A view from Glen Hill: Father Palmer: Priest to all people

(Editor’s note: Due to a production error, the last three paragraphs of Mr. Hudspeth’s column in the June 6 Bulletin were omitted. His column is reprinted here in its entirety.)

Father Michael Palmer, pastor of Our Lady of Fatima parish, has retired after serving 50 years in the priesthood, 36 of them here in Wilton. In a moving final service celebrating his ministry on Sunday, May 26, before a packed sanctuary filled with well-wishers, Father Palmer delivered a touching homily of thanks and appreciation and sang portions of the liturgy (including the closing anthem, Panis Angelicus) in his beautiful tenor voice.

During his time as pastor, Our Lady of Fatima’s congregation tripled in size. There is no surprise in that accomplishment for the many of us in Wilton who, while not Roman Catholics, have themselves felt a part of Father Palmer’s flock in the broadest sense. We have seen his inspiring example and been touched by his words at town gatherings of celebration, mourning, or observance, and have seen first-hand that through his presence here, so much good has been accomplished in a priestly calling to which helping those in need has always been integral.

Two examples that make the latter point were provided by David Graybill, who himself retired as senior pastor of Wilton Presbyterian Church several years ago, in his moving remarks given at the close of the service. Dr. Graybill mentioned the seminal role Father Palmer’s support had in the creation of (1) Wilton’s A Better Chance program that has been so successful in bringing boy — and now girl — scholars of color from economically disadvantaged circumstances to our schools, and (2) Wilton Commons that will celebrate its opening next week.

Two more examples, taken from my own first-hand experience, also illustrate the point. When the Wilton Interfaith Action Committee was formed, Father Palmer was among the first to lend his support to its work. The committee took on the challenging task of resettling in Wilton a family fleeing a war-torn area of the world and, with full U.S. government vetting, seeking asylum here. The work was demanding. It entailed everything involved in resettling a family of four with two young children in which only the husband spoke (a little) English. All of their needs initially would have to be provided by the committee — from housing and furnishings to food and clothing (they came with nothing) and from education in English as a second language to help in finding work. All of that happened for them, and they are still living in this area, with the husband now managing a gas station in Stamford and the children doing very well in school.

Father Palmer was there again with his support and encouragement from the outset when the committee decided to undertake its now annual Stop Hunger Now feeding effort to package enough highly nutritious meals in a one-day event each year — using 500 volunteers from its 10 member faith institutions — to feed more than 250 otherwise starving children for an entire year in an educational setting where their minds as well as their bodies are nourished.

There are many more examples of Father Palmer’s outreach to those in need in creative and effective ways, as multiple Our Lady parishioners have told me.

Father Palmer’s generosity of spirit has been shown in other ways too. For example, when St. Matthew’s Episcopal, Wilton Presbyterian, and Zion’s Hill United Methodist churches asked for their youth going through the one-year confirmation process to have an experience worshipping in a Christian setting different from their own, Father Palmer extended a warm welcome and has done so for years now. These youth have been enriched by the experience, and both they and their adult leaders have been touched by his thoughtfulness and encouragement.

When Father Palmer was first called to the priesthood, attendance at a faith institution, whether reluctant or not, was the expected thing for Americans. Those times are long past. Those in the pews now are there not out of societal compulsion but out of the enrichment they feel from their faith experience. They are inspired by worship together and seek also to experience the satisfaction and joy of working together for the good.

Father Palmer has been part of the dedicated and inspiring clergy who have carried us through this time of transition. They have had to adapt to changing times but also see to it that these foundational elements of the faith experience don’t just survive but flourish. That’s been a daunting task but one that clergy like Father Palmer have accomplished well and very fruitfully. His presence here in Wilton will be sorely missed.

Mr. Hudspeth lives on Glen Hill Road