Mons. Garrity, SJNCC pastor, retires — yet doesn’t

Mons. Patrick Garrity, pastor of St. John Neumann Catholic Church, officiates a Blessing of the Animals at the church in 2016.
Mons. G. Patrick Garrity is retiring as pastor of St. John Neumann Catholic Church, but is discovering a clergy’s work is never done.

After nearly nine years, Garrity, 70, will retire as the church‘s pastor effective July 1, but he will remain active at the Diocese of Knoxville.

“One really doesn’t retire from priesthood,” he said, adding he simply is stepping down from parish responsibilities at SJN and he won’t be on call.

“At least I won’t have the daily schedule,” Garrity added. “I’ll still be around Knoxville to help out local parishes.

“I’m still on three committees, I’ll be vicar for the priests in the Diocese of Knoxville, and I just got a call from Sister Mariana (Koonce), who directs our mobile medical clinic — it’s a ministry of the Diocese of Knoxville that reaches out to the underserved,” to serve on that committee.

About his decision to retire, country music artist Kenny Roger’s song, “The Gambler” comes to his mind.

“I think you need to know when it’s time to walk away so someone younger with more energy can step forward,” Garrity said.

“Looking back, I feel I’ve accomplished a lot with the help of good friends and supporters, but there’s a time to step back and slow down,” he added.

Garrity’s accomplishments also were successes for SJNCC — building and renovation projects completed under his watch, including Italian statues inside and outside the church; marble in the sanctuary; mosaic Stations of the Cross that came from a church in Philadelphia; and addition of the rectory and office buildings, pavilion, playground and ball field storage building.

He has seen the parish grow from 1,056 families about nine years ago to more than 1,500 families.

He passes on the pastorship to Father Joe Reed, associate pastor of Sacred Heart Cathedral off Northshore Drive in Knoxville.

“He’s very excited (to come to SJNCC) to pastor,” Garrity said of Reed. “I think our community is in good hands.”

Before coming to SJNCC, Garrity served at St. Patrick’s Church in Morristown for 12 years. He was Knoxville Catholic High School principal for 12 years, and was there for the groundbreaking for the Cedar Bluff school. Prior to KCHS, he was a teacher and assistant principal at Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga, pastor of St. Bridget’s in Dayton (Rhea County), teacher at Father Ryan High School in Nashville and associate pastor at St. Edward’s Church in Nashville.

Garrity was 27 when he was ordained in 1976. He has spent 42 years serving the Catholic Church as a priest and educator.

“I always admired what the priests did,” he said. “I knew what I wanted to do was something I thought would help people. So I narrowed down my career choices to being a priest or a respiratory therapist.

“Both [careers] were appealing to me because I dealt with people and I felt I was doing something positive to help (them),” Garrity said.

While he trained for and was a respiratory therapist for a year after college, he decided to go back into the seminary because “deep down inside I wasn’t happy.

“I mean, I had a great life — friends and all that kind of stuff — but there was something I was missing.”

He returned to the seminary and “just decided I was just a happier person inside in the seminary than when I was working as a respiratory therapist,” Garrity said.

“One thing you can say about being a priest is your life is filled with variety,” he said and laughed. “I have not found 42 years of priesthood boring.

“Almost every day is a new adventure,” he added. Garrity reflected back to tender moments — being the only person to hold the hand of a dying person, comforting a parent who has lost a child or a wife who lost her husband — and joyous moments, such as weddings and baptisms; exciting moments, such as high school graduations, and funny moments when the unexpected happened.

“When I was principal at the high school, I used to say, ‘When I wake up in the morning and start my day, whatever I had planned was not what I would end up doing,’” he sadi.

“And it’s pretty much the same way here,” Garrity added. “You may plan to do this or that and then someone calls.”

He may find himself at a hospital or someone comes into the office and needs the listening ear of a priest.

And there are preparations for weddings and funerals.

“Of course, here you have a whole grade school full of kids to teach and all the regular parish activities — adult faith formation, religious education classes and lots of meetings,” he added and laughed.

“It’s hard to leave, but I always found the excitement of a new community with new blessings and challenges,” Garrity said. “So, it will be different this time. I’m not going to another parish.”