Rev. Milton Guthrie's Mercy, like God's, Extended to All

Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN)
April 12, 2002

In 1931, the same year Milton Guthrie was born in Memphis, an amazing thing happened in Poland.

Jesus appeared in a vision to a young nun and told her to remind the world of God's mercy.

Sister Faustina, the nun, went on to become the first saint of the 21st Century, venerated for her devotion to the Divine Mercy of Jesus Christ.

Guthrie grew up to become a devoted priest of the 20th Century, admired for his countless works of mercy.

Mercy is one of the essential attributes of God, according to Catholic theology. Mercy itself is a proof of God's mercy.

Rev. Milton Joseph Guthrie, who died April 6 at age 70, offered his own life as proof.

"Mercy was so much a part of who Milton was and what he did," said Rev. Thomas Kirk, who delivered Guthrie's eulogy Wednesday.

Guthrie grew up on North Willett, the fifth of five children in a devout Catholic family. One of his sisters, Mary Anne Guthrie, became a nun. In 1957, he became a priest.

Over the next 45 years, Guthrie served as a teacher, chaplain and pastor in various schools, prisons, and parishes around the city.

"I am a priest, have been since 1957, and I have loved every moment," Guthrie wrote when he retired.

"I have always trusted our Lord to guide me."

In 1969, God guided Guthrie to an abandoned parish in North Memphis where he helped to start a number of neighborhood ministries.

Later that year, he spent two weeks in jail, including Christmas Day, after he was arrested for taking part in a citywide anti-segregation boycott known as Black Mondays.

In 1971, he was named pastor of Holy Names parish in North Memphis.

Over the next six years, Guthrie committed un-

counted and untold works of mercy, both corporal and spiritual.

Guthrie fed the hungry and gave water to the thirsty.

"If he went into someone's house and saw they didn't have food, a few hours later, someone would be knocking on that door with some food," said Norman Redwing, a lay minister who grew up in Guthrie's parish.

Guthrie sheltered the homeless and comforted the afflicted. At one time, Guthrie had 32 people living with him in his home.

"It didn't matter if you were drunk or high or dirty, if you needed a place to stay, Father Milton took you in and tried to help you get back on your feet," Redwing said.

Guthrie instructed the ignorant, advised the doubting, and corrected sinners.

He helped brothers Norman and Ron Redwing, along with a lot of other kids, go to Catholic schools. He encouraged parish members to reach out to neighborhood children by becoming their unofficial "godparents."

Guthrie was patient with those who did wrong and forgave offenses.

"He always left his door open, and one night he was robbed by a guy with a knife. Father Milton not only visited the guy in jail, he helped him when he got out of jail. That guy eventually joined the church," Redwing said.

Guthrie visited the sick, buried the dead, and prayed for the living and the dead.

"Father Milton always prayed for you and he always gave you a hug and told you that he loved you. For me and many other kids in that neighborhood, he was the only adult who did that," Redwing said.

"He was a father to the whole neighborhood."

In 1977, Bishop Carroll Dozier asked Guthrie to take his heart for the poor to more affluent parishes.

Over the next 21 years, Guthrie served as pastor of Holy Rosary parish in East Memphis and Our Lady of Perpetual Help parish in Germantown. He also co-authored Betweeen the Rivers, a history of Catholicism in West Tennessee.

Guthrie returned briefly to Holy Names, but retired as pastor in 2001 because of his failing health.

"This man was a true priest who celebrated the Eucharist in his very bones every day of his life," said Gretchen Kirk, a member of the staff at Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

Guthrie celebrated mass for the last time the first Sunday after Easter 2002.

It was Divine Mercy Sunday, so declared when the Pope canonized Sister Faustina on the first Sunday after Easter 2000.

"I want to be completely transformed into Your mercy and to be Your living reflection, O Lord," Sister Faustina wrote in the 1930s.

"May the greatest of all divine attributes, that of Your unfathomable mercy, pass through my heart and soul to my neighbor."

Father Milton Guthrie will be remembered as a pastoral priest who tended roses and Redwings. He'll be remembered as a socially concerned priest who wrote of the history of Catholicism while participating in it.

Mostly, he'll be remembered as a merciful priest who loved God and his neighbors.


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