Father David Gaffny, the administrator of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Dover who turned 90 on Dec. 12, 2020, has retired.
Father Gaffny has moved to Ohio to be close to his daughter, said Deacon Hans Toecker, the director of pastoral and clergy support for the Diocese of Nashville.
Father Kevin Dowling, a retired priest of the diocese, will celebrate Mass at St. Francis of Assisi, with help from the priests at Immaculate Conception Church in Clarksville as needed, until the parish is assigned a priest on a permanent basis, Deacon Toecker said.
Father Gaffny served as administrator of St. Francis of Assisi for 14 years, including several years when he also served as pastor of Immaculate Conception Church.
During his tenure in Dover, Father Gaffny led the parish in its efforts to build a new church, which was dedicated in 2009. “People went from ‘I think this’ and ‘I think this’ and ‘I think this’ to ‘We think this,’” Father Gaffny told the Tennessee Register in 2017 on the occasion of his 60th anniversary of ordination. “That was beautiful.”
Father Gaffny was ordained in 1957 as a priest for the Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America, better known as the Maryknolls, fulfilling a dream he had since childhood to be a missionary, bringing the name of Jesus to people.
The priesthood, he said in 2017, “is a grace given freely by God, not deserved. God chooses each one of us for specific purposes, all to do with service to others. When he gives us a gift … it comes with a responsibility. So we have to use it.”
Father Gaffny served as a missionary in Chile for 12 years. While there, he met and fell in love with the woman who would later become his wife.
He received a papal dispensation from his vow of celibacy and gave up his public ministry as a priest in 1969. He married Leonor and brought her and her two children to the United States. For the next 30 years, he worked for several social service and government agencies, ending his career working for the U.S. Department of Education in Cleveland, Ohio.
Along the way, he and his wife were heavily involved in the parishes where they belonged, serving as catechists and leading marriage preparation retreats in Spanish.
After retiring in 2000, he and his wife moved to Nashville to be close to their oldest daughter, Father Gaffny said. As he had elsewhere, Father Gaffny got involved at his parish, this time St. Joseph in Madison where he taught adult formation classes.
After his wife died in 2001, he considered his future for several months and decided to return to the priesthood.
“I thought to myself in a way I would feel comfortable there, but also that’s where I could do the most good,” Father Gaffny said in 2017.
His faculties as a priest were formally restored at the Holy Thursday Mass in 2005 at St. Joseph. “I went from the back pew to the altar,” he said.
In the Diocese of Nashville, Father Gaffny served as associate pastor at St. Joseph, as well as administrator at St. Francis of Assisi and pastor of Immaculate Conception.