Father Charles Pardee, 64, longtime pastor, chaplain, dies after battle with cancer

To be laid to rest Monday, June 17, in Rosati


Father Charles Donald Pardee was aware that his earthly home was only temporary.

“We are created from God’s hands,” he once wrote, “and we hope to return there forever, into His loving embrace.”

Fr. Pardee, 64, a priest of the Jefferson City diocese, who had ministered in Bevier, Bonnots Mill, Boonville, Columbia, Jefferson City, Loose Creek, Macon, Rolla, Rosati and St. James, died peacefully on June 9.

It was Pentecost Sunday and the 35th anniversary of his priestly ordination.

He had been on health leave in St. Louis and Rosati since February while being treated for abdominal cancer.

The Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 11 a.m. on Monday, June 17, in St. Anthony Church in Rosati.

Bishop W. Shawn McKnight will preside, with priests of the diocese concelebrating and Father Jason T. Doke preaching the homily.

Burial will be in St. Anthony Cemetery in Rosati.

Visitation will be from 2 to 8 p.m. on Sunday, June 16, in St. Anthony Church, with a prayer service led gy Father Mark Smith at 4 p.m.

Religion and politics

Friends remember Fr. Pardee as an exceptional preacher who loved God, the Priesthood and the Eucharist, who lived simply, traveled extensively and could be “brutally honest” with people, who stayed close to his rural, Catholic upbringing and cultivated a strong affinity for people who are poor and in need.

He was born on Sept. 30, 1954, in St. Louis, a son of Donald L. and Concetta K. Pardee, both deceased.

He grew up on their grape vineyard near Rosati in the southeastern portion of the diocese.

There, he experienced intense community life revolving around St. Anthony parish.

“The Italian Catholic culture I grew up in was overflowing with devotion and sacramentality,” he recalled in 2009. “It would have been hard for me to distinguish between being Catholic and being alive.”

He attended local schools, then the University of Missouri and the University of Chicago, majoring in political science.

He worked for two years in sales in Houston after graduating, then spent two months backpacking across Europe before giving in to God’s subtle promptings and entering the seminary in May 1980.

He studied at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, completing a master of divinity degree and a master’s degree in moral theology.

On June 9, 1984, in St. Anthony Church in Rosati, Bishop Michael F. McAuliffe of Jefferson City, now deceased, ordained him to the Holy Priesthood.

He was appointed associate pastor of Immaculate Conception parish in Jefferson City, then associate pastor of St. Patrick parish in Rolla and director of the Rolla Newman Center.

He then served as pastor of Immaculate Conception parish in Macon and the Sacred Heart mission in Bevier; then of Ss. Peter and Paul parish in Boonville; then of St. Thomas More Newman Center parish in Columbia and diocesan director of Catholic campus ministry.

He then became pastor of Immaculate Conception parish in Loose Creek and St. Louis of France parish in Bonnots Mill, and Catholic chaplain at the Jefferson City Correctional Center.

He served as pastor of Immaculate Conception parish in St. James and St. Anthony parish in Rosati while caring for his ailing parents.

From there, he became pastor of St. Patrick parish in Rolla, followed by St. Peter parish in Jefferson City.

He also served for 20 years on the teaching staff for the diocesan Permanent Diaconate Office, helping numerous men discern and prepare to answer their diaconal calling.

“What soap is for”

“He could easily have been given the crown of best preacher in the diocese,” stated Fr. Smith, who served with Fr. Pardee in Columbia.

He backed up that preaching with authenticity.

“That meant that what you said and did reflected who you are and what you are about,” said Fr. Smith. “He strove relentlessly to be authentic for his people, and that’s what he expected from others.”

Fr. Smith was a student at what is now the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla when Fr. Pardee was chaplain at the Newman Center there.

Having taught Fr. Smith how to serve at Mass, Fr. Pardee mentioned the Priesthood to him and a handful of other students during a social gathering.

He later cautioned against pursuing it for the wrong reasons.

