(Diane Portner, Special Events Coordinator at St. Jude Chapel delivered this speech on the 20th Anniversary of Father Jonathan’s Ordination)
Growing up Catholic in The Diocese of Dallas/Fort Worth almost 70 years ago in the 1950s, my image of a priest was something like this: They dressed in long black cassocks and wore weird hats with pompoms on top, walked around with their hands behind their backs, smiled & waved (if you were lucky), drove either an Oldsmobile or Pontiac sedan, and showed up in my classroom every six weeks to hand out report cards. I was in awe of priests, and knew they were people to be respected, and VERY important!!!
Now fast forward about 50 years, and my image of a priest has changed, somewhat. I still think of them as people to be respected, I still believe they are very important, and I admit to still being somewhat in awe of them. I have been blessed in my life to have some very impressive priest friends who, coincidentally, all have connections to St. Jude Chapel: Msgr. Joseph Schumacher, now retired, the first permanent administrator of St. Jude Chapel, and one of the priests who married Bob & me; Father Timothy Gollob, the other priest who married Bob & me, the pastor of Holy Cross Church for almost 50 years, and a very close family friend, and possibly a living saint, who happened to baptize Father Jonathan; and of course, our very dear Msgr. Myers, Father Jonathan’s mentor.
I remember the day I heard Father Jonathan was assigned to St. Jude Chapel. I was still teaching school, and Carol Schultz called me with the news. Carol told me we had finally been assigned a new administrator. She said he was very young (to Carol & I everyone is very young), and very smart, she said she thought I would like him. And OH!!! He drives a Mustang! Okay, I thought— but young?
How can I possibly relate to a priest who was born after I graduated from Nolan High School? I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. But I promised myself that I wouldn’t love him the way I love Father Joe, Father Tim, and Msgr. Myers. That was a promise I would soon break.
Working at St. Jude Chapel, I am in a unique position to observe Father Jonathan on an almost daily basis. This is what I see: I see a man with amazing strength, who constantly runs late because he will never say NO to a phone call or to hear a confession.
I see a man with boundless energy, who survives on very little sleep because he truly drops everything to head to the hospital when we press the #5. I know this for a fact because I have been at the receiving end of one of those visits when my sweet husband had his heart attack a little over a year ago. The comfort he brought to our family cannot be measured. And when he told me to call him any time of the day or night, they weren’t just words, he meant them.
I see a man with amazing compassion and empathy. When I received a call the night of July 7, 2016, the night of the ambush on the Dallas Police Department, that there were emergency vehicles in front of our chapel —a lot of them — I called Father Jonathan to let him know. He immediately left to come down here, and when the police wouldn’t let him into downtown Dallas, he didn’t go home and go back to bed. He drove over to Baylor Hospital to see if he could help. And when we set up a memorial to those fallen officers, we included the shooter. How many churches did that?
When I look at Father Jonathan I see a man with incredible generosity. Did you know that he sponsors a soccer team for underprivileged middle school children and stocks a food pantry for elementary school children so they will have food on the weekends when the school is closed? He won’t tell you that, but I just did.
I could go on and on about all the ways Father Jonathan has impacted my life and the lives of the people who visit our chapel each day, but I’d be here far too long, and I have cake waiting to be served in the foyer. So, I will close with this. Move over Msgr. Myers, Msgr. Schumacher, and Father Tim —there’s a new guy in town, Father Jonathan Austin. He may drive a Mustang and wear blue jeans and a t-shirt instead of a cassock, but in my book, he deserves a place on my pedestal of priests.
And by the way: I have them all on speed dial.
Happy anniversary, Father Jonathan.