A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Sr. Mary Catherine Wenstrup: Remembering Father John Cahill, his friendship, leadership and service

Editor’s Note: Fr. John Cahill, priest of the Diocese of Covington, was chaplain at St. Walburg Monastery for 12 years. He died on November 15, 2017 after 3 weeks in Cardiac ICU at St. Elizabeth Hospital. In his plans for his funeral liturgy he asked that our prioress Sr. Mary Catherine Wenstrup give the eulogy. This is what she said at the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption on November 21:

The funeral liturgy offers the opportunity for some words of remembrance on Fr. Cahill. I offer both mine and those suggested by members of our community.

In the early ‘70s I was assigned to work in the first diocesan Office of Religious Education under the direction of Fr. Fleming who took staff members on a tour of several parishes in southeastern Kentucky. One of our last stops was a memorable lunch with John’s gracious mother in Drift, KY. 

In 2005 I was working in the marriage tribunal, housed then in the former St. Pius X seminary building.  Sr. Rita Brink, our prioress at the time, remarked one day that our chaplain was going to be transferred. Never having met Fr. Cahill, I mentioned to Rita that there was no weekday Eucharist celebrated at Cristo Rey, the Hispanic parish of the diocese where John was pastor. John became our chaplain on July 1, 2005 while remaining pastor of Cristo Rey.

Father John Cahill

John would often join us for holiday or feast day celebrations and occasionally, in his healthier years, fill in as a needed fourth player for a euchre or pinochle game. We, however, really got to know him through his role as priest and celebrant. 
John always came to Eucharist prepared. It was common for him to draw on his academic background in philosophy and theology. Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas and various scripture scholars were obvious. After a few years, he would include teaching from the Rule of Benedict. And I’ve been told that God’s providence was often a theme when he was chaplain for the Sisters of Divine Providence. He celebrated Eucharist knowing his congregation. 

From the beginning we learned and experienced his commitment to, and passion for the Church’s teaching on social justice. He used pen and spoken word to remind his readers and hearers of the plight of the poor, immigrants and the powerless. Frequently John would close his homily by extending his hand toward the altar—a gesture reminding us of the connection between what we do outside the chapel and what we offer on the altar at Eucharist. His commitment and desire to celebrate Eucharist was last evidenced in his final days in St. E’s ICU when he told Sr. Colleen that he missed celebrating Eucharist with us. He knew he was no longer able to do so.

Floyd County certainly left its mark on the person, John. Love of the land, coal mining and miners would occasionally be part of a homily. In his later years at Madonna Manor he could be seen porch sitting– greeting neighbors and passersby. He worked on his flowers and tomatoes in a tiny garden in front of his cottage. Next spring that tiny yard will be filled with the hundred or so blooming crocus blubs he recently planted.

I surmise that John acquired his commitment to learning and his love of nature, music, beauty, art and travel at an early age. These formed him into a person who respected and was comfortable with diverse cultures. That also may explain why he was a good chaplain. Monastic life and women religious definitely have a culture all their own. John had more than respect for us and our culture. He got it. 

In John’s request that I give this remembrance he asked that I tell you, and I now quote: “about my profound respect and admiration for religious women . . . and the joy I experienced and the inspiration I received while serving (and being served by) them”. And we say, “The feeling is mutual.”
John’s life and service were gifts to the diocese and its people. The hallmarks of his priestly vocation were visible in his devotion and commitment to the Eucharist and in his work as pastor, homilist, teacher, and advocate for those in need. He will be missed by all whose who shared his culture, convictions, joys, sorrows, and his own very interesting journey through life.

Sr. Mary Catherine Wenstrup is with the Benedictive Sisters of St. Walburg Monastery.

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See the NKyTribune’s obituary for Father Cahill here.

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