St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church and the community of Oxford are losing a well-known and beloved leader, Reverend Joe Tonos.
Tonos arrived in Oxford in 2004 and for nearly two decades led his parish and community with an open and broken heart and great love for his faith. When asked how he felt about leaving Oxford, he simply replied, “It’s time. Eighteen is a good race.
Yes, the timing may be sad or bittersweet for many, but Tonos said he feels happy with his transition. All the work he could do in St. John was done.
“I feel pretty good because I came at a time when I was asked to build a church and establish a church in spirit as well,” he said. “We have the physique, but we have also developed a good spirit. I’ll let time tell the rest of the story on this.
Although Tonos leaves one house, he returns to another. He will return to St. Richard’s Catholic Church in Jackson where he served for a time after being ordained a priest in 1994.
“It’s like going back to your parents’ house,” Tonos said with a laugh. “I actually think I’m going to get the same room.”
Overall, he’s grateful to God for giving him wonderful assignments, Tonos told The Eagle.
Oxford may lose one member, but gain another.
He is replaced by Reverend Mark Shoffner of St. Mary’s Basilica in Natchez. Shoffner said he was looking forward to moving to Oxford as he had never had the opportunity to visit in the past.
“I’m excited. That’s the beauty of being a priest in Mississippi is that you can go to different places,” he said. “I’m looking forward to having a lot of interaction with young families and university students who swell the parish.It will be interesting to be able to work with the young people when they make these big life decisions and to guide them.
“You can’t get any closer to the university than where the church is in Oxford. You are close to campus and can walk through the grove and minister on campus.
Tonos remarked that Shoffner’s novelty will bring a fresh perspective to St. John’s, representing the new era Oxford finds itself in.
“He’s enthusiastic, he’s funny, he’s never short of things to say, so I think he’ll do great here,” Tonos said.
This community figure may leave for that familiar room in a familiar parish, but Tonos said he would never be out of reach for those who wish to see him.
“Mississippi is like a big little city,” Tonos said. “I’m never going to be too far.”
Tonos’ final sermon will be on Sunday, May 8. Shoffner will be officially installed in St. John’s on Thursday, May 12 and will offer masses beginning May 15.