Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Photo By Michael Alexander
Bishop Luis Zarama sprinkles the casket, holding the remains of Father Jack Druding, with holy water before it is lifted into the funeral hearse. The Feb. 16 funeral Mass took place at St. Peter Chanel Church, Roswell.


Priest Who Started Airport Ministry Loved Travel

By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published March 3, 2011

Father Jack Druding spent more time than most on airplanes. He’d seen 49 states. (He skipped South Dakota because he couldn’t see the point after a visit to North Dakota.) He visited more than a dozen countries in his travels.

So it was no surprise a 2010 trip to Seattle included a stop at the Boeing plant to tour the newest jetliner: the 787 Dreamliner.

“He loved it,” said a longtime traveling companion.

Indeed, his love of travel was showcased even at his funeral Mass. The program showed Father Druding’s smiling face standing in front of the Sphinx in Egypt.

The funeral Mass was celebrated on Wednesday, Feb. 16, at St. Peter Chanel Church, Roswell, followed by burial at Arlington Memorial Park. Some two dozen priests and deacons, along with Auxiliary Bishop Luis R. Zarama, and crowds of friends said goodbye to the longtime priest.

Father Druding, whose given name was John, was a native of Philadelphia. 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 assignment as a parochial vicar at St. Mary Church in Rome to his concluding assignment at St. John Neumann Church in Lilburn. Pastorates included St. Mary’s in Toccoa and Holy Trinity in Peachtree City. One of his contributions to the archdiocese was helping to start the interfaith chaplaincy program at Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport in the late 1970s.

Father Frank McNamee said in his homily at the funeral that he could always rely on his brother priest to ask how he could help out and share a laugh about the antics of pastoring a large parish.

Father Druding was a “very good priest and a holy man,” he said.

At his ordination, Father Druding was told to be a priest who modeled his life on the mystery of the cross, Father McNamee said.

“Father Jack did it well,” he said.

Father Druding celebrated the finer things in life, the homilist said, and among them was enjoying being in the company of others and sharing life’s tales.

Indeed, a friend said Father Druding had many circles and relished introducing interesting people to each other.

“He was kind of the hub for a lot of people. He was really good at keeping people in touch,” said Tim Braun.

Braun traveled for work as a management consultant, but Father Jack, as friends called him, got to see the world.

“For me, it was fascinating to hear about his different trips,” Braun said.

Braun, who is 44 and attends Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, met Father Druding in 1996 at St. Andrew Church, Roswell. The two remained best of friends.

Father Druding was always on the move. There was a safari in Africa. Or the trip to Australia and New Zealand. Other trips were planned around a theme, like walking in the footsteps of St. Paul.

“His love for people, that was a big part of it. He loved people, meeting new people,” Braun said.

Lee Byelick was a traveling companion with Father Druding, and together they traveled to some 14 places, including Southeast Asia. She said Father Druding chose places where English wasn’t spoken to learn a few local phrases to make friends.

“He didn’t put on airs. He was a nice, down-to-earth guy,” she said.

A well-experienced traveler, Father Druding was always well prepared. He liked to see more than just the tourist destinations. He’d study a country’s history beforehand and scout out places to see. Last year, he traveled to the Pacific Northwest and to Montreal, Canada. But a planned trip last fall to Panama had to be canceled due to his poor health.

Another trait was Father Druding’s love of a bargain.

“He rarely paid full price for anything,’ said Byelick.

Before he put on a Roman collar, he worked as a buyer for a large department story in Philadelphia. He was trained to save a buck.

Byelick said the two of them strolled through discount stores, trying to find undiscovered bargains. Once Father Druding bought two bottles of a $1 lotion because he feared the ointment would be sold out before he got back to the store, she laughed.

His ability to find bargains continued during his travels. Braun received a set of wooden carved animals from a safari trip thanks to Father Druding.

“He’d always find amazing deals. He was always thinking about other people,” he said.

At his funeral, others thought of him. At the end of Mass, Bishop Zarama told the crowded church, “You treasure the friendship with him, and we continue to pray for him.”

“He went before us. We hope he can introduce us to that special place,” he said.