Fr. Jonathan D. Parks, SDB, pastor of St. Rosalie Catholic Church in Harvey, La., since 2004, died this morning at West Jefferson Medical Center in Marrero, La., after a months-long illness. He was 60.
As pastor of St. Rosalie, Fr. Jon loved to bring in statues of Salesian saints. In 2006 he had Bp. Emilio Allue, SDB, come down from Boston to bless a new statue of Don Bosco.
Jon was born in New Orleans on Sept. 26, 1949, and raised in Gretna, across the Mississippi River from the Crescent City. He met the Salesians when he attended Archbishop Shaw HS in Marrero, where he was in the second graduating class (1967). Strongly influenced by the SDBs who taught him, especially Fr. Paul Avallone, he entered Don Bosco Seminary in Newton, N.J., where he professed his first vows as a Salesian on Aug. 15, 1969. After graduation from from Don Bosco College in Newton in 1972, Bro. Jon assigned to teach U.S. history and religion at Archbishop Shaw HS for two years.
In 1974 he enrolled in the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, for theological studies. He earned an M.Div. and was ordained to the priesthood on May 19, 1978, in Columbus—part of a class of 10 that included your humble blogger. After ordination Fr. Jon served young people and the Salesians as a teacher and school administrator in Cedar Lake, Ind. (1978-1979), Ramsey, N.J. (1979-1980, 1988-1990), Tampa (1983-1988), Don Bosco Tech, Boston (1980-1983), and St. Dominic Savio HS, East Boston (1990-1993, 2001-2004). He also was vocation director from 1983 to 1984 and 1993 to 1996.
After earning a doctorate in educational administration/superintendency at Boston College in 1996, Fr. Jon was appointed superintendent of schools for the New Rochelle Province in 1999 and served until 2004. He assisted St. Rosalie Church in Harvey as an associate pastor from 1996 to 2001. He was a frequent speaker at the National Catholic Education Association, and member of various boards including the National Religious Vocation Conference, and Cafe Hope in Marrero. He was a member of the presbyteral council of the archdiocese of New Orleans and a consultant to the Office of Education of the archdiocese.
Former provincial Fr. Jim Heuser said of Fr. Parks: “"The West Bank of New Orleans gave us a gift in Fr. Jonathan, with his strong sense of family and friendship, and an effusive and joyful Southern style. It blended well with the warm relational approach advocated by Don Bosco. In these last years he returned to the West Bank and was a gift to them, enriching so many who struggled through hard times with his priestly zeal and simple devotional faith. Greatly loved by many, he will be greatly missed.”
A former teacher at Don Bosco Tech in Boston, Jack Sullivan, wrote to Fr. Jon early in July to assure him of prayers and commend his professionalism and his success “in carrying on Don Bosco’s vision.”
The most difficult part of Fr. Jon's pastorate in Harvey was Hurricane Katrina. He stayed thru the storm, left briefly afterward with all the other SDBs, and worked very hard for months to support needy parishioners and anyone else, as well as to repair the damage that the storm caused to the parish facilities. Here he shows off the new computer center in St. Rosalie School in Sept. 2007.
Mary Wenzel, principal of St. Rosalie School, wrote to the students’ parents on the day Father Parks died: “Saint Rosalie school and parish communities are experiencing a tremendous loss, as Father Jon touched many people’s hearts and lives in a very special way. He was always there for everyone and ministered to anyone who crossed his path. Father Jon was a true Salesian [who] daily continued the great work of Don Bosco’s principles of reason, religion, and kindness, especially with the children. He loved the children dearly and enjoyed spending time with them around campus all the time.”
His obituary in the New Orleans Times-Picayune also contains this note: "It was Fr. Jon's unique gift of mixing humor and life experiences that endeared him to all who were lucky to enjoy his friendship and fellowship. He was always ready with a clever or witty remark for the occasion or a word of encouragement (or maybe even a song or two, Sponge Bob Square Pants maybe)."
Fr. Jon will be buried in a family plot in Westlawn Cemetery in Gretna.
To read some (or all) of the tributes to this fine priest, visit http://www.legacy.com/guestbook/nola/guestbook.aspx?n=jonathan-parks&pid=144064444&cid=full