Father George McKenna was born less than a year after the end of World War I. He was ordained a priest a month before D-Day. He had been, officially, retired for 13 years when 9/11 happened, but he was still the volunteer chaplain at Midway International Airport.
Now, at 96, McKenna is the oldest living priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago, and he still maintains a blog at fathermckenna.wordpress.com. If you visit it, you can buy his latest book, “Wisdom from the Pulpit,” for $11.95 direct from the publishers, CMJ Marian Publishers of Oak Lawn. It’s his fourth volume; the other three were titled “I’ll Only Talk for 3 Minutes,” and were collections of his homilies at the airport chapel.
The blog posts are also taken from the stock of homilies he delivered, egg timer in hand, over 23 years at Midway.
“I don’t see so well any more so I can’t write,” he said, although he acknowledged that he likes being able to reach people through his blog.
McKenna has lived at the Bishop Timothy Lyne Residence for retired priests in Palos Park since 2007. He is among those who can benefit from the June 11-12 collection for the Priests’ Retirement and Mutual Aid Association (see advertisement on the bottom of Page 5).
His ministry at Midway all happened after he retired as associate pastor of Our Lady of the Snows Parish in 1989, when he was a young 70. (“It was my own idea, in all humility,” he told The Chicago Catholic, as the archdiocesan newspaper was then known.)
“Those years were the happiest of my life,” he said.
He began celebrating Mass in the Midway Airlines courtesy room; when that airline went bankrupt, he got permission from Southwest and Frontier Airlines to celebrate Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning liturgies at gate B2. When the airport terminal was renovated and expanded in 2003, it had a dedicated chapel for the first time.
Ministering to travelers and airport workers was actually the third stage of his priestly career. McKenna taught at Maryville Academy in Des Plaines for five years after being ordained, then spent the next 20 years teaching at Quigley North and Quigley South, the two high school seminaries.
He then served as pastor or associate pastor at several parishes, mostly on the Southwest Side or in the Southwest suburbs near Midway, although he did spend some time as a missionary pastor in the Diocese of Fairbanks, Alaska.
When he was profiled in “Five Minutes with Father” in the Catholic New World in 2009 — to promote the collection for the Priests’ Retirement Fund — he noted that he had been a priest for 65 years and playing golf for 75 years.
Golf “helped keep me in the priesthood,” he said. “I socialized at least once a week and relaxed a bit.” He won a golf tournament for retired priests for eight years; then they stopped having the tournament.
McKenna said he would encourage Catholics to contribute to the collection for retired priests because it’s “a good work of charity. It helps priests who work for many years serving people. Most of them, when they retire, don’t have much money.”
Each year we honor the archdiocesan priests celebrating special jubilees. They have dedicated themselves to serving the Lord through his church in the Archdiocese of Chicago, and they often wear many hats, such as administrator, maintenance man, cook, accountant, friend. They have been parish priests, but also teachers, chaplains and counselors. Chicago Catholic congratulates and thanks them.
Father George McKenna, 99, was remembered for his love, generosity of spirit and brevity of speech at a funeral Mass that drew hundreds of mourners and more than a dozen priests to St. Barnabas Church Feb. 1.
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