Father Patrick Dolan took the role of St. Peter one Holy Thursday during an unusually long foot-washing at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper.
“Master,” he eventually called out, “I will help You wash the feet.”
That impromptu amendment to the rite was not out of character for Fr. Dolan, who was ordained a priest of the Jefferson City diocese 50 years ago this summer.
For him, service in union with Christ is the core of priestly ministry.
“The heartbeat of our Catholic faith is really vocation,” said Fr. Dolan. “The Priesthood is one very special vocation within the Church, with a sense of mission to nurture all other vocations.
“The image of shepherding is very strong for me when I speak of representing Christ through the gift of Priesthood — either in pastoral leadership, in formation, which takes many forms, and above all through witnessing,” he said.
Fr. Dolan is a missionary. He grew up in Ireland while it was dispatching thousands of priests and sisters to minister throughout the English-speaking world and beyond.
“There was a profound sense of leaving on mission that was very much a part of the Priesthood in Ireland at that time,” he said. “There were constant reminders of people you knew who were out on mission.”
He followed his older brother, Thomas, into priestly discernment at All Hallows Missionary College in Dublin and then into priestly service for the Diocese of Jefferson City.
They came from a family of nine siblings, five boys and four girls.
“I am the youngest of the boys, and I have three younger sisters,” Fr. Dolan noted.
Priestly and religious vocations were looked upon favorably in his and most other Irish Catholic families.
“It’s not that I was forced or encouraged that strongly to be a priest,” he said, “but my parents were very open to it.”
By the time he was in high school, he was ready to give the seminary a try.
He suspects that he might have taken up teaching or law-enforcement had the Lord not called him to be a priest.
He had never visited the United States until the year before his ordination, when he spent part of the summer in this diocese.
On June 20, 1971, in the chapel of All Hallows College, Archbishop (later Cardinal) Timothy Manning — “he, too, was a missionary” — ordained Fr. Dolan and 12 other men to the Holy Priesthood.
“It was a very warm and exciting day,” Fr. Dolan recalled, “a day when family and friends came to be present.”
He remained in Ireland for almost three months while his U.S. visa was being processed.
“In the meantime, I enjoyed myself and took Masses on the weekend at different places, mostly at home,” he said.
He believes farewells are echoes of the Paschal Mystery — Jesus’s suffering, death and resurrection.
“There is a dying and a rising that we all have to do to be of service as a priest,” he stated.
“My first important and difficult farewell came when I bade goodbye to my family and friends and travelled to Missouri to begin my priestly ministry,” he said.
“Time to serve”
Fr. Dolan was assigned to St. Brendan Parish in Mexico, with Father Arthur Mersinger, now deceased, as his pastor.
“He had served a short time in our diocese’s missions in Peru,” Fr. Dolan noted. “His sister was in Maryknoll and worked in the missions in Hong Kong.”
Fr. Dolan later served as associate pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Columbia, then as a teacher and spiritual director at Helias Catholic High School in Jefferson City.
He had been a priest for about 11 years when he volunteered to serve in the missions in Peru.
“I figured I was young and energetic enough to take a turn at the missions, which I wound up giving 10 years to,” he said.
Since 1962, the diocese had been sending as many as 10 percent of its priests to serve in the Dioceses of Ica and Puno.
After learning Spanish in Cochabamba, Bolivia, he was appointed pastor of St. James the Apostle Parish in Nazca, Peru.
“It was certainly a learning experience for me,” he said.
He worked with a mission team consisting of priests, sisters and laypeople to minister to thousands of Catholics spread out across many miles.
For him, it was very biblical.
“To know what it is like to live in a desert, what wilderness means, what mountains mean — that’s what I experienced there,” he said.
He learned how to make his parishioners’ culture his own, so as to minister to them from within rather than imposing his own culture on them.
For instance, “they taught me to use time to serve people and not people to serve time,” he said.
One of the mission team’s goals was to help people in the parishes prepare to accept leadership roles in the Church.
