It's Happening: A Conversation with Father Cann

By Julie Perine on June 11, 2019 from It’s Happening via

When Father Cann passed away just about a month ago, I felt sad; sad for the people here in our community. I wasn’t sad for him because we all know Hilarion Cann is in the presence of God, who he has served through the priesthood for nearly 70 years. I was raised on Third Street here in town, right next door to All Saints Catholic Parish. I always knew about Father Cann and his work. I saw how he led his church and many of the town’s people in faith, preparing them for what he just recently was able to experience – entrance into our Heavenly home.
Strangely enough, Father Cann called me just days before his passing and we had a lengthy conversation. I was honored to learn a little about his life. Father Cann was humble about his calling and wanted in no way to appear that he had pride about his life’s work; a calling he received when he was just a little boy growing up in Clarksburg.
“It’s weird because when I was in grade school, all I ever wanted to be was a priest,” he said.
It wasn’t about the status or the attire.
“I had no ideas or ideals about being dressed in funny clothes and leading people. To me, it was just a simple thing,” he said.
He remembered while attending St. Mary’s Grade School being inspired by the priests at St. John's Italian Church located on Water Street, now E.B. Saunders Way. 
“I never really thought any one of them was like a big deal – like oh my gosh, there’s my hero – I liked them all,” he said.
In 1943, during his second year of high school, Father Cann went to Baltimore to attend seminary.
“I finished in 1949 and went to Rome to study theology,” he said.
He was ordained in Rome in 1953 and obtained his doctorate before returning to the states in 1956.
“I then ran marriage court in Wheeling in the Diocese for about 11 years and then went into the Parish; Fairmont for two years, South Charleston for 11 years and 16 years in Bridgeport before retiring.
“I was ordained for 66 years and was active in the ministry even after I retired,” he said. “I had a big job and saw a lot of things.”
And what he loved so much about it was the people and it is evident that the people loved him right back.
It was interesting to hear these stories and I learned much of this because I asked him a lot of questions. The reason he had called me, however, was for a different purpose: Father Cann was concerned about the church – not just All Saints Catholic Church, but just Bridgeport and Clarksburg churches, but the Catholic Faith as a whole.
“Our church in particular is probably in the biggest mess it’s been in for a couple of centuries,” he said. “A lot of people are reacting to things that some pretty big dignitaries say without understanding the background on why people are taking the stands they are taking and that’s why people are being attacked on all sides in the church.”
He mentioned the controversy with Pope Francis (who recently expressed dismay at people wanting to kiss the papal ring; a tradition that has withstood centuries) and how people have taken firm stands on both sides of the issue. His point is that people have lost focus about what is truly important.
“Why is it that we all grew up in awe of the Pope and now we have this?
To bring his concerns and the concerns of others into the open, Father Cann and fellow board members of All Saints had begun hosting a series of meetings they called “Conversation.”
“I want to provide people with an opportunity to ask questions, to make comments and to find out how other people think and what other people value and somehow kind of insisted everybody accepts everybody,” he said. “We’re not providing a forum to prove someone right or wrong. That’s not on our agenda. It’s simply an opportunity to discuss and comment on things going on today that very few people understand.”
Father Cann said his 60 active years in the ministry and many years after that were a "hell of a ride.” He was in a lot of places and saw a lot of churches.
“When I was head of the marriage diocese – basically the marriage court – I had a big job and saw a lot of things,” he said. “Periods like that were different than being in a parish.”
But he loved it most, he said, when he was in a place with lots of people.
Father Cann talked about the Second Vatican Council, which between 1962 and 1965 addressed relations between the Catholic Church and the modern world.
“That Council had 2,400 bishops – every year for two months in Rome fighting from all over the world; all kinds of ideas and different understandings, different interpretations of church history and its law and they came up almost unanimously with 16 documents that today remain still the most authentic teaching of the Catholic Church but it caused a lot of trouble because it challenged policies and personnel issues for the first time in 1,700 years.”
Father Cann said the biggest thing the Council did was to recover a belief read about in the Acts of the Apostles.
“There was no distinction in the beginning between anyone ordained or anyone just baptized,” he said. “Nobody thought of that for a couple thousand years. Then there was steady increase in emphasis on who was ordained and who was just baptized, but the Council said – which is written in one of my favorite passages – that the three aspects of Jesus’s ministry is prophet, priest and king and it says a chapter later in the same document that all who are baptized share in the priest, prophet and king ministry of Jesus.”
That, Father Cann said, wiped out the difference between the ordained and the baptized and has supported and monitored forced development of the church for 1,600 to 1,700 years.
“Today, you wouldn't know that by talking to a lot of people, but it’s true,” Father Cann said. “By the time it became important, I could see what it took of myself to go through that phase where I was not king of the mountain. I was not in any better position than people in the parish.”
He said he wouldn’t have made the top 10 in his own parish. I, like many, may disagree, but Father Cann wanted people to know a couple of things, I believe.
One is that we are all sinners saved by grace and no one is better than another and secondly, that as Christians, we should focus on Christ – our prophet, priest and king – and be grateful for what He did for us, sharing that good news in a humble, love-filled way with all.
It was important to Father Cann; so very important.

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