July 2007 - Volume 11, Issue 12

A Good Shepherd

By The Most Reverend William E. Lori, S.T.D., Bishop Of Bridgeport

Photo of The Most Reverend William E. LoriThe church parking lot was filled to capacity. Shuttle buses were bringing participants from remote parking sites. A large number of clergy had gathered and were vesting. The church was swirling with activity as the choir, cantors, lectors, and altar servers prepared for Mass. Ushers were helping those arriving just before Mass find a seat in the large but already crowded church. Finally, as Mass began, family members, friends, parishioners, and visitors from other parishes were in place.

Such was the immediate prelude to one of the most moving tributes to a priest I have ever witnessed. The occasion was the fiftieth anniversary of the priestly ordination of Msgr. Edward B. Karl, the retiring pastor of Saint Mary Parish in Bethel.

As the liturgical procession made its way into the church, I walked just behind Msgr. Karl. Since just before Christmas, he has battled a life-threatening illness. Supported by the fervent prayers of his family and parishioners, together with priests, religious, and lay people around the diocese and beyond, he pulled through and had made tremendous strides toward recovery.

Now, on the long-planned occasion of his fiftieth anniversary, Msgr. Karl returned to his beloved parish for the first time since he had taken ill. I was standing just behind him as he entered the church. The eyes of all were upon him. The congregation spontaneously erupted in vigorous and sustained applause as, with the assistance of two brother priests, he made his way up the center aisle. There was not a dry eye in the house as this truly gifted and faithful priest and pastor made his ascent to the altar of God.

Few congregations joined in the celebration of the Mass with more fervor than those who had gathered that day at Saint Mary's. With the help of a splendid choir that was truly singing from the heart, the participants nearly raised the roof in praise of God. And they answered the Mass prayers with conviction and gusto. Truly we had joined together as the family of faith that Msgr. Karl had fostered over and over again throughout his many years of priestly service.

The homilist for this occasion was Msgr. Edward Scull, the retired pastor of Saint Pius X Parish in Fairfield. The two priests became friends when a young Father Karl was assigned to work at the former Central Catholic High School in Norwalk where then-Father Scull served as principal.

Msgr. Scull's homily accomplished everything and more that a homily for such an occasion should. With humor and seriousness of purpose, he interwove Msgr. Karl's fifty splendid years of priesthood with the question Jesus asked Peter three times: "Simon, son of John, do you love Me?" Keeping his eye on the challenges Peter faced in responding to Jesus' call, Msgr. Scull demonstrated how Msgr. Karl, in the various stages of his priestly ministry, had responded to Jesus' thrice-asked question, "Do you love me?" Recounting his service at various parishes, his effective support of Catholic education, and his crowning achievements at Saint Mary Parish, Msgr. Scull helped us see that, despite many challenges, including his illness, Msgr. Karl had always answered the Lord's question by saying, as did Peter, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you!"

And at the end of his homily, to a standing ovation, Msgr. Scull addressed his very good friend and added, "You know, Ed, that we love you!"

As Mass proceeded, I rejoiced to stand at the altar with Msgr. Karl and so many brother priests to offer once again Jesus' redeeming sacrifice of love. Clearly, this was the cornerstone of Monsignor's priestly ministry, the mystery of faith from which he daily derived the strength to preach and teach the faith, to forge relationships of respect and love with parishioners of all ages, and to serve lovingly all those in need.

As we proclaimed the words of the Eucharistic prayer, I thought of how this good priest and pastor delighted to share with his people the Body and Blood of Christ, and to bring them into a unity of faith and love through the power of the Holy Spirit.

As Mass concluded, Msgr. Karl's nephew, Leo Karl, III, told us the many ways his uncle had shown love and affection for his whole family. His wonderful talk was something like looking through the family album. It was followed by a presentation by Steve DeMarco, who described how Msgr. Karl transformed Saint Mary Parish during his 18 years as its pastor, especially in the construction of a large and beautiful church. It was clear to all that Msgr. Karl in a very real sense had "re-founded" Saint Mary Parish.

By the end of those presentations, we had been in church quite some time. There was worry that perhaps this was a bit too much for a man still on the road to recovering his health. But we needn't have worried. Msgr. Karl asked for the microphone to offer a few words. When he noted with self-deprecating humor that he might have a bit of trouble choosing the exact word now and then, we glimpsed the goodness of the endearing personality that remains a bridge to Christ. His choice of words was fine. He spoke the language of love.

Yes, it was in every way a fitting tribute to a wonderful priest who continues to serve us, especially by his prayers. I know he has prayed for us even more than we prayed for him throughout his ongoing ordeal. And his prayers are bringing about untold graces in many lives.

If we wish to continue honoring the priesthood of Msgr. Karl and many other wonderful priests like him, we should make it a point to pray every day for vocations to the priesthood and to support the vocations program of the diocese. We should pray for more seminarians and ask that they be blessed with gifts like those of Msgr. Karl, whose priesthood has had such a lasting impact on all of us. We should encourage young men to consider whether they might be called to follow in the footsteps of this great priest. I am convinced that we will be blessed by many vocations if we pray for them and if we give young people a chance to answer the call the Lord may be addressing to them. A word of encouragement from parish priests, from parents and teachers, and from other mentors and role models will go a long way toward helping young people respond to the Lord's call.

More than 30 young men will gather in the coming days for the annual Quo Vadis summer vocations camp. Who knows if another Msgr. Karl might be in that group?

Congratulations, Msgr. Karl! May the Lord bless and sustain you, together with all of us who are your brother priests, in faithful, generous service to His people, for years to come!