By Elizabeth Wong Barnstead, The Western Kentucky Catholic
Giving the homily at the April 30, 2018 funeral Mass for his close friend and brother priest Fr. Paul Pike Powell, Fr. Joe Mills shared a poem that was popular when Fr. Powell was ordained 70 years prior.
Fr. Mills said the 19th-century poem, known as both “Thou Art a Priest Forever” and “A Priest,” embodied Fr. Powell’s 70 years of priesthood for the Diocese of Owensboro, Kentucky.
His voice echoing through St. Stephen Cathedral in Owensboro, Fr. Mills read the poem, which concluded with “To teach and to pardon, console and bless always. My God, what a life; and it is yours, O priest of Jesus Christ.”
Fr. Mills said his friend spent a great deal of time before the Blessed Sacrament in the chapel at the Carmel Home, where they both resided.
In fact, only a few days before 95-year-old Fr. Powell was taken to the hospital for the last time, Fr. Mills saw him quietly sitting alone in the chapel.
“He was in his wheelchair,” said Fr. Mills, “but he had scooted up to be as close as he could in that wheelchair to the monstrance.”
“That’s the way to be,” said Fr. Mills, “to be right there, before the Lord.”
Fr. Powell passed away on April 26, 2018, just 21 days after he had celebrated his 70th ordination anniversary.
He had been born on a farm in Union County, Kentucky, on Feb. 1, 1923 to Edward Fenwick Powell and Martha Elizabeth Powell.
Along with his eight siblings, “Pike” was raised at St. Agnes Parish in Uniontown, making his First Holy Communion there on Christmas 1931.
Young Pike attended grade school at St. Agnes Catholic School from 1929-1937, and continued into high school at St. Agnes from 1937-1941.
The future Fr. Powell entered college seminary at St. Mary College in Marion County, Kentucky, and continued upper level studies at St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana, where he graduated in 1948.
Fr. Powell was ordained by Bishop Francis R. Cotton at St. Stephen Cathedral on April 5, 1948.
Fr. Powell’s first assignment was as an associate pastor of St. Stephen Cathedral from 1948-1954, during which he also cared for Blessed Sacrament Chapel and School in Owensboro. He then served as associate pastor of St. Jerome Parish in Fancy Farm from 1954-1957.
During this time he also helped care for the newly-built parish of St. Charles in Bardwell and St. Denis Parish in Fancy Farm.
Fr. Powell’s first role as a pastor was at St. Paul Parish in Grayson County from 1957-1965.
Following that assignment, Fr. Powell then served as pastor at the following parishes: Sacred Heart Parish in Russellville from 1965-1971; St. Pius X Parish in Owensboro from 1971-1976; and St. Francis de Sales Parish in Paducah from 1976-1982.
He served as pastor of St. Peter of Alcantara in Stanley from 1982-1999; during this time he also served as pastor of St. Augustine Parish in Reed in 1987-1992.
While in Stanley, Fr. Powell oversaw and supported the founding of Centro Latino, a resource center for the local Latino community, in 1993. (Centro Latino has since moved to Owensboro.)
In 1999, Fr. Powell received a Sophia Award from the diocese for his example of stewardship and faithful leadership.
Fr. Powell then served as pastor at St. Michael Parish in Sebree and Holy Cross Parish in Providence from 1999-2002.
His other parish assignments included serving at SS. Joseph and Paul Parish in Owensboro, St. Martin Parish in Rome, and St. Elizabeth Parish in Curdsville.
Fr. Powell’s other roles included serving as a consultor on the Priests’ Council and serving two terms on the Priest Personnel Board for the diocese.
Before retiring to the Carmel Home, Fr. Powell was in residence at St. Martin Parish in Rome, Kentucky, for 10 years.
“Angelic,” is the first word that comes to parishioner Barbara Schell’s mind when thinking of Fr. Powell.
Schell did the housekeeping for him for the 10 years he spent St. Martin’s, and she told the WKC that the parish “always loved his homilies.”
Additionally, “you could count on him for anything,” she said.
Betty Hamilton, who did the housekeeping with Schell, agreed.
“He was a priest through and through,” said Hamilton. “He was a fantastic priest; he loved to be around people.”
When Fr. Powell finally moved to the Carmel Home, he continued living his priesthood to the fullest.
Sr. Francis Teresa Scully, DCJ, administrator of the Carmel Home, told the WKC that up until a week-and-a-half before Fr. Powell’s death, “he was hearing confessions every Tuesday afternoon.”
“The staff and even his fellow priests considered him to be a very gentle person,” said Sr. Scully. “He was kind to everyone – he never considered himself greater than anyone else.”
Bishop William F. Medley also commented on this during Fr. Powell’s funeral liturgy.
The bishop said that during Fr. Powell’s visitation the night before, many people “identified Fr. Powell with mercy and the Sacrament of Reconciliation.”
“How many thousands – tens of thousands – of confessions did he hear within 70 years?” asked the bishop. “He was a priest of Jesus Christ, and an instrument of God’s mercy and kindness. And he was a darn nice guy.”
Fr. Powell was preceded in death by his parents, and his siblings Mary (Henry) Mann, Christine Powell, Alice (Carl) Utley, Leo (Mary) Powell, Clarence (Virginia) Powell, George (Catherine) Powell, Richard (Linnie) Powell and a brother, Joe, who died in childhood. He is survived by several nieces and nephews.
After the April 30 funeral liturgy, Fr. Powell was buried at St. Agnes Parish Cemetery in Uniontown. In lieu of flowers, the family requested that expressions of sympathy take the form of donations to the Diocesan Seminarian Education Fund.