June 25, 2017
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Elizabeth Seton Walking Padre retires

  • Reverand John sits in his office, looking forward to retirement and giving his feet a rest. Irene Hilsendager

By: Irene Hilsendager
May 19, 2017

Located on the west coast of Ireland, County Clare is a county of varying terrain, ranging from craggy coastline to rolling countryside dotted with ancient churches and old Stone Age monuments.  It is here that Rev. John Griffin was born, just over seventy years ago.  Initially Rev. Griffin came to New York as an exchange seminarian during the summer periods in the late sixties.  Working at various jobs, he recalls watching the construction of the Twin Towers, while employed at the adjacent Norelco Company Warehouse.

A permanent move to California ensued in 1972.  Rev. Griffin immediately took to the warmer climate in Northern California, and this was instrumental in helping him to settle in his new home.  He has served a total of forty-five years.  These years included ministries at Sacred Heart and St. Bernard’s in Eureka, St. Vincent de Paul and St. James in Petaluma. His current assignment at St. Elizabeth Seton Parish has spanned twenty-four years.  In the mid-seventies, there was a short stint where Rev. Griffin served as secretary for the late Bishop Mark Hurley.

Having recently turned seventy, Rev. Griffin feels that now is the opportune time to retire.  He is looking forward to having much more flexibility in his life. 

Some of Rev. Griffin’s most memorable days at St. Elizabeth Seton parish, include those where he became affectionately dubbed as “the walking padre.”  A newly built church had the parish heavily in debt.  He felt an impulse to look at ways in which he might assist in the alleviation of this financial burden.  This commitment saw him embark in a walking program for close to three years.  The resulting pledges yielded a considerable sum to the debt reduction fund.

Asked as to why he chose the priesthood Rev. Griffin responded that “it wasn’t a lightning bolt that shot out of the sky.” Rather, he viewed it as a process of self-discovery that would enable him to make a more informed choice as to his vocation.  In his first year at the seminary, thirty-eight aspirants enrolled and seventeen would eventually be ordained.

Rev. Griffin says that he likes to be helpful in people’s lives especially those who are living with stress or have experienced great loss.  With this in mind he enrolled in the Counselling Program at Sonoma State University.  This experience under a different educational system was enlightening and proved to be very helpful in parish life.  In advance of this, Rev. Griffin had already obtained a Master’s Degree at USF.

While ministering at St. Vincent de Paul in Petaluma Rev. Griffin was one of the founders of the SCRIP program that commenced in 1988 and is still on-going.  During these years he also provided “Mass for Shut-Ins” on Cable TV.  This was broadcast in various parts of the Diocese and was aimed at the home-bound and people in recovery.

Reflecting back, Rev. Griffin reiterates his delight with regard to his extended stay at Elizabeth Seton Parish.  He acknowledges the enormous generosity of parishioners and outside benefactors particularly in the building of the new church and offices.  Realistic about the fact that many parishes will go through some bad times, he goes on to draw attention to the crucial role played by parish volunteers.  He takes comfort from their commitment, especially in times where frugality might be the order of the day.  

Rev. Griffin is up-beat about the future of Elizabeth Seton Parish.  He enthuses about the many new districts of housing being built in Rohnert Park and the prospect of many new parishioners.  The presence in the community of additional children will secure the future of the local schools and lessen the possibility of any closures.

Rev. Griffin’s parishioners and invited guests will be celebrating his retirement at a function in the parish hall Sunday May 21st, 2017.