Two Priests celebrate 100 years in the service of God

Renfrew — It is quite common for a couple celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary to be surrounded by family and friends as they are the centre of attention as they remember and reflect on the love they share and their collective strength to preserve their original wedding vows.

A similar scene took place Sunday, April 28 at Our Lady of Fatima (OLF) Catholic Church in Renfrew when Fathers Brady McNamara and Richard Starks were recognized on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of their ordinations when they made their sacred vows to serve God by spreading his message of love and forgiveness.

However, unlike a traditional anniversary party where the guests of honour often mingle in a low key fashion, it was anything but in the OLF reception hall. The two priests were treated almost like Hollywood celebrities and for the long lineup of well wishers, some who waited more than 45 minutes to chat with the men, they could only shake their heads in amazement at the incredible turnout of guests, many of whom spent decades with the two priests at various churches throughout the Ottawa Valley.

With more than 250 guests filling the hall where Fr. McNamara served as the parish priest for 12 years (1999-2011), they were met with a steady stream of former parishioners and guests, many of whom celebrated both happy and sad occasions with either of the two men.

Prior to the reception, current parish priest, Fr. Ryan Holly, celebrated Mass and during his homily, he spoke of the incredible influence the two priests had not only on their respective parishes, but on him personally. He said it was no coincidence the two men first entered the priesthood at the most sacred time on the Christian calendar and over the years, and 50 years later, they still find new ways to celebrate the resurrection of Christ.

“How blessed we are in this particular Easter to give thanks at the altar of God today for two such disciples, who for 50 years, have both followed in the Priesthood of the Risen Christ,” he said. “The path for our two jubilarians is both similar and yet uniquely particular. Both Father

McNamara and Father Starks had beautiful parents who were devout and had a great love of the church and family life. Both come from families that contained priestly and religious vocations as models. Both grew up deeply marked by priestly figures who emulated to the joy of the priesthood.

“Father ‘Mac’ is one of many priestly vocations from St James Parish, Eganville. Father Ric, the product of St John’s Parish in a far off land: Rochester, New York. Little did that young American boy know in the 1950s when he came in the family car for summer vacations at Cana Colony in Combermere that this Valley would eventually be home.”

Although all men at the altar share a common bond of faith, there was an even stronger bond between the two special guests and Fr. Holly.

“Father Mac, in your parochial assignments you have come to know your parishioners inside and out, visiting their homes, walking the corridors of hospitals and nursing homes, with a special solicitude for the sick and small children, who are still looking for the candy,” he joked. “I hold it as a

singular privilege when, as a young priest in your first pastorate at St

Ann’s in Cormac, you baptized me. Could we be the only parish in the world where fourth pastor baptized his immediate successor, the fifth pastor of Our Lady of Fatima?”

Father Holly, who can trace his family lineage back to the early days of Cormac, never misses an opportunity to promote the quiet hamlet as the greatest place that should be visited by everyone at least once in their lifetime, and he said Fr. Starks also spent time in the little community found near the base of Foymount and is home to the annual St. Ann’s Pilgrimage that attracts hundreds of visitors every summer. 

“Fr Ric, you too had the best assignment in the diocese of Pembroke in being pastor of St Ann’s in Cormac, and it was there during my teenage years and first years of seminary that I was honoured to assist you,” he said with a big smile. “Now in this chapter of your priestly life among us, it is you that I can always count on for the assistance.”

Began As An Altar Boy In Eganville

Fr. McNamara, born and raised in Eganville where he served as an altar boy at St James the Less for many years, was ordained on April 19, 1969.

His seminarian studies began at St. Jerome’s College in Kitchener-Waterloo in 1961 where he first studied Latin, then focusing on Philosophy. He then moved to St. Augustine’s Seminary in Toronto for further studies in Theology. As was the norm at that time, he was ordained at his home parish by Bishop William J. Smith.

Going forward, Father McNamara would serve at a wide range of parishes throughout the Diocese. He started out at Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Renfrew, followed by St. Ann’s in Cormac and Our Lady of the Angels in Brudenell, Our Lady of Perpetual Health in Braeside, Holy Name in Pembroke, Our Lady of Lourdes, also in Pembroke, St. Francis Xavier in Renfrew, then back to Our Lady of Fatima. He concluded his duties as a diocesan priest at St. Michael’s in Douglas, St. Pius V in Osceola and Sacred Heart in Cobden.

Although he officially retired 2017, he still officiates at Mass at Marianhill Home for the Aged and the Sisters of St. Joseph’s in Pembroke.

Looking back on his life, he has absolutely no regrets on the path he chose.

“The most fulfilling part was being with people and assisting people in the various stages of life, celebrating baptisms, first communion, marriage and the sacrament of death,” he said, making special mention of revisiting past parish members later in their spiritual lives.

“I started off in Renfrew in 1969, and I when I went back in 2011, I was marrying people that I had baptized in 1969. It was just the overall fulfillment of being with and assisting people at various stages of their lives.”

God Knows No Boundaries

In the case of Father Starks, it might be safe to assume that growing up in New York state, the furthest thing from his mind would be living among the people of the Ottawa Valley.

That chapter of his life began on May 17, 1969 when he swore his lifelong vows to God.

The eldest of seven children, he was born and raised in Rochester where he attended both high school and the St. Bernard School of Theology and Ministry.

God would ultimately lead him to Madonna House Apostolate in Combermere where he first served as a lay worker in 1964. It would be the start of 31 years of service there, eventually being ordained into his priesthood for Madonna House in 1969. Prior to his ordination, he pursued additional studies at St. Joseph Seminary in Edmonton (theology).

“I was the first candidate to be ordained by Bishop Joseph Raymond Windle, after he was named as coadjutor of Pembroke,” he said.

He proceeded to take on varied assignments with Madonna House, including a year pursuing a diploma at the Coady International Institute at Antigonish in Nova Scotia, specializing in the development of credit unions and cooperatives, to carrying out 10 years of service at the Madonna House soup kitchens in Edmonton and Regina.

Although Fr. Starks has the energy and enthusiasm of some men half his age, he knew when it was time to say goodbye to that chapter of his life.

“I submitted my resignation from active ministries at age 75, as we ought, and have enjoyed assisting the area pastors as they needed – sometimes for liturgies, sometimes for administration, sometimes for fraternity or errands.”

Although both priests may have officially left their chosen roles, there is no doubt their faith will endure until their final day. Judging by the warm reception afforded to them at OLF, they will never lose the love and respect they earned from the thousands of parishioners they served with honour and integrity for a combined 100 years…and counting.