Father Paul Liston, a priest who helped chronicle the history of the Archdiocese of Washington where he served for nearly six decades as a parish priest and teacher, died March 23 after a long illness. He was 84.
At Father Liston’s Mass of Christian Burial at the Chapel of Carroll Manor Nursing Home, his longtime friend, Msgr. Joseph Ranieri, said the priest was a man who lived the Beatitudes, by “his meekness and patience, his gentleness, his cheerful and patient endurance of suffering. The Gospel that he proclaimed and preached he put into practice throughout his long life as a faithful priest loyal to the Church.”
A native Washingtonian, Father Liston was ordained as a priest for the archdiocese in 1958, and from 1981-87, he served as the pastor of Holy Face Parish in Great Mills in St. Mary’s County, believed to be the only parish in the United States named for the Holy Face of Jesus imprinted on Veronica’s veil. The priest also served as faculty member at Cathedral Latin School in Washington and as a chaplain at American University.
Father Liston served as the president of the Catholic Society of Washington and as a co-editor and writer for the society’s journal, Potomac Catholic Heritage. Cardinal Wuerl, the principal celebrant at Father Liston’s Funeral Mass, praised the priest’s work on that publication, which he said “tells the story of Christ’s Church at work in this part of the world. We celebrate the life of a priest who proclaimed that story and made it present here.”
The priest’s co-editor for the magazine was his longtime friend and former fellow student at St. Paul’s High School, Morris MacGregor, the author of a biography of Cardinal Patrick O’Boyle and books on the histories of St. Patrick Parish and St. Augustine Parish in Washington. In one article for the magazine, Father Liston told the story of how one spring morning in 1905, a few Catholic University students welcomed a surprise visitor – President Teddy Roosevelt, who had galloped on horseback up Michigan Avenue and then dashed inside McMahon Hall to see a large marble statue of Pope Leo XIII.
Father Liston also co-authored a book, The Plundering Time: The Hardships of Southern Maryland Catholics in Colonial Times.
About 25 priests concelebrated the Mass, including two of Father Liston’s former students from Cathedral Latin School – Msgr. Donald Essex, the pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish in the Leisure World retirement community, and Msgr. Kevin Hart, the pastor of St. Peter Parish on Capitol Hill. They both said the priest was a wonderful teacher who inspired his students to love literature.
That point was echoed by Peter La Lena, among several other former Cathedral Latin students attending the Funeral Mass for their friend and former teacher. “He helped foster my love of reading,” La Lena said.
Father Liston – who served as chairman of the Archdiocesan Music Commission – also had a love for classical music and played the piano and recorder.
Robert Anzelmo, who attended Holy Name School with him and was his friend since the sixth grade, said the priest concelebrated his wedding Mass and baptized four of his five children. “I never heard Paul say any unkindness about anyone else. He was always pastoral… He was just a gentle, kind person,” he said.
Over the years, Father Liston also served as a parochial vicar at St. Hugh Parish in Greenbelt, the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Washington, Annunciation Parish in Washington, St. Francis Xavier Parish in Washington, and at St. Matthias Parish in Lanham, where he served with Msgr. Ranieri, who also taught with him at Cathedral Latin. From 1995 until his retirement in 2001, Father Liston served as a senior priest at St. Patrick Parish in Washington. He later lived at the Cardinal O’Boyle Residence for retired priests and then at the Carroll Manor nursing home.
“He was a wonderful priest. He was holy and gentle,” said another longtime friend, Karin Thornton, the associate Catholic chaplain at American University.
Father Liston earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Catholic University and a graduate degree from Georgetown. “He never lost his love for literature and his ability to apply it to his writings and preaching,” Msgr. Ranieri said in his homily at the Funeral Mass.
The humble priest who helped chronicle the Catholic history of Washington was interred at the historic Mount Olivet Cemetery in the nation’s capital, the final resting place of James Hoban, the original architect of the White House; Mary Surratt, the alleged Lincoln assassination conspirator; and Jan Karski, the Polish resistance movement fighter in World War II who later served as a professor at Georgetown University.