Community mourns loss of 100-year-old priest

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Fr. Stephen Adrian, known for celebrating Mass for children, died March 17.
Fr. Stephen Adrian, known for celebrating Mass for children, died March 17.

Fr. Stephen John Adrian, whose gift of teaching in parables captured the hearts of both the young and old, died at home, March 17. He was 100.

His gentle, loving demeanor mirrored that of Jesus drawing children near to him. When Fr. Adrian celebrated Liturgy of the Word with Children at St. Anne’s Parish in Gilbert, he would sit in a chair

on the steps to the altar, surrounded by hundreds of little faces.

Mary Mirrione, national director of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd based in Arizona, has known Fr. Adrian for more than 20 years.

She witnessed, firsthand, the loving witness the 100-year-old priest shared with everyone he met.

Mirrione said Fr. Adrian celebrated the children’s Mass every Saturday evening for more than 15 years at the parish, until his health prevented him from continuing.

However, on his 100th birthday last year, which was celebrated by Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, priests, religious, deacons and community dignitaries, Fr. Adrian excused himself among all the hoopla to “talk to the future Church.”

“We knew that each day with him was a blessing. He truly wanted to love as Jesus loved; totally and completely, holding nothing back,” Mirrione said. “He would pray every day for God to put his feet on the ground so that he might do God’s will. He did not want to leave this earth until he had accomplished everything God wanted of him.”

Through his homilies, Fr. Adrian was able to share complicated theological themes in a simple manner with wisdom and joy. Moreover, he taught children and adults to love one another.

“This was the theme of his last homily to the children, and the lesson he taught all of us with his life,” Mirrione said.

Fr. Adrian served the past 28 years of his 74 years of priestly ministry at St. Anne Parish as associate pastor and retired priest in residence.

As his health waned, his response to the Sacrament of Holy Orders continued.

Although he could no longer celebrate Mass, he got a ride to the parish twice a week for 10 years from Rudy and Judy Gaitan to hear confessions.

“The fact that he called me his friend, that was my honor,” Rudy said. “He lived to say Mass and hear confessions.”

Originally from Saint Paul, Minn., Fr. Adrian was born on April 14, 1912, to Stephen and Elizabeth Adrian.

He received his education at St. Francis de Sales Grade School; Nazareth Hall Preparatory Seminary; the St. Paul Seminary for Philosophy and Theology and a doctorate at the University of Minnesota.

Fr. Adrian was ordained in 1939 by Archbishop John Gregory Murray at the St. Paul Cathedral in St. Paul.

He served 19 years in the archdiocese; 19 years in the Diocese of New Ulm, Minnesota; and eight years in the Diocese of Superior, Wisconsin before moving to Arizona.

His ministry included his service as pastor of several parishes in Minnesota, as an associate pastor to several churches in Wisconsin, as well as professor of Nazareth Hall and Chaplain in the United States Navy during World War II.

Deacon Keith Boswell worked with Fr. Adrian in children’s liturgy at St. Anne when he was already 88-years-old.

“He was a remarkable priest; loving, spiritual, and full of joy,” Deacon Boswell said. “Even on his 100th birthday last April 14, his talk with the children was instructive and vibrant, filling the church with a strong voice professing God’s love for us.”

So beloved was Fr. Adrian by the children of the parish, they gifted him years earlier with a table runner hand painted with a Scripture verse from John 8:2, which read, “And he sat down and taught them…”

The cloth remained on his kitchen table for the rest of his life.

The morning of his death, in a profound and meaningful gesture to all that knew Fr. Adrian, the announcement of the Gospel that day read, “Early in the morning he arrived again in the temple area, and all the people started coming to him, and he sat down and taught them.” (John 8:2).

He is preceded in death by his siblings Deacon Matt Adrian, Sr. Mary Adrienne Adrian, Joseph Adrian, Sister M. Lois Adrian and Raymond Adrian and survived by his sister, Anna Nagel.

Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated, March 23, at St. Anne, with a private burial service that followed at Queen of Heaven Catholic Mortuary in Mesa.

Memories and condolences may be made by visiting the online obituary guest book at: www.obits.azcentral.com.

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