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Beloved Douglaston priest says good-bye

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Nearly 500 parishioners packed St. Anastasia’s Church in Douglaston Sunday for the retirement of the Rev. John Gribbon, the priest who served the church with a simple love for 37 years.

“We have gathered in considerable numbers today,” said Monsignor Michael J. Cantley. Cantley spoke of his longtime colleague and friend. “[Gribbon] is very unusual in his fidelity, simply in being there whenever there is need.”

Gribbon, was 77 Sunday, told the congregation of his love for the work of a priest and the simple things in his life.

“The high point of my ministry is coming to church Sunday,” he said. “I love hearing sacraments. I love hearing confessions. I love to visit the sick. I love also to arrange marriages.”

While Gribbon is giving up his official priestly duties, he is not leaving St. Anastasia and will continue to live on the church grounds.

Gribbon was ordained as a priest on June 3, 1950. He served at St. Brigid’s Roman Catholic Church in Brooklyn before coming to Anastasia on June 24, 1966.

Gribbon said he still remembered his first day, arriving at St. Anastasia to hear students of the church’s school singing in preparation for their graduation.

“The singing was magnificent,” he said.

Gribbon, who spoke of his love of being called “Father,” told the story of one of his favorite days at the church.

One day, he came across a 5-year-old girl sitting down, looking very upset. He asked the girl what was wrong, and she told him she had no money for a cupcake sale. Gribbon gave the girl a quarter.

“The transformation on her face was magnificent to behold,” he said.

But the girl’s “little friend” approached her and said, “Don’t you know you shouldn’t take money from anyone, even the priest?”

The congregation broke out into laughter.

But Gribbon continued, explaining that the girl responded by saying, “He’s not the priest, he’s the father!”

Gribbon’s story earned a second round of cheers.

He also spoke on a more serious note, talking about the shortage of priests in the country.

“I pray you to remember us priests in your prayers,” he said. “We need to have people respond to the vocation.”

While the large attendance served as testimony of Gribbon’s popularity, the priest told the audience not to become attached to him as a person. Instead, he humbly said the congregation should look to him as a representative of Christ.

“I don’t want to be loved by you if you see me as a father,” he said. Instead, he sang softly, “Most of all I ask of you is that you remember Christ as loving you.”

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 141.

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