Mass celebrant Bishop Stika eulogizes pastor who served East Tennessee parishes for 46 years
By Bill Brewer
Father Paul Joseph Valleroy saw a lot of East Tennessee during the 46 years he served as a priest, first for the Diocese of Nashville and then for the Diocese of Knoxville.
The St. Louis native began his ministry in Kingsport before priest assignments took him to Chattanooga, Johnson City, Greeneville, Newport, Cleveland, Signal Mountain, Alcoa, Oak Ridge, and Copperhill.
His priesthood ended Nov. 4 in Soddy-Daisy, where he died at the Soddy-Daisy Healthcare Center following health complications from a 2017 stroke.
A funeral Mass for Father Valleroy was held on Nov. 11 at St. Jude Church in Chattanooga, where he had spent time in residence. He was 83. Bishop Richard F. Stika was the Mass celebrant.
After his ordination to the priesthood in July 1974 in Kingsport, with Bishop Joseph A. Durick of the Diocese of Nashville presiding, Father Valleroy was pastor, associate pastor, chaplain, administrator, or teacher at St. Dominic Parish in Kingsport; St. Stephen, Sts. Peter and Paul, and Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga; St. Augustine in Signal Mountain; St. Bridget in Dayton; East Tennessee State University in Johnson City; Notre Dame Parish in Greeneville; Good Shepherd in Newport; St. Thérèse of Lisieux in Cleveland; Our Lady of Fatima in Alcoa; St. Mary in Oak Ridge; and St. Catherine Labouré in Copperhill. He retired in residence at St. Jude in 2010.
In eulogizing Father Valleroy, Bishop Stika began his homily by saying he had been reading Father Valleroy’s history of service in the Diocese of Knoxville and his journey to the priesthood before that.
“One of the things that Paul and I shared is he was born in St. Louis. He was a Cardinals fan. He was one of the beloved. He was born in St. Louis north city; I was born in south city. He was baptized at St. Rose of Lima, a parish now closed. A small church, it was very beautiful. He went to McBride High School. At one time in St. Louis, there were two large high schools. One was called South Side because it was in south city, and the other was called North Side because it was in the north part of the city, an area where the Catholic population rapidly declined in the 1950s and ’60s. Urban flight, I guess,” Bishop Stika said.
“He had an interesting life. Eventually he joined the Navy and was schooled in electronics and served on a ship. Before the Vietnam War, he went into the workforce, and that eventually led to the seminary. In 1974, he was ordained a priest. So often when I look at the file of a priest, the file is thick. I don’t know if that is good or bad. Other times it is very small. Paul’s was small. He was assigned to a parish in Oak Ridge, at St. Mary’s; he was a longtime pastor at St. Augustine; he was involved in the Haiti outreach; he eventually went to the community of Copperhill; he lived with Father Charlie (Burton) at St. Dominic and eventually here (St. Jude); he was involved in youth ministry at one time and also Marriage Encounter.
“But I also take the fact that his file was smaller because he was a dutiful priest who worked hard, a bit of a curmudgeon. And I could always find Father Paul at priest gatherings because I would follow the cigarette smoke. I always enjoyed talking to him. He was one of those examples of a good and faithful priest,” he added.
Some 20 of Father Valleroy’s brother priests were concelebrants at his funeral Mass. Several deacons and women religious also attended. The Mass was livestreamed on the Internet so Father Valleroy’s relatives out of state could take part.
When he was serving at St. Augustine, Father Valleroy was featured in the Chattanooga Times Free Press newspaper as he celebrated his 25th anniversary in the priesthood.
Father Valleroy recounted in the article how he had a very high military draft classification in the 1960s, which made it difficult for him to land a job he wanted. Few businesses were interested in hiring a young man who was about to be drafted. Father Valleroy decided to take matters into his own hands. When an Air Force recruiter was late for an interview with him, the young Mr. Valleroy signed up with the Navy instead.
The Navy trained him as an electronics technician, and he served at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach and aboard the USS Laffey. After his stint in the Navy ended, Mr. Valleroy went back to school and received undergraduate and graduate degrees from Southeast Missouri State University and George Peabody College in Nashville.
He attended seminary at St. Paul’s College in Washington, D.C., before he was ordained in the Kingsport civic center by Bishop Durick.
Bishop Stika noted that when Father Valleroy was in grade school, he was called to religious life and entered the Society of Mary, where he served for a short time.
