A priest friend I knew in Saint Louis died yesterday morning. Monsignor Joseph Pins was the rector of the Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Louis and he had been battling cancer. He was appointed rector of the Cathedral-Basilica by then-Archbishop Raymond Burke in 2004, and Archbishop Robert Carlson retained him in this position. When I moved to Saint Louis for work in 2007, he was the very first person I met. I didn’t know a soul, and he was extraordinarily gracious and invited me for dinner at the rectory that first night I moved into town. Over the course of the four years that I lived in Saint Louis (before returning to Milwaukee) Monsignor Pins would regularly have me over for dinner, or we’d go out for lunch from time to time at one of his favorite restaurants in the city. He was generous and helped so many people spiritually and even financially. A friend once needed extensive repair work to his car and simply didn’t have the money. Monsignor, who knew this individual well, paid for everything. On another occasion, someone also needed major, expensive dental work. Again, Monsignor took care of it. I’m sure he helped out many more people this way.
Monsignor Pins and I were neighbors, as I lived right next door to the Cathedral-Basilica. I attended the 7am daily Mass in the gorgeous, byzantine-inspired church, and he was usually the priest who celebrated this early Mass. In the humid, hot summer months, the air conditioning was always working overtime to keep the cavernous church ice-cold, as he liked it. Even in the summer, you’d need a light jacket or else you’d be shivering. Once, I semi-jokingly said, “Monsignor, it’s freezing in the Cathedral! Can’t we do something about this?” Monsignor, who was a larger man, told me with a full smile, “It’s always the skinny ones who say things like that!” And so it remained frigid. Some other memories: He loved his espresso machine and was eager to show it to me, knowing that I spent several years in Rome. He loved fountain pens and boasted an impressive collection of beautiful pens that he once showed off to me as well. His penmanship was so refined that he could have copied the Declaration of Independence and you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between that and the original in terms of elegance of script. He was a classy priest. I never saw him without his cufflinks and his traditional Roman collar.
Monsignor Pins was a truly exceptional priest. He was one of the greatest preachers I ever heard. In his homilies, he pulled from Saint Augustine and the Church Fathers with incredible ease. Every single day before Mass, he made his way to his marble confessional to hear a half hour of confessions. His advice was spot on. In one homily, after the Gospel account of the raising of Lazarus from the dead, Monsignor declared that he too had seen people restored to life. There was a long pause. Of course, this struck me as I wondered what he was talking about, and then he beautifully tied Lazarus and his experience to the resurrection of the soul through the Sacrament of Penance. Wow. That homily will always stay with me. He offered the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass with great care and reverence. Monsignor Pins was completely dedicated to his flock at the cathedral. He made sure that Eucharistic adoration was a weekly occurrence, as well as many other traditional devotional practices. He was always around, always available. He poured himself out to the faithful entrusted to him.
The last time I saw him was two summers ago. I returned to Saint Louis for a friend’s wedding, at which Monsignor presided. The day before I returned to Milwaukee, we went out for dinner and after, we returned to the rectory and talked for a while in the kitchen as the rain poured and thunder rumbled outside. Eventually, a friend came to pick me up as I was without a car. Monsignor gave me a big hug, blessed me and I walked out into the rain a bit sad and misty-eyed. But I thought I’d certainly see him again.
May Monsignor Joseph Pins rest in peace. Amen.