On Palm Sunday, the former priest at my parish, Father Andrew Corona, announced he was retiring from active parish life. Our Bishop, Donald Hying, accepted his request for early retirement.
Father had been the priest at Nativity of Our Savior in Portage for about eight years. Last year, he moved on to St. Thomas More in Munster to serve in an associate pastor’s capacity, a byproduct of the health issues that led to his early retirement.
Over the past 10 years, Father Andy has battled a number of physical problems that have slowed down the once active guy. But it isn’t the physical ailments that will be my most lasting memory of his time at our church.
About halfway through his time leading our parish, father started suffering those various physical woes. On top of that, his beloved father passed away, a combination of events that led him to a deep emotional hole. So much so that he eventually stepped away from his duties, checking himself into a facility in Maryland to deal with his mental health concerns.
He returned last year from that facility, but not to resume his work at our parish. Merely, it was to say goodbye. In his farewell homily, he talked openly and honestly about the issues he dealt with and the work he still needed to do on the road to recovery. It was a tremendously moving admission to the parishioners who had come to know and love him over the course of eight years.
In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised. A few years earlier, before he stepped away, I had accompanied my youngest son on the eighth-grade trip to Washington, D.C. Father also joined us, as he did every year. Travel was one of his many loves.
But the bubbly priest who had been an active presence on previous trips to D.C., particularly when the trip took the kids to more spiritual places, was not our traveling companion that year. He was, instead, rather listless, engaging neither the kids nor adults much. Frequently, he didn’t leave the bus when we reached one of our destinations. I though it bizarre at the time. But when he delivered his homily and talked about his issues and the effect it had on him, I recognized immediately the man he was describing.
Too often, mental health remains a taboo topic. We can share every detail of a broken arm from a car accident or a scar from a surgical procedure, but the injuries that happen in our minds are still somewhat off limits to discuss openly. That father was able to deal so candidly about his issues required tremendous courage, and I can’t help but think there was at least one person in the church that day who will benefit tremendously from his forthright description of his troubles. That someone who might otherwise have ignored his or her issues will instead seek the necessary help. If he accomplished nothing else during his time at Nativity (which most certainly wasn’t the case), that would still be one heck of a legacy.
Father, here’s wishing you the absolute best in retirement.