His call to priesthood began in the Middle Eastern desert. His final ministerial years culminated in a southwestern one.

The Lord called Fr. Greg Rice, MHM, home — ideally to cooler climates — Aug. 11. He was 78.

The Denver native served as a carpenter’s apprentice followed by a stint in the U.S. Air Force. The latter planted the seed for his priestly vocation. He spent 15 months in Pakistan beginning in 1963 where he met the local bishop who was a member of the Mill Hill Missionaries. The bishop-led tour of area hospitals, schools and a new monastery impacted the airman. By age 24, a chaplain suggested priesthood.

Fr. Greg Rice, MHM

Born: Sept. 12, 1939

Ordained: June 25, 1972 for St. Joseph’s Missionary Society of Mill Hill

Service in the Diocese of Phoenix

  • St. Joseph Parish in Phoenix, interim parochial administrator, May 2012-July 2013
  • Peter Parish in Bapchule, St. John the Baptist Parish in Laveen and their mission churches, pastor, Sept. 2012-Nov. 2015
  • Native American Ministry, director, Nov. 2012-Nov. 2015
  • Maria Goretti Parish in Scottsdale, interim parochial administrator, Nov. 2016-Jan. 2017

Died: Aug. 11, 2018

Memorial Mass

10:30 a.m., Aug. 30

St. Maria Goretti Parish, 6261 N. Granite Reef Rd., Scottsdale

Fr. Rice, who spent the bulk of his “retirement” years in Arizona supporting, then spearheading the diocesan Native American Ministry among other roles, was in seminary for the Mill Hill Missionaries by 1965. He was ordained in Denver in 1972 and immediately returned to Pakistan as a priest where he served until late 2005.

Turns out his carpentry skills helped design and build or remodel a Pakistani church or two and surrounding buildings, according to “The Crimson Lily in our Midst,” a book about the Mill Hill Missionaries in Punjab, Afghanistan and neighboring areas. (p.272)

Fr. Rice’s initial years in Arizona were busy, but quiet. It began with filling in to offer Mass wherever needed. An encounter at St. Maria Goretti in Scottsdale — one of two diocesan parishes he served as interim parochial administrator — ended up paving his final years of priesthood.

Dcn. Jim Trant, parish life coordinator for the diocesan Native American Ministry, served a weekend Mass with the priest and the two talked afterward. The beautiful and wealthy churches amazed Fr. Rice who spent his entire priesthood — more than three decades — in Pakistan.

“You might want to take a look at the missions to see something you’re a little bit more used to,” Dcn. Trant told him.

The deacon was right. Supporting Native American Ministry suited the missionary.

“After Mass, he took a folding chair and sat down and started talking to the people,” learning things like the Pima word for “bread,” the deacon recalled.

Fr. Rice, in turn, passed on some wisdom to the people of Arizona. He helped implement some light Latin prayers into the liturgy and shared his experience about the Middle East from the pulpit or during ministry gatherings.

“I was touched by his real empathy for Native American culture,” Dcn. Trant said. Fr. Rice readily saw how the Catholic faith could be a part of it.

Franciscan Father Dale Jamison described his official successor in the Office of Native American Ministry as animated, energized and prepared.

“It all translated to a big smile on his face,” Fr. Jamison, OFM, said. At the same time, when the missionary priest entered a room, “you couldn’t help but have a smile,” he added.

Fr. Rice was among several regular priests the Franciscan could rely on for Sunday Masses, funerals and the like even before Fr. Rice took over shepherding the ministry.

But there was one thing that only Fr. Rice could uniquely help Fr. Jamison with: the regular crossword puzzle. Once a month or so a clue came up requesting the name of the Pakistani language. Well, considering Fr. Rice spent decades in that country and still offered a silent prayer during Mass in its native language, the priest always had the answer, “Urdu,” waiting for his predecessor.

Fr. Rice spent 17 years at the helm of a parish in Pakistan. He spent the remainder running a program for heroin addicts through Caritas Pakistan. A 2012 article in The Catholic Sun introducing Fr. Rice as head of Phoenix’s Native American Ministry captured some memories of his days in Pakistan:

“I could walk up to a group of guys on the street half out of their minds from smoking heroin and squat down and talk with them,” he said. “We were out on the streets every single day when we knew they were doing their evening hit. I could go alone, or with staff, and there was never any danger in that.”