By Martie Thompson
Father Guy Noonan, pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic Church in the World Golf Village area, took a winding path to his present position. He was born on Christmas Day 1949 in Brooklyn, NY and was raised in the suburbs of New Jersey throughout grade school and much of high school. He graduated from Franciscan Preparatory Seminary in Hollidaysburg, Penn. before moving on to the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. There he earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in religious studies and theology before being ordained in 1976. As a member of the Franciscan order, he said he was not geographically based as he would have been had he been in a diocese and this allowed him to move around the country and even the world as a priest. A mid-career leadership grant allowed him the opportunity to go to Europe; he earned a degree in International Business at the University of Caen in Normandy, France. While there, he pursued a doctorate in theology before being assigned to Rome for a year of research. Ultimately, he came back to the states and joined the Diocese of St. Augustine.
Q: Tell us about your time spent as a pastor in Minneapolis in the mid- ‘80s to mid- ‘90s?
A: First, it was very cold! I was a pastor in a middle class parish that experienced urban change when a highway bypass was built through the neighborhood. What started out as a nice neighborhood with single family homes and parks was soon challenged with unstable rentals and deteriorating safety and schools. I had to run the parish in a new way since the needs of the parishioners changed. I had to learn about community organizing and I worked with several other churches, of all Christian denominations, to address housing, education, and crime.
Q: How did you end up in northeast Florida?
A: After my year in Rome, I moved from the Franciscan religious community to a geographical diocese because I felt my particular group of Franciscans were in significant decline. I felt I could use my talents and energy for something better. I had previously lived in Orlando and my parents lived in St. Augustine. I thought there was a nice feel in the St. Augustine Diocese among clergy and people. I served at Christ the King Catholic Church in Jacksonville, then for three years at St. Augustine in Gainesville before moving to St. Ambrose in Elkton. Our Lady of Good Counsel was a mission of St. Ambrose and became an official separate parish in 2008. I’ve been here the whole time.
Q: What do you like best about Our Lady of Good Counsel?
A: I’d say three main things: it’s very welcoming, the parish is young (only in existence for 14 years) and I like the parish’s social consciousness. We run our food pantry, we have a community garden which provides for the food pantry, we participate in Dining with Dignity in conjunction with other churches to feed the homeless in St. Augustine, and once a year, we provide 5,000 pounds of food for migrant workers. As for being welcoming, I’ve actually been told by two bishops that our sense of community welcome was palpable. We like to invite people to our premises.
Q: Tell us about your church’s grounds.
A: I think they contribute to our parish being welcoming. We like to have places for people to sit, pray, and share. We have the 14 Stations of the Cross, with benches, on our front lawn; Mary’s Garden with a gazebo that was built by parishioners; and a new shrine with a statue of St. Francis that overlooks our pond. Everyone is welcome to come and enjoy the tranquility of our grounds.
Q: What do you like to do in your spare time?
A: I enjoy being outdoors. I love to walk and have recently taken up short bike rides. I’m very interested in nature and ecology and I like to watch documentaries about nature. Sometimes I like to just sit on the grounds of the Alligator Farm in St. Augustine. I also enjoy hospitality. I’m open to welcoming people to meals both personally — I’m a decent cook, but overrated — and with the church. I often have the local priests over for dinner. I’m always encouraging people to feel free to speak about any topic, but always doing so respectfully. The only person not welcome at my table is someone incapable of civil conversation. FInally, I enjoy reading a wide variety of subjects.
Photo courtesy Father Guy Noonan
Father Guy Noonan