Reverend John Thomas didn’t expect to step into the New Year as rector of St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the mother church of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Owensboro.
In the first four months of 2021, Thomas said he was on sabbatical in Rome, Italy, following his tenure at Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Bowling Green where he had been since 2013.
âThroughout the sabbatical, I’m like, ‘OK, I’m going to go back to the Holy Spiritâ¦ I’ve been there eight years; I will be there another four years. What haven’t we done? What can be improved? What do I need to grow over the past four years? What do we need to change? âFor months that was my prayer,â Thomas said.
But on May 10, 2021, Thomas received at 6 a.m. the unexpected call from Bishop William Medley, Bishop of the Diocese of Owensboro.
Thomas said it was the bishop who told him it was needed at St. Stephen’s Cathedral to replace the retiring Reverend Jerry Riney.
âThis is how God works,â Thomas said. âI thought I was taking this sabbatical for some reasons and getting ready for some things, which would have been great. But that’s not what I was preparing for at all. That was it.
In 1990, Thomas was introduced to Owensboro when he was assigned to St. Stephen’s Cathedral as part of his pastoral year – a time when seminarians take a break from their studies and learn from the priests of the parish.
But it will be another 32 years before Thomas returns to the church, which has had a significant impact on his life.
Thomas, 56, is the youngest of six children who grew up in Union County.
Thomas entered Saint Pius X seminary at the age of 17 with a âdesire and an interestâ for the priestly ministry. And during this time, he obtained an undergraduate degree in elementary education from Thomas More University before going to the seminary and the school of theology of Saint Meinrad for his masters.
Initially, Thomas admitted that there were times when he had doubts about whether or not he wanted to become a priest.
âEspecially in college, there were days when I thought it wasn’tâ¦ what I needed to do or what I’m going to do with my life – as any 17-year-old would think, 18, 19, âThomas said. . âBut when I did my pastoral year in 1990, I had no doubt that I would continue on this path and become a priest.â
Thomas was ordained a priest in 1993 but did not receive his first pastorate until 10 years later.
Thomas said that most of the years leading up to his first pastorate were spent as a teacher and administrator at Saint Meinrad’s seminary and theological school.
While he enjoyed his time there, Thomas added that his preference was the pastor.
“… It was a sacrifice to be there,” Thomas said of the six years he was posted to Saint Meinrad. âI am a parish priest.
In 2003 Thomas received his first pastoral mission at Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Hopkinsville.
And then, in 2011, he was appointed pastor of Christ the King Catholic Church in Madisonville.
âI thought I would be there for a long, long time,â Thomas said of his mission in Madisonville.
But after two years, the bishop sent Thomas to Holy Spirit, the largest parish in the Diocese of Owensboro.
âIt’s just a very complex parishâ¦â said Thomas. âIt’s a very diverse parishâ¦ very proactive.
For Thomas, leaving the Holy Ghost was bittersweet, but he was âhumbledâ when the bishop chose him to lead St. Stephen’s Cathedral.
ââ¦ It was very moving to hear (the bishop) entrust this mission because it was such a complete time for me,â said Thomas. âNineteen Ninety, in my pastoral year, has been such a deep and powerful experience in my life and my formation in my journey towards the priestly ministry. And then being assigned to the Cathedral, I never dreamed of it for a million years.