“The Staff of God!” I playfully declared when I spotted Father Greg Kenny, 82, heading up Stone Mountain this morning with a walking stick.
“I probably shouldn’t say that, huh?” I said.
But, Father Greg, as he is affectionately called by many of his parishioners at Corpus Christi Catholic Church in Stone Mountain, comfortingly said, “I don’t see why not,” and reassured me that I wasn’t being sacrilegious. Hey, at least I didn’t ask him to tap the rocks with his staff and bring forth water or to part the Red Sea (but I thought about it). A couple behind us overheard and looked our way, smiling, at which I excitedly burst into a kind of nervous, run-on comedic shtick, “No, he really is a priest! And he’s 82 years old and climbs the mountain almost every day. He even officiated my father’s funeral service in 2003. You’ve just seen a holy man on the mountain, so it’s gotta be a good day now!” They laughed and praised Father Greg’s agility, and the woman asked "has anyone ever told you you look like Pope John Paul?" The man shared that he’d grown up with a Corpus Christi in Wethersfield, Connecticut, and they walked ahead of us with a “you have a blessed day, Father.”
Through the years since I moved back to Atlanta from New York, and took to the mountain for exercise and all kinds of head-and-heart-clearing goodness, I’ve run into Father Greg there often. Little did I know that he’s been climbing the mountain about five times a week since 1992, when he first moved to the area to serve as a priest at Corpus Christi. Someone calculated that he might well have put in over 92,000 miles there. Considering that there are about 20 mountains mentioned over 500 times in the Bible—Mount Ararat, Mount Sinai, Mount of Olives, Mount Zion, Mount of the Transfiguration, Mount Carmel, Sermon on the Mount, Mount Nebo, Mount Tabor, Mount Seir, Mount Abarim, Mount Gilead, Mount Pisagh, etc.—what a particular blessing to serve a community with its very own mount, I’d say!
As I pointed my camera and camcorder at him, I couldn’t help but laugh at the uncanny visual similarity between my lenses and the two bears in crosshairs from the scope of a rifle on his shirt, one pointing to the other. And when I discovered that Father Greg is originally from the Far West Side of Chicago, I saw the Far Side T-shirt he was wearing in a whole new light and suddenly got the joke even Gary Larson couldn’t have foreseen. Father Kenny did his theological studies at Loyola University of Los Angeles and at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and since his ordination, he has worked as the CFO for the Claretian Missionaries in Chicago (a Catholic order devoted to working with the poor and marginalized) and has been a chaplain at Bolling Air Force Base in D.C. and a chaplain at Stony Brook University in New York. But his longest stay has been the 22 years he’s spent in Stone Mountain at Corpus Christi, where he is Pastor Emeritus—and quick to say he’s still practicing. He will always be part of God’s staff (see what I did there?)!