Service with a smile

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 25, 2008


Editor and Publisher

RESERVE – How has the world changed in the 40 years since Our Lady of Grace Pastor Joseph Rodney began in the priesthood?

“If a teenager asked their parent for contraceptives 40 years ago, they would probably have killed them,” he said with a laugh, making his point. “Today, the parents are the ones helping the kids get them.”

And so it has been over four decades for “Father Rodney,” watching the world change as he recently celebrated 40 years of ministry, with the past 10 being as the priest at Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church in Reserve.

Rodney, now 70, has been through some challenging physical trials in the past few years, culminating almost a year ago with a kidney transplant.

But even through it all, he still finds joy in his calling, and still sees a few more years of serving the church before he retires.

“This is my last assignment, that’s for sure,” he said. “But I still have the passion to do this, and I still enjoy it. If not, I would have been out.”

And Rodney says there is much work to do with today’s society, that has so steadily moved towards a more liberal moral approach to life.

“”I’m worried about our young people, since so many have views of marriage that have no commitment to the sacrament,” he noted. “When they come for interviews before they get married, the attitude of many is that they will stay together as long as they can, then they can call it quits if they want to.”

Where does Rodney place the blame for what has happened in our materialistic world of these United States?

“It always goes back to the parents,” he said. “Every family is so much more interested in having two cars, a boat and taking big vacations. But when it comes to being strict with kids, and teaching them the fundamental values of moral behavior, the kids are dictating to the parents what to do.”

Rodney said he does see “some” young couples who give him hope, but unfortunately, the majority don’t seem to be that way.

“I have seen some sincere commitment to marriage from young people, so I’m not saying it’s everyone,” he remarked. “And I am seeing more young people who seem to be searching for God. People haven’t forgotten God is there, but they forget that God is the one who gave them their inspiration, their ability, and everything they have.”

Rodney said that the solution to the problem is really not that hard to find.

“It’s very simple. If you are a Christian, you should base your life on what Jesus taught. Love God, and love your neighbor. But people want to ignore that basic teaching and they have gotten away from the basic teachings of Christ,” he added.

OLG is his favorite

Father Rodney states unequivocally that his best assignment as a priest, and that includes a total of eight different positions around the country, is the current stay at Our Lady of Grace.

“Really, it’s true,” he said. “This has been the most outstanding place I have been, mainly due to the relationship with the people. Maybe I’ve also gotten better at handling things with age, but right now I feel more fulfilled in my ministry than I ever have.”

Rodney finished his schooling with a B.A. degree in philosophy from Epiphany College in Newbourg, NY, and then was ordained on May 25, 1968 at St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Baton Rouge, a part of the Josephite’s Order.

He immediately was assigned to St. Luke’s Catholic Church in Washington, D.C., where he stayed four years. From there, his 40 years had him staying eight years in Beaumont, Tx., four years as chaplin at Southern University in Baton Rouge, three years back in Washington D.C., a year in the Houma-Thibodaux area, seven years in Mobile, Ala., four years in Napoleonville, La., and finally here to Reserve with Our Lady of Grace.

What does it take to be a good priest?

“A lot of dedication, and you really need to be a good listener,” he said. “Patience is important and you have to have faith in your own abilities. If you doubt yourself, you won’t make it.”

The toughest thing, Rodney said, is living alone, and sticking to the vow of celibacy. “I enjoy congregating with people, so living alone has been a hard thing at times,” he remarked.

From a Large Family

Rodney grew up in New Roads, La., one of seven children in a family that had a sharecropper father, and a mother who was the educated parent, making sure her children grew up strong in the Catholic faith.

His father “probably only finished the second grade,” leaving much of the parenting to his mother, who made sure her children got educated, and were committed to their faith.

“My mother would teach religion to all the children in the neighborhood, black and white,” he recalled. “She was really the leader in everything in our home, although my dad was a good provider.”

Rodney said he never became extremely close with his father until taking care of his dad in his final years. His mother died of cancer in 1970 at the age of 60, and his father lived until 1981 when he eventually died from prostate cancer.

“I took my dad in for his final year of life and we became closer than ever,” Rodney said. “In the beginning, my mom supported me going into the ministry and my dad was against it. But in the end, my father was most happy of all that I became a priest.”

Growing up with three brothers and three sisters, his parents provided a stable home for him that was typical of a sharecropper’s family.

“We lived out in the country so just making it to church was hard,” he said. “The church would send a bus out our way at times, and my mom would have us all get on the bus to go, even though my dad didn’t.”

He never considered the ministry, and only had a cousin as any family member who had become a priest, but Rodney said it was his senior year in high school where his involvement with the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) made him consider becoming a priest.

“The priest during my senior year really motivated me to consider the ministry,” Rodney said. “There were even three others in my class who tried it. At first I never thought I had what it took to make it, knowing I had to pass all these college courses, and also questioning if I had the spirituality to do this.”

But each year at Epiphany College helped his confidence grow.

“I liked the ministry since it was the idea of doing good for people, and helping others,” Rodney recalled. “And as I went through college, I began to believe more and more in myself.”

The rest is history for him as he graduated from Epiphany, and went on to be ordained in 1968.

His hope now is to see the young people of today return to the faith that was so much stronger in years past.

“The fundamentals of faith are not being instilled in kids,” he said. “My first 20 years in the ministry, things were more stable. But now I see how much it has changed. Academically kids are smarter today, but spiritually, parents are not encouraging them in what they need.”

“The answer is still in the Scriptures, and that’s what I try to teach,” he added. “Things could turn around, and I always have hope to see that happen. But people have to know that their real peace and happiness comes when they do as Christ taught.”