“The whole idea of a missionary is to do himself out of a job,” Fr. Dolan noted. “That was part of our effort, to train those who would continue the mission of the Church without the help of the religious communities from other countries.”
He said going on mission is an adventure, “and I advise making it a prayerful one.”
Fr. Dolan believes the very nature of being a follower of Christ is to have a missionary spirit that is in the habit of asking, “What can I do to share my faith in Christ with others?”
Working in Peru with people from all over the world gave him a greater sense of the “Catholicity” of the Church.
He believes that any number of things could make a person stand out as a great missionary, “but what really sets one apart is the love they have for people who very often are in great need.”
“In the Psalm, we hear that God hears the cry of the poor,” he noted. “For us to hear and respond to the cry of the poor is to enlighten and strengthen the Church throughout the world.”
He called to mind the words of a Peruvian Christmas hymn: “Todos los días nace el Señor” — “Every day, the Lord is born.”
“For that to be true, we all have to be missionaries,” he stated. “If that ever ceases, we’ll no longer be the Church.”
Fr. Dolan returned to Missouri in 1995, ministering briefly at St. Patrick Parish in Rolla before being sent to lead St. Joseph Parish in Salisbury.
He then served as pastor of Ss. Peter & Paul Parish in Boonville, followed by Immaculate Conception Parish in Jefferson City, and then St. Patrick Parish in Laurie and the Mission of St. Philip Benizi in Versailles.
Since 2016, he has been offering weekend Masses in Milan and Unionville and ministering to Hispanic Catholics in several parishes in northeastern Missouri.
He recently took up residence in the St. Bonaventure Rectory in Marceline. He looks forward to helping locate and establish ministries to small new communities of Hispanic immigrants in this diocese.
He pointed out that like generations of immigrants who settled here ahead of them, “many come to us in mourning for having left their home, and longing to have a place that’s a Church home for them.”
He said he has been blessed with many challenging assignments, “each and every one of them calling forth prayerful adjustment and the inevitable joy of the resurrection.”
He is grateful to the bishops and priests both here and in Peru who by their example and encouragement “inspired me to be hardworking and committed, to put a good effort into preaching, and to be welcoming.”
Fr. Dolan continues to be inspired by the daily witness of people whose faith commitment demands more of them than his own.
“Let’s just say it’s easier to preach on a Sunday when people have already spoken to you through their witness of the faith and living of the faith,” he said.
He noted that much of the missionary spirit in the Church has come from various renewal movements.
“A lot of the religious communities we know today, like the Jesuits or the Franciscans, originally came out of a movement that started with a certain spirit and charism,” he said.
“It begins with one or two people, and others are moved by their witness and their calling, and it continues from there,” he said.
He pointed to more recent movements of the laity, such as Teens Encounter Christ (TEC), Cursillo, Christ Renews His Parish, and Engaged Encounter.
He also noted that the Catholic Charismatic Renewal is invigorating Hispanic communities in the Church.
In his spare time, Fr. Dolan enjoys fishing, gardening, reading, and walking for exercise.
He’s looking forward to spending a few weeks visiting family in Ireland this summer, which COVID-19 restrictions prevented him from doing last year.
He said he’s deeply grateful for the people he’s gotten to know and the experiences he’s gotten to enjoy in 50 years of Priesthood.
“I have been so very blessed!” he said.
He requested prayers to be able to continue serving God’s people, “especially God’s Hispanics who are now the immigrants of the day.”
He’s optimistic about a renewed spirit of mission and encounter in the Church, harkening back to the way the faith first took hold in Christianity’s earliest days.
“We may not always have the comfort of numbers, but we may have a renewed fervor among the smaller numbers,” he stated.
He sees great potential among the laity, whose gifts he believes could always be put to better use in the Church.
He is convinced that it would be helpful to equip lay catechists to serve as missionaries for the Church here in their own homeland.
He believes the Holy Spirit is still calling men to become priests, “but not all of them are picking up the phone and answering.”
He hopes parents are openly discussing all vocations of the Church with their children.
“We need for it to be something young people can talk about in an open and meaningful way,” he said.