By Christie L. Chicoine
CS&T Staff Writer
PHILADELPHIA – As rain poured outdoors, applause thundered indoors as the faithful of the Philadelphia Archdiocese packed the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul to congratulate 18 diocesan priests upon whom Cardinal Justin Rigali publicly acknowledged the conferral of papal honors and accompanying title “monsignor” at a vespers service Sunday, Jan. 17.
“It’s been a tremendous life, and I’m deeply grateful to almighty God for all the graces which allowed me to do whatever I was able to do,” said Msgr. Daniel H. Kehoe, pastor emeritus of Holy Spirit Parish in Sharon Hill, Delaware County.
Ordained a priest in 1939, Father Kehoe, 97, is the oldest living diocesan priest in the Philadelphia Archdiocese.
He said his vocation to the priesthood has been a happy one, particularly the numerous years he taught the Catholic faith as a teacher and administrator. “There is nothing that is more satisfying than to be a teacher, and watch young people come along.”
Being named a monsignor at age 97 is a blessing he is pleased to receive.
“I leave that up to the good Lord, the Holy Spirit and the Holy See. For whatever reason, at this late date, they have decided, at the suggestion of Cardinal Rigali, to grant me this honor,” Msgr. Kehoe said. “I am very grateful to all of them.”
On Dec. 17, Pope Benedict XVI conferred the papal honors; 14 priests were honored with the title of Chaplain of His Holiness. Three priests were named Prelates of Honor. One priest, Msgr. Nelson J. Perez, already a Chaplain of His Holiness, was elevated to Prelate of Honor.
Diocesan priests receive the honor from the Pope, at the request of the diocesan bishop, in recognition of their contribution to the local Church through the distinguished exercise of their priestly ministry. The honor for the priest is a symbol of his deep communion with the Holy Father and his apostolic ministry.
In his homily, the Cardinal acknowledged “the immense amount of priestly and pastoral work” the new monsignors have performed throughout their ministries.
After the Cardinal acknowledged Msgr. Kehoe’s 70 years of priestly ministry, the congregation responded with sustained applause.
The Cardinal then acknowledged the ministries of the 17 other monsignors. “I am grateful for the work of our episcopal vicars, for the parochial service of our pastors, for the specialized ministry of our chancellor, the vice rector of our seminary and an assistant judicial vicar.
The Cardinal said he appreciated the support his priests received not only from the standing-room-only crowd but from those who were praying for the priests privately.
“I thank the families and friends who support our priests and the numerous parishioners who, in sharing the joy of this day, express their own deep faith in the Catholic priesthood, which so beautifully signifies the love of the Heart of Jesus,” he said.
“There are indeed many other priests in our Archdiocese who would also be worthy of such an honor and they are all included in our esteem and gratitude,” the Cardinal added.
He asked the new monsignors and all the priests to renew the sacred commitment of their priesthood, “a commitment to holiness of life and to the constant service of God’s people, being exercised in close unity with me and my successors, with all our priests, deacons, consecrated religious and lay faithful, and under the governance of our Holy Father and especially our eternal shepherd, our Lord Jesus Christ.”
As the priests processed into the Cathedral, the faithful snapped pictures, waved and cheered. The cheering continued after the Cardinal acknowledged the papal honor of each priest and again as they recessed from the sanctuary upon the conclusion of the liturgy.
“I was impressed with the number of people who came out on such a rainy night,” said Msgr. David Diamond, vice-rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood. “That’s a great sign of the love that the people have for the priests.”
The vice rector was thrilled that his new title as monsignor would put a spotlight on St. Charles Seminary and the work of priestly formation. “The seminary is such an important part of the work of the Archdiocese,” he said.
Msgr. Joseph McLoone, pastor of St. Katharine Drexel Parish in Chester, also made note of the crowd. “It’s nice to know so many people love their priests.”
He said, “I find the honor (of being named monsignor) not so much for me, but for the people I’m so blessed to serve now in the City of Chester.”
Msgr. Joseph Gentili, pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Buckingham, agreed. “It’s a great honor and a privilege, and quite humbling. It’s a compliment to the priesthood and a special compliment to the people that I serve at Our Lady of Guadalupe as pastor.”
Msgr. Michael Picard, pastor of St. Andrew Parish in Newtown, was pleased with the generosity and support of his parishioners and of all the faithful who filled the Cathedral. The crowd, he said, was proof that “we can count on their prayers and their support.”
Msgr. George Majoros, regional vicar for Delaware County and pastor of Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Secane, said he is grateful for the ability to work zealously for the good of the people. “Through their goodness, together we grow in holiness and the Gospel is proclaimed and lived and witnessed.”
CS&T Staff Writer Christie L. Chicoine may be reached at 215-587-2468 or firstname.lastname@example.org.