Msgr. Mahler celebrates 60 years serving the Lord

First slide
First slide
First slide
Previous Next

Sixty years ago, Msgr. Frank E. Mahler celebrated his first Mass amid chairs, lamps and a couch. The modest, homey setting was a fitting start to a priesthood marked by service to the family, the elderly and the sick.

Ordained May 3, 1956, in New York City by Cardinal Francis Spellman for the Richmond Diocese, he received permission to have the Mass in the living room of his ill mother, who was unable to attend the ordination. With a few friends and family gathered and his mother resting on the couch, the new priest celebrated the sacrament just as he would for years to come in churches across the Arlington Diocese.

As founding pastor of St. Lawrence the Martyr Church in Alexandria and the first pastor of St. Clare of Assisi Church in Clifton - Msgr. Mahler helped form the diocese. But it also helped form him.

"The faith people at the parishes evidenced and the strength and encouragement I've received from them have helped my own faith tremendously," said Msgr. Mahler, 86, during an interview in his apartment at St. Rose of Lima Priests' Retirement Villa in Annandale. He retired in 2004 and moved to the villa in 2010.

Related story: Meet the priests celebrating jubilees

Born Dec. 15, 1929, in Bay Shore, N.Y., he grew up with his older sister in Long Island. After graduating from St. Jerome's College in Ontario, Canada, he entered St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore.

As a young boy, he was drawn to the priesthood and hoped he could unite it with his deep love of nature. When Maryknoll missionaries spoke at his religious education class, he said he remembers thinking "how great it would be to combine agriculture work with missionary work." But when his father died while he was in high school, his mother asked him to stay closer to home.

Following his ordination, the young priest was named parochial vicar of St. Thomas More in Arlington, then part of the Richmond Diocese. He would go on to serve as parochial vicar of a number of parishes, and along with founding St. Lawrence and serving as the first pastor of St. Clare, he was pastor of Good Shepherd in Alexandria, St. John the Beloved in McLean and St. John the Apostle in Leesburg.

Msgr. Mahler served in Wyoming for two years before taking a one-year leave from active ministry. During his leave, he managed business operations at the Clarendon Metro in Arlington.

When his co-workers discovered he was a priest, "they cleaned up their jokes," he laughed. Over time, they began inviting him for coffee, sharing family problems and asking for spiritual guidance. "Some even wanted to come back into the church," said Msgr. Mahler.

In 1975, he returned to active ministry in the newly formed Arlington Diocese. "Bishop (Thomas J.) Welsh asked me if I would consider coming back, and I'm forever grateful he did," said Msgr. Mahler, looking up at a painting of Bishop Welsh hanging on his apartment wall.

At each parish he's served in, Msgr. Mahler has made care of the sick and elderly a priority. "After visiting the sick, 99 percent of the time I came away strengthened and with more than I gave them," he said. He added that at this stage in life he has "an even greater appreciation of what people went through, from trouble walking to giving up driving."

Msgr. Mahler also cherishes the time he spent working with youths and couples, "helping them work the inevitable difficulties out," he said, before turning attention away from himself.

"Whether you're single or married, if lives are lived serving the Lord, there is no one vocation better than the other," said Msgr. Mahler. "If people in the faith try to serve the way they've been called, that's the only way to have any degree of happiness and accomplishment in life."

After six decades serving the church he loves, Msgr. Mahler seems to have achieved more than a degree of both.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016