Called to preach: how a priest overcame stuttering

Called to preach: how a priest overcame stuttering April 8, 2011

Here’s a remarkable story of a priest who conquered an all-too-common (and for many, terrifying) problem:

The last thing a priest wants to do at a funeral is mess up the name of the deceased.

For one funeral in 1973, this was Monsignor John K. Cody’s biggest fear. So he practiced speaking the woman’s name, out loud, for hours the day before.

Dolores. Dolores. Dolores.

Cody wasn’t worried about forgetting the woman’s name – he had been close to her before she died.

He was afraid of stuttering over it.

Cody, a priest for 38 years who is pastor at St. Christopher Catholic Church near Grandview Heights, has struggled with stammering since he was a child.

Now 64, he has overcome the problem well enough that many of his parishioners and fellow priests have no idea. He credits speech therapy he received in the 1970s for teaching him strategies he still uses.

His success didn’t come without decades of struggle, and even moments of doubt about whether he could fulfill his vocation.

The priesthood involves constant talking, both one-on-one with parishioners and from the pulpit, explaining the Gospel and inspiring his flock.

That’s why Cody could relate to King George VI, played by Colin Firth in The King’s Speech. The film won the Academy Award for best picture this year.

Like the British monarch, Cody had moments of doubt about himself, his therapists and his ability to do his job.

For both king and priest, therapy and hard work took them through stuttering.

“There was one point I thought I should enter the Trappists because they don’t talk,” Cody said, referring to an order of monks and nuns who generally stay silent.

But then, “I just felt, within myself, I’m really called to be a parish priest, so I’ve got to deal with this,” he said.

Not only has he overcome his speech problems, he has gained a reputation as a talented speaker.

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4 responses to “Called to preach: how a priest overcame stuttering”

  1. I can tell a similar story about a very good African-American friend of mine.

    He stuttered badly all through school but compensated for it by “lettering” three years in basketball. He continued stuttering through college but compensated for it by majoring in commercial art/advertising design. He was so successful in that career that when his firm folded, a local community college went out of their way to recruit him to be a commercial art/advertising design instructor. Sometimes his stuttering came back in front of his students but the more he was in the classroom, the less it bothered him.

    On a separate track, he was born and raised as a member of the Church of God in Christ — a fairly widespread African American pentecostal denomination. It was only a matter of time before his congregation called him to ministry and a new forum came up challenging his stuttering.

    He retired “thirty-and-out” from the college about seven years ago and went into the ministry full time. His congregation — no longer affiliated with the COGIC — is healthy and strong and my friend’s preaching is quite powerful. I know. I have been vested and “on-ceremony” as an honored guest at his churches several times.

    Brother Jesus, bless all who call upon your name, especially those whose handicap can scare them from proclaiming your word with joy and sincerity!

  2. I grew up with a stutter. I can really appreciate this story. Through year’s of determination and God’s grace, I am able to proclaim the Gospel and preach without stammering, except for every now and then…

  3. Inspirational.

    There was a priest in my Aunt’s parish who had a stutter – and for this reason he used to sing the entire Eucharistic Prayer, and could do so without fault. Singing is managed by a different area of the brain than speech.

  4. Help for Children and Adults Who Stutter: For 35 years the National Stuttering Association (NSA), which is the largest self-help non-profit organization for people who stutter in the country, has connected kids and adults who stutter to other kids and adults who stutter through local chapter meetings, workshops, on-line support groups and annual conferences in which over 600 people who stutter attend each year! They also offer tons of great brochures, pamphlets and other reference tools for both people who stutter and professionals. To learn more, pls contact them at:, or 1-800-937-8888

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