By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – Five priests in the Dio
cese of Jackson will mark significant anniversaries of ordination in 2018. Father Noel Prendergast marks 60 years as a priest on June 7, Msgr. Elvin Sunds was ordained 45 years ago on August 5, Fathers Kent Bowlds and Tim Murphy are celebrating 25 years and Father Lincoln Dall was ordained 10 years ago on May 31.
Father Prendergast was born in Kilkenny, Ireland in 1934. He was ordained in St. Patrick’s Church in Carlow in 1958 and arrived in the then Diocese of Natchez Jackson that fall. He grew up with six brothers and one sister. Two of his brothers became priests. One stayed in their home diocese and another went to Africa as a missionary. The other siblings became farmers. Father Prendergast still goes home to visit his great-grand nieces and nephews.
When he arrived in Mississippi, starting his ministry at Biloxi Blessed Nativity Parish, the church was on the cusp of Vatican II and the state was just starting to see the beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement. Father Prendergast said he and his brother priests had to listen and be patient as history took its course.
The priests got updates on Vatican II as the council progressed. “Our bishops were very supportive, Bishop (Joseph) Brunini and Bishop (Oliver) Gerow. Bishop Brunini would go over to Vatican II and come back after two or three months over there and tell us what went on. Then then we had workshops to prepare ourselves for what was coming out of Vatican II. It was all very helpful,” he said.
Father Prendergast went on to serve at Jackson St. Mary, Natchez Assumption, Columbus Annunciation, Vicksburg St. Michael, Yazoo City St. Mary and St. Francis and Clinton Holy Savior as well as at the mission in Gulfport. These days he is retired in Clinton. He helps out at Holy Savior, offering Masses when the pastor is out of town, between playing golf and visiting with friends.
Holy Savior will celebrate Father Prendergast’s anniversary on Monday, June 18, with Mass at 6 p.m. followed by a reception. All are welcome.
Msgr. Sunds said he can hardly believe he is celebrating 45 years of priesthood. Although born in Nebraska, he was raised in Iowa where he attended Catholic schools. After high school, he went to seminary. He was not convinced he had a vocation, but “had a feeling this is what God wanted me to do.” Msgr. Sunds always tells young men they don’t have to go to seminary with their minds made up. Seminary, he said, helps men discern their call and acquire the skills they will need to do the job. “After all, as they say, God does not call the enabled, he enables the called,” he said.
When he advises young men who believe they have a vocation, Msgr Sunds urges them to “pray. Really listen to the Lord. He’s not going to whisper in your ear, but he will tug at your heart.” He took a year off during his seminary formation to be sure he was following the right path. He was serving in New York when he met some priests from Mississippi. “They were very involved in social ministry and serving the poor and I thought ‘that’s the kind of priest I want to be,’” said Msgr. Sunds. He returned to seminary and asked to be ordained for the Magnolia state.
He started on the coast, serving at Biloxi Sacred Heart before coming to Jackson for the most significant part of his career, working for 19 years at Catholic Charities. He was the director of the agency for 16 of those years. He left Charities and served as the Vicar General of the Diocese for 10 years. In parishes, he served at Jackson Holy Family, Meridian St. Patrick and St. Joseph and currently serves as pastor of Jackson St. Therese.
Father Kent Bowlds will mark 25 years of the priesthood this June. The Kentucky native moved to Jackson with his parents, four sisters and one brother, when his Dad’s job was moved here. He was in seventh-grade so he finished school at St. Joseph School.
“I started thinking about priesthood in my junior or senior year of high school, and I think an important factor was all of the priests I had known — from Father Mitchell in Kentucky, who was young and down to earth, to Fathers Eddie Balser, Joe Dyer, Elvin Sunds, and others who helped me grow in faith, perhaps without their ever realizing it, while also being themselves with their unique personalities,” wrote Father Bowlds in an email to Mississippi Catholic.
