Man of the century: priest celebrates Mass for 100th birthday

Man of the century: priest celebrates Mass for 100th birthday September 21, 2011

A Pennsylvania priest has hit a remarkable milestone:

The Rev. Harry Lewis was born the year Chevrolet started competing with the Ford Model T. He served in the military at the Battle of the Bulge, became a priest the year “All About Eve” won the best picture Oscar and retired from priesthood as Ronald Reagan’s presidency wound down.

On Monday, as he waited for the start of a special Mass marking his 100th birthday – apparently the first Diocese of Scranton priest ever to reach that watershed – the wry, endlessly upbeat Lewis answered the inevitable question about his secret to longevity with a tease.

“I’m going to write a book about it,” Lewis said with a laugh.

Asked what it felt like to reach such a milestone, he beamed again. “You look forward to it, but when you actually get there, it’s even more exciting.”

Lewis got a front-pew seat as Bishop Joseph Bambera, retired Bishop James Timlin and nearly a dozen other priests concelebrated the Mass in the chapel of Little Flower Manor, where the centenarian resides along with four other retired priests.

Before the service, the Wilkes-Barre native chatted briefly of his winding path to such a long life as a priest.

“I didn’t become a priest until I was 39,” he said. Before that, “I was what they called a soda jerk.” He chuckled at the thought. “I dispensed ice cream and soda in a store in Wilkes-Barre.”

Gladly admitting “I always wanted to be a priest,” Lewis explained the delay: He worked to help his four brothers and three sisters get a better start in life.

Though he has been in the Diocese of Scranton most of his life, Lewis noted he did plenty of traveling – in the military. “I was in England, France, Germany and Czechoslovakia,” he recounted of 38 months of service.

Turned out Lewis was being a bit modest. During his sermon, Bambera noted the guest of honor had served in the Battle of the Bulge, the last major Nazi offensive in World War II.

Bambera put the longevity in perspective by citing a few things that happened in 1911. Along with the birth of Chevrolet as a Ford competitor, Crisco cooking shortening was invented and Lucille Ball and Ronald Reagan were born.

Bambera, the 10th bishop in Scranton, noted Lewis was born during the tenure of Bishop Michael Hoban, the second leader of the 11-county diocese. “You can personally reflect on nine of the 10 bishops,” Bambera said, adding with a smile that, “be particularly kind to bishops eight and 10,” referring to Timlin and himself.

Read more. Ad multos annos!

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