Bishop Stika, St. Joseph the Worker parishioners bid Father P.J. McGinnity farewell as he returns to native Ireland
By Dan McWilliams
Many people came from far and wide, wherever Father P.J. McGinnity had served, to honor the Ireland-born priest upon his retirement from the Diocese of Knoxville and his return to his native country.
St. Joseph the Worker Parish, where Father McGinnity served as pastor for seven years, hosted a Mass and dinner for the priest June 18 that honored not only his time at the Madisonville church but also his 25th jubilee in the priesthood and his 70th birthday. Father McGinnity went home to Ireland this summer, where he will continue to serve as an active priest.
Bishop Richard F. Stika presided at the Mass, which was concelebrated by the honoree, former St. Joseph the Worker pastor Father Peter Iorio, former St. Joseph associate pastor Father Bede Aboh, Father Hoan Dinh, and visiting priest Father Dong Nguyen. Succeeding Father McGinnity at St. Joseph the Worker is Father John Orr.
“Today in a special way we commend our brother, Father P.J., for safe travels as he goes back to Ireland. When he first requested that he return to his home country, I thought it was a good idea, but now I’ve changed my mind,” the bishop said to laughter. “What’s funny about this is he thinks I’m kidding.
“We pray for Father P.J., and we pray for his family as he returns to his land of birth, in thanksgiving to almighty God for the years he has given to us here in the Diocese of Knoxville.”
The first time he met Father McGinnity, Bishop Stika said in his homily, he said the priest reminded him of a famous Irish actor.
“Here, standing in front of me was Barry Fitzgerald, and that brought a smile to my face until I got to know Father P.J., and he informed me that before he was a priest, he was a psychiatric nurse,” the bishop said. “And from that moment on these last seven years, anytime he would ask me a question, I’d pause and think, ‘Now, why did he ask me that?’”
Bishop Stika spoke of Father McGinnity’s “true missionary spirit,” when he came from Ireland at the behest of Diocese of Knoxville founding Bishop Anthony J. O’Connell.
“The Gospel talks about walking away from that with which you are comfortable,” Bishop Stika said. “Father P.J. left Ireland and came to the United States at the invitation of the founding bishop, God rest him. And he has served faithfully this diocese for so many years.”
“Twenty–six years,” Father McGinnity inserted into the bishop’s remarks.
“OK, OK,” the bishop said to more laughter. “You know, before Mass he was so adamant that ‘You’re going to preach, you’re going to preach,’ and now he’s interrupting me.”
Leaving “our comfort zones, that which makes us comfortable and happy,” is “what faith is all about,” the bishop said, “and listening to the words of Jesus when he invites us to come and to follow.”
Bishop Stika spoke of an occasion when the diocese’s international priests were convened for a talk about working on reducing their speaking accents.
“Father P.J. was real irritated because he said, ‘I don’t have an accent!’” the bishop said in an Irish accent. “You remember that? The guy got hostile with his bishop!”
The bishop said that “as imperfect as any priest might be . . . Father P.J.’s given his life to build the kingdom of heaven, here amongst you. You might think he is the best priest, and you might think he is not the best. You might love his homilies all the time, or you might disagree with him all of the time, or sometime. Whatever it is, because Father P.J. isn’t Jesus, he acts in the name of Jesus.
“For Father P.J. for 26 years, as he has reminded us, has taken bread, and he has raised that bread in front of others, and he has said, ‘Take and eat all of you, for this is my body, given for you.’
And Father P.J. has taken that chalice: ‘Take this all of you and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my blood.’ He’s acted in the person of Jesus, as another Christ. His imperfections, my imperfections, their imperfections, your imperfections, are made much more perfect when we combine our life and our prayers with Jesus.”
Bishop Stika then spoke to Father McGinnity “in the name of all the people whose lives you’ve touched in this diocese for 26 years. All those people in confession or in marriage prep, moments when you reached out to someone when they lost a loved one or held the hands of someone who is getting ready to see God face to face, and all those moments when people are happy with you and those moments when they challenged you, and those moments when the bishops irritated you and those moments when you irritated the bishops.
“The best thing I can do, Father P.J., is this: first of all, I just want to say, thank you. Thank you for touching the lives as a missionary to the people of God, in all your many assignments. Father P.J., remember to continue to pray for all of us as we build the kingdom of God here in East Tennessee. And finally, when you knelt before our founding bishop and you pledged respect and obedience, if I tell you to come home, you’re going to have to come home.
