DRAPER, Utah — You can still hear his native Ireland in the voice of Monsignor Terence Moore.
Even though he has lived in Utah for 46 of his 70 years, there’s enough of the small village of Ballyfin, County Laois, in his voice that his smiling “Good morning!” is more than a mere greeting — it is also your first clue that you’re talking to a born and bred Irish Catholic, saints be praised.
“I can’t help it,” he says with a smidgen of the brogue, sitting in his tidy, unpretentious office in St. John the Baptist Catholic parish, right next to Juan Diego Catholic High School. “I was born and raised on a farm there. It gets in your blood.”
For all of his Irish, however, Msgr. Moore has become so firmly engrained in Utah’s Catholic community that when he announced his retirement back in February — the same week, coincidentally, that Pope Benedict XVI announced his retirement in Rome — students at Juan Diego were feeling a little overwhelmed by the impending loss of both their Pope and their priest.
“One kid came up to me and asked to see my cell phone,” Msgr. Moore said, chuckling at the memory. “He said he wanted to see if I had the Pope on speed dial. I told him, ‘Oh yeah, Pope Bene and I tweet each other all the time!’”
Although Pope Benedict’s retirement was official at the end of February, Msgr. Moore’s retirement is official this weekend. He’ll conduct the Saturday evening mass and two Sunday masses, and then he’ll turn the reins of St. John the Baptist parish over to someone else — something to which he openly acknowledges he’s looking forward.
“Night meetings and fundraising,” he says quickly when asked what he’ll be glad to say goodbye to. “You’re always fundraising when you’re working for the church. At one point in my career I was doing so much of it I noticed that people started ducking me when they saw me. They didn’t want me to hit them up for cash.”
As a retired priest he’ll continue to officiate at weddings and funerals — “all the real priestly stuff, I’ll continue to do,” he said. “We never retire from being a priest,” he explained. “We just retire from all the administrative assignments. Otherwise, we help out as we are able, especially when priests are sick or on vacation. But I won’t be asking anyone for money. I’m excited about that.”
As if on cue his cell phone rings and he excuses himself to take the call. A parishioner is concerned about the timing of a funeral for a loved one and wants to be sure Msgr. Moore can be there to officiate.
“I’ve been part of this community for so long, some people can’t imagine having a wedding or a funeral or a baptism without having me there,” he said. “And I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Being a pastor, he said, is “the best job in the Catholic Church.”
“You can be a priest and have a lot of different jobs — being a university professor, running a hospital, being involved with social services,” said Msgr. Moore. “But for me, the most satisfying role is to be a pastor. You’re involved with people in their everyday lives. You’re with them when they are baptizing their babies, preparing for marriage, taking their first communion, getting them ready for confirmation and when they are dying, you’re the first person they call to be there.
“You get to be with people at so many significant points in their lives,” he continued. “They put so much trust in you. It’s so humbling. As priests, we’re just made of clay ourselves, but we get to be part of people’s family life in that way. It’s just a wonderful privilege.”
It's also one that he has chosen for himself several times during the course of the past 46 years.
The first time was back in the last 1960s after he completed his seminary education — two years of philosophy, four years of theology — and was ordained to the priesthood in Ireland. Although there were a number of priestly possibilities available to him, he volunteered to be a missionary priest in Utah.
“Utah was just really appealing to me,” he said. “As a boy I was always interested in the western United States. I loved cowboy movies, and their western landscapes fascinated me. We’d see the canyons and the red rocks and the deserts in the movies and I thought that looked really interesting.”
He was also interested by the fact that the Catholic population in Utah was so small.
“When I first arrived here Catholics comprised only about 4 percent of the state’s population,” he said. “That’s a lot different than in Ballyfin, where almost everyone was Catholic. I thought, ‘They don’t have much of a base from which to draw priests there. That’s something I can do.’”
So he came to Utah as a missionary priest wearing a heavy black wool suit in the middle of August. (“The heat was new to me,” he said. “In Ireland, 80 degrees is a heat wave. I immediately went out and bought a light suit.”) His first assignment was as an assistant priest at the Cathedral of the Madeleine.
“The junior priests were very involved with the community,” Msgr. Moore said. “I had always had an orientation toward social justice causes, so I love working with those who were disenfranchised.”
Bishop Joseph Lennox Federal, then Bishop of Salt Lake City, recognized the young priest’s knack for community services ministry and sent Msgr. Moore to the Catholic University of American in Washington, D.C., to get a master’s degree in social work, with the idea that he would come back and be deeply involved in Catholic Community Services. He returned to work at the Newman Center at the University of Utah and was then assigned to be a pastor in West Jordan.
“This was right after the second Vatican Council and there was a lot of turmoil in the church,” Msgr. Moore recalled. “Priests were leaving the church to get married and there were lots of questions about faith.”
As he became more and more involved with various community service organizations, Msgr. Moore went through what he called his “own personal crisis” about whether he wanted to continue being a priest. He took an extended retreat in Spokane, Wash., to consider his commitment to the priesthood.
“I had grown up in a very structured, predictable environment,” he said. “And here I was, out here in the strange country, with all of these changes going on in the church. It was very unsettling to me. It was like losing your anchor.”
Eventually, it was the church’s involvement with social issues that kept him in the priesthood.
“We were doing a lot of work with Vietnam War refugees, and I found that work to be very satisfying,” he said. “That work gave me a feeling of tremendous meaning — I felt I was doing something really meaningful.”
So he remained a priest, but mostly he worked in social services during the week and did his priestly duties on the weekends. At one point he was both pastor at St. Thomas More parish and the director of Catholic Community Serivces.
“I loved it all, but it got to be too much,” Msgr. Moore said. “I knew I couldn’t do both and Bishop (William) Weigand asked me which job I wanted to keep.”
By this time his doubts and frustrations had passed, and there was no question what he wanted to do. “Once again, I chose to be a pastor,” he said. “I had come full circle. As much as I loved the social services work, I knew I was born to be a pastor.”
He has remained in that role ever since, and would probably stay in it longer if his health would permit. Five years ago he was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia. Although the prognosis for his survival is good, the medication he takes leaves him weak, tired and nauseous.1 comment on this story
“This is a good time for me to move on,” he said. He’s looking forward to catching up on his reading, relaxing and spending more time visiting his family in Ireland. But after 46 years in Utah, this is his home, and this is where he will stay.
“I have been so blessed here,” Msgr. Moore said. “I love this place, and I love the people. The love and the support and the meaning that you receive when you’re serving people and interacting with them in a caring context is so uplifting and edifying. It binds you to those people, and to the places that you serve. My heart is here. My soul is here. I belong here.”
Even if you can still hear Ireland in his voice.