By STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writer | Published January 6, 2011
It was a time of both celebration and mourning as hundreds of people remembered the life of Msgr. Paul Reynolds at a funeral Mass at St. Brigid Church on Thursday, Dec. 23.
The beloved pastor of the Johns Creek parish left an indelible mark on the Archdiocese of Atlanta and it wasn’t more than a few minutes into the liturgy that the tears began flowing for many present.
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory gave a moving homily, recognizing Msgr. Reynolds’ contribution to the Catholic Church in Georgia and highlighting some of the priest’s most notable accomplishments and the special way he had with his parishioners.
“Everyone here knows that Paul’s pervasive Irish charm always disarmed people,” the archbishop said. “You couldn’t quarrel very long with Msgr. Reynolds without feeling quite foolish, even about matters that might have seemed awfully important to you at the start of your conversation. He had a way of soothing even the most savage beast in most of us.”
“We have lost a wonderfully generous colleague and friend,” said Archbishop Gregory. “St. Brigid Parish has endured a number of sorrows during the past several weeks in the deaths of a founding couple, the loss of a young adult to a tragic accident, and now the loss of your beloved pastor. In a special way I want to assure this otherwise joy-filled parish of the prayers and the affection of the entire archdiocesan family.”
Religious men and women, former and current parishioners, friends and family all gathered in the large sanctuary of St. Brigid Church, many having to watch a live feed of the Mass from the parish social hall because of the large turnout. It was a difficult service for many, but one that celebrated the priest’s life and his outward love for the holy Eucharist.
Audrey Thomas remembers first meeting the “uniquely Irish” Msgr. Reynolds when he served as assistant pastor of Holy Spirit Church in Huntsville, Ala. Several former parishioners made the trek from Georgia’s neighboring state to attend the funeral services.
“There was never a conversation with him where he wasn’t completely focused on you,” said Thomas, adding, “He always made you feel like you were the only person in the world when he spoke to you. … And he had such a love for the Eucharist.”
Msgr. Reynolds, born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1938, studied at All Hallows Seminary in Dublin, preparing to be a priest for the Diocese of Mobile-Birmingham, Ala. He was ordained by Bishop Denis Moynihan of Kerry, Ireland, before moving to the U.S. in the 1960s.
He served the Catholic community in Alabama from 1963 to 1970, and then requested to come to the Atlanta Archdiocese in 1970. Msgr. Reynolds was incardinated as a priest of the Atlanta Archdiocese in 1974 and has served as pastor of various parishes across North Georgia including St. Thomas the Apostle, Smyrna, St. John Neumann, Lilburn, and St. Andrew Church, Roswell.
Msgr. Reynolds was founding pastor of St. John Neumann Church, serving there for more than 10 years, and was also part of the founding of the neighboring regional Catholic school. Msgr. Reynolds also served as pastor of St. Andrew Church for 12 years until he was appointed a vicar general. He was elected dean of priests in the northwest area and has served on the archdiocesan College of Consultors, the archdiocesan Board of Education, the Pastors’ Task Force on Finances, and the Personnel Board. He also served as a judge on the Provincial Court of Appeals and was elevated to the rank of monsignor in May 2001.
He served as the moderator of the curia, the central offices of the archdiocese, and handled much of the day-to-day business at the Catholic Center in midtown Atlanta. He also became chancellor of the archdiocese on Nov. 1, 2001.
Maureen Schnetzer was one of the original parishioners of St. John Neumann when it was established in 1986 and still says that Msgr. Reynolds is her favorite priest.
“He was wonderful,” she said. “He was a fabulous speaker and always met you with love.”
Her friend, Grace Mathis, also remembers meeting Msgr. Reynolds in 1986 after she suffered a stroke.
“He came to the hospital to visit me. I will always remember that,” she said. “He was a good priest.”
Msgr. Reynolds was diagnosed with leukemia in 2002, while he was serving as vicar general in curia of the archdiocese and chancellor. He underwent medical treatment and received an outpouring of prayer and support from the faith community. He returned to serving the church full time, resuming his role as vicar general until 2006, when he was named pastor of St. Brigid Church, his final pastorate. He died Dec. 18 at Emory University Hospital at the age of 72.
“Pastors come in many different sorts,” said Archbishop Gregory. “Some are builders and fundraisers. Some are agents of transition. Some are spiritual doctors. Some are gifted preachers and teachers. Paul was an agent of reconciliation—he stopped all quarreling because he helped this splendid community to focus upon the Eucharistic promise of life eternal.”
“He was a healer and a servant minister of peace,” he continued. “He served in the administration of the Archdiocese of Atlanta, but his heart was always in the parish and soon after I arrived as Archbishop, with real tears in his eyes, he told me of his desire to become a pastor again. St. Brigid was a God-send for him and him for you as well.”
Following the Mass, the hundreds of attendees, which included nearly 100 priests, gathered outside the church in a sign of solidarity in sending off their beloved priest to his final earthly resting place. Many misty-eyed Catholics then joined each other in the adjacent Holy Redeemer School for a reception, where they were treated to a small photo gallery of Msgr. Reynolds throughout various times in his life.
The smiles returned as parishioners viewed pictures of the priest as a young boy or a newly ordained priest. The images seemed to liven the crowd as they opened up to each other, sharing the favorite moments they each had had with Msgr. Reynolds.
Sue Hanson, a parishioner at St. Brigid, attributes her return to the Catholic Church largely to Msgr. Reynolds. She said she had been away from the church for several years when she decided to respond to a growing urge to return to her faithful roots. She first met the priest at the Johns Creek parish.
“He welcomed me home,” Hanson said, smiling. “He really helped me figure out what I needed to do to return.”
Hanson also said his love for the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and the Anointing of the Sick, was evident.
“He always focused on the Eucharist. He just loved saying Mass,” she said.
“Paul Reynolds believed firmly in the Lord Jesus’ promise that those who share in the Eucharist will one day share with Him the fullness of life,” Archbishop Gregory said in his homily. “He was confident in that assurance. Yet like all of us, he did not know when or how the Lord would fulfill that pledge. People of faith have always had to express their trust in God’s favor without knowing when or how God would achieve His promise.”
“We await that last day with confidence and trust in the Lord’s ability and desire to give us unending life with and in Him.”
In addition to the funeral Mass, a vigil service was held at St. Brigid Church the night before where large crowds waited patiently in line for the opportunity to file past the priest’s casket as it lay in state to pay their final respects. Following the Mass, interment took place in Arlington Memorial Park, in the hilltop section reserved for priests and bishops of the archdiocese.
Msgr. Reynolds is survived by one brother, William, and several nieces and nephews. Contributions in his memory may be made to the building fund at St. Brigid Church.