From the Director
A few years ago my priest companion in the Columban international seminary in Chicago, Fr. Leo Distor, and I were invited to join a pilgrimage in the footsteps of St. Columban. However, as we made our various preparations one major obstacle appeared: we could not find another Columban priest who was available to oversee the seminary during our three week absence. Then, just as we were about to give up searching, a colleague mentioned that I should reach out to Fr. John Marley.
Since Fr. John was living in our retirement home and was celebrating sixty years of priesthood that summer, I was hesitant about making my request. However, after supper one evening I wrote him an email in which I presented my dilemma. Much to my surprise and delight, after breakfast the following morning his response awaited me: “I’m available!” Fr. John arrived in Chicago a week before our departure and quickly learned his responsibilities, so that when Fr. Leo and I headed off on the pilgrimage, we knew that the seminarians were in good hands.
A few years later when faced with a similar dilemma in my present role as Director, I found myself turning again to Fr. John. This time, Fr. Kevin Mullins had informed me that he wanted to leave his parish in the city of Juarez in Mexico in order to take a vacation back home in Australia, and wondered aloud who might take his place in that hot, dusty and dangerous city. With few options open to me, I approached Fr. John in the retirement home. Reluctant to make a direct request of this priest who was then eighty-six years old, I talked at first about our parish in Juarez and the challenges of ministering there. Fr. John, however, detected where the conversation was leading, and without me ever reaching the point of asking him to consider going there, said, “I’m available! In fact, I have already arranged my airline ticket.” I thought he must be joking, but of course he wasn’t! From telephone conversations with Fr. Kevin, he had sensed his dilemma, and decided to offer his services. A few months later, while Fr. Kevin enjoyed a vacation with his family in Australia, Fr. John ministered to the people of Corpus Christi parish in Juarez.
These stories are but two examples of how Fr. John has responded to the Lord’s call as a Columban missionary priest in recent years. Throughout his sixty-six years of priesthood, he has shared the Good News of Jesus Christ with the peoples of Chile, Italy, Ireland, Mexico, the Philippines, and the U.S. While officially retired and preparing to celebrate his ninetieth birthday, Fr. John still continues to joyfully respond, “I’m available!,” whenever and wherever he senses the Lord calling him.