“Enjoy your time in Ireland with your family, your sisters, with your new assignment. He’s going to be working in kind of a retirement center. Know that people love you, Father P.J., because you’re another Christ, and you act in the person of Jesus, and you’ve been a good and faithful person. This isn’t your funeral—this is just the beginning of a new moment in your life, and go with Godspeed.”
Father McGinnity gave “a special thanks to all of you for making this occasion a memorable one for me, a retirement and a silver jubilee all joined together, and my 70th birthday.”
The honoree thanked Bishop Stika, fellow priests, parish staff, the Knights of Columbus, CCD teachers, RCIA staff, the music ministry, rosary leaders, adoration participants, altar servers, and ushers.
“To all of those involved in ministry in this parish, which I served for seven years and was very happy to be your pastor . . . certainly I love each and every one of you,” Father McGinnity said. “To all those who come from the various parishes: I see people from St. Thérèse. I see people from St. Stephen, from St. Jude, from Notre Dame in Greeneville, from all the parishes that I served. I want to say, from the depth of my heart, a very special thank you to all of you. You have made this a wonderful gift for me.
“To my own parishioners here at St. Joseph the Worker, thank you for all you have done and for your gracious acceptance of me as your pastor.”
Father McGinnity said the meal after Mass was “an opportunity not to listen to me babbling but to be with your friends and to have fellowship with them.
“May God continue to bless you, and may his light always shine into your hearts, each and every day of your lives,” he said.
Father McGinnity was born in Castleblayney, County Monaghan, Ireland, and is the third-born of 14 children of Frank and Mollie McGinnity. On completion of his primary and secondary education, he studied psychiatric and general nursing in Birmingham, England, and served 10 years in that profession. Feeling that there was “something missing” in his life, he entered All Hallows Missionary College in Drumcondra, Dublin, to study for the priesthood; he graduated with a bachelor of divinity degree from St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth.
Accepting an invitation from Bishop O’Connell to serve in the Diocese of Knoxville, Father McGinnity completed a six-month pastoral assignment at Notre Dame Church in Greeneville under the direction of Father Charlie Burton and a further pastoral assignment at St. Jude in Chattanooga as deacon under the direction of Monsignor Bob Hofstetter. Father McGinnity was ordained a priest July 20, 1991, by Bishop O’Connell at St. Patrick Church, Ballybay, County Monaghan – his home parish.
Following his ordination, Father McGinnity returned to the Diocese of Knoxville, where he served as associate pastor at St. Dominic Church in Kingsport; in 1993 he was assigned as pastor of St. Alphonsus in Crossville. Father McGinnity briefly served as chaplain at Memorial Hospital in Chattanooga before being assigned as pastor of St. Stephen in Chattanooga, where he served for 10 years. In 2005 he was assigned as pastor of St. Thérèse of Lisieux in Cleveland, and in 2009 he became pastor of St. Joseph the Worker.
Father McGinnity joined the Knights in 1993 and joined the Fourth Degree during his tenure in Crossville. He established a Round Table at St. Joseph the Worker and provided leadership in helping establish Council 15585, of which he is a charter member.
Under Father McGinnity at St. Joseph the Worker, in 2010-11 the tabernacle was placed on a central axis, and a new ambry for holy oils and a baptismal font were installed. As part of a renovation of the church’s interior, an altar, reredos, and ambo were installed, and a new laminate wood floor, new pews, and a new confessional were completed.
In January 2013, a grotto to Our Lady was built on the grounds of the church. Also that month a statue of St. Joseph the Worker was placed on a pedestal in front of the church. In September 2015, a new sign was erected on the grounds.
As of May 2016, the number of registered families at St. Joseph the Worker stands at 300.
After Father McGinnity’s remarks at the end of Mass, director of music Jodi Swiderek led the assembly in “Father P.J.’s Farewell,” set to the tune of “Danny Boy.” Mrs. Swiderek wrote the lyrics to the “Farewell.”
“I thought that we needed something special to close Father P.J.’s last Mass, and so I think the Holy Spirit really inspired me. It wasn’t me,” she said.
The lyrics read, in part: “We thank you, Lord, for Father P.J.’s time with us. He served you well, and now he’s on his way . . . We send our prayers and ask your blessings on him, Lord. Please keep him safe and in your loving care.”
Mrs. Swiderek said she will miss Father McGinnity. “He has been a very dedicated, good pastor,” she said.
Albert Ruggiero and his father, Al, are among the parishioners who are sad to see Father McGinnity return to Ireland.
Albert Ruggiero said Father McGinnity was responsible for many improvements in the church.
“He’s done a lot. He’s made a lot of improvements to the church since he’s been here. Through it all, he’s done a lot, from updating the sanctuary to CCD. And he’s been integral in my faith healing.” ■