Sixty Years a Priest

Msgr. Michael Sexton

I was ordained a priest on June 10, 1961, at St. Patrick’s College in Carlow, Ireland. There were twenty of us. I came to serve in Alabama in the Diocese of Mobile-Birmingham.

It was a time of great change in the Church, ushered in by the Second Vatican Council with its promises of “A New Pentecost” and “A Second Spring.”

Who could have been ready for such change? I was trained to serve in a Tridentine Church and found myself in a Vatican II Church.

Fortunately, there was no lack of opportunity for ongoing formation and renewal. Seminars and conferences were offered frequently within the diocese and in regional and national settings.

The Georgetown Scripture Institute was an annual treasure with eminent scholars. A sabbatical in Rome in 1988 was an unforgettable experience.

And who could forget the Priests’ Retreat in Cullman preached by Bishop Carroll Dozier of Memphis on Ezekiel, Chapter 34? His great booming voice thundering like a prophet of old.

The evocative and haunting question of Father Karl Rahner never lost its force for me. “Must not someone of us say something about God, about eternal life, about the majesty of grace at the heart of our sanctified being; must not someone speak of sin, of the judgment and mercy of God; does this not remain the most important message, precisely as it was two thousand years ago?”

The people I encountered at parishes and ministries were always so much better than they realized. They were indeed the “saints next door,” in Pope Francis’ splendid insight.

Didn’t George Bernanos remind us, too, that all is gift and all is grace and grace is everywhere.

The priest is called to witness to mystery, to proclaim the Word, and to celebrate Eucharist. What a noble life!

In the end, it is true that in Your will is our peace, Lord.