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100-year-old priest ‘grew up with the diocese’

On. Jan. 14, 2019, Msgr. George Hancock stands in front of two framed collections of photos given to him by St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Grand Rivers on his 85th birthday in 2004. ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD | WKC


A priest in the Diocese of Owensboro who turns 100 on Feb. 2, 2019 knows that from all eternity, “there was an image in God’s mind that there was George Hancock, and he was going to be a priest.”

“From the time that I was a little boy I wanted to be a priest,” Msgr. George Hancock told The Western Kentucky Catholic in a Jan. 14, 2019 interview.

Msgr. Hancock, who was born in 1919 in Waverly, said he would “play Mass as a little boy,” with his sister assisting him as an altar server.

He graduated from high school in 1937; incidentally, the same year that the Diocese of Owensboro was founded.

(Prior to 1937, the Diocese of Louisville oversaw the territories in western Kentucky. In 1937, Louisville was elevated to an archdiocese, and the Diocese of Owensboro became its own entity.)

“I have grown up with the diocese,” said Msgr. Hancock. 

Msgr. Hancock said he never really talked to anyone about his vocation in particular; he just knew. And somehow, everyone around him “knew” as well: “My parents, teachers, friends,” he said, remembering “a whole lot of encouragement” toward the idea of the priesthood.

After graduating from high school, Msgr. Hancock worked on the family farm for a year. Money was tight, and he could not afford the $300/year tuition at St. Meinrad Seminary.

Fr. George Hancock sits at his desk at the Catholic Pastoral Center in this undated photo. MEL HOWARD | WKC

At the time, the brand-new diocese could not pay for seminarians’ educations as it does today.

Miraculously, Msgr. Hancock was able to enter seminary the following year, thanks to a great-uncle who provided some financial assistance.

In the first years after Msgr. Hancock’s 1947 ordination, he served at several parishes around the diocese. Bishop Francis R. Cotton then sent him to Rome to study canon law, where he received his canon law degree in 1954.

He served at several parishes around the diocese for a number of years, and then Msgr. Hancock was appointed to be the diocese’s chancellor in 1963 – which was historical in more ways than one.

He began his first day of work as chancellor on Monday, Nov. 18, 1963.

“President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on Friday,” he said, recalling being told the news from someone who had heard it on the radio.

Another memorable aspect of his 72 years of priesthood was helping to establish two parishes: St. Henry Parish in Aurora (1967), and St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Grand Rivers (1966).

Back in the day, “many tourists visited but there was no Mass for them,” Msgr. Hancock said of the people vacationed in the Land Between the Lakes.

“Pavilions,” consisting of a metal roof on a frame with a concrete slab, were constructed for both the Aurora and Grand Rivers locations. They provided a basic shelter for celebrating Mass.

While still serving as the chancellor, “I went down there on the weekends from Memorial Day through Labor Day,” said Msgr. Hancock.

He stayed in a tent on Saturday night so that he could make it to Sunday Mass; “everyone else was camping, so I did, too,” he told the WKC.

Eventually, churches were built for both parishes; in fact St. Henry Parish was the first of Bishop John J. McRaith’s church dedications.

Msgr. Hancock said he entered the priesthood “with the idea of giving myself,” and after working “nights and days” for many years to serve his many parishes, “I would do it all over again.”

He said his favorite aspect of the priesthood is “offering Holy Mass.”

“God has given me the power to take a piece of bread and wine and pronounce some words and they become the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ,” he said. “For the glory of God and the salvation of souls – those two things, when you get down to it.”

Editor’s note: In November 2016, Bishop William F. Medley interviewed Msgr. George Hancock and several other priests on Across the Diocese. Msgr. Hancock’s interview begins around the 1:06 mark. 

Originally printed in the February 2019 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic

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