The Catholic Post interviews silver jubilarian Msgr. Eric Powell

Msgr. Powell was born in Baltimore, Maryland. He holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Belmont Abbey College, Belmont, North Carolina, and a master’s degree from the University of Notre Dame, and completed his studies for the priesthood at the Pontifical North American College in Rome.

After ordination, he returned to Rome for graduate studies and earned a licentiate in sacred theology from the Pontifical Athenaeum of St. Anselm in 1991. He was chaplain and religion teacher at Marquette High School in Ottawa until 1992. He briefly served as pastor at St. Mary, Utica, before being named administrative assistant to the bishop in 1992. He was released for service at the Vatican’s Congregation for Eastern Churches in 1994 and earned a licentiate in canon law from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in 1997.

Msgr. Powell was named a chaplain of honor to his holiness in 1999, the same year he went to St. Mary, Kickapoo, as pastor, and was assigned to be an associate judge in the diocesan Marriage Tribunal. He has been pastor of Epiphany Parish in Normal since 2002, with pastoral care for St. Mary in Downs from 2004 to 2007.

He will celebrate with a Mass at 5:30 p.m. on the anniversary date, June 10. It will be followed by refreshments in Epiphany’s parish hall “for anyone a bit hungry and thirsty.”

Mail for Msgr. Powell may be sent to Epiphany Church, 1006 E. College Ave., Normal, IL 61761.

What drew you to the priesthood?
I fell deeply in love with the Eucharist in high school, following a conversion experience, and thought it would be great to be able to share our Lord with others — both from the table of the Word and table of the Eucharist.

Who has been the biggest influence on your vocation and why?
Pope St. John Paul II entered into his pontificate when I was about 15. He was a man’s man and a true champion of Christian faith. John Paul seemed to me to be an ordained version of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati; I found that attractive and remember being unafraid to call him my pope in the public schools I attended.

How are you a different priest today than you were 25 years ago and why?
Personal and spiritual growth have seemed slow, but I can say that I delight now in resting more in the Lord through trust. It’s all in His hands, so I try to remain calm and be useful to Him and the cause of the Gospel.

What has given you the most joy in your priesthood?
The greatest joy for me comes when, in ministry, I get to see someone open up to God in a new and deeper way. Their conversion pushes me to ongoing conversion in Christ.

What have been the highlights of your various assignments?
While serving with Bishop Myers, I enjoyed seeing the parishes of the diocese while on the Confirmation circuit. Accompanying a successor to the apostles on his rounds reminded me of Christ’s journey throughout the length and breadth of Israel (half the size of Peoria diocese), accompanied by his friends. Then, working for the Holy See I again found travel as a real privilege — meeting Eastern Rite Catholics throughout Europe, Africa and the Middle East. In pastoral assignments since, I have enjoyed building things, but with Pope Francis my view has changed considerably: I am increasingly aware of the importance of building up God’s beloved people — in church, fallen away, or yet to know Him.

Talk about your prayer life ? what feeds you for your ministry?
Without prayer (and I typically find the mornings to be the most fertile period) I get distracted and feel scattered. Mental prayer, the Liturgy of the Hours and spiritual reading, as foundations to my sacramental life, keep me focused and excited about being a Christian and a priest of Jesus Christ.

How has priestly ministry changed in the last generation?
I think my brother priests and I straddle two periods of church history and life: from serving in a period when faith and culture cohabited somewhat peacefully to a period when hostilities are open and quite challenging. We will see how this affects our institutions (hospitals, schools, universities, etc.) and our way of living out the faith. Priestly ministry is and increasingly will be “mission oriented” as Pope Francis has made quite clear.

What Scripture passage sums up your ministry and why?
A passage from Galatians has been with me from my youth and characterizes my Christian and priestly identity: “I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.” (Galatians 2:19-20) It is a version of the kerygma, the basic core of the Christian faith: Jesus loves us and gave his life to save us, and he remains at our sides to enlighten, strengthen, and free us.

What advice would you give someone who is discerning a vocation to the priesthood?
Be patient with yourself. You arose in a challenging culture and may bear many wounds from it. With generosity and good will, entrust yourself to Christ and a spiritual adviser, and do not be afraid to seek mercy; God does not tire of offering it to anyone, including His priests.

Name your favorite saint (and tell us why).
St. Therese, who is spending some of her heaven trying to hammer into my head total abandonment to God.

Favorite Prayer?
The “Jesus Prayer” keeps my focus on the lordship of God and His mercy: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”

Favorite Hymn?
“O God Beyond All Praising” introduced to me at our Cathedral. Written by Michael Perry at the age of 40, it reflects his personal story and hope in the triumph of God’s love despite the sorrows of life. Perry died in 1996 (about my age now) from a brain tumor.

Favorite encyclical/papal document/church teaching?
“Evangelii Nuntiandi” is basic food for the revitalization of catechesis and evangelization. The “witness of life” precedes the “witness of words” and I wish I were a more authentic witness.

BONUS: You were ordained by Pope John Paul II. How has this encounter with a future saint shaped your life and ministry?
St. John Paul had a huge influence on me in his piety, dedication, strength of character and humor. He was someone easy to follow and respect, and to be ordained by him was a gift and memory for a lifetime. This is but one anecdote from the ordination Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica: I knelt before him for the sign of peace. “Pax tecum” (“Peace be with you”), he said to me in a strong voice and then closed his gentle eyes. “Et cum spiritu tuo” (“And with your spirit”), I responded, lowering my gaze . . . to stare at his watch! May his priestly, fatherly, and apostolic spirit continue to inspire men, and the people of our day.

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