Father Kirk marks 50 years as priest with people he served

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For 50 years as a priest, Father John Kirk has served as a Pastor or Associate Pastor at 13 parishes, including three parishes – St. Luke in Smyrna, St. Mark in Manchester and Church of the Nativity in Thompsons Station – that he served as the founding pastor.
He celebrated the 50th anniversary of his ordination on May 9 and he wants to mark the milestone anniversary by visiting all the parishes where he served to say Mass and spend time with the people he loved.

Father John Kirk had planned to celebrate his 50th anniversary of ordination by returning to all the parishes where he served, to celebrate Mass with the people who meant so much to him.

“I have been blessed in the parishes I have served,” said Father Kirk, who was ordained on May 9, 1970, at his home parish of Sacred Heart Church in Knoxville. A parish priest “receives many blessings from the people, known and unknown.”

Father Kirk’s plan to return to his former parishes to mark this milestone anniversary has been interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, he said. But he hopes the parishes will still reach out to him to arrange a visit.

“Being a parish priest is all I wanted to be,” said Father Kirk, who retired in 2018 and lives at Mary, Queen of Angels assisted living facility in Nashville. “I am eternally grateful and thankful to our Lord for the call to be His priest.”

“Being a priest is the best way for me to live out the paschal mystery of the Lord’s dying and rising, cross and resurrection,” he said. “Every day has both sides of the mystery of the dying and rising. Every day is a test from the Lord to prepare us for the kingdom of heaven.”

Every member of the Church is called to participate in the mission of Jesus Christ, Father Kirk said. But a priest, acting through the gifts of the Word of the Lord and the Sacraments, is a special instrument of God to help people on their journey through life and to eternal salvation.

“These gifts give the priest major ways to grow in union with the Lord and with the people of God,” he said.

After his ordination in 1970, Father Kirk served as Associate Pastor of St. Joseph Church in Madison and then Holy Rosary Church in Donelson. He first became a pastor in 1975, when he was assigned to Sacred Heart Church in Lawrenceburg. He later served as pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Springfield and St. Michael Church in Cedar Hill, St. Luke Church in Smyrna, St. Ann Church in Nashville, St. Patrick Church in McEwen and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Tennessee Ridge, St. Paul the Apostle Church in Tullahoma and St. Mark Church in Manchester.

After serving as Associate Pastor and later Administrator of St. Philip Church in Franklin from 2003 to 2007, Father Kirk served the last 10 years before his retirement as the founding pastor of the Church of the Nativity in Thompson Station.

Nativity was the third parish he founded during his priesthood, after St. Luke and St. Mark.

“The life of a priest is filled,” Father Kirk said. “A parish is like a natural family with many works, activities, tests, challenges and sacrifices. 

“I loved parish life and seeing and serving the people,” he added. “That’s why days, weeks, months, years and decades pass quickly.”

During his time serving in parishes, Father Kirk said, he tried to support the lay people.

“Fortunately, our parishes have many faithful people who carry out much of the administrative works of the parish as well as many spiritual works,” he said. “We all have to be conscious of serving people’s spiritual needs as well as their physical needs.”

Although retired, Father Kirk stays busy. Every day he prays the Liturgy of the Hours, celebrates Mass, prays four mysteries of the rosary a day, reads extensively and walks three miles a day.

“The people of God are very good to priests,” Father Kirk said. “I have a great sense of gratitude, joy and thanksgiving toward the Lord and His people. How differently life would have been had I not been called and answered the call to be a priest of Jesus Christ!”

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