By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published February 17, 2011
Father Jack Druding, a priest who shared a morning coffee with Pope John Paul II and was the Catholic priest who offered a friendly ear to travelers and workers alike in ministry at then newly opened Hartsfield International Airport, died on Feb. 12 at St. George Village. He was 74.
Father Druding crossed paths with the pope in 1981 when he was in the Philippines during a papal trip and both were staying at a cardinal’s home. One early morning, Father Druding and a childhood friend, missionary Msgr. George Tomichek, who was assisting with the papal trip, celebrated Mass in a small chapel. Then the pope unexpectedly entered the chapel and prayed the Stations of the Cross. Inviting them to join him over a cup of coffee, the three men talked about the church in the United States and the Philippines.
The son of the late John and Sophie Schad Druding, Father Druding, whose given name was John, was a native of Philadelphia and attended Catholic schools. He received a bachelor’s degree in English literature from St. Norbert College and a master of divinity from St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore, Md. He was ordained to serve in the Atlanta Archdiocese by Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan in May 1976. He retired in 2005.
He served in parishes across the archdiocese, from his first as a parochial vicar at St. Mary Church in Rome to his concluding assignment at St. John Neumann Church in Lilburn. It was during his time as a parochial vicar at St. Philip Benizi Church in Jonesboro that he was asked to join an interfaith effort by the Christian Council of Metro Atlanta to open a chaplaincy program at the Atlanta airport.
During the late 1970s, the airport was in expansion mode from a regional size to an international hub. Father Druding joined a Jewish rabbi and a Protestant minister starting the interfaith chapel and chaplaincy program there. The airport chapel opened in 1980. Father Druding was a regular, seen talking to passengers and workers there over the course of nearly a dozen years as airport chaplain until 1991, even as he served in his other parish assignments.
In 2001, on his 25th anniversary as a priest, he talked about wearing his collar as he strolled the concourse and chatting with travelers and workers.
“It was really great. It was an availability ministry,” he said. “People would come up to you with their problems. … Mass is a great help, (but) the most important thing is availability and being there and helping somebody that needs a crying shoulder.”
The work he started continues at the nonprofit Interfaith Airport Chaplaincy ministry. The chapel, which overlooks the atrium, is where passengers, visitors, airport employees, and airline employees of all faiths find space for prayer and meditation. The chaplains minister to a congregation numbering more than 85 million people per year, providing both spiritual and physical assistance.
Serving in over 10 parishes over the years, Father Druding was pastor of St. Mary Church in Toccoa from 1985 to 1987 and of Holy Trinity Church in Peachtree City from 1987 to 1991 and was priest-in-charge of Mary Our Queen Church in Norcross when it was first established.
After he retired, he lived at St. George Village in Roswell.
He is survived by his brother and sister-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Druding, a nephew, Timothy Druding, and two nieces, Regina Siegfried and Karen Druding, all of Pennsylvania.
The funeral Mass was to be celebrated by Bishop Luis R. Zarama at St. Peter Chanel Church in Roswell on Feb. 16, followed by burial at Arlington Memorial Park in Sandy Springs. Contributions in memory of Father Druding can be made to the Vocations Office, Archdiocese of Atlanta, 680 W. Peachtree St., N.W., Atlanta, GA 30308.