Retired priest’s ministry marked by service to his country as a chaplain and to his Church as a parish priest
Nov 5, 2020
In 43 years as a priest, Father Vincent Rigdon’s life has been marked by service to his country as a chaplain in the United States Air Force Reserve, and service to his Church as a parish priest and archdiocesan administrator.
The priest of the Archdiocese of Washington, who turned 70 in 2020, now lives in the Saint John XXIII Residence for retired priests in Hyattsville, Maryland.
“I’ve had many blessings in my life as a priest,” he said in an interview a few days before the archdiocese’s annual Retired Priests Collection that will be taken up at parishes on the weekend of Nov. 7-8.
That cause is meaningful to him, not only because he is now a retired priest himself, but also because he knows firsthand their faith and dedication. Now he is living in a community with fellow retired priests, each with his own apartment but with the opportunity to celebrate Mass, have meals together and visit with each other.
Retired priests, he said, “are deserving of respect and support. They have given their whole lives to Christ and His Church.”
In a special way, Father Rigdon’s life of service to his country and his church began when he was studying at Mount St. Mary Seminary in Emmitsburg and was recruited for the Chaplain Candidate Program.
“I raised my right hand in May 1974,” he said, noting his entry into military service, when he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force Reserve.
Father Rigdon, who was ordained as a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington in 1977, retired from the military in 2000 after 26 years as a chaplain, where he rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel and earned a Meritorious Service Medal with an Oak Leaf Cluster.
As a chaplain, Father Rigdon also served for 14 years at Fort Meade in Maryland, with an Air Force unit that was helping to support the National Security Agency.
Speaking of his military service, the priest said he was part of a team. “We were serving our country, and we were bringing God to those who served in the armed forces.”
Serving as a military chaplain, he said, also give him the opportunity to work with chaplains from many different faith groups, who were ministering to Christian, Jewish and Muslim members of the military.
“The important thing was not to water down our belief, but to respect the belief of others while proclaiming and living your own faith,” he said.
Now in his retirement, he said he is working to get permission from the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, to help celebrate Masses at Joint Base Andrews and to assist with funeral services at Arlington National Cemetery.
Father Rigdon’s parallel service as a priest serving the people of the Archdiocese of Washington began after his 1977 ordination by Cardinal William Baum at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, when he was first assigned as a parochial vicar for St. Mary, Star of the Sea Parish in Indian Head, where he served for four years.
He was one of eight priests ordained for the archdiocese that year, and seven of them remained priests, faithfully serving for decades. In addition to Father Rigdon, the archdiocese’s priestly ordination class of 1977 includes Baltimore Archbishop William Lori; Father Christopher Begg, an Old Testament professor at The Catholic University of America; Father Y. David Brault, the pastor of St. John the Baptist Parish in Silver Spring; Father Michael King, the pastor of Jesus the Good Shepherd Parish in Owings; Msgr. Paul Langsfeld, a retired priest who earlier served as as the rector of Pontifical College Josephinum, a seminary in Columbus, Ohio, and later as the pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and at St. Joseph’s Parish on Capitol Hill; and the late Father Matthew Siekierski, the pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in La Plata who deid in 2003.
“I have a great respect and admiration for them,” he said of the priests in his ordination class.
Father Rigdon, a native of San Francisco, moved with his mother and brother to Utah when he was 7, after his parents divorced. The example of his mother, Mary Ellen McCormack Rigdon, inspired him, he said, adding that she was tenacious in her faith. She died in 1990, and Father Rigdon presided at her Funeral Mass, which he also did for his father, Elmer Rigdon, who died the next year.
The priest said it was a special blessing in his life that his father was baptized as a Catholic before he died, by a Jesuit priest serving at the Veterans Administration Hospital in San Francisco. Elmer Rigdon, who worked as a piano player, had served in the Naval Construction Force, known as the Seabees, during World War II.
Father Rigdon’s brother, Dan, is retired and lives in the Salt Lake City area after working for a printing company. The priest also has a half-brother, Stephen Rigdon, who lives in San Francisco and is retired after serving in the Army, and a half-sister, Joan Indiana Lyness, a former staff writer for the Wall Street Journal who lives in Silver Spring with her husband Eric, a software engineer with NASA, and their children Eric and Cambria.
