Father Joseph Rodney, SSJ, beloved parish priest, dies at 84

Father Joseph Conway Rodney, SSJ, remembered by Josephite Superior General Bishop John H. Ricard as a “parish priest to the core,” died March 23 at Our Lady of the Lake Medical Center in Baton Rouge, La. He was 84.

Born in Darrow, La., Feb. 7, 1938, Father Rodney was raised in the Josephite parish of St. Augustine in New Roads, La. Father Rodney was one of the first young men to be recruited when the Josephite missionaries started their recruitment efforts in African-American parishes, Bishop Ricard said.

“He was always on duty, always ready to serve the needs of the people,” Bishop Ricard said. “He was not concerned about advancements, he was more about the heart of the parish – the people – and they were appreciative of this.”

Throughout his ministry, Father Rodney served as a Josephite priest in seven different parishes in Washington, D.C., Alabama, Texas and Louisiana. He was also a member of the Josephite General Council. His longest tenure was his 13 years as pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish in Reserve, La.

Bishop Ricard was a classmate of Father Rodney’s at St. Joseph Seminary in Washington. They were ordained Josephite priests by Bishop Robert Tracy in St. Joseph Cathedral in Baton Rouge May 25, 1968.

While Father Rodney was pastor of Prince of Peace Church in Mobile, Al. and Our Lady of Grace, he suffered from the effects of kidney cancer. He spent six years on dialysis until a kidney transplant was available in 2007.

“While he was taking dialysis, he was very sick, but when he would come back he would still perform his duties as a priest,” said Mona Nicholas, who worked alongside Father Rodney as a secretary in the parish office at Our Lady of Grace for 13 years. “I told him he shouldn’t take on more and that he needed rest, but he did it anyway.”

Ms. Nicholas said everyone in the community loved Father Rodney, even those who were not members of the church, and they were very sad when Father Rodney retired.

“He was a very kind person,” Ms. Nicholas said. “I had to attend training for one of the ministries and they asked us who we knew who was like Jesus and I said Father Rodney. He was open to everyone, he was kind to everyone and he had time for everyone. That is the kind of impression he left.”

After his retirement, Father Rodney lived in New Roads with his sister, Mary, and brother-in-law, William. He was in part-time residence at St. Francis Xavier in Baton Rouge, and he helped out with Masses on the weekends.

“He loved being a priest, and he loved being with people,” said Father Edward Chiffriller, SSJ, pastor of St. Francis Xavier. “He was a very good priest. He suffered a lot of over the years with kidney cancer and dialysis, and he had a lot of pain due to arthritis.”

Father Chiffriller said that despite his friend’s kidney issues and being in his 80s, Father Rodney stayed very active and would call every Saturday to tell him if he was coming that weekend. “He had a successful and happy life as a priest,” Father Chiffriller said.

The last time they spoke, Father Rodney’s breathing was labored and he ended up going to the emergency room, where he was diagnosed with COVID-19. Father Rodney was in the hospital for four weeks before he died.

“We thank God for his long life,” Bishop Ricard said. “He lived a very productive life that was quite fulfilling, and he deserves a rest from all his labors to be with his Lord whom he served so well.”

Father Rodney’s funeral Mass was offered March 31 at St. Augustine Church in New Roads. Bishop Ricard was celebrant and homilist.


May He Rest in Peace

Written by: Lisa Harlow