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A Priest For All Seasons, Part 3

Father John Boddie

Urbanna, Va.— According to Father John Boddie, it is not easy these days to be a Catholic priest. My guess is that most ministers from all denominations would probably agree.

It is never easy to be a man of God standing up for traditional values in a rapidly changing hi-tech society such as ours that offers so much individual freedom to its citizens. America is the first society in the world that values human happiness so much that it bends over backwards in every aspect of life to encourage pursuit of happiness. Such atmosphere does not make selling God easy.

There are other problems. “The church has collected so much “debris” over its many centuries,” Father John said. He used “Star Trek” to illustrate what he meant by “debris.” In the film the crew saw a huge, oblong, unidentified mass but could not identify it. It turned out to be nothing more than Voyager which had meandered through space for years and years collecting so much space junk that it no longer resembled its original shape. According to Father John, the same thing has happened in the church.

“Look at this,” Father John pointed to a book on his desk issued by the Catholic Church entitled “Our Journey of Faith Led by the Spirit.” The priest said Catholics everywhere are challenged by such material to seek answers to the many problems they face.

“But look at this warning,” he added, reading directly from the text . . . “All proposals to solve problems must conform to the canon of the church. . . ,” which Father John sees as immediately self-defeating.

The serious issues Catholics face are the growing gulf between Rome and secular freedom in American society on issues such as birth control, divorce, abortion, a male-only priesthood, euthanasia, shared communion with non-Catholic Christians, celibacy, and gays in the church. Just to name a few.

Not to mention the Pope’s recent statement that claimed the Roman Catholic faith is the “only true Christian faith. . . ,” which many Protestants and Catholics alike view as shockingly intolerant, disrespectful and a leap backward to medieval mentality.

But the really good news is Father Boddie possesses unending supplies of faith and goodwill toward his fellow man, that no church dogma anywhere can ever erase—and, a beautiful propensity to argue.

He got me giggling with a pretended conversation he had with the Pope over the church’s “carving out special dispensation for priests over its definition of celibacy,” but not doing it for homosexuals. 

“We do not fall in love with body parts,” Father John explained with passion. “We fall in love with the soul. There is opportunity for love between all people.”

In 1983, after graduation from St. Meinrad in southern Indiana, a Catholic pre-seminary undergraduate school that is now defunct, Bishop Sullivan sent John to St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, a five-year program leading to a master’s degree in divinity and a bachelor’s degree in sacred theology. Before graduation, he was sent a year to assist a parish in an intern-type program that gave candidates for the priesthood direct experience.

Thus, at age 29, in 1988, he was finally ordained priest by Bishop Sullivan in Richmond along with two other men. It was a happy time in his life. However, within the year one of the two other new priests fell in love with a woman, left the priesthood, and was married.

“But the other priest and I are still hanging in there!” Father John quipped with his usual high sense of humor.

His first church assignment was to be an assistant priest at Our Lady of Nazareth Catholic Church in Roanoke. “I probably shouldn’t say this but that priest also left the priesthood and married while I was there!” he laughed, “but the congregation was so supportive of me. A retired priest by the name of ‘Father Al’ came in to take over the church. It was great for me because he had been the priest of John and Jackie Kennedy and Bobby and Ethel Kennedy in Middleburg and he would regale me with Kennedy stories.”

The 1990s was a time of many priests leaving the Catholic Church mainly over wanting love, marriage and family. But Father John braved on. If he experienced periods of self-doubt during this time, or if he felt his own painful yearning for a wife and family, he kept such feelings to himself.

His next church was St. Paul’s in Richmond where he served as assistant priest from 1990-91. From there he went to Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Virginia Beach where he served until 1994. Then back to St. Gerard as administrator for a year.

But in 1994, Father Boddie began to feel unrest for the first time in his priesthood. He requested a leave of absence from the Catholic Church. “I needed reflective time,” he told me. “It hit me that I had never experienced living on my own and paying my own way. I felt I needed to experience life as an average person knew it and that this, in itself, would make me a better priest.”

The leave of absence was granted and Father John entered the real world. It turned out to be a very important time for the young priest to learn more about himself and the lessons of life. He worked for “Norfolk Works,” placing people in jobs in Virginia Beach.

It was then that Father John developed a Platonic friendship with a woman friend; an important relationship that he needed for support. He had learned the simple lesson that even a priest needed some close and caring friends in this world. 

“It hit me while I was out there working that people came home from work tired at night and it was hard for them to go back out for a church meeting, especially if they had children and needed to cook dinner and help them with homework, and then put them to bed on time.”

To this day Father John ends all evening church meetings early.  (To be continued.) ©2007

Read Mary Wakefield Buxton’s 5-part series, “A Priest For All Seasons,” on the life of Father John Boddie right here.

A Priest for All Seasons, Part 1
A Priest for All Seasons, Part 2
A Priest for All Seasons, Part 4
A Priest for All Seasons, Part 5
First Sail of the Season

posted 05.27.2009

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