“All those many moments, from his birth in St. Louis, in parish grade school and in high school, and in the military service, and in the workforce, and studying to be a teacher, it all brought him to a point where he knelt before the bishop and hands were laid on his head, and he became a priest of Jesus Christ in 1974 and then a priest of the Diocese of Knoxville in 1988,” Bishop Stika said.
“He was one of those men you were attracted to because he seemed so authentic. He said what he thought, and he kind of lived that out. There’s a certain goodness in that because people can see authenticity. They can accept the quirks and personality of any priest or any person when they see that authenticity. When you study about St. Paul and if you read the Epistles, he was pretty cantankerous sometimes. And yet he was St. Paul, chosen by God, chosen by Jesus from a varied background—one who actually persecuted the early Church—to be the great teacher that touched lives,” he continued.
“Father Paul was a bit cantankerous at times. Chosen by God to preach the Word, to celebrate the sacraments, to be present to his people. That is why on this day we give thanks to almighty God for 45 years of priesthood, and various ministries, collaborating with his brothers. I think he had a great love for the priests, and a love for people.”
Father Valleroy also was remembered for his ministry to Haiti. While serving at St. Augustine, Father Valleroy and parishioner Jack Davidson visited Haiti and then created a partnership with a Catholic parish, St. Antoine Parish, which was known for its high-quality Catholic school. The partnership led to the founding of the American Haitian Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to working with Haitians to improve their future through quality education and the eradication of malnutrition. The foundation operates Complex Educatif St. Antoine School in Petite Riviere de Nippes.
Mr. Davidson, who is director of the board for the American Haitian Foundation, credited Father Valleroy for his vision and dedication in helping the children of Haiti.
Father Burton, pastor of St. Jude Parish, said Father Valleroy shared his love of dogs. The two priests first worked together at St. Dominic Parish. That friendship continued at St. Jude, where Father Valleroy was embraced by parishioners. Father Burton singled out the Soddy-Daisy Healthcare Center and its caregivers who cared for Father Valleroy and called him Father Paul.
“A devoted group of St. Jude parishioners visited him every day and lovingly brought his laundry home to wash because Father Paul was allergic to the facility’s detergent. It was a true ministry and service to our friend,” Father Burton said.
“Around the rectory, he was known as ‘Uncle Paul’ because from the very first day he came to live with me he took charge of feeding the dogs, Honey and Happy. They became a little stout because of one of his habits—smoking. It was the custom to give them a Milk Bone cookie every time they went out and came back in. However, it became every time Paul went out to smoke they sat by the door waiting for him to come in so they could get a cookie. He went in and out more than they did,” he remembered.
Bishop Stika said Father Valleroy had all the signs of a good and faithful priest, noting that while he wasn’t a perfect priest—no priest is—he was very authentic and was one with the people of God. “My definition of a saint is somebody who recognizes that he or she is a sinner. Paul knew his own deficiencies.”
Bishop Stika pointed out what a blessing Father Valleroy was at the healthcare center where he stayed until his death.
“These last months have been very difficult, especially for people in retirement homes. Being separated by barriers because of the virus. But I have no doubt whatsoever as long as Father Paul was healthy, when he was in that retirement home, it was like he was the priest among many who would minister to the staff and to the people of God. We give thanks for that, for all the lives he touched in that retirement home and all of the lives he touched through his 45 years of priesthood. Now we commend him to almighty God. We pray in thanksgiving for his willingness to be of service, for his willingness to discern ministry and priesthood from his earliest days at St. Rose and at McBride, and in that time of military service, and of desiring to teach and work with the young, to work with those involved in Marriage Encounter.
“We give thanks to almighty God for his witness, his presence, his personality, his weaknesses, and his strengths. We pray this day that Paul might celebrate with God forever, that the Lord will reward him for his many acts of kindness, priestly endeavors, that his sins might be forgiven, that he might be in peace. Paul Valleroy, my brother, my brother priest, my relative, and my friend, we commend you to almighty God,” Bishop Stika concluded.
Father Valleroy, who was buried on Priests Mound in Chattanooga’s Mount Olivet Cemetery, was preceded in death by his parents, Sylvester and Vella Valleroy.
He is survived by his brother and sister-in-law, Jim and Carmela Valleroy of St. Louis, and a number of nieces and nephews.
Donations in Father Valleroy’s name may be made to St. Jude Catholic Church, 930 Ashland Terrace, Chattanooga, TN 37415.