The priest’s eventual vocation to the priesthood was shaped by a class in Church history that he took as a sophomore at Judge Memorial Catholic High School in Salt Lake City, where he said he learned, “We have a great history, and I’m part of this.”
He thought about joining a religious order after graduating from high school. “I wanted to do something that really mattered, that was important,” he said.
But he also had a scholarship to attend Columbia University in New York, and his parish priest encouraged him not to pass up the opportunity to study at that Ivy League school, and to understand that he could seek the priesthood afterward. Vincent Rigdon earned a bachelor’s degree in Medieval and Renaissance studies there, and he was inspired to become a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Washington by a dynamic recently ordained priest of Washington whom he had met – Father Lorenzo Albacete.
“He was very smart, very devout and funny,” he said of that priest, who became famous as a writer, educator and commentator and who died in 2014.
After his ordination to the priesthood, Father Rigdon later earned a licentiate in canon law from The Catholic University of America and served on the archdiocesan Tribunal.
Father Vincent Rigdon (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)
From 1994-2006, he served as archdiocesan director of the Pontifical Mission Societies (Office of the Missions), and in 1998, he received the Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara Award, a national honor, for his leadership.
That work, he said, really gave him a sense of being a part of the universal Church. He traveled to missions in China, the Holy Land, Mexico, Guatemala and Haiti, and he said he was impressed by the faith and dedication of the lay people, religious and priests serving as missionaries around the world.
“They were really generous men and women who gave their all,” he said, adding that those missionaries “give up everything to go and proclaim the Gospel of Christ. I was honored to be supporting them.”
Father Rigdon noted that as a priest serving in the archdiocese’s Pastoral Center, he was sometimes called on to be a “pinch hitter” and administer parishes in between pastors being assigned there. He became a pastor for the first time in 1988 when he was appointed to St. Francis de Sales Parish in Benedict, Maryland, where he served for six years. The priest said he enjoyed serving at that country parish in Charles County, which used to feature spring and fall oyster roasts prepared by parishioners to raise funds for the church.
From 1999 to 2003, Father Rigdon served as pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Silver Spring. “The people were so used to volunteering, it (the parish) almost ran itself,” he said.
Later from 2006 to 2009, he was pastor at Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in Washington, D.C., where he said he was very inspired by the faith and dedication of the people at that African American parish. He recalled the example of a parishioner who drove a taxi cab for a living, and that man would drive his cab, forsaking hours of paid driving, to bring the Eucharist to the sick and shut-ins, “to bring Christ to his brothers and sisters. I was very impressed by people like that.”
And then from 2009 until his retirement in 2018, Father Rigdon served as pastor of Our Lady of the Presentation Parish in Poolesville, Maryland.
“It was my last assignment and my favorite,” he said, noting that “it’s a beautiful community” – both the parishioners and the area, which includes countryside, neighborhoods and a small town atmosphere.
For the first two years of his retirement, before moving into the Saint John XXIII Residence earlier this spring, Father Rigdon was in residence at St. Mary Mother of God Parish in Washington, where he assisted with English language and Latin Masses.
The Latin Mass, he said, “is the Mass I knew as a child. It sends out the message that Christ and His Church are eternal. It sort of takes you out of the normal current of time. It’s transcendent.”
In his retirement, Father Rigdon also helps set the schedule for priests celebrating the Tridentine Mass at the old St. John the Evangelist Church in Silver Spring, now the home church for Our Lady Queen of Poland and St. Maximilian Parish for Polish Catholics, and he celebrates some of the Latin Masses there.
Just like the missionaries whose office he once directed, Father Rigdon said that as a priest, he has been able to bring Christ to people at all stages of their lives, through the Mass and the sacraments. “Saying Mass and touching people’s lives are the high points,” he said.
Retired Priests Collection
Catholics of the Archdiocese of Washington are invited to express their gratitude to the priests who have provided them and their families with the sacraments at all stages of their lives, by donating to the Retired Priests Collection taken up at parishes on the weekend of Nov. 7-8, 2020. People can also donate to the collection by going online to adw.org/rpc or by texting the word “Priest” to 301-231-1816.