Fr. Frank C. Palermo 50th anniversary
FROM THE MIRROR ARCHIVE, Dec. 2, 2005
Fr. Frank C. Palermo
50th anniversary (ordained, March 26, 1955)
To say Fr. Frank Palermo, senior priest in residence, Holy Trinity Parish, Springfield, is an active priest is an understatement. He plays tennis, rides a bicycle, washes rectory windows, fills in for priests on vacation, and is a cruise ship priest/chaplain for international cruises.
Fr. Palermo has put 25,000 miles on his bicycle.
“I want to win the ‘no-belly’ prize,” he said.
In explanation about his window washing, he said, “I have cleaned windows all over the world, even New Zealand. Once I cleaned the bishop’s chandelier.” He has a system and a solution (99 percent ammonia, 1 percent water) that he said always works best.
Fr. Palermo’s parents immigrated to the US from Salaparuta in Sicily, Italy. Fr. Palermo was born in Kansas City, MO, and had one brother and four sisters. He attended Holy Cross Grade School in Kansas City, St. John’s Seminary, also in Kansas City, and Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis.
Sowing the seed
“Sowing the seed” is something Fr. Palermo said is important.
“The seed was really sown for me in seventh grade” when a pastor told four acolytes that he thought they should go to seminary and study to be priests. “Two of us went immediately,” he said. “The other two entered after graduating high school.”
“Sowing the seed does force you to think about something you may not have thought about before—I don’t think I ever looked back,” Fr. Palermo said.
He has tried to give that same encouragement to others to consider the priesthood. “I often kid with young men and say, you are going to be a priest. They smile, but you never know when someone will later say that somebody pointed out the possibility of being a priest,” he said.
In seminary, Fr. Palermo said his first grade card wasn’t too good, so he decided he had to shape up or ship out. “I shaped up,” he said. Every day for five years he rode a bus one hour, then walked about four blocks to the seminary. After that, he took up residence there.
He played intramural sports in the seminary and pursued tennis on his own. Being meticulous about doing things the correct way, he read a book, Tennis is My Racket, which explained how to hold the racket, where feet should be, and so forth, before ever going onto the court. He was 15 years old then, and he continues to play to this day. “You don’t age well unless you exercise,” he said.
Fr. Palermo was ordained for the Diocese of Kansas City, MO. When the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau was established in 1956, Fr. Palermo chose to stay in the newly-formed diocese. He had been serving St. Mary Parish, in Pierce City, MO, since April of 1955, which was considered a part of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
He has been a pastor in several parishes throughout the diocese, a religion teacher in McAuley Catholic High School, Joplin, and hospital chaplain for St. John’s Regional Health Center (now Mercy), Springfield, as well as for the non-Catholic hospitals in Springfield.
“My most effective time was as chaplain in St. John’s because what you did was 100 percent spiritual,” Fr. Palermo said. “No parish council meetings, no worry about the roof or lights. That was delightful.” He added, “That is the nice thing about retirement now, too.”
His favorite thing about the priesthood, he said, is celebrating the Eucharist and celebrating the sacrament of penance. The most challenging, Fr. Palermo said, is to preach.
“People come to hear the word of God, something related to the Scriptures,” he said. He feels a homily should be well prepared, so he will put hours into planning a homily. He thinks about it throughout the week and puts an outline and final draft on a 3×5 index card “so I know what I am going to say, but don’t know how I will say it,” Fr. Palermo said. His printing is almost microscopic, and one of his index cards is filled with numerous words.
“I still have a file index of 25,000 collected cards,” Fr. Palermo said. “I am very structured.”
He has also collected over 30 boarding passes since 1996, one for each of his international cruises. As a priest/chaplain aboard the ships, Fr. Palermo celebrates daily and Sunday Mass, leads an interdenominational service on Sunday, renews marriage vows, offers the sacrament of penance, and provides pastoral counseling. The remainder of the time, he explores the towns where they dock, and he spends time talking to people.
“People will tell me, ‘I used to be Catholic.’ I say, ‘tell me about it.’”
Fr. Palermo said people are different on cruise ships. There is no pressure, no TV, no telephone. Many of them find it easy to let down their defenses and talk with him about their feelings.
“It’s like living in a false environment,” he said. “It’s possibly the most relaxed atmosphere in this human society, and it is ripe for ministry.”
See also: A Pilgrimage through Western Europe