By JEAN DRISKELL, Special To The Bulletin | Published May 13, 2010
Father Edward Thein’s journey to the priesthood started as “a local admiration for my parish priest, Father Francis Cronin,” he said, remembering the pastor of his childhood parish of St. Lawrence Church in Pittsburgh, Pa.
“He was a man of the people. Parishioners would invite him into their lives and homes. He would play with us kids. He was a prayerful man.”
Father Thein, who is currently pastor of St. John the Evangelist Church, Hapeville, also grew interested in foreign missions and the rural apostolate while in grade school. In eighth grade a Maryknoll missionary came and talked to the parish, and the young Thein asked about the Maryknoll order. The priest told him about the Jesuit high school in Pittsburgh, and said if he was still interested, then he could go on to join the Maryknolls.
“Father Cronin asked me if I ever thought about going into a seminary,” Father Thein said. “I thought about missions and seminary, but in high school (in Pittsburgh) I had developed an interest in computers and electronics. I was thinking about joining the Air Force Academy in the technical field.”
“At the time I was dating a girl who was interested in religious life. It turned out she went into the Army and got married, and I went into the priesthood as an interest,” he said.
He went to St. Meinrad’s in Indiana, even though the vocations director of the Diocese of Pittburgh said the seminary was no longer one of their affiliated schools.
“With my parents’ support, emotionally and financially, I went to St. Meinrad’s as an unaffiliated seminarian,” he said. “Thoughout the process of my preparation, my mom and dad were very supportive. Although I was an only child, they did not express any personal preference for my future but respected my choices.”
Another major influence on Father Thein’s spirituality was “my uncle, George Godfrey, who was also my godfather. He was a very devout Catholic. He talked to me about faith and encouraged me in my spiritual formation.”
His connection to Atlanta came about through friends.
“In my first year (1971, St. Meinrad’s), I met some guys from Atlanta, and they invited me to visit,” he said. “So, in the summer of 1972, I came to visit.”
While here in Atlanta, Father Thein worked in a factory in Stone Mountain and stayed at the convent of Our Lady of Lourdes, “along with Tony Green, Jim Miceli and Tony Stephens,” he said.
“The idea was to make some money while exploring Atlanta,” he continued. “Father John Adamski, then vocations director for the archdiocese, helped me get the job.”
Father Thein said that while at the job “during coffee breaks and lunch, I met Southern Baptists and learned their theology, and they learned about Catholics.”
During that first stay in Atlanta, the first parish he visited was St. John’s in Hapeville. He also met with Archbishop Thomas Donnellan, “who invited me to come and stay for the summer,” Father Thein said. “By the end of the summer, I became affiliated with the Archdiocese of Atlanta.”
“The second summer in Atlanta, I was now a seminarian for Atlanta, and I visited Blessed Sacrament in Atlanta and St. Anna’s in Monroe,” he said.
Father Thein was at St. Meinrad’s until 1975. With Archbishop Donnellan’s approval, he then attended St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, he said.
In the summer of 1978, Father Thein was assigned as a seminarian at Sts. Peter and Paul Church, Decatur, with Father Henry Gracz as pastor and Fathers Patrick Bishop and John Henley as parochial vicars.
“Each year of my formation, the calling to the priesthood became stronger and stronger,” he said. “As I processed through my discernment, I saw God’s hand in my life. Paths kept opening up to me. I see a pattern of the Lord’s hand in my life.”
“You have to discover that inner love of God that has nothing to do with academics, personal advancement or family approval,” he said. “Priesthood is discovering that God is calling you to a mission that unfolds through the years from what you expected to the unexpected.”
In December 1978 Father Thein was ordained a deacon, and on June 2, 1979, he was ordained a priest. He was assigned to St. John Vianney Church, Lithia Springs. Father Bishop preached at his first Mass, he said.
“After ordination, I became perceptive of what people wanted in their parishes and their needs,” he said.
“I don’t consider myself a specialist in any one area. I consider myself a ‘jack of all trades,’ doing whatever is needed.” Father Thein said.
He said, “I’m blessed to have many seminarians assigned to me. I thought I was going into foreign missions, but I ended up in home missions.”
He has served at parishes all around the archdiocese, including St. Jude’s in Atlanta, where Father Richard Morrow, pastor at the time, “told me that even in the most affluent of areas, there are people suffering from poverty: poverty of spirit,” Father Thein said.
“I found that statement to be very accurate,” he said. “God has provided me with many opportunities to provide healing to the brokenness in people’s lives, and being able to be present for my family, especially at the deaths of my father, mother and uncle.”
Father Thein was assigned to Holy Family Parish in Marietta in 1982 as parochial vicar and in 1995 as pastor. In between, he served at the Cathedral of Christ the King from 1985-1987, then St. Joseph’s in Athens from 1987-1988, and at St. Joseph’s in Dalton in 1989, his first pastorate.
“I’m now pastor of St. John’s where I began, came full circle (from) when I first got off the plane in 1972,” he said.
Father Thein served two years as a secretary for Archbishop Donnellan and six years as vocations director for the archdiocese. From the 1980s to the early 1990s, he taught sacred Scripture in the permanent diaconate training program. He has also been involved with Marriage Encounter, Cursillo and the charismatic movement.
“Over the years I have seen the pattern of God’s hand in my life, never sensing I was alone in my choices for the future,” he said.
He continued, “I’ve been aware of how God looks through my own limitations. I’ve not felt alone but always felt his gentle hand upon me, even when I was asked to take on difficult assignments I would have preferred to avoid. This helped me to accept challenges and learn certain things I would not have if it was easy.”
“Being present for the ordination of young people I have known for years as well as the marriages of couples I have introduced to each other are among the most memorable moments of my priesthood,” he said.
Father Thein also remembers being able to walk in the footsteps of Jesus in the Holy Land in 1986 while visiting there for graduate studies.
“I spent one month experiencing life in the Holy Land as a living and historical reality. It really impacted me.”
“Overall,” he said, “my experiences as a priest have been very positive, with the good far outweighing the bad.”