By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – Three pastors have announced their retirement from active ministry, Msgr. Michael Flannery, Fathers Frank Cosgrove and Charles Bucciantini.
Father Cosgrove, 75, admits he has mixed feelings about leaving his post in Meridian. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease five years ago, but has been managing his illness up to now. “My energy level has been lower,” said Father Cosgrove. “I hoped I would know when it is time – and it is,” he added.
Father Cosgrove remembers reading missionary magazines when he was a child in Ireland. When then Father Jeremiah Hardnett came to his high school recruiting priests for Mississippi, Father Cosgrove knew he wanted to go. “I’m sincerely glad I did. It’s been a happy 50 years,” he said.
Father Cosgrove served in Natchez, at the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Therese in Jackson, Oxford, Madison and Meridian. During his time in Jackson he served as director of Youth Ministry and later as vicar general under Bishop William Houck.
Father Cosgrove remembers his time in youth ministry as being full of adventures. During his first youth convention he was nervous about managing the 700 young people in the old Heidelberg Hotel. With so many students, he was sure he had filled the hotel. When he saw a young couple go into a room and close the door he sprang into action. “I banged on the door and told them, ‘you know the rule at this convention is that if you are in the room of a person of the opposite sex, you will leave the door open.’ The young man got very red faced and said, ‘but sir, we are on our honeymoon!’” He spoke of his love for helping young people find their vocations.
“One of my values over the years has been trying to build lay leadership, especially among young people,” said Father Cosgrove. He hopes to remain active in ministry, just not as a pastor. He will move to St. Catherine’s Village in Madison in February and asks for people to pray for him.
Msgr. Flannery knew he wanted to be a priest at the age of six. “Initially I was going to become a Franciscan and stay in Ireland, but this priest came from Mississippi and talked about the needs there,” he said. The challenge appealed to him. He liked the idea of participating in a variety of ministries, from working at a school to instructing people in
RCIA and celebrating multiple Masses every weekend. “I have enjoyed my priesthood, I have to say and I would encourage any young boy to consider it,” he said. Msgr. Flannery served in Jackson, Pascagoula, Rosedale, Cleveland, Clarksdale and Madison. He worked in the tribunal for 20 years of his ministry and served at the mission in Saltillo, Mexico, which he describes as his most memorable assignment.
“When I passed in over the border, I knew two phrases, buenos dias, and un poco. That was my total vocabulary. I got there at four o’clock in the afternoon and said ‘buenos dias,’ which is good morning. And the guy said to me in Spanish, ‘do you speak Spanish?’ and I said ‘un poco.’ I’d shot my whole wad,” he said, laughing. Msgr. Flannery added that learning the language was not the real challenge. Learning the culture was the real work. He described a people with true inner joy despite the poverty and isolation they faced.
“I went there believing I would make a contribution to the mission. The reality was they are the ones who enriched my life by their faith,” explained Msgr. Flannery. “It deepened my understanding of priesthood and what ministry was all about,” he added.
Many of the people in Saltillo had not seen a priest in a decade as he started to make the rounds of the mountain villages so there was plenty of work to do.
He remembered a time when Bishop Brunini came to celebrate confirmation in one of the villages. “Five hundred people turned out for the confirmation. We were expecting 100. So when we began conferring confirmation, there was a stampede because they thought we had run out of Sacred Chrism. About four of us had to make a circle around Bishop Brunini and we’d let two people in at a time to be confirmed,” he said.
He plans to live in Madison and help in the diocesan tribunal as the new guidelines for annulments streamline that process.
Father Bucciantini, 69, has a long list of projects for his retirement. He wants to learn piano, teach in a literacy program, visit all the national parks and more. “I am looking forward to it,” said the current pastor of Leland St. James.
The Natchez native has served in Biloxi, Clarksdale, Starkville, Cleveland and Leland.
He said his favorite part of being a pastor is being a counselor. “It’s one of the gifts the Lord has given me and I enjoy it,” he said.
Father Bucciantini said when he is working with someone trying to discern their vocation he tells them to follow their joy. “I think people are going to be most happy if they are doing what the Lord wants them to do. If the Lord has prepared them for it, that’s what they will be happiest to do. I would urge them to discern it with someone they can trust,” he said. Father Bucciantini hopes to live in Ridgeland when he’s not traveling.