“He said you cannot come to a fork in the road and decide to pursue the Priesthood just because you think the other road is blocked,” Fr. Smith recalled. “It has to be something you freely choose.”

After several months of searching, Fr. Smith realized that God was, in fact, opening the door to the seminary for him and not just closing the door to something else.

Years later, they ministered together as priests in Columbia.

Fr. Smith noted that Fr. Pardee was intensely oriented toward social justice.

“He focused on preaching and assisting the poor — and he defined ‘the poor’ broadly,” said Fr. Smith.

For instance, Fr. Pardee considered college students to be poor in terms of having their interests recognized and reflected in ministry.

“He was always concerned about them getting lost in the shuffle,” said Fr. Smith.

He brought that same level of passion and concern to ministering to the men in prison in Jefferson City.

His affinity for presenting the unvarnished truth caused him trouble from time to time.

“He didn’t sugarcoat things,” said Fr. Smith. “I think he was constitutionally incapable of lying.”

Once after a gathering at the Rolla Newman Center, Fr. Smith noticed Fr. Pardee digging through the trash, gathering aluminum cans to return for recycling.

Fr. Smith said, “That’s gross! Your hands are gonna’ be filthy!’”

Fr. Pardee replied: “It’s better than throwing money away. Besides, isn’t that what soap is for?”

Passion for the Word

Fr. Pardee believed Mass was too important for anyone to miss it, and that it should always start on time. 

He found tremendous joy in proclaiming the Word and celebrating the sacraments.

“I love to preach!” he once stated. “The Word of God is so rich and full and powerful. Every time I read and pray over and proclaim Scripture, it just blows me away spiritually, like I’m reading it for the first time.”

“Father had a certain joy about him when he was doing ministry. Sometimes, it just made him light up,” said Fr. Doke, who was a member of St. Thomas More Newman Center parish for seven years before entering the seminary.

Fr. Pardee was Fr. Doke’s pastor for much of his time in Columbia, and they later ministered together as priests in Rolla.

Fr. Pardee subtly kept the idea of Priesthood and religious life in the minds of the students in his Bible studies.  

“He was very big on vocations — all vocations,” said Fr. Doke. “I mean, I remember him trying to ‘set people up’ at the Newman Center.”

Fr. Pardee never had a serious talk with Fr. Doke about considering the Priesthood. He just kept asking, “So, are you ready for seminary?”

“I think he was a little surprised when I called his bluff,” said Fr. Doke.

“Just common sense”

Fr. Pardee believed going to Mass and studying the Bible needed to lead people to ongoing conversion.

“Father modeled that every day of his life,” said Fr. Doke. “He always set a high standard, but it wasn’t something you couldn’t reach.”

He was notoriously frugal.

“He had a knack for getting stuff done on a budget and sticking to it,” said Fr. Doke. “One time, I asked him, ‘What’s the secret to that?’ He said, ‘Just common sense.’”

Fr. Pardee would spend most of his days off with his parents, helping tend the cattle and the grapes.

After they died, he continued the laborious task of pruning and harvesting, often with help from nearby friends.

A consummate traveler, he spent time visiting all 50 U.S. states and more than 100 countries.

“It feels like family no matter where I go,” he once said. “Being Catholic, it’s interesting to go to church in Qatar and Mali and Bulgaria and feel right at home.” 

He was strong in his challenge to people to live up to their commitments. 

He believed in the power of prayer, along with God’s overwhelming generosity, and in the intercession of St. Anthony of Padua and Pope St. John Paul II that sustained him in ministry.

“The abundance of concern, generosity, care and prayers you have shown me is amazing to me,” he wrote to the people of St. Peter parish in Jefferson City a few weeks after beginning his treatment. “The world is filled with good — filled with God — shown in your very goodness.”

For his Funeral Mass and visitation, his earthly remains will rest near the place before the altar where he lay prostrate during his Ordination Mass 35 years ago.

He recalled that moment vividly while offering the Funeral Mass for his father in that same church in 2009.

“I see now how rich these signs are — rich beyond anything I could imagine because of all these experiences and all of these connections I have,” he said.