Catholic Sentinel photo by Ed Langlois
Fr. Joseph McMahon poses with Sr. Janina Kokorowski at her retirement party.
Catholic Sentinel photo by Ed Langlois
Fr. Joseph McMahon poses with Sr. Janina Kokorowski at her retirement party.
LAKE OSWEGO — In 1992, Father Joseph McMahon's staff at St. Henry Parish in Gresham told the Catholic Sentinel that the pastor had calmed down quite a lot in recent months. His first four years as pastor included a wave of demanding administrative work. But once that was done, the conscientious priest could return to his meditative manner and mission of building up disciples among the laity.  

He laughed at his staff's assessment, acknowledging that they were spot on.

Father McMahon, not one to seek the spotlight, gives credit where credit is due. Discussing the Gresham church, he said in 1992 that the vibrant involvement was a tradition before he arrived. “It’s not something I started," he told the Sentinel. "It’s something I inherited — a horse I’m still riding.”

And this year, he made sure to publicize and recognize the retirement of two staffers from his current parish, Our Lady of the Lake in Lake Oswego. The community had a big buffet to celebrate the retirees. The priest said nothing of his own pending departure and steered conversation to the day's honorees.

A few years earlier, when he and the parish council at Our Lady of the Lake decided that adult faith formation needed an upgrade, he stepped back and allowed good people to carry it out.

"Being a parish priest is all about working with people," Father McMahon says. "Parishes — that's where the church really exists. I am constantly inspired and stand in awe of what people do for their church, for their families and for Jesus."

He's versed in church teaching and canon law, which says that parish life is a collaborative effort. Neither priest nor staff should try to do everything, he says.

"I tell my staff they are like conductors in an orchestra," he says. "Other people actually do the ministry."

Shortly after he finished theological study at the Catholic University of Louvain and was ordained in 1968, he assumed that he'd be doing the ministry in parishes. He soon found that his job was to form lay people to do the work.

"Otherwise, not very many people will get ministered to," he says.

As a seminarian, he had attended a Mass that opened the final session of the Second Vatican Council. He welcomed the refreshing changes.

"We were aware that we were going to be part of history, part of the reform," he says. "It was fun. Every year we were starting something new. There was a positive energy."

This priest's passions include liturgy, which he says repeatedly reveals what Christ has accomplished in our lives. He also loves teaching and faith formation. Some of his fondest memories are of times working with people who are becoming Catholic.  

At the same time, he has a reputation as a skilled administrator. He attributes that to a sister who teaches business administration and to one of his mentors, Father Bert Griffin. Father Griffin once told him: "Administration is what you do to get to the good stuff."

A native of North Portland, Father McMahon will live there again. He plans to spend time with family, work in the garden, cook and help with Mass in the area.