by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The first thing anyone noticed about Father John C. Reynolds was that he was a big man — 6 feet 8 inches tall. He was the tallest priest in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, which led an archbishop to playfully dub him “the high priest.”
But there was so much more. He was “a big, beautiful soul,” said Father Mark Mertes, pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Kansas City, Kansas. Some called Father Reynolds a “gentle giant.”
“He had a beautiful relationship with Jesus,” said Father Mertes. “He was very compassionate toward people, and he was very smart.”
Father Reynolds, 58, died from Parkinson’s disease on Feb. 16 at the Kansas City Hospice House in Kansas City, Missouri. He had been a priest for slightly more than 30 years.
Father Reynolds was born on June 9, 1962, in Leavenworth. He was the second oldest of the five children of Glenn and Virginia Reynolds. They belonged to Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa.
John was an Eagle Scout and graduated from Shawnee Mission Northwest High School in 1980. He went to the University of Oklahoma in Norman to study meteorology. He played a tuba in the marching band there and even went to the Orange Bowl. Also, while at college, he became involved in different ecumenical groups and the Catholic campus center.
“He called and said he was coming home [one] weekend,” said Glenn. “It wasn’t a holiday or anything, and we looked at each other and said, ‘What is going on?’”
It was a total surprise when John told them he wanted to go into the seminary. Glenn and Virginia encouraged him to finish the year and then enter.
John met fellow archdiocesan seminarian Mark Mertes, who was slightly ahead in his studies, and they got to know each other very well at St. Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in Indiana.
“We didn’t study together, but we traveled back and forth from Kansas City together,” said Father Mertes. “We prayed together and did formation and activities with the other seminarians.”
Another friend from the seminary was James Vann Johnston, current bishop of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. In their last two years of seminary, they attended almost every class and practicum together.
“One of my better memories with John was the seminary’s annual ‘Little 500,’ a bike relay race with different teams to mimic the Indy 500,” said Bishop Johnston. “John and I, and a few other guys, were on our class’ bike team and we won the competition.”
The bishop described him as “easy-going, kind and gentle.”
“He stood out because of how tall he was, but also mainly because of his friendly personality,” said Bishop Johnston. “He was maybe the friendliest guy in the whole seminary.”
Father Reynolds received a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and a master’s degree in divinity from St. Meinrad’s. He was ordained a priest by Archbishop Ignatius J. Strecker on June 2, 1990. His first assignment was as associate pastor at Most Pure Heart of Mary Parish in Topeka. He served at several parishes for the next 30 years until illness ended his ministry.
“Father Reynolds was the youngest member of our Jesus Caritas [prayer] group,” said Father Mark Goldasich, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Tonganoxie and editor of The Leaven.
“What he most enjoyed was being a parish priest. When his illness became so debilitating, that was the hardest thing for him to give up,” he added. “He had a real pastor’s heart and cared deeply about the folks, no matter what parish he was in. He also enjoyed performing with the priests’ combo [band] at various events.”
Another prayer group member, Father Mike Stubbs, remembered Father Reynolds as a people person.
“One of the things that stands out about him was that he really liked to be with people,” said Father Stubbs. “He liked to be with people, and that made a big difference to him as far as ministering.”
One of his sisters, Nancy Pennock, remembered this, too.
“I liked his understanding,” she said. “He would sit and listen to you whenever you wanted to talk. He listened a lot. He loved people and he loved talking to people.”
Even after his ordination, Father Reynolds also loved meteorology. State Sen. Mike Thompson (R-Shawnee) is a former meteorologist for WDAF-TV Fox 4. He learned of Father Reynolds’ background through another priest, and Thompson invited him to visit the station whenever he was free.
“One time we had some severe weather, so Father Reynolds came in after Mass one evening,” said Thompson. “I had him running the radar just for fun. I was doing some warnings on the air for severe thunderstorms.
“Phil Witt, who was one of the main anchors at the time, came down there, and he saw me working the severe weather and Father Reynolds looking at the radar with his Roman collar on. And Phil said, ‘Is it that bad?’”
Father Reynolds was an avid bird watcher and an avid camper as well.
“We shared formation as priests and shared a theological background, and so we could talk about faith,” said Father Mertes. “And we camped together pretty much all over the country. He taught me what he learned as an Eagle Scout about how to camp and I taught him a few things about how to camp as well. And we made music together with the priests’ band. We started doing that when we were both assigned out in the country. We started sing-alongs in our parishes. He was a great companion. I will miss him dearly.”
Father Reynolds is survived by his parents Glenn and Virginia, his sisters Rebecca Naylor, Barbara Holinaty, Kathleen Scott and Pennock, and several nieces and nephews.
Father Mertes was the main celebrant and homilist at the funeral Mass for Father Reynolds held Feb. 22 at Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa. The burial was at Resurrection Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorial contributions to: Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, Priest Pension Fund, 12615 Parallel Pkwy., Kansas City, KS 66109.
Funeral arrangements were by Porter Funeral Homes and Crematory in Lenexa.