Fr. Joseph Gillespie, known for his deep pastoral commitment and sense of humor, died Nov. 26. He was 87.
Originally from Ireland, Fr. Gillespie was born in 1924 in County Donegal. He was the sixth of 13 children, and as a young boy he attended the same elementary school as his uncle in the village of Gortahork.
Fr. Gillespie attended All Hallows College in Dublin, a seminary of the Vincentian Fathers that trained men for the priesthood in other English-speaking lands.
As his contemporaries were setting off around the globe to England, Scotland, New Zealand and the United States of America, Fr. Gillespie set his sights on Australia.
For decades, Fr. Gillespie would re-tell the story of how the priest who made the assignments said to him, “Mr. Gillespie, would you be going to Tuck-son?”
Fr. Gillespie eagerly agreed, and busied himself trying to find what part of Australia Tuck-son was in.
In the end, he was ordained for the Diocese of Tucson on June 19, 1950. Once he arrived, the pastor greeted him and said how happy he was to see the newly ordained priest.
Then, he left Fr. Gillespie in charge while he went on a vacation.
Fr. Gillespie had a long and fruitful ministry, first with the Diocese of Tucson and then with the Diocese of Phoenix.
He served as pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Glendale, St. Gregory, and St. Elizabeth Seton in Sun City.
He was also State Chaplain for the Knights of Columbus.
Richard Jeffrey, past state deputy of the Knights of Columbus, retold the story about Fr. Gillespie hearing confessions in Spanish for the first time.
“He had no idea what the penitent was saying. During the next week, he asked someone to teach him how to hear confessions in Spanish,” Jeffrey said. “He learned to say, ‘tell me your sins,’ ‘are you truly sorry?’ and ‘say three hail Mary’s.’ Needless to say, Father became the most popular confessor in the parish.”
In capturing his personality, Jeffrey said Fr. Gillespie was never a scholar, though he knew what he was talking about. He was never a builder, though he started a parish or two. He was not the stuff of which bishops are made, or seminary rectors, or chancellors of a diocese.
“That was not what he was called to be. What he was, was pastoral. He was ordained to be a parish priest and that is what he was — a happy smiling competent minister to God’s people.”
The guestbook online is filled with love and support from former friends and parishioners across the world.
“Fr. Gillespie, you were such a light to all who met you. OLPH loved you so much,” said Annie Gilliam-O’Connor from Vine Grove, Ky. “You married my parents, you gave me first Communion, you presided over my grandmother’s funeral. You will always be my favorite priest. Thank you for all your good works here, and now you can continue them in your heavenly reward.”
Upon retirement, Fr. Gillespie lived in Sun City until failing health led him to live near his devoted friend and assistant, Mary Holland of Phoenix.
With her support, he was able to continue to enjoy friends and old parishioners who came to help him in later years.
Fr. Gillespie faithfully offered the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass each day for as long as he could, and never neglected his breviary.
He is survived by his brother, Patrick (Srath na Corcra), his sisters-in-law Una (Dublin) and Rosemary (Kerry), eight nieces and sixteen nephews.
Preceding him are Máire, Ownie (and Bridie), Nellie (and Domhnall), John (and Maureen), Danny (and Maisie), Kevin, Eddie, Paul, Síle, Colm, Sr. Paula (Daughter of Charity of St Vincent de Paul) and his sister-in-law Nellie.
Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted celebrated the Nov. 30 funeral Mass at St. Gregory Parish.
“Fr. Gillespie will always be my favorite priest. I made my first confession to him, I received my first Communion from him. He confirmed me. He presided over my eighth-grade graduation, and 23 years later he baptized my godson,” said Suzanne Vidra of Chandler.
“He was a wonderful man who was kind, compassionate, easy to talk to, full of understanding and trust. I am sure there is a special place in heaven for you Father G. May you rest in peace.”