“Love is present in everything and everyone.”
For Father Carl Kish, the priesthood, and Catholicism in general, has always been about love.
Father Kish, who served as pastor of St. Robert Bellarmine Parish in Cortland since 1988, retired as a diocesan priest in July. The parish celebrated with a Mass on June 17 with Bishop David Bonnar.
Growing up in Lansingville, a neighborhood on the South Side of Youngstown, the son of Charles and Sophie Kish, his family was steeped in Catholicism. “I used to play priest celebrating Mass at home when I was six,” he recalled with a chuckle. His family was active in their parish, St. Matthias, and he attended the parish school and played Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) sports. “We were big Notre Dame fans. I kept a Notre Dame scrapbook.”
He progressed to Ursuline High School, where he played football and ran track, but the idea of a priestly vocation never went away. “Father Bill Kennedy said to me: ‘Why don’t you give it a shot?’” He received further encouragement from Monsignor Breen Malone, then diocesan vocations director. So after graduation, he entered the seminary—first St. Gregory and then Mount St. Mary of the West in Cincinnati.
Ordained May 26, 1962, in St. Columba Cathedral by Bishop Emmet Walsh, Father Kish was appointed associate pastor of Holy Family Parish in Poland. He also taught part time at Cardinal Mooney High School in Youngstown.
In addition to being in a parish with nice people and a good school, Holy Family Parish was an opportunity for him to learn about ecumenism, which had not yet emerged as significant among Catholics. The Poland community had been home to a strain of Protestantism that was hostile to Catholicism—to the point that the diocese had faced resistance in acquiring property to build a parish for Poland’s growing Catholic community. So Holy Family Parish vigorously pursued ecumenical outreach. Father Kish, along with others, “were visiting every church in Poland. They were ecumenical before anyone knew what ecumenical meant,” Father Kish said.
During his early years as a priest, the Second Vatican Council was in session. The council’s influence would soon spread, and many young priests like Father Kish would embrace it.
In 1965, Father Kish was named associate pastor at Immaculate Conception Parish in Ravenna. While there, he was named CYO Portage deanery director. He headed the Ravenna Ministerial Association and helped establish a clergy-youth program at Ravenna High School and Brown Junior High. In addition, he served as a chaplain at Robinson Memorial Hospital, Ravenna, as well as at the Portage County Home. He also served as chaplain of the local Knights of Columbus Council.
During that time, he was a member of the Diocesan Pastoral Council, the diocesan Board of Education and the Senate of Priests, serving as temporary chair at one point.
In 1975, Father Kish began training as a hospital chaplain at Fairview General Hospital, Cleveland, while living at Assumption Parish in Geneva. He pursued further hospital chaplaincy training at Virginia Medical Center, University of Virginia, Charlottesville.
In January of 1977, he was appointed administrator of St. Joseph in Newton Falls. That July, he was named pastor there, serving for the next decade.
During his tenure at St. Joseph’s he worked with the Newton Falls Ministerial Association in response to the 1985 tornado that devastated much of the community. The association helped support rebuilding and disaster relief efforts. Church Mouse Thrift Shop grew out of those efforts. “It’s still operating,” Father Kish noted.
At his parish, he also established such activities as CYO basketball in Trumbull County.
Father Kish was appointed pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Ashtabula in July 1987, and he was appointed pastor of St. Robert Bellarmine Parish in July 1988.
“I really liked it out there. You’re in the forest practically,” said Father Kish. “There is a family of osprey who have built a nest on a utility pole on our parish lawn.” (Related story at www.catholicecho.org.)
Yet, like the other parishes he served, there is ample opportunity to minister to people.
“At one point, we had 500 kids in CCD,” Father Kish explained, but with the closing of Packard Electric, the number of families in the parish declined from 900 to about 550.
Father Kish was also active in the local ministerial association called LOAF (Lakeview Outreach and Fellowship), serving as vice chairperson for many years.
“My starting point in ministry has always been love, rather than sin,” Father Kish said. “Love is the answer. The greatest mystery that we call God is love, and love is present in everything and in everyone.”
He looks at his priesthood with gratitude and joy, noting that what he most values as a priest is “celebrating the liturgy and being with the people. When you are celebrating Mass, you are creating a family of worship. We’re all concerned about everyone. We’re all one.”
Though he has retired, Father Kish expects to find other opportunities to minister. “You don’t stop being a priest even when you’re not a pastor.”
He also looks forward to getting out to South Bend, Indiana, for more Notre Dame games.