By Mary Margaret Halford
Three diocesan priests are marking significant ordination anniversaries this year while two order priests mark significant dates in their vocational journeys. A full listing of the public celebrations is on page 8. All of the priests are from out-of-state, most from out of the country, in fact, but all are beloved in their newly-adopted home-state of Mississippi.
Father John Gouger, CssR,
Redepmtorist Community, Greenwood
In his past 51 years as an ordained priest, Father John Gouger, CSsR, has made his way from the Midwest of the United States to Cajun Country in south Louisiana and lived along both the Amazon and the Mississippi rivers.
“If we go way back to when I was a child — I really enjoyed being in this little church with my parents, and I wondered ‘how can I always be here?’ I decided I could always be there by becoming a priest and religious,” the Iowa native said of his call to vocations.
After his first appointment in Houma, La., Father Gouger did missionary work for 30 years in Brazil, a place that holds some of the fondest memories of his priesthood.
“What I really enjoyed was river trips by houseboat, visiting communities along the Amazon River and in the rainforest and jungle area.”
Father Gouger, who is now part of the Redemptionist Hispanic Leadership Team in Greenwood, celebrated his jubilee last year, and recently took a trip back to Brazil to celebrate his 50 years in the priesthood.
Father Gerry Hurley,
pastor, Flowood St. Paul Parish
When Father Gerry Hurley was growing up on the outskirts of Cork City, Ireland, he was greatly influenced by the priests around him. And after making the decision that the priesthood was for him, he was ordained 40 years ago.
“I thought what a nice way to spend your life,” Father Hurley said of the religious he grew up around. “They all seemed like they were having fun.”
But while studying at the seminary, he decided his home diocese was a bit rigid for his taste, and he wanted to come to a place where he could live his priesthood “in a broader way.” At the urging of fellow priest and friend, Father Michael O’Brien, Hurley was looking at dioceses in the United States and visiting Virginia when he met the late Bishop Joseph Brunini, who suggested a trip to Mississippi.
“I came for two weeks and knew that’s where I wanted to be,” Father Hurley said. “I haven’t regretted it for a moment.”
“What stands out in my mind is that I’ve enjoyed every assignment I’ve had,” he said. “Every time I’ve moved, I’ve found a new invitation to learn and grow.”
Father Hurley will celebrate his jubilee with a public Mass at Flowood St. Paul Parish on June 10 at 7 p.m. A reception will follow.
Father Tom Lalor, pastor
Vicksburg, St. Paul Parish
Growing up in a family where choosing the path of religious life was common, Father Tom Lalor knew his vocation from an early age — and 50 years later he hasn’t looked back.
“If I had the ability to be anything else — an extraordinary academic or something — I would still choose to be a priest. That was all I ever really wanted to be,” Father Lalor said, adding that his brother, sister, and two uncles all chose a life of religious ministry.
When he first came to Mississippi from County Westmeath, Ireland, he began his ministry in Biloxi, where part of his assignment was teaching two classes daily at Sacred Heart Girls High School.
“I had no idea how to run a class, I didn’t know a thing about teaching. Sister Paulinus Oaks, RSM, inspired me and told me that I could teach,” Father Lalor said. “I have the greatest memories you could possibly imagine. I have a great respect for teachers because I found that teaching is very labor intensive.”
Since Biloxi, he has pastored in Jackson, Magee, Raleigh, Greenville, Natchez, Cleveland, Tupelo and Vicksburg. Father Lalor will celebrate the 50th anniversary of his ordination with a Mass at Vicksburg St. Paul at 6 p.m. on June 9. A reception will follow.
Father Tom Mulally, SVD, pastor,
Greenville Sacred Heart Parish
A native of Emmett, Michigan, Father Tom Mulally , SVD, knew that he wanted a future that involved traveling and religious ministry, so his priest encouraged him to think about religious vocations. At the age of 18, he made up his mind, and 50 years ago, he took his first vows.
“I always wanted to work overseas as a missionary, my pastor knew about the SVDs and here I am,” Father Mulally said. “I went to work overseas long before the Peace Corps was even founded in 1960.”
Since becoming a priest, Father Mulally has spent 46 years in the south, in parishes across Louisiana, Arkansas and now at Sacred Heart of Greenville, as well as Shaw St. Francis of Assisi. He also celebrates Mass monthly at Rosedale Sacred Heart Parish and visits the state penitentiary.
“I would say working with the lay people has brought me great strength and great joy,” he said, adding that implementing Vatican II was one of the most memorable times of his priesthood. “We had to start from scratch, I went to a lot of seminars to learn new rituals for marriage, reconciliation, and RCIA. Vatican II was a very exciting time for me.”
Father Mulally will celebrate the anniversary of his vows Sept. 10 at 10:30 a.m. with a Mass at Sacred Heart followed by a reception that will be open to the public.
Father Richard Somers, retired
Father Somers, a native of Kilkenny, Ireland, celebrates 50 years of ordination June 12. Father Somers, who suffers from a form of Parkinson’s disease, lives at St. Catherine’s Village where he is cared for by a veritable army of regular visitors. He has a hard time communicating these days, but his memory is still sharp and visitors who can listen closely can still get a taste of his sense of humor.
In 1994, Father Somers offered a talk on his vocation which was recorded for the diocese. In the recording he explained the great lesson he learned when God “chased me to Mississippi.”
He was one of six children and joked that he remembers his parents praying for his two brothers to become priests, “but somehow I always got skipped in that.”
During his time in Hattiesburg he began to minister to a group of college students. They offered every week to pray for him. This seemingly small gesture had a profound impact on his life. He said it was the first time he truly felt the deeply personal love God had for him.
“I went to Mississippi to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. I had to go to Mississippi to find out how much God loves me and I had to be convinced of it and convicted of it in my own heart. God really does.”
St. Richard will host a Mass of Thanksgiving and a reception in his honor on Saturday, June 25, at 11 a.m.