A priest whose ministry has been deeply impactful to untold thousands in the Diocese of Phoenix has passed away.
Following his death, his closest friends described him as a “huge inspiration,” a “man of vision” and a priest with a heart for the poor and for justice.
From instrumental roles in Catholic Charities, Foundation for Senior Living, the Life Teen youth ministry program, Catholic Cemeteries and Funeral Homes, plus organizing the 1987 papal visit, Msgr. Moyer’s influence stretched across nearly six decades of priesthood.
Just over a year prior to his death, Msgr. Moyer sat down with Nathan Blanchard, a seminarian for the Diocese of Phoenix, to discuss his ministry and his many years of service to the Church.
Small town roots
Growing up in a small town in Ohio, Msgr. Moyer told Blanchard he received a call from the parish organist who was being summoned for military service during the height of World War II. Msgr. Moyer knew how to play the organ, so he took on that role for two years.
But it was his own service in the U.S. Navy that unveiled his call to the priesthood. Working aboard a ship in the chaplain’s office, he was inspired by two priests. “Fr. Bob Stanton, he was my first inspiration for that,” Msgr. Moyer told Blanchard.
He entered St. Meinrad Seminary in 1955 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1964. His first assignments were in Yuma and Tucson before being moved to Phoenix as the associate director of Catholic Charities. He went on to receive a master’s in social work from Catholic University of America and served at Catholic Charities until 1982.
In 1975, he was appointed pastor of St. Jerome Parish in Phoenix. Fr. Dan McBride, who grew up at St. Jerome and today serves as pastor of St. Mary Parish in Chandler, remembers being in fourth grade when he met Msgr. Moyer.
“He is the reason I became a priest,” Fr. McBride said. “My favorite memory of him is when I went to ask him about applying for seminary.”
At the time, Msgr. Moyer was serving at St. John Vianney Parish in Sedona. Fr. McBride had driven up to see his former pastor and as his advice about applying for seminary. He left before dinner to head back to Phoenix, but the snow was coming down fast, forcing him to turn around and head back to the church.
“We ended up talking much more about my vocation and it sealed my desire to become a priest,” Fr. McBride said.
A ‘huge inspiration’
Dottie Preach knew Msgr. Moyer for 48 years and said she met him when she was serving on the liturgy committee at St. Jerome. It was the beginning of a long friendship between her family and the hardworking priest.
“He became a member of our family,” Preach said. He witnessed her children’s marriages and baptized all the grandchildren, too. In 1983, they purchased a cabin with Msgr. Moyer that they slowly added onto over the years.
“His work was his badge of honor and he went by all the rules. He never broke the rules for anybody, not even his dearest friends.”
Preach recalled when her soon-to-be daughter-in-law was coming into the Church. At the wedding rehearsal, she asked Msgr. Moyer if he could make an exception and allow her to receive the Eucharist at the wedding Mass. Preach recalled Msgr. Moyer’s reply:
“No. You have to finish your classes. If you’re going to join the club, you have to play by the rules.”
Cindy Ketcherside remembers the encounter she had with Msgr. Moyer during a retreat when she was 35. She’d walked away from the Church at 18 and hadn’t been to confession in years. She got emotional recalling what happened next.
“I said ‘Bless me, Father, for I have sinned, it’s been, you know, 25 years.’ I looked at him and I said, ‘where would you like me to start on the Ten Commandments, the top or the bottom? Work my way up or work my way down?’
“And all he did was he chuckled and he hugged me and he said, ‘Cindy, we are all sinners. And there isn’t anything you could say to me that I have not heard. So, let’s just talk.’”
She described Msgr. Moyer as a “deeply loving, faith-filled man. He was compassionate, non-judgmental and spoke to your heart.”
Gary Brown, former CEO of Catholic Cemeteries and Funeral Homes, called Msgr. Moyer a “huge inspiration” and a “man of vision.”
