How to recap 18 years with your hero?

Published 10:30 am Saturday, April 23, 2022

Eighteen years ago (18 years!) an eye-blink – 2004, I was just a wee lad, best shape of my life, had all my original body parts (sans appendix), had new/current house built in 2000, working as a Psychologist, driving a 6-speed, 2001 Porsche Boxster-S…Republican, George Bush was re-elected President defeating John Kerry; Richard Howorth was our mayor; Dr. Robert Khayat, Ole Miss (hero) Chancellor; Mike Bianco then/still (hero) Baseball Coach; Football Coach David Cutcliffe replaced by Ed Orgeron; Rod Barnes Basketball Coach; and best of all – Father Joe Tonos (hero) became Pastor of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, Oxford, Mississippi replacing Father Joe Dyer for a conventional, “six-year” appointment….

 

Fr. Joe was from Greenville, Delta State graduate, and God’s gift to us as our old St. John’s church, dedicated in 1943, was in sad shape and Fr. Joe jumped right in getting our new church off the ground and, boom!, on Wednesday, October 8, 2008, I was privileged to be present as Bishop Joseph Latino, Jackson, dedicated our new, St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church.

 

While our new church was being built, Fr. Joe held Mass in the Ole Miss School of Education auditorium across the street, and then Paris-Yates Chapel.  

 

From day one, there were issues with our new church as we rapidly outgrew the new 400 seats, leaked when it rained hard, many attempts to fix leaks failed, so, in April 2018, the church was literally dismantled, rebuilt in the process of expanding to 600 seats – and it still leaked…finally fixed this year…good grief!

 

Then came the pPandemic, Bishop Joseph Kopacz closed the church Wednesday, March 18, 2020, which totally flipped my world upside down as I attend daily/Sunday Mass (finally opened again for Mass on Sunday, June 21. 2020) all the while, Fr. Joe streamed Mass live on Facebook, heard confession outside on the piazza…all rather weird – but swell.

 

Pearl River Glass worked with Fr. Joe and in September 2020 installed beautiful stained-glass windows in the northside entrance depicting the life of Christ, followed by ones on either side of the altar of St. Matin DePores and Mary, Undoer of Knots…both very significant to Ole Miss and me….

 

Attending daily/Sunday Mass, sacristan setting up the altar as well as other church duties, Parish Council, confession, I got to know Fr. Joe quite well as my priest, confessor, spiritual adviser, counselor, friend, and…hero.

 

He rarely takes time off and if Mass is canceled for a meeting he must attend or whatever, we’ve learned to check our email for he often will announce that indeed we are having Mass! is punctual for Mass, confession, or any event – his homilies are great – seemingly off the cuff.

 

As a “Cradle Catholic,” I’ve experienced many priests from my home in southern Missouri, Cape Girardeau, St. Louis, Ft. Leonard Wood, Saigon, Taipei, Sydney, Norfolk, Napa, New Orleans, Las Vegas…and by far, Fr. Joe is the very best!  My hero mom Gert lived to be 95 and I was still not ready to let her go; Fr. Joe has been at St. John’s for 18 years (where did that time go?) and very selfishly, I’m still not at all ready to give him up.  

 

However – trusting my faith and God’s will – it was time for him to be here 18 years ago (can’t get my head around that), and hopefully will be a good move for him (us?) on May 8 as he is familiar with Jackson, St. Richard’s, think he’s looking forward to the change (?) and so welcome, Fr. Mark Shoffner…hear wailing and gnashing of teeth – I mean, best wishes….

 

Few people have truly changed my life, but Fr. Joe has – mostly by his demeanor, the way he goes about getting stuff done seemingly effortless – leads by example, no boasting, nothing phases him (to me) he just shrugs off negatives and kept shaping things his way (God’s way) the Catholic way…strictly by the Catholic “rule” book, i.e., teaching of the Catholic Church – whew – 18 years, so much swell stuff – way too short, but perfect! 

And Fr. Joe helped me with trying to annul my then Scottish fiancés previous marriages (two…duh, one in Scotland) he met with her several times, then with the ending of that relationship, “You are much better off….”  When I got my new 2012, KIA Soul, he said, “I’m going to bless your Soul” and did….  Oh Lord God, help – I do not want Fr. Joe to leave….

 

Steve Stricker is an Oxford resident, received his Ph.D. in Counseling from Ole Miss, worked on Campus, and can be reached at sstricke@olemiss.edu.