By Br Kevin McKenzie, LC
Last Sunday I was walking down
the terminal at Chicago’s O’Hare airport. It was busy as
usual. People hurried everywhere.
Off in the distance, I noticed a
man walking towards me holding the hand of his five
or six-year-old son. No sooner had he laid eyes on
my Roman collar, than a big smile grew across his
face. As we drew closer, he nodded his head in
greeting. I nodded and smiled back. His son, too, gave
a big smile. We said nothing, and kept going our
ways, but those smiles meant a lot to me. A
lot more than many words.
It’s important to show priests
After I made my way to the plane
and found my seat, I watched the other passengers file
past, some straining to read the seat numbers, while others
nodded or said hello. One man, on seeing me, said
out loud, “Hey, there’s a priest on the plane. Now
we won’t crash!” There wasn’t time to explain that I’m
only a professed religious still in formation, so I just
I’ve worn a Roman collar the last eleven years. I
must admit, that for the large part, people have shown
me only respect and reverence. Especially on planes. I’ve heard
“Phew, am I glad to see you here, Father” more
times than I can count.
I remember how proud I felt
that first time I wore the collar in public. I
was being a witness to what I really believed in.
I felt like Iron Man trying out his suit for
the first time.
With the onset of the abuse scandals came
the first moment when I thought twice before donning a
collar. In 2003, I had to go to Texas for
two weeks and then return to the formation center in
As I got out of the car at
the airport, I didn’t know what to expect. Maybe the
police would come after me. For sure somebody would yell
or scream. Mothers would grab their children and run away.
Maybe I should just take off this collar thing and
Well, I didn’t. And nothing happened. All the way to
Texas and all my time there, people treated me with
as much respect as ever. “Hi Father”, “Thank you, Father”,
“Will you pray for me Father?” was all I heard.
flight back was the Friday before Good Friday. My seat
was in the last row, beside the engine, kitty-corner from
the lavatory–not the nicest place in the plane. I had
the whole row to myself. “At least I’ll have some
peace back here,” I thought.
No sooner had I sat down
than one of the stewardesses came by. “It’s so good
to have you here, Father. I’m Catholic,” she said. “If
there’s anything I can do for you, just let me
A minute later, another stewardess came by. She too was
Catholic, and she too was glad to have me aboard.
soon found out that all seven of the stewardesses were
Catholic. For the whole flight they took their breaks in
turns sitting in one of the empty seats by me.
They showered me with peanuts and soft-drinks. We talked about
the faith, about their families, about their work, and most
When it came time for lunch, they announced the two
options for economy class: turkey or ham. I had forgotten
it was a Friday in Lent, and I asked for
ham. They started handing out the meals from the front
of the cabin. When the cart arrived to the row
in front of me, it stopped, and went back all
the way to the front.
“Oh no!” I thought. “I guess
I’ll have to survive on the peanuts.”
When I looked up
again, down the aisle came a procession of seven stewardesses
bearing smoked salmon, French bread, and champagne from the first
class cabin. They had remembered that it was a Friday
So much for all the “uproar” and “waves of
anger” against priests that had been all over the news.
In those two weeks I had only been treated respectfully,
indeed more respectfully than ever.
A vocation to the priesthood is
founded, first and foremost, on faith. But the approval of
the people of God is essential as well.
You’d be amazed
at what just a cheerful “Hi, Father,” can mean to
a priest. From my experience, it makes you forget any
worries that might be on your mind at the moment,
it helps you remember who you are. Most importantly, it
gives you a little push to give more in service
A collar alone does not make a good priest
and the absence of a collar does not necessarily make
a priest less worthy. Nevertheless, I dare to say that
if a priest has enough guts to wear a collar
in public, chances are he’s doing his best to be
a good priest. He’s not hiding anything. He’s a man
who has offered up his natural desire to have a
family to serve God’s family. He deserves our encouragement. The
worst thing that could happen as a result of the
scandals is that good priests could become discouraged.
Only once have
I been shown serious disrespect for wearing a collar. Much
of the time, all I get are stares or indifference.
But when someone shows that they are glad to see
you, it’s like Tinkerbell has just sprinkled you with a
little of her magic dust.
A priest’s life isn’t easy. He
often receives little thanks. Take a moment today to show
your gratitude to a priest. Just a few words or
a smile, that’s all.
God will bless you both.