The following comes from a May 16 OC Catholic article:
The oldest priest in the Diocese of Orange, Monsignor Tony McGowan, marked his 102nd birthday earlier this week. Father Tony retired in 1986 as pastor of Our Lady of Fatima Church. Both his birthday and his 75 years as a priest were celebrated on May 16 at the 11 a.m. Mass at the parish.
Father Tony was born in Ireland, the second of 10 children. He wanted to be a missionary priest to Africa and Asia but instead responded to a call for priests to go to California in 1942. He worked at a number of parishes before being sent to Costa Mesa in 1960 to become the first pastor of a new church called St. John the Baptist. In 1976, he moved to Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church in San Clemente and was its main pastor until he retired. He was designated as monsignor in 1981.
What made you proudest and happiest during your career?
I think that my greatest satisfaction as a priest was in the peace that I could bring through the sacrament of reconciliation. I recall with great joy my success in counseling young people facing the challenges of life, and my disappointment when I apparently was unable to adequately comfort them. I was trained in more theology than in psychology, and both are very important, but both need to be applied with love.
Did you ever think about how old you might become? What do you think about being 101 years old? Do you feel wiser than you did as a younger man?
Growing old isn’t any great accomplishment – all you need to do is not die!
No, I don’t think that many people grow wiser as they grow older, once they are past maturity and have experienced life to some extent. In fact, sometimes they become so set in their ways that they seem to grow less wise as the years go by. It’s my experience that some old people will argue with anything, even a sign post! They just don’t listen – or maybe they can’t hear any more. That’s certainly true in my case.
Now I’m not talking about any of my fellow residents at Del Obispo Terrace – they are all just grand, to me and to each other. I’m very happy there, but I don’t know why I’m still here on earth. I’m ready to go home.
What do you like best about being a priest?
I loved the pastoral mission – watching children grow in wisdom and the love of God, assisting them with the sacraments, counseling them and then blessing their marriage, baptizing their children, presiding at the funerals of their parents and then the next cycle of generations, celebrating their joys and sharing their sorrows. Being a priest is such a rich vocation! I’m too old to do much of that anymore, and I miss it very much.
Do you think the church has changed since you became a priest? How?
Oh yes, of course! No more Latin, different music, reversing the altar – those are the obvious things, but they don’t really mean much. The big change is in the involvement of the laity. In the old days they were expected to attend and that’s about it. Now they are expected to participate in all aspects of church life, and we are all much the richer for it. Take deacons for example – that probably grew out of necessity, the shortage of priestly vocations, but what a blessing to see the explosion of laity deaconate vocations!
If you could give one piece of advice to young priests, what would it be?
Don’t think that you are on a pedestal. You are a servant to others, not a judge or a leader. Love the people entrusted to your care, listen to them, comfort them, and above all, love them.