SALT LAKE CITY — Father Charles Cummins, who on April 27 celebrated his 50th anniversary of priestly ordination, and Father Javier Virgen, who on Sept. 4 will celebrate his 25th anniversary of priestly ordination, were honored by the other priests of the diocese during a gathering on May 9.
Fr. Cummins, chaplain at Weber State University’s Newman Center and administrator of St. Florence Mission, “is an inspiration to all of us,” said Fr. Andrzej Skrzypiec, pastor of St. Ambrose Parish, who served as master of ceremonies for the evening.
Msgr. Colin F. Bircumshaw, vicar general of the Diocese of Salt Lake City, spoke of his memories of working alongside Fr. Cummins in the 1970s when they were both assigned as assistant priests at the Cathedral of the Madeleine. When the two of them went to minister at the jail, Fr. Cummins spoke to the inmates with a simplicity that put people at ease, Msgr. Bircumshaw said. “He had a very non-judgmental approach to ministry.”
Fr. Cummins also had a strong work ethic; when he was assigned as chaplain at the old St. Benedict’s Hospital in Ogden “his goal was to visit 200 rooms a day. … He would never bring up religion unless they did. His philosophy was just to be human and kind to people,” Msgr. Bircumshaw said.
Another of Fr. Cummins’ assignments was as chaplain at St. Joseph Catholic High School, where among other tasks he drove the bus for the track team. Of that time, Fr. Cummins would say, “‘I got the kids home safe.’ That was his boast. His only boast,” Msgr. Bircumshaw said. “He was very humble about everything he did.”
Fr. Ken Vialpando thanked Fr. Cummins for his faithful, dedicated and committed service. Both priests are former Marines, and Fr. Vialpando said Fr. Cummins is the epitome of the phrase “semper fidelis,” a Latin phrase meaning “always faithful” that is the motto of the U.S. Marine Corps.
“You’re faithful to God, to the country, to the Corps, to your brother priests and to the people that you serve,” Fr. Vialpando said to Fr. Cummins.
In his comments, Fr. Cummins recalled sharing activities with several priests of the diocese, and closed with, “I want to thank you all for your brotherhood and for all you’ve done for me, helping me out, and I hope to go on for several years more.”
Fr. Virgen, now pastor of St. Joseph the Worker Parish, is a past vocations director for the diocese. He also has served on the priests’ personnel board and as a consultor. His other assignments over the years include serving as parochial vicar at the parishes of St. Joseph (Ogden), St. Francis of Assisi and St. Therese of the Child Jesus; pastor at St. Elizabeth, Sts. Peter and Paul and Our Lady of Lourdes (Magna); administrator of Our Lady of Guadalupe; and episcopal vicar for the diocesan Office of Hispanic Affairs.
“Fr. Javier, in my mind and in the mind of many others, you happen to be one of the best priests that we have here in the Diocese of Salt Lake,” Fr. Vialpando said. “No matter where you’ve been, either as an associate or as a pastor, it’s obvious that people in the parish and outside just gravitate to you because of your pastoral skills, because of your faithfulness, dedication and commitment. … You have been present to the people. Because of your pastoral skills, because your bilingual skills, reaching out to the people by speaking their language, in both English and Spanish and most importantly by speaking the language of Christ, the language of love.”
Fr. Vialpando thanked Fr. Virgen on behalf of the bishop and all the priests of the diocese for all that he has done and continues to do.
“You inspire me greatly … and I am sure many, if not all, the priests can say the same about your ministry as a priest,” Fr. Vialpando said. “You have blessed our diocese abundantly and we pray that God will continue to bless you with all the blessings that heaven can provide.”
In his comments during the evening, Fr. Virgen expressed his gratitude for the help his brother priests gave him when he underwent dialysis and said he would never be able to sufficiently thank the Lord for the gift of his 25 years as a priest.
“Meanwhile, I press forward, trusting in the love of our God and the protection of our Blessed Mother, for each passing year for the good that can be accomplished, for the happiness that can be shared,” he said.
The milestones of 50 years and 25 years emphasize the two men’s commitment to their ministry, said Bishop Oscar A. Solis at the close of the evening. “It speaks highly of what priestly ministry and dedication is all about. We are very blessed and fortunate to have Fr. Chuck and Fr. Javier as part of the local Church of the Diocese of Salt Lake City as well as a part of the universal Church.”
Speaking to Fr. Cummins and Fr. Virgen, he said, “On behalf of God’s people in the Diocese of Salt Lake City, we would like not only to honor you on the celebration of your anniversary, but we would like to thank you so much for being the epitome of what priestly ministry is all about.”