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Article: Father Roger Landry Celebrates 25 Years of Priesthood, Fittingly, on Eucharistic Pilgrimage

This article, by Father Raymond De Souza, appeared in the National Catholic Register on June 26.


COMMENTARY: Father Landry shares the priesthood with countless others, but he lives it in a way that is rare.


The silver jubilee of priestly ordination is a notable occasion for the priest himself, his family and friends, and those entrusted to his priestly care. It is not usually noted in a national Catholic newspaper, but then very few things about Father Roger Landry are entirely usual. 


Herewith, then, salutations and congratulations from me, for I count Father Roger as one of my longtime and closest friends, and on the expectation that his readers here in the National Catholic Register will join me in giving thanks to God for his priestly ministry.


Father Roger will mark the anniversary — June 26, 1999, was his ordination day — in a way that no other priest has ever marked a silver jubilee: He will be at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parish in Pickerington, Ohio. That clearly is Providential, as Father Roger is the chaplain for the Seton Route Eucharistic Pilgrimage, now on its 40th day, making its way from New Haven, Connecticut, to Indianapolis as part of the National Eucharistic Revival. The local pastor in Pickerington, Father Leo Connolly, and the parish will generously host a reception for Father Roger at the end of a busy day of Eucharistic devotions. Bishop Earl Fernandes of Columbus will be on hand, as well. 


So Father Roger’s family and friends have been invited to Pickerington — not his hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts, or his home diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts, or even his current assignment at Columbia University in Manhattan, where he serves as chaplain of the Thomas Merton Institute for Catholic Life, the campus ministry.


And none were entirely surprised to learn that his anniversary would fall in the midst of something so extraordinary. His life is like that.


Father Roger shares the priesthood with countless others, but he lives it in a way that is rare. Not because of his many talents; the Harvard graduate speaks many languages and possesses a formidable intellect. There are many other such priests. 


What sets Father Roger apart is that he is a cauldron of energy. We have been friends for longer than he has been ordained, and I am still waiting for any diminution in his formidable drive.


“I am the luckiest priest in the United States,” Father Roger said about being able accompany the Seton Route for all 65 days. 

The other pilgrimages have chaplains that serve for a week at a time. Father Roger attributed his “luck” to the fact that, being in campus ministry, he was available for the entirety of the summer pilgrimage. True enough, but availability is not the same as ability, and summertime alone does not bring preternatural stamina. Father Roger is nearly unique in considering 65 days of walking — punctuated daily by multiple Masses, Holy Hours, processions and Benedictions — something entirely reasonable to do in his mid-50s.


And then there is the preaching. He is America’s most indefatigable homilist. Reading his regular output, made available daily online at “Catholic Preaching,” is astonishing. Many fellow preachers would be hard put to read the homilies he produces, let alone to prepare and preach them. The Eucharistic Pilgrimage has shown Father Roger at his most devoted — even after miles of walking, at the end of a day having borne the burden of the sun, his homily is never perfunctory. He takes into account the scriptural readings, the feast day, the history of the place and the occasion at hand. Somehow, after all that, there is energy left over to record it all on the Seton Route blog.


Since his ordination in 1999 — at the hands of Cardinal Seán O’Malley, then bishop of Fall River — Father Roger has had an array of assignments. He was pastor of St. Anthony’s in New Bedford, as well as other parochial assignments, and edited the diocesan newspaper. He spent seven years working at the Holy See mission to the United Nations in New York before becoming chaplain at Columbia. All the while, he has kept up a far-reaching preaching ministry, including retreats for priests, served for years offering daily Mass for the Sisters of Life, leads the New York chapter of the Leonine Forum — a formation program for young Catholic adults — and somehow accommodates a large roster of those who seek him out for spiritual direction. There are few priests whose ministry touches so many, including through the pages of the Register.


As his friend, I am partial. Partiality may cloud perception, but proximity also permits a proper assessment, and in Father Roger, the priesthood has been lived in an exemplary way. Reason enough for the parishioners in Pickerington to congratulate their pilgrim priest at the jubilee picnic this evening. 


The pilgrimage offers a spiritual, not only physical, challenge.


“Those are extraordinary conversations, with Jesus 2 inches from my face, sometimes for hours each day,” said Father Roger.


As someone who has spent hours in conversation with Father Roger — admittedly, though, not two inches apart — I know that those conversations are likely profound and intense — and infused with the joy of the Gospel. Almost everyone who comes into contact with Father Roger, even if only to hear him preach, experiences his intensity. A good biblical word for that is “zeal.”


On Monday, Father Roger was preaching for the feast of St. John the Baptist’s nativity in St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Wheeling, West Virginia.


“‘Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world’ — the words of the Baptist — were not just so that John’s disciples Andrew and John would leave him to follow Jesus,” Father Roger preached. “Ultimately, by divine plan, so that they might be said more than 500,000 times every day to point to Jesus Christ in the Eucharist at Mass.”


Father Roger will say those words again today, as do all priests at the altar. He can tell you how many times he has done so; with Landry-style precision he has kept track of every Mass he has offered over 25 years. He offers the Mass with an intensity that is infectious, inviting all present into that conversation with Jesus — whether he be 2 inches or 200 feet away.

Father Roger has been a blessing to me in my priesthood, as he has been for so many others. So I expect that Register readers will welcome this note of appreciation here and join in a prayer of thanksgiving.


Ad multos annos, Father Roger Landry!


Father Raymond J. de Souza Father Raymond J. de Souza is the founding editor of Convivium magazine.

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