Sunday, January 3, 2021



Father Felix J. Johnson
December 8, 1896 - January 3, 1960

On this day, January 3, 1960, my childhood pastor died. As I was remembering him, I realized a few things about him that I had not realized before. 

First of all, I have always thought he had died an old man. He was actually only 63 and I am almost 77. I have always thought that he had been ordained many, many years. He had been ordained 28 years when he died. I was ordained 50 years last May. 

He did not actually baptize me because my country midwife grandmother baptized me right after  she delivered me in the home I was born in because I was "in danger of death." Father Johnson only "supplied the ceremonies" a few days later.  Father Johnson gave me my First Communion and heard my First Confession (that's another story saved for later).  I became an altar boy under Father Johnson, even though Sister Mary Ancilla trained me. Father Johnson was my pastor when Bishop Charles G. Maloney Confirmed me in 1956.  Father Johnson was the only priest I ever knew growing up. 

Two years after my Confirmation, in the spring of 1958 when I was barely 14 years old, I asked my Dad to take me to see Father Johnson so that he could help me go to the seminary. I still remember sitting in the dark old Rectory "parlor" waiting to ask him. When he asked me what I wanted, I told him I wanted to go to the seminary to study to become a priest. I don't think he actually laughed out loud, but he did come down pretty hard against the whole idea. "No! You are too young and too little! Go home and grow up first!" The only defense I could come up with at the time was to cry. It must have moved his old cold heart, because he responded, "OK! I will fill out the papers, but you will be back home before Christmas! 

I left home for Saint Thomas Seminary in the fall of 1958. During the Christmas holidays of 1959, having survived my first 16 months of seminary, Father Johnson was hospitalized with cancer. My Dad went to visit him in Saint Joseph Infirmary here in Louisville during his last days. Before my Dad left his hospital room, Father Johnson said to him, "Tell Ronnie I think he might make it!" Father Johnson died a few days later on January 3, 1960. I was one of the altar boys at his funeral. I remember him being buried in a black casket, always driving a black car and always wearing a black cassock around church, except when he was doing manual labor. 

Father Johnson was buried in the middle of the "new" Saint Theresa Cemetery that he had created, the very cemetery he used to raise sheep in so as to keep it mowed and to produce mutton for the church picnic in August. I can remember driving by and seeing him walking in the cemetery, carrying buckets of water and animal feed with his sheep following him. Even today, that is the image I think of when I hear the words "good shepherd" in the gospels. 

I deliberately chose to be buried next to him ("at his right hand" so-to-speak). At first I thought about having an arrow on my tombstone pointing to his tombstone with the words, "You didn't think I would make it, but I did! Move over! Father Knott is here!" 

He had "beloved pastor" carved on his tombstone. I was going to put "an even more beloved son of the parish" on mine, but I thought better of it and decided to let "bye-gones" be "bye gones."  After all, eternity is a long time to hold a grudge!  

He was a hard-working, cranky old man, but we loved him anyway! May he rest in peace down there is Saint Theresa Cemetery ---- at least until I move in next door to him!  


No comments:

Post a Comment