'MAN OF GOD' LEAVING PARISH RETIREMENT TO END 40 YEARS OF LIFE AS PRIEST.
THOUSAND OAKS - Back in the late 1950s, when Joseph George began studying for the priesthood at St. John's Seminary in Camarillo, he half-expected to be shown the door.
``I kept expecting someone to tell me, 'It's not for you,''' he said. ``I had a secular college education even though I graduated from Loyola University. I studied labor laws, not the classics or languages. But no one ever asked me to leave.''
George did complete his studies and was ordained, opening the door to a 40-year vocation of service to Roman Catholic families in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
Only the tradition of submitting a retirement request when priests turn 70 could pry George away from the day-to-day interaction with the congregation at St. Paschal Baylon Catholic Church in Thousand Oaks, where he is the pastor.
``It's been an absolutely exciting and fulfilling vocation. When I write the Pastor's Page I write, 'My dear family,''' said George, who is now a monsignor. ``That's the way I see the relationship. The parish has been a total focus of my life for almost 19 years, and it has been a total joy.''
George was serving in the Air Force after graduating from Loyola when he decided to apply for the seminary instead of going on to law school.
``While I was in the Air Force I saw so many men who needed help. They had no philosophy of life, no perspective on life,'' George said. ``I thought about how I could turn them around.
``Some people think it's a mystical or magical event that makes you want to become a priest, but it comes out of your prayer. I would say to any young man considering this that I'm so happy that this is my vocation.
``It's not all peaches and cream, of course, but I have no regrets,'' he said. ``It's been really fulfilling to help folks.''
George's mission has inspired many in the nearly 5,000 families at St. Paschal Baylon to get involved with service to their own parish and the Conejo Valley community, as well.
``There were a few ministries when Monsignor Joe first came to St. Paschal - maybe about 18,'' said Richard Moss, a member of the parish since 1962. ``Now they number in the 60s. That's due to his leadership. He's such a dedicated and good man. I really do want to wish him a rewarding retirement.''
George advises his parishioners to respond to the needs of the community, said Cathy Brudnicki, chairwoman of the Pastoral Council and a parishioner for 24 years.
``He really is like a father to us. We look to him for guidance. It's very easy to be passive and just go to church every week,'' said Brudnicki.
``Monsignor Joe has allowed me to increase my spiritual journey. I wasn't involved before he came. Opportunities were made available and it has been very rewarding.''
George's knowledge of the Bible, his humor, and his ability to make each person feel like they are the only one asking for his attention are some of the strengths that Moss and Brudnicki will remember most when the monsignor leaves the parish after June 30.
``He's very conscientious about tending his flock,'' said Meta Davidson. ``If there were six meetings going on at the same time, he might not stay long but he'll go to all the meetings. He's always cheery and very 'smiley.'
``Monsignor is everything a man of God should be.''
A retirement party for Monsignor Joseph George will follow the 5:30 p.m. Mass today, celebrated by Bishop Thomas Curry of the Santa Barbara Pastoral Region. St. Paschal Baylon Catholic Church is at 155 E. Janss Road, Thousand Oaks. Call (805) 496-0222.
Monsignor Joseph George of St. Paschal Baylon Catholic Church in Thousand Oaks will retire after June 30.
Tina Burch/Staff Photographer