Father Kent was not convinced of his vocation so he went to college and started a career. “After graduation I worked at Mississippi Public Broadcasting for ten years. I enjoyed that immensely but the idea of priesthood had never entirely gone out of my mind. I was ready for a change and after some good spiritual direction I decided the only way to truly discern was to enter seminary and was accepted by the Diocese of Jackson. In seminary the discernment continued and the call to priesthood solidified,” he wrote.
He worked as vocations director for the Diocese of Jackson for a number of years, so Father Kent has spoken to many young men about vocations. He urges them to have courage and be open. “And it’s important not to pray in a total vacuum, ‘just me and God,’ but also to consider all sorts of things, such as what others are saying about him, what his experiences tell him, where he finds himself naturally drawn, etc. A good spiritual adviser, also, will not try to talk someone into the priesthood, but can help one figure out what God could be saying,” he explained. “Some men think, ‘I might want a family someday’ — which doesn’t necessarily mean they are not called to priesthood. A desire for family can also indicate a generous spirit and an openness to long term commitment, qualities that are also essential for priesthood.”
He served at Madison St. Francis of Assisi, Meridian St. Patrick and St. Joseph, Clarksdale St. Elizabeth and Immaculate Conception, Jackson St. Richard and Holy Family, Crystal Springs St. John and Hazelhurst St. Martin as well as his current parish of Cleveland Our Lady of Victories.
Father Bowlds will celebrate his anniversary with a Mass and reception at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, June 22, at Cleveland Our Lady of Victories, Parish.
Also celebrating a quarter of a century of priesthood is Father Tim Murphy, pastor of Tupelo St. James and Pontotoc St. Christopher, ordained Nov. 27, 1993. “I was ordained by Bishop (William) Houck at Glenmary in Cincinnati. It was a wonderful privilege,” said Father Murphy, who was born in New Jersey.
He came to the diocese as a Glenmary Home Missioner in 1991. He was working with the Glenmary research center out of Atlanta as part of the order’s Commission on Justice. At that time, the Glenmarys had founded and were staffing several missions and parishes in the state including Amory St. Helen, Fulton Christ the King and West Point Immaculate Conception.
When the Glenmarys left in 2015, he was incardinated into the diocese. Father Murphy has always served in some of the diocese’s rural locations, often caring for more than one community at a time. He said he came to Mississppi “by the grace of God.”
His postings include Amory St. Helen, Fulton Christ the King, Aberdeen St. Francis, Houston Immaculate Heart of Mary, Okolona St. Theresa, Pontotoc St. Christopher and Bruce St. Luke.
“I am very happy to be here and I am grateful for the mission and to be a part of it,” said Father Murphy.
Ten years ago, the diocese welcomed Father Lincoln Dall to the presbyterate. Dall was born in Chicago, Illinois. He was a lay missionary for eight years in Canada, Ecuador and the U.S. before he ended up in a teaching corps in Greenville. He joined Sacred Heart Parish. “I had been looking into the priesthood and they encouraged me,” he said of the parish community. He went to Sacred Heart Seminary in Wisconsin where he “had the most wonderful experience possible,” said Father Dall. “It encouraged me and nurtured me.” He was ordained on May 31, 2008.
Father Dall said he tells young men they don’t have to be 100 percent sure to attend seminary. “Just listen to where God is calling you and don’t be afraid to take little steps,” he advised.
Father Dall has made a number of pilgrimages – including several to the Camino de Santiago, or Way of St. James in Spain. He said the first one he made helped him discern his vocation. “Sometimes, you don’t understand what is happening while you are on the pilgrimage and you come home and unpack it – sometimes even years later,” he said. He started a pilgrimage at Tupelo St. James Parish to celebrate the parish’s patron.
Father Dall has served at Jackson St. Richard, Yazoo City St. Francis and St. Mary, Belzoni All Saints and Tupelo St. James. He is currently pastor of Pearl St. Jude Parish.