By Debbie Shelley

The Catholic Commentator 

“Thank you for loving me,” said Father Howard Adkins, pastor of Mater Dolorosa Church in Independence and St. Dominic Church in Husser to people who have played an important role in shaping his life and call to the priesthood through their support and challenges. Father Adkins, 72, is set to retire this month.  

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Father Howard Adkins

 

Father Adkins was ordained to the priesthood on May 26, 2007 along with Father Michael Alello, pastor of St. Thomas More Church in Baton Rouge; Father Cary Bani, pastor of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in St. Francisville; Father Christopher J. Decker, pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Church in Maringouin, St. Francis of Xavier Cabrini Church in Livonia and St. Joseph Church in Grosse Tete; and Father Jason Palermo, pastor of St. Joseph Church in French Settlement and St. Stephen the Martyr Church in Maurepaus.  

“(In seminary) we were called ‘The Baton Rouge mafia,’ ” grinned Father Adkins. “Usually if a seminarian needed something and couldn’t afford it and get it from the archdiocese (of New Orleans) they called our group and we would make it happen. Father Pat Williams (then rector of Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans) rolled his eyes and didn’t want to know what was going on.”  

A late vocation to the priesthood required that Father Adkins give extra effort to pass the seminary’s vigorous curriculum.  

“With almost 100 degree certainty, I know that the academics would have washed me out if I didn’t make it. But when you come face to face with something you really want, you’ll find ways to make things happen. Being away from academics for over 30 years and starting up again was challenging, but very rewarding,” he said.  

Father Adkin’s parents were also ill, and through the help of Father Williams, Archbishop Alfred C. Hughes, and Father Jeff Bayhi, then director of vocations and seminarians, he was able to attend to their needs.  

“They let me out of some of the things in the evening so I could drive back to Baton Rouge. I would get up and get back in time for morning classes,” said Father Adkins.  

Such discipline and determination were engrained in Father Adkins, as he grew up in a military family and served six years in the Marines.  

“When I was evaluated for the priesthood, the psychologist asked, ‘Do you want to be a priest because they take orders and wear uniforms?’ ” mused Father Adkins.  

The Marine Corps gave him valuable training for the priesthood and challenges in life, according to Father Adkins.  

“The Corps taught me to improvise, overcome and adapt, to think on my feet, to be two steps ahead of the situation, to have thick skin. The Corps taught me discipline and to be open-minded, to listen to people, events and the environment. The Corps taught me the importance of tradition, duty, honor and loyalty. All of this I value – to run toward the fight and not run away from it,” said Father Adkins.  

He has served as chaplain at Baton Rouge General Medical Center in Baton Rouge and was parochial vicar at St. Anne Church in Napoleonville and Our Lady of Mercy Church in Baton Rouge before becoming pastor of Mater Dolorosa and St. Dominic.  

When he was notified that he was being appointed to Mater Dolorosa and St. Dominic, Father Howard admitted that he thought he might not like it.  

“I was a city boy coming into the country. But I fell in love with it,” said Father Adkins.  

But the journey didn’t come without a few bumps.  

“I made a really bad mistake in my opening homily here,” confessed Father Adkins. “I said, ‘I will listen to you, but I can tell you right now, I will win because I’m going to get my way.’  

With some parishioners expressing their unfavorable reception to his comments, Father Adkins said, “I think I have adjusted my priesthood to ‘It’s not my way or the highway.’ ”  

And there’s an overall understanding and respect between the priest and his two church communities.  

“When I would talk about my active priesthood coming to an end, people were telling me that there were some who were actually crying because I’m leaving. That caught me by surprise,” he said. 

He expressed his admiration of the people of Mater Dolorosa and St. Dominic.  

“What I see are two faith communities who really love God,” said Father Adkins. “They will do what’s necessary and support their church, not only monetarily, but spiritually. Time, talent as well. It doesn’t seem like work to them because they love the church and most certainly love God.”  

He was also proud of the accomplishments of Mater Dolorosa School.  

“I have probably one of the best principals in the diocese (Cheryl Santangelo),” said Father Adkins. “She’s doubled the size of the school from where it has been in the past. She’s tough, but I think it’s necessary in this age and time that you stand up for what is good. She has assembled a good teaching staff.”

Much of the focus of Father Adkin’s priesthood has been on listening and being compassionate. 

“I’m a big proponent of the confessional,” said Father Adkins. “I’ve been told ‘You’re probably one of the most compassionate priests in a long time.’ ” 

One woman would drive from Mississippi every couple of months for confession with Father Adkins. 

He also opened the doors of mercy every third Wednesday of the month by offering confession from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. 

“I was told in seminary to get your spiritual reading in now because you won’t get it when you’re a priest. But I used that time when it was slow (in the confessional) to get caught up on spiritual reading. I can say I never fell asleep,” he said. 

He said his brother priests have also been helpful in his journey. 

“I would say that Father Mark (Beard, pastor of St. Helena Church in Amite) and Father Jamin (David, pastor of St. Margaret, Queen of Scotland Church in Albany) have been the closest I’ve had in friendships,” Father Adkins said. 

He noted that Father Beard said, “If you ever have to be in a foxhole, you want Father Howard with you.” 

Father Adkins has no specific plans on what he will do or where he will stay. A scuba diving instructor, Father Adkins said he would like to return to Florida to refresh his skills. He also would like to resume growing bonsai trees, something he enjoyed doing but ran out of space to do once he went to seminary, as well as watch a New York Yankees baseball game.

He will also reflect on his priesthood, which he said, even with it’s winding path, was something he was meant to do. 

“I have sometimes felt unworthy of this calling, but I’m so happy I did it. I’ve tried to give back as much as they gave me, but I’ve fallen short. I did the best that I could,” said Father Adkins.