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Priest takes to links

posted Jul 23, 2016, 12:50 PM by Church Office   [ updated Jul 23, 2016, 12:52 PM ]

Father John driven to minister wherever people tend to gather

October 12, 2012

By Linda T. Gracey ( , The Altoona Mirror

John Gibbons knows the meaning of sacrifice and loss.

He also knows what it means to be used of God and to help others gain a better understanding of the Gospel and God's love. Gibbons, who spent his teenage years in the Philadelphia area, was a successful businessman in Houston, Texas, when his world was rocked about 10 years ago. He lost Kimberly, his wife of 21 years and his college sweetheart. She was only 46 when she died of a brain aneurysm.

Article Photos

(Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec) Father John Gibbons, parochial vicar at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, talks about how he was a businessman before becoming a priest. He was also a husband who lost his wife about 10 years ago.

At the time, he was sales manager for a computer hardware/software company, and a few years later, he developed a consulting business.

"I did very well," said Gibbons, explaining that his income was a healthy six figures.

His wife's death was a wake-up call.

"I thought, now what am I going to do?" he said.

To ease his pain, he got more involved in the church and eventually started dating.

He and his girlfriend became engaged in 2004, yet his heart was being pulled in another direction. He was spending more time at his parish, Christ the Redeemer Catholic Church, where he was a lector, a Eucharistic minister and sacristan. He also helped to organize a men's prayer group and was the leader of numerous men's retreats.

"I was at the church five and six days a week, filling in the gaps," he said.

The men in the parish noticed that he was leading others to Christ during their retreats and asked if he had considered serving God full time.

His fiancee also encouraged him to pursue the call on his life that was becoming more and more evident. So at age 50, Gibbons began to take steps to pursue the priesthood.

"God doesn't only call 18-year-olds, he said. "God allowed me to live the other parts of my life and then called me to the priesthood." Gibbons believes his two worlds came together for a purpose."I could not be as effective as a priest without my marriage and career," he said. Although he lived in Houston when he made his decision, Gibbons wanted to return to Pennsylvania and serve the Archdiocese of Philadelphia so he could be closer to his elderly father. It was not to be. Men seeking the priesthood seek a sponsorship in the diocese where they intend to serve. The cutoff for candidates seeking a sponsorship from the archdiocese was age 40. His next choice was the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown because he had ties there. He had attended grade school at Our Mother of Sorrows School in Johnstown. After being accepted by the diocese, Gibbons studied at Sacred Heart School of Theology in Hales Corners, Wis. It is a seminary for men who feel the call to priesthood later in life.

"It's a whole different experience," he said, compared to about 30 years earlier when he graduated from PennState with a degree in accounting. In May of 2010, he became the last priest ordained by Bishop Joseph V. Adamec before he retired. Gibbons served at St. Andrews in Johnstown for several months until being assigned to the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament as parochial vicar. He also serves as the Cathedral's master of ceremonies. But Gibbons believes his service reaches beyond the walls of the church, so he makes it a point to go where the people are. One of his favorite hangouts is the Summit Country Club in Cresson where he is known as Padre John.

"It's easy to find God in hospitals, foxholes and funeral homes, but you never find God at the country club," because there life is good," Gibbons said. But even in the good times, Gibbons believes people need an awareness of God. He said that people tend to turn to God when they have troubles, but fail to give thanks for the good things.

"In society in general, we take credit for life when it is going well. People need a constant reminder of God's presence in their lives," he said. Gibbons believes the golf course is a place where people feel comfortable talking to him about spiritual needs, and he, in turn, considers it his haven. Before heading out to the green, he may read a portion of Scripture. As he is travels on the fairway, he reflects on what he has read.

One of his golf day experiences even became material for a homily.

He was at the club house and a golfer, who had had a few drinks, pulled up the Gospel on Gibbons' iPhone. The golfer read the words aloud but did not understand what he was saying. The man asked Gibbons, "how are you going to write a homily about this?"

That was the message for the homily, Gibbons said. "We don't quiet ourselves down to listen to what Jesus is saying. We need to be alone in the presence of God. It doesn't always have to be in church. " Randy Repko, golf professional at the Summit, called Gibbons "refreshing."

"He is always positive, always upbeat," Repko said.

Occasionally Gibbons has played a round of golf with a nonmember that he does not know, he said. When they come back to the clubhouse, the other golfer will tell Repko what a nice guy Gibbons was, not realizing he has golfed with a Catholic priest.

"He brings out the best in people," Repko said. He added that people find it easy to open up with Gibbons and perhaps talk about their problems.

"He's [also] a very good golfer. He has a single digit handicap," Repko said.

Cathedral parishioner Sue Caldwell of Altoona also described Gibbons as upbeat.

"He has a spark about him. He always has a smile on his face and he greets everybody by name," she said. Caldwell, a reader and Eucharistic minister, said she he enjoys listening to Gibbons' homilies. "He uses analogies that work in our everyday lives. They give more meaning to his message. It brings it out for us," she said. "He has a lot of life experiences behind him, and he brings that into his ministry."

She said Gibbons is always willing to offer his time and tells the people, "I am here to serve you," she said. If you know someone in the hospital or who is just down, you can call Father John and he's there," Caldwellsaid.

"He has been a blessing in my life," she said, adding that she called on Gibbons when she had a need. "He was a terrific help," she said. "He is a great spiritual adviser and helps you sort things out." Serving others seems to paramount in his life.

"If I can't listen to problems and try to make a difference in lives, what good am I doing?" Gibbons said. "It's a concept I try to apply to my priesthood."