Golden jubilee priests ‘would do it all again for the sake of the Kingdom’
LOS ANGELES, CA (The Tidings) - The year 1958 was a wonderful year to be a new priest in Los Angeles — especially for Msgr. Patrick Reilly, who like so many professional baseball-starved Angelenos fell immediately in love with the Dodgers.
The pastor emeritus of St. Robert Bellarmine Church, Burbank, was one of 13 priests celebrating their 50th anniversaries of priesthood in 2008 who were honored last month at the archdiocesan Chrism Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.
“What a great joy,” Cardinal Roger Mahony remarked as the assembly applauded the priests who, together, represent 650 years of ordained priestly life. They included Fathers Abelardo Bailon, Brian Cavanagh, Hugh Crowe, James Toal and James O’Grady, and Monsignors Henry Gomez, Patrick Reilly, Edmond Renehan and Ronald Royer — all diocesan priests — as well as Augustinian Father Thomas Behan, Congregation of St. Joseph Father Claudio De Agostini, Comboni Missionary Father Joseph Forlani and Scalabrini Father Raniero Alessandrini (the latter ordained in 1957).
Other golden jubilarian diocesan priests not in attendance at the Chrism Mass include Msgr. Joseph Cokus, Father Edward Johnson, Msgr. Edward Soto and Msgr. Jon Won. A number of the golden jubilarians were interviewed by The Tidings and reflected on their years of ministry.
‘Years full of life and challenges’
Young Patrick Reilly’s vocation came about from his “very simple, devout” parents, who struggled to raise eight children in County Longford, Ireland, including an older daughter who became a Daughter of Mary and Joseph Sister and was missioned to Los Angeles. It was the urgings of Sister Mary Concepta and Msgr. John Sheridan, a neighbor from the next parish who had also journeyed to Southern California years before, that brought him across the pond to study theology at St. John’s Seminary.
Father Reilly’s first assignments were St. Ignatius, St. Gregory, St. Brendan and Nativity in Los Angeles. In 1973, he was appointed administrator of Sacred Heart parish in Covina, where he served as pastor for seven years. Then in 1986 he became pastor of St. Robert Bellarmine in Burbank, where he retired as pastor emeritus in 2002.
“For me the 50 years have gone by so quickly, and they’ve been full of life and challenges far beyond my wildest dreams,” he reports. “The first great joy was living through the Second Vatican Council, the changes it made for us as priests. We were young enough in the business to be flexible.
“What I think I liked most about the changes was that so many more lay people became involved with the Church,” he adds. “It was an opportunity for them to express their vocation of priesthood received through baptism. And that was very exciting.”
Another exciting – and frightening — event in Father Reilly’s early priesthood was being caught up in the Watts riots in 1965. He was at Nativity parish in South Los Angeles all alone because the pastor happened to be on vacation. Nearby two furniture stores were burning and Sears was being looted.
“So I had the Blessed Sacrament and everything in the trunk of my car ready to go if the church or the rectory caught on fire,” he recalls. “But I stayed through the whole thing. I remember it was August 17; that Sunday, I said all the Masses. We didn’t have many people, but I did my best to encourage the folks. It was rather scary.”
Two of the veteran priest’s favorite ministries were — and still are — visiting the sick and celebrating funerals. In his old pre-lay-Eucharistic-minister-days at Sacred Heart, every First Friday of the month priests would bring Communion to all the homebound sick in the parish. He calls it an “extremely consoling ministry” for the ill, plus it made him appreciate his own good health.
Today, in residence at St Robert Bellarmine, Msgr. Reilly remains active. He celebrates his regular share of weekly Masses, hears confessions and — as the “old guy” in the rectory — does a lot of funerals and graveside services. “I think it’s a great ministry to be able to offer consolation and, of course, the message of the Resurrection to people who are mourning,” he points out.
He also enjoys accompanying pilgrims on trips to Rome, Ireland and other far-flung locales. “I’m there to give cheap advice,” he quips.
But would he do it again?
“Oh, yes,” he says about his half-century of priesthood. “I would do it all again for the sake of the Kingdom. God has given me a great gift of pragmatic faith, and I mean by that God doesn’t work miracles without our help. And our help is prayer of petition. He’s been very good to me.”
Family and friends in formation
Father Thomas Behan, a member of the Order of St. Augustine, says his vocation sprung largely from his parents and ...
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