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Archives Msgr. Leeward Poissant looks back on 54 years of priesthood
Scholar, rector, pastor.... priest

Dec. 20, 2017

By Shawn Ryan
Staff writer


Plattsburgh -  A lot of life has passed before the eyes of Msgr. Leeward Poissant, now retired; from his seminary study in Rome during Vatican II, to his time as president/rector at Wadhams H all, and through his 27 years as a pastor and 54 years as a priest.

Msgr. Poissant’s formative years in Rome, during the most important time in the modern Church, certainly colored how he carried out his ministries.

He fondly recalls the “simple pastoral nature” of Saint John XXXIII, then Pope during Vatican II, likening his nature to that of current Pope Francis.

For his first Mass, Msgr. Poissant chose to celebrate in a small chapel in one of Rome’s famed catacombs.

“It was a reminder to me that a priest must be prepared to lay down his life, whether suddenly or a day at a time.”

Now five years’ retired, Msgr. Poissant’s days may be less hectic, but are certainly no less spiritual.

He relishes setting his own pace each day, and is catching up on tasks some 40 years in the making like finally reading “The Birth of the Messiah” which has been waiting for him to read since it was published. He considers his apartment a “haven” from the constant demands and challenges of the parish life he knew for so many years.

Though retired, Msgr. Poissant is far from done with his ministry, vowing to step in to help younger priests whenever they might be in need.

“When I retired I resolved to respond to whatever requests I received. I realize that sooner or later, as the years continue to roll by, I may need to make some prudent decisions about how distance and winter affect my abilities. For the present, however, I ask God to help me to do as much as I can for as long as I can.”

Msgr. Poissant shares reflections about his priesthood here:

After 54 years of priesthood, what have been your greatest joys and challenges?
My greatest joy was to be ordained on my birthday, which was a remarkable coincidence and a wonderful gift which keeps on giving. Every year I am reminded of this blessing at the same time as I add another year to my life. 

Close behind on the joy list are becoming a pastor for the first time 23 years and six months after my ordination and all my opportunities to work with children. Their simple faith and joy are infectious, and they make me want to recapture the joy of my youth, as far as humanly possible.

As for challenges, I am reminded of the old saying, "I have been down a lot of roads, and not all of them were paved." Some of my more challenging roads were
1. becoming the Bishop's personal assistant (I never liked the term "secretary") after only 10 months in a parish,

2. trying to adapt to graduate study in philosophy while having little or no background in the subject compared to the other graduate students,

3. trying to complete my thesis and prepare for a defense while already a fully active faculty member at Wadhams Hall, plus becoming Dean of Students my second year and Vice President my third year,

4. facing the challenges and problems of being president/rector for five years, and

5. trying to be rector of the cathedral, with all of this assignment's unique dimensions, while still teaching one philosophy course each semester.

Did your years of training priests at Wadhams Hall make a difference in how you ministered as a pastor?
I think it did. Certainly, I was affected by the deep spirituality and spirit of community. I also learned a lot about the importance of collaboration, communication, and compromise, and these all served me well as a pastor. You could say that I came from a good learning environment.

What was it like in Rome when you were in the seminary and then ordained during the years of the Second Vatican Council?  How did that experience affect your priesthood?
It was an exciting time to be in Rome. We eagerly awaited the English translation of each council document and speculated on what it would mean for our ministry.

We were also deeply impressed by the simple pastoral nature of Pope (now Saint) John XXIII, who affected us much the way Pope Francis touches people's hearts today.

Finally, Rome is always a powerful reminder of the history of the church and the time of the martyrs. I chose to celebrate my first Mass in a small chapel in one of the catacombs.

It was a reminder to me that a priest must be prepared to lay down his life, whether suddenly or a day at a time.

What has your life as a retired priest been like? Any hobbies of special ministries?
You can discover my expectations in the e-mail address that I chose: glenhaven5075@gmail.com. The numbers stand for 50 years ordained and 75 years of age when I retired. Glen is the name of the street I live on, and it also has a peaceful connotation. Haven indicates my hope that my retirement apartment and experience would be a haven from the constant demands and challenges of parish life.

So far it has worked out pretty much that way, with minor adjustments from time to time. Most days I can set my own pace, and now I have time for many things that I once put off until some indefinite future date. For example this Advent I am reading "The Birth of the Messiah" by Raymond Brown, which has been on my shelf untouched since it was published 40 years ago.       

As for hobbies, my tastes have changed somewhat. There was a time when I was very interested in bridge, chess, and puzzles of any kind. Now my interests are less intellectual and less competitive. I enjoy outdoor exercise (walking, jogging, and golf when possible), watching my favorite sports on TV, recreational reading  and listening to classical music.

Ministries are usually the result of requests from other priests and include weekend Masses, Holy Day Masses, days of recollection, parish missions, and other special events. I think most priests would view the sacramental dimension of their ministry as the most satisfying and enjoyable, and I am blessed to be able to do that without the many other obligations.

With the wisdom garnered from your wide variety of priestly experience, what advice would you have for younger priests and all Catholics who call the North Country home?

Without making any claim to great wisdom, I would simply advise the younger priests to take time...time to pray each day, lest their ministry become hollow with no spiritual interior...and time to relax for at least a short time each day with something they really enjoy, lest they burn out from all work and no play.

I would advise the Catholics of the North Country to broaden their horizons from a narrow view of their own preferences (Mass time, Mass location, etc) to a more complete grasp of what everyone is going through. Their pastors can help them achieve this by being models of the collaboration, communication, and compromise so essential for the planning process.

What gives you the greatest hope for the future of the Catholic Church? What is your greatest concern?
It is almost impossible for me to identify any one concern as greatest, when there are so many of them and they even vary greatly by geographical location all over the world. However, I am convinced that there is and always will be hope in every situation because of the ongoing powerful presence of the Holy Spirit.
Nothing is impossible with God!

Any favorite stories you would like to share?
I have always liked to use stories in my teaching and preaching. I have a collection of hundreds of them. However, only about five are from my own personal experience, and I would like to share one those with you.
During the time that I was President/ Rector of Wadhams Hall I was on vacation in Toronto one summer, but it was not very relaxing. I was constantly worried about problems that I would have to face when I returned, even during my last meal before I left.

I was too wound up to enjoy a nice restaurant, so I was in a large two story McDonald's. I took my meal, if you could call it that, to the farthest corner of the second floor, where I could be alone with my anxiety.

As I was eating I saw a shabbily dressed man come up the stairs and start to put a narrow slip of paper on each table. I didn't acknowledge him or even look at him as he left one for me. When he was gone I looked at the small piece of paper which had these words on it: "Be not afraid. I am always with you."

I thought without really "getting it" that he could hardly go wrong with that, because everyone is afraid of something. But the surprise came when I got up to leave and looked at the messages abandoned on other tables. They were all different! Mine was the only one with that wonderful message of reassurance.

It was like I received exactly what I needed to see, and my trip home was a lot more peaceful than I had anticipated.

To this day, whenever I hear the song "Be Not Afraid" I remember that wonderful manifestation of God's presence and providence in my life.

Any final thoughts?
I remember how many times retired priests helped me when I needed them during my 27 years as a pastor. I can no longer repay them, except with my prayers, but I can "pay it forward" by helping those who now need me.

When I retired I resolve to respond to whatever requests I received. I realize that sooner or later, as the years continue to roll by, I may need to make some prudent decisions about how distance and winter affect my abilities.

For the present, however, I ask God to help me to do as much as I can for as long as I can.

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