He was a Beautiful Priest
Arthur Griffin could never have predicted how life would unfold for him following his volunteer work near a Glenmary mission many years ago.
It was in the 1960s when he was a Legion of Mary volunteer one summer in Appalachian Norton, Virginia. He attended Mass at St. Anthony's, a Glenmary mission parish. Our late Father Frank Gardner was pastor, and became Arthur's lifelong friend. Arthur, born and raised in New York City, then nearby Maspeth (in Queens), was also involved in the Legion of Mary, which is how he met Father Frank.
"He was just a tremendous, great person," recalls Arthur. Not long after his time in Norton, Arthur fell in love with the woman who would become his wife, Ann. But, first, he would have her vetted by Father Frank! "I rode down to Norton (12 hours!) with my brother and my fiance. "They met him and they loved him, both of them," he says.
Father Frank had some advice for Arthur, he says: "Marry her." When the wedding plan- ning time came, "we broke convention and decided to come to Father Frank to get married." That would have been later in the 1960s, when Father Frank was now as- signed to St. William parish in Shelbyville, Tenn.
"We went down there [to Tennessee]. When we set out to get legal papers, people asked us 'Who are your relatives down here?' and we said nobody except the priest marrying us!" After the wedding, they returned to New York and held a reception a week later.
Arthur looks back on his time in Virginia with fondness. It was a time of social Glenmary Home Missioners, change, especially among African-American and White people in this country. "In the North things were very contentious," he recalls. "But in Norton, gradual changes were accepted.
"There was a whites-only swimming pool there," he recounts. Among his other duties, Arthur volunteered with black children. "I taught them religion, and brought them ice cream," he says, and took the children swimming at nearby Lost Creek.
During his stay at Norton, "I helped them integrate the swimming pool." At the time, allowing the black children to use the shallow end of the pool was progress, he says. He visited Norton 10 years later and saw the pool was completely integrated.
"I had a third of a bottle of wine and I poured it over the hood of my car!" he says, laughing. He was celebrating that "the pool was completely integrated and I had something to do with it." Arthur still gets excited as he talks about it.
Looking back on the whole experience, Arthur most remembers the personal. "Father Frank was a beautiful priest. He had a wonderful sense of humor, a tremendous smile."
Glenmary was life-changing for Arthur, and sparked in him a desire to contribute to Father Frank's legacy. So Arthur added Glenmary to his will some years ago. He wants to keep the good work of Glenmary going, to see the growth of local parishes, and a sense of justice
Arthur's a deacon now. He says that he measures up every priest he serves against two of the best priests he's known. Father Frank is one of them.