kilpatrick has no official title at Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Warners, where he has filled in since a vacancy was created a few months ago. He said he would work, but only if it was at Our Lady of Good Counsel.
“A retired priest who can drive is always willing to help. But I can’t get out like I used to, so I’m staying right here,” Father Kilpatrick said.
On the first Sunday when he began filling in at the church, Father Kilpatrick exclaimed, “If it ain’t me, it ain’t anybody.” “There is a fear that they won’t have a pastor because it’s such a small parish,” he said. “Warners is a quiet little village. We have just SYSCO foods. There are no gas stations, no businesses. Just two churches, the Methodist church and us.”
Father Kilpatrick’s schedule involves baptisms, sick calls and visits to some of the older priests. He might go to a person’s home in the evenings or sit in on a liturgy or parish council meeting.
“I think I’m doing as much now as I did then, except for the paper work. I didn’t mind giving that up,” said Father Kilpatrick, smiling.
As an Army chaplain, Father Kilpatrick spent a year in Vietnam. The experience was much different from the other locations he served, such as Korea and Germany.
“I was in the first infantry division and you had to look like them. We traveled by helicopter. I had no jeep to ride around in,” he said. “I remember going to help a local leper colony there. We brought them food and supplies. That was one of the most interesting things.” Father Kilpatrick described a number of harrowing situations, but that was war, he said. He spent 17 years in the military, including some time in the reserves.
Father Kilpatrick has served in Tully, Onondaga Hill, Binghamton and Syracuse. The priesthood has changed since his first assignment at St. Christopher’s in Binghamton, he said.
“Vatican II changed a lot. There were changes in the language — it’s a lot better now. And the laity is getting involved. Pretty soon, they will be doing everything,” he said.
When time allows, Father Kilpatrick cheers for the Buffalo Bills and University of Notre Dame football teams. He always has time for his family. He is the oldest of his siblings and visits regularly with his three sisters and brother, along with 24 nieces and nephews and other relatives.
In his Polaris four-wheel all-terrain vehicle, Father Kilpatrick is able to get from place to place on the church grounds. He said his legs aren’t the same and he can’t stand for extended periods of time or walk long distances. He used to refinish furniture as a hobby, but because of his legs, he spends time doing other things.
“I’m enjoying helping in the parish, as long as my health holds out,” he said. “I have no complaints. The people said they couldn’t be happier. They don’t throw tomatoes when I preach, so I’m okay.”
Msgr. Eugene Giblin, 84, a retired priest in residence at the McDevitt House in Binghamton, remains as busy as ever. On call for morning Masses, funerals and other services, Msgr. Giblin spends his days enjoying the company of two other retired priests, Father Gerald Buckley and Father Daniel Murphy. “Day by day, someone will call us. Yesterday, I said the 8 a.m. Mass at St. James in Johnson City. Tomorrow I have a funeral for a relative, but nothing yet on Sunday,” said Msgr. Giblin about his schedule. “Usually we get called at least two Sundays out of the month. A couple of us seem to get called to help out. It’s not a regular thing, but we do have calls. It makes it easier on the priest calling us because usually at least one of the three of us is available.”
Summer is an active time for filling in, Msgr. Giblin said. Many pastors will take vacation time during the summer and he will step in for a Mass or two during that time.
“During the summer, we would get calls from Deposit, Windsor, New Berlin, Greene, Oxford, Norwich and Whitney Point,” Msgr. Giblin explained. “It’s almost 40 miles to Norwich, 35 miles to Deposit and 20 miles to Windsor. If we can help, we will go. The diocese gives us a small stipend and travel money, but it is a reward to a certain extent. But if we are healthy, we are very willing to go. Because we don’t have to worry about the administration, we are freed to do that.”
Living next door to Seton Catholic Central High School, the priests at McDevitt House get few calls to help since the school has a priest on staff, Father Robert Ours.
“But we still might get a call to help during Advent or Lent. We get invitations to help during reconciliation because we are next door, but we go if we can. I like to go and support the kids,” Msgr. Giblin said.
On any given day, Msgr. Giblin could be out and about, visiting family, friends or former parishioners. But mostly, he enjoys quiet time.
“I really enjoy it here. During the summer, we might go up to one of our camps, but otherwise it’s just a quiet, relaxing atmosphere. We aren’t necessarily looking for work, and we don’t pick up something new,” he said. “I go and visiting the hospitals once a week and see who I know. I enjoying going out and visit the older people from the church I served, St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Vestal, but it was considered Binghamton when I was there.”
