MAGGIE VALLEY — It's a familiar story today: a retired priest called back into service by the Church to fill a need. And it often rewards the growing family of Catholics with truly experienced pastors.
Such is the case with Father Richard R. Benonis, who was installed as pastor of St. Margaret of Scotland Church in Maggie Valley during a prayerful Mass on Sept. 17, celebrated by Bishop Peter Jugis.
Pictured: Bishop Peter J. Jugis celebrates the Mass installing Father Richard R. Benonis as pastor of St. Margaret of Scotland Church in Maggie Valley. (Paul Viau, Catholic News Herald)
Father Benonis was "called back to active duty" after more than 50 years of service as a priest, including 21 years in the U.S. Army as a chaplain. That service to God and country took Father Benonis on two tours of duty in Vietnam and two assignments to Germany.
Along the way, Father Benonis also earned a masters degree in counseling from Long Island University, trained at the Hazelden Foundation in Minnesota, and became actively involved in drug and alcohol counseling, family therapy and the Church's international Marriage Encounter program.
Father Benonis retired from the Diocese of Philadelphia in 2009 and moved to San Antonio, Texas.
In 2010, he relocated to Flat Rock. It was then, Father Benonis said, that he had an epiphany: "A priest is not what I do (or used to do). It's what I am."
He promptly contacted the Diocese of Charlotte and began helping out whenever he could. In January of 2011, Father Benonis substituted as celebrant at two consecutive Sunday Masses at St. Margaret of Scotland, and reported to Bishop Jugis' assistant, Nancy Weber, "I could take a place like this," he said.
Father Benonis was assigned to St. Margaret of Scotland starting Aug. 15, and on Sept. 17 at his installation Mass, he took an oath of fidelity to the Church and to the bishop, and he publicly signed documents officially taking over as pastor of the parish.
As part of Father Benonis' installation, after his homily, Bishop Jugis walked with Father Benonis around the church, pointing out the places where the new pastor would exercise his duties to administer the sacraments and teach the faithful: the front door – providing generous access to the faithful to come and pray; the baptismal font and the confessional – administering the sacraments of baptism and reconciliation, enabling the faithful to receive new life in Christ and restore their relationship to God; the tabernacle and the altar – celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass to nourish the faithful with the Body and Blood of Christ; and the presidential chair – symbolizing Father Benonis' role as leader and teacher for the parish.
After the installation, the congregation honored their new pastor and Bishop Jugis with a luncheon in the Parish Hall.
— Paul Viau, correspondent
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