“He was a mentor and he provided a lot of direction in my life. What he did for the Church, it’s unparalleled,” Brown said, noting that it was Msgr. Moyer’s influence that led to Catholic Cemeteries establishing funeral homes and mortuary services as part of its ministry.
Dan Ketcherside met Msgr. Moyer through Life Teen when the program was in its infancy. A pivotal moment in the organization came at the dogged insistence of Msgr. Moyer. Ketcherside was serving as chair of Life Teen’s first board at the time.
In those pioneer years, Msgr. Moyer was adamant that young people needed a week-long retreat experience to solidify their relationship with Christ. He travelled to Atlanta to inspect a prospective camp site.
Meanwhile, the Life Teen board wasn’t so sure this was a good direction. Ketcherside recalled Msgr. Moyer’s impassioned plea to the board:
“I’ll never forget him standing up and saying, ‘Guys, if you don’t approve this, this will be the biggest mistake that Life Teen has ever made.’ We approved it, and needless to say, the history of the Life Teen camp speaks for itself. It would never have occurred without Msgr. Moyer.”
Today, about 6,000 teens experience a Life Teen summer camp that features daily Mass, opportunities for confession, study of Scripture and fun.
Jim Whalen met Msgr. Moyer while serving on the Life Teen board.
“His first love wasn’t being VG or being at the diocese, his first love was being pastor of a parish,” Whalen said. “To me, he was always trying to be Christ-like. He was a man of integrity and unquestionable moral character.”
Bishop Emeritus Thomas J. Olmsted recalled that during his first months serving as bishop of the Phoenix Diocese, it was Msgr. Moyer, the vicar general at the time, who advised him.
“He was a great help to me in getting to know the diocese, and whenever there were decisions I needed to make, he was a good person to seek,” Bishop Olmsted said. “He was a person who was always ready with a generous heart to help in any way that he could.”
Fr. Richard Felt was friends with Msgr. Moyer for 54 years.
“He very much had a priest’s heart. He always wanted to be of service, helping people, especially those that were in need,” Fr. Felt said. That included rolling up his sleeves and helping build St. Jerome’s and expand Camp Tepeyac.
“I’d say he was a multi-tasker and a hard worker. He was always doing something. The bishop would ask him to take something on and he’d do it.”
Msgr. Moyer’s service in the Navy sparked a lifelong love of travel, and he was the chaplain on many an international cruise. His closest friends were often aboard. Dan Ketcherside recalled the impact Msgr. Moyer had on passengers.
During the first weeks, Massgoers onboard the ship were mostly Msgr. Moyer’s old friends, but as the days went by, attendance shot up.
“They started hearing about it on the boat, how dynamic it was, what a powerful speaker he was, so it was really wonderful to travel with him.”
Dodie Preach was there when Msgr. Moyer drew his last breath on June 27 after a brief battle with cancer. Her daughter, Robyn McDowell, spoke of her last conversation with the man who had been a pillar of her family’s life. She’d visited Msgr. Moyer every day since mid-December of 2022.
Each day as she was leaving, she told Msgr. Moyer that she’d be back the next day. On June 27, she said something different.
“There’s always been so much respect all the way through but in the end, I got firm with him. I told him I was not coming back,” McDowell said.
“I told him he would not be seeing me tomorrow, that I was not coming back, I was going on vacation and I wanted him to come with me as his forever vacation. And then the last words to him were, ‘Get your arse over that line now.’”
Less than 20 minutes after she walked out the door, her father called to let her know Msgr. Moyer was gone.
Wednesday, July 5, 2023, at St. Juan Diego Parish (3200 S Cooper Rd, Chandler, AZ 85286):
- 6:00pm Visitation
- 7:00pm Vigil with Rosary
Thursday, July 6, 2023, at St. Jerome Parish (10815 N 35th Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85029):
- 11:00am Funeral Mass. For those who wish to concelebrate, please bring an alb and white stole.