Fr. Gephart, archdiocese’s oldest priest, dies

Father John B. Gephart
Father John B. Gephart

By Marnie McAllister, Record Assistant Editor

The Archdiocese of Louisville’s oldest and longest-serving priest died May 28 at Nazareth Home.

Father John B. Gephart, who served as a pastor, teacher and chaplain, was 93 and would have celebrated his 68th anniversary as a priest on June 15.

In 2011, Father Gephart was honored for his 65th jubilee and spoke briefly at the end of the celebration about his life as a priest.

He told the congregation, which filled St. Barnabas Church where he once served as pastor, “I well remember as a young man that I once dreamed of doing great things. Those dreams faded quickly. But I learned that the only thing worth doing, the only thing we are called to do, is the will of the Father.

“I am grateful to the Lord for the gift of the priesthood,” he said. “I am grateful that I have been able to lead my life through him, with him, in him.”

During that same celebration, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, fellow priests and a host of his nieces and nephews hailed Father Gephart for his tireless service.

Father Paul Scaglione, current pastor of St. Barnabas who worked with Father Gephart in hospital ministry, said, “It’s the measure of the man that whenever you called him, even long after his retirement, if it be on a weekend or at 2 a.m. in the middle of the week, he’d say, ‘I’ll be there.’ And he always was.

“There are people who work at the local hospitals who don’t call him Father Gephart. To this day they refer to him as St. Gephart,” said Father Scaglione.

Archbishop Kurtz noted during the 2011 celebration that Father Gephart touched the lives of “vast numbers of people.”

“He will be the first to say, ‘no, it was Christ who touched them through me,’ and that is true. But the work of Father Gephart has been tireless. What a great gift he has been to us.”

Father Gephart was prepared for his nearly seven decades of ministry at the old Holy Cross School, where he attended grade school, as well as at St. Xavier High School, St. Mary College Seminary in St. Mary, Ky., and St. Meinrad School of Theology in Southern Indiana.

He was ordained by Archbishop John A. Floersh in 1946. Afterward, he taught at Flaget and Trinity high schools. He taught at Trinity from 1955 to 1966.

His early pastoral assignments included Our Mother of Sorrows, St. Vincent de Paul, Christ the King and St. Therese churches. He also served as a chaplain for Assumption High School and its convent.

As a pastor, Father Gephart served at the old St. Mary Magdalen Church from 1966 to 1969. From 1969 to 1979, he served as pastor of St. Barnabas Church and built the current church building in 1977. He was pastor of St. Athanasius Church from 1979 to 1980 and of the now-closed St. Matthias Church from 1980 to 1991.

While serving at St. Matthias, he worked with other ministers and clergy to establish Shively Area Ministries, now a thriving community ministry that helps thousands of people each year.

Father Gephart retired in 1991, but served as a chaplain at Norton, Kosair and Jewish hospitals for about 10 more years.

Last October, Father Gephart was recognized by the University of Louisville for “optimal aging.” At the time, his niece Donna Barry noted that he still concelebrated Mass each day, played bridge, did his own laundry and had learned to bank online.

Father Gephart is survived by a host of nieces and nephews.

The Mass of Christian burial will be celebrated at St. Barnabas Church, 3042 Hikes Lane, on June 2 at 11 a.m. Burial will follow at Calvary Cemetery.

Visitation will be held at Ratterman Family Funeral Home, 3800 Bardstown Road, on June 1 from noon to 8 p.m. and June 2 from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. at St. Barnabas.

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