Monsignor Ralph W. Beiting (1 January 1924 - 9 August 2012)
On 16 July I posted Fr Ralph Beiting, an outstanding priest. Four days before that I had featured in Sunday Reflections a video of him street-preaching last summer, something he had been doing for years.
I learned yesterday from a friend in Chicago of Father Beiting's death on 9 August after a brief illness.
On the home page of the website of Father Beiting Appalachian Mission Center you can hear his voice: It’s not been an easy road. It’s been for a little hardship, headaches, anxieties and the desire to quit. But the joy has been overwhelming, to be able to say Mass every day in these hills and offer it up for the good and benefit of its people. That gives me power that I never have any other way.
This short video of Father Beiting preaching last summer, aged 87, shows the kind of priest he was. It also expresses an awareness of his own mortality.
I worked with Father Beiting on four occasions as a young priest when, a greenhorn from Ireland, I was studying near New York City. I wrote about that on my post on 16 July. I remember him very much as a 'man's man'. He loved his street-preaching missions accompanied by seminarians. I recall that a favourite song of his was Stouthearted Men. Like the character Charles Vizier in New Moon he had the ability to inspire young people, men and women, to give themselves generously in the service of others.
When Father Beiting started his ministry in Easter Kentucky more than 60 years ago there were very few Catholics and quite a bit of anti-Catholic sentiment. Yet the people, part of the 'American Bible-belt' were deeply religious. Father Beiting had great respect for them, one of the reasons he began his street-preaching, an old Protestant tradition that was beginning to die out. On one occasion he was driven out of a town at gunpoint but appeared again the following day, though not to preach. He preached the basics of the Creed that most Christians subscribe to.
He had a love too for the popular hymns of the people he served. One of these was The Old Rugged Cross, written by George Bennard, a Methodist evangelist. Here it is sung by Johnny Cash, another 'man's man' and a singer whom I have discovered is a favourite of men and women from very diverse backgrounds.
May our loving and merciful God grant to this stouthearted priest, who joyfully and generously clung to the old rugged cross for so many years, the crown for which he hoped to exchange it some day.