By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — Maybe the best question is: “What took so long?”
After all, it was 57 years ago on the very Feast of St. Patrick when Father Patrick Tobin was ordained a priest by Bishop John Patrick Cody at his home St. Patrick Parish in Maryville.
Who better than the now retired priest known throughout the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph simply as “Father Pat” to be received into the Order of St. Patrick, the highest honor bestowed by the Kansas City St. Patrick Parade Committee for a life of service to the community?
Nobody, said Micheal Mahoney, as he read off Father Pat’s lifetime accomplishments March 9 at the end of the annual Gaelic Mass at Our Lady of Perpetual Help (Redemptorist) Parish.
“Father Pat Tobin has devoted his life to all these things,” Mahoney said as he noted Father Tobin’s role in the founding of Harvester’s, the community food bank that feeds thousands in Kansas City and the surrounding area; his work in prison ministry to bring dignity and hope; his work in establishing community gardens to provide fresh vegetables to the poor; his work in promoting safe drinking water throughout the world; and his service to Blessed Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity as a retreat master.
“He is a perfect example of a Christian life,” Mahoney said.
The annual Mass, held at a parish with a deeply Irish immigrant history and celebrated by Redemptorist priests with their own deeply Irish heritage, marks the beginning of the traditional St. Patrick’s Day celebration for Kansas City, Irish-American Catholic and otherwise.
Also inducted into the Order of St. Patrick as a surprise was John Feehan, the piper who provided his musical talents to this celebration and many like it over many years.
Redemptorist Father Robert Lindsey told the congregation dressed in green and nearly filling the huge church to capacity that the Gospel for that Sunday in Lent, the Parable of the Prodigal Son, was especially appropriate.
It is the story of two sons, he said. One son demanded his share of his father’s estate, then squandered it, living in poverty until he begged his father for forgiveness that his father not only willingly granted but did so joyfully.
“Jesus is telling us that God will forgive the worst rogue among us unconditionally,” Father Lindsey said. “All we have to do is start walking back to God.”
But the second son was upset that his father would rejoice at the return of his brother and accept him back so easily.
“He had no sympathy for his brother, and that cost him a great deal — a share in the joy of his brother’s returning,” Father Lindsey said.
“We make mistakes, but as Christian believers, we realize we have a compassionate father who will forgive us, and who sent his son to give his life for us,” he said.
“Forgiveness and reconciliation produce miracles,” he said. “All we have to do is believe.”