Msgr. Giblin was the founding pastor of St. Vincent’s Church in 1965. He was the church’s only pastor until his retirement in 1991. Before his pastorate at St. Vincent’s, he served as principal for Binghamton Catholic High School for a few years in the 1960’s. Retiring at the McDevitt House was a return to familiar ground. “It’s like coming home. I used to come to this building for Mass with the sisters when I was principal,” he said about the fromer school convent.
The priesthood has been good to him, said Msgr. Giblin, and he wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. “I haven’t done anything else,” he joked. “One time I told Bishop [Joseph] O’Keefe, ‘I don’t know why people are so disturbed with the priesthood,’” Msgr. Giblin said. “I’ve enjoyed every moment of it. It’s been a happy, happy time.”
Another priest enjoying his priesthood is Msgr. Ronald Bill. He was recently named pastor of St. Mary of Mount Carmel Church in Utica. Retired only a few months, Msgr. Bill was asked by Bishop James Moynihan to take the pastorate at St. Mary of Mount Carmel after Father Joseph Salerno took over at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Utica.
“It’s very interesting here. It’s much different than my last experience at Sacred Heart Church in Cicero. This is a different type of parish with a European style church, which is very beautiful, and the people have been very friendly and cooperative. I have never been welcomed with flowers and letters before I even got here. I’m glad to do it.”
Msgr. Bill, now 71, brings his varied ministry experience to Utica. He served in Oswego and Binghamton, before working at Catholic Charities in Binghamton. He was the diocesan director of Catholic Charities from 1979-1987. Msgr. Bill served as pastor of Sacred Heart Church for 13 years before retiring last year. He had been in residence at Immaculate Conception Church in Fayetteville.
“This is a new challenge for me. It’s a different area of the diocese. I have never been here before. This parish is ethnically Italian and I’ve never had that. But this has energized me because I’m still needed [in parish ministry] and that I can still do it,” he said. “With the shortage of manpower in the diocese, it’s best to fill in to take up the slack. If it means working longer, so be it.”
Cicero and Utica are two different communities, Msgr. Bill has discovered, but each has its own unique needs.
“Sacred Heart is a young parish and so you do more weddings and baptisms. Here at Mount Carmel, you do a large number of funerals because of the aging population. It’s a great ministry to help people at this time in their lives,” he said. “But this is still a vibrant parish. It’s been a lot of fun so far. It keeps you young.” The work of Father Salerno has given Msgr. Bill the ability at times “to coast” because the laity of the parish is involved with the church’s ministry. He hopes that he can provide the sacraments and the administration of the parish. “It’s a nice challenge for me. But it’s doing many of the things I did before, just modifying my style to fit the situation,” Msgr. Bill explained.
The daily schedule for Msgr. Bill includes Mass and a bit of office work, a hospital or nursing home visit or going to the home of an elderly parishioner.
“Plus I have various meetings in the evening, if not one, probably two. I have to answer phone calls and prepare my homilies for the Masses. But it’s the little things, too, like talking to people or consoling the families of those who have died,” Msgr. Bill said. “The momentum is building up, even after only a few weeks I’m getting busier all the time. You can only do so much in a day, especially with the unexpected stuff.”
Msgr. Bill said his time in Catholic Charities was a turning point in his ministry.
“Catholic Charities work made me grow a great deal. I learned about poverty and the plight of African Americans. It was a great learning experience, like going to college every day,” said Msgr. Bill.
Msgr. Bill also served as a military chaplain in the reserves and National Guard. He described riding in a helicopter from location to location, celebrating Mass. He shared his thoughts on the current situation in Iraq, the influx of refugees from Haiti and other newsworthy events.
Among Msgr. Bill’s many gifts to the church, his excellent vocal talent led to the creation of a compact disc of favorite songs. Under the direction of Donna and Dr. Jerry Exline playing piano and organ, Msgr. Bill created a compact disc of 17 songs before leaving Sacred Heart Church.
“It came out quite well,” he said. “They are selling them for a scholarship fund at the church. People keep asking for the CDs. We’ve sold over 3,000 of them for the fund and we might have to do a reorder. I’ve worked with young people in the parish and they wanted to establish a scholarship fund and last year, they gave out the first scholarship.”
Msgr. Bill has left behind a legacy in Binghamton and Cicero and hopes to follow Father Salerno’s leadership in Utica.
“I’m very happy with my priesthood. If I could do it the same way, I’d do it again,” he said.