'Retirement' Is a Word Father Ed Doesn't Know

Posted: 8/27/2012

by Rita H. Delorme, Southern Cross Columnist

Glenmary Father Ed Gorny leads a class in Claxton, Ga.The following article first appeared in the July 5, 2012, issue of The Southern Cross, official newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Savannah, Ga. It is being reprinted with permission.

Recently, when an article about the 19 years of struggles endured by the Clyde and Frances Black family appeared in the Savannah Morning News, who knew that Father Ed Gorny's name would be mentioned toward the end of it? Father Gorny, now 79, became a senior member of his religious community in 2002—and voluntarily "retired" to Claxton that same year to help the priest and pastoral team serving three Glenmary missions in Claxton, Pembroke and Sandhill.

A native of Detroit, Ed Gorny came to his vocation in his late 20s. His background before entering the priesthood was varied: four years service in the U.S. Navy, employment in a number of fields, accounting degree work at the University of Detroit on the GI Bill, and a brief career as an accountant. But the call to join the Glenmary Home Missioners was there even before he finished college.

After becoming a Glenmarian, Father Gorny served at missions in Appalachia, the South and the Southwest. His tour in the Diocese of Savannah began in 1971 when he became pastor of Sacred Heart mission in Waynesboro and St. Joan of Arc mission in Louisville. After retiring in 2002 from the Glenmary missions in Sylvania and Millen, the energetic Glenmarian began ministering to those missions 50 miles away.

Fast forward to 10 years later: Father Gorny, nearing 80, still works with the Catholic communities in Claxton and Pembroke. As sacramental minister, he celebrates at least four Masses a week and administers the sacraments. His duties embrace other vital services and include visiting homebound or hospitalized parishioners, bringing them the sacraments and anointing them. Today, his job description doesn't seem that much different from what it was 10 years ago.

Reached by telephone, he answers "Speaking" promptly when the caller asks for him.

"How's life been treating you?" the caller inquires.

"Fine," Father Gorny replies. "I keep busy." He adds that "technically" he's considered a sacramental minister, though he does do other things. These "other things" include what he did that morning.

Following the 9 a.m. Mass, he and a half-dozen parishioners—fortified by coffee and snacks—met to discuss the coming Sunday's readings. The ones this week, he mentions, concern several miraculous cures performed by Jesus. Also on the busy 79-year-old's schedule is monthly attendance at deanery meetings and at parish council meetings in Pembroke.

"Unfortunately, I don't know Spanish," he says, "so I can't help with that. My ministry is mostly with those who speak English."

On May 26, Father Gorny was happily present at the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist when James Spacher was ordained a permanent deacon for Saint Christopher mission in Claxton. Deacon Spacher and pastoral associate Sister Janet Fischer, FSPA, are now responsible, says Father Gorny, for the mission's ecumenical outreach in addition to their other duties.

He enthusiastically describes the quarterly Parish Family Day he initiated at Claxton "to help build up the community and share an opportunity to grow in the faith." He says many of those who participate must travel from outlying areas, so the instruction is usually preceded by a meal or light refreshments. Afterwards, there are separate classes for adults and for children, followed by a joint discussion of what they've learned at their respective sessions and a prayer service.

It's Father Gorny's far-reaching, all-embracing ministry that led to his being mentioned in the recent Savannah Morning News article about the Black family, now members of Holy Cross mission in Pembroke. That family's story is a tragic one that began with the accidental (and unexplained) shooting of their 17-year-old son, Patrick, 19 years ago, followed by both parents enduring bouts of cancer. Patrick later died of his head wound, and his father Clyde—a Baptist minister—afterwards died of a second onset of cancer.

Father Gorny visited the Blacks throughout their time of trial and spoke at Clyde Black's funeral. His final request was honored recently when his son Patrick's body was moved from Savannah and reinterred next to him at Northside Cemetery in Pembroke.

The Blacks' daughter Patricia (Tricia) quit school and her heavy work schedule for a time to care for her mother, Frances, who had cancer. (Frances Black's cancer is now in remission.) Tricia, her course work nearly completed, is set to graduate from Armstrong Atlantic State University in December.

Father Ed Gorny—the Glenmary priest who doesn't seem to know the meaning of the word "retirement"—was there for the Blacks when they needed him and is still there for others who need him as he continues his amazing ministry.