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Msgr. Vincent Topper, oldest priest in nation, dies at 104

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HARRISBURG, Pa. —Monsignor Vincent Topper, the oldest and longest-serving priest in the country, died Friday.

He was 104 years old and celebrated the 80th anniversary of his Ordination to Priesthood on May 24.

According to research done by Zenit News he may have been the longest-ordained diocesan priest in the world.

“His life was a shining example of fidelity and cooperation with God’s grace in a selfless and dedicated manner,” Bishop Ronald Gainer said of Topper, who was a priest of the Diocese of Harrisburg for 80 years.

“He has seen and personally experienced so much in his lifetime,” the bishop remarked. “Throughout the many changes in our church and culture that he has experienced, he maintained amazing fidelity and flexibility to continue to be what Christ called him to be and to what he said yes to so many years ago, to be a priest of Jesus Christ.”

Topper had lived in residence at St. Catherine Labouré Parish in Harrisburg since 1999. He was present to the community, celebrating Mass twice a week for the parish while celebrating it daily in private. He enjoyed weekly visits from students from the school and occasional visits from parishioners.

A viewing will take place on Friday, Oct. 14, beginning with evening prayer at 4:30 p.m. until the Mass of Transferral at 7 p.m. The viewing will continue after the Mass until 9 p.m. The viewing and Mass will take place at Saint Catherine Laboure Church, 4000 Derry Street, Harrisburg, PA.

There will be a viewing on Saturday, October 15, 2016 beginning with Morning Prayer at 8:30 a.m. until the Funeral Mass at 10:30 a.m. at Saint Catherine Laboure Church, 4000 Derry St. in Harrisburg.

Burial will take place after the dinner at Annunciation Cemetery, 298 North 5th St. in McSherrystown.

Vincent James Huber Joseph Topper was born in Hanover on July 28, 1912, to Vincent Topper and Flora Topper. On the day he was born, he was baptized by a parish priest because doctors did not expect him to live due to tuberculosis.

His mother and three of his siblings died when he was very young, and his father nearly succumbed to the influenza epidemic of 1918.

He was raised in St. Joseph Parish in Hanover, where he served as an altar boy for the 5:30 a.m. Mass, attended school, and followed the example of the priests and sisters who served there.

Bishop Philip McDevitt accepted him into the diocese’s seminarian program, and he entered St. Vincent Seminary in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, where he spent two years in college in preparation for the seminary.

Bishop George Leech ordained then-Father Topper to the priesthood at St. Patrick Cathedral in Harrisburg on June 6, 1936. His first assignments were as assistant pastor of Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in York (1936-1943) and Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Mount Carmel (1943-1948).

From there, he served as pastor of Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Fairfield (1948-1950), St. Joseph Parish in Milton (1950-1957), St. Columba Parish in Bloomsburg (1957-1963) and St. Joseph Parish in York (1963-1977). He also served as administrator of Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in York in 1979.

He was named an Honorary Prelate to His Holiness Pope Paul VI and given the title of Monsignor on May 27, 1970.

In each parish where he served as pastor, Topper focused his efforts on expanding Catholic education.

As pastor of St. Mary’s in Fairfield and administrator of its mission at St. Rita’s in Blue Ridge Summit, he purchased a bus and would drive students to and from school. At St. Joseph’s in Milton, he oversaw the construction of a school, and at St. Joseph’s in York and St. Columba in Bloomsburg, he worked to expand classrooms.

On the occasion of the 80th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood, celebrated in a Mass at St. Catherine Labouré Church. Topper offered the following reflection:

“Why does anyone become a priest? Surely, the major part is God’s calling. A vocation is the most personal experience of a lifetime. It is humbling. And then there is the goodness I found among the many parishioners in all the parishes I have served. The support and love of the people of God has sustained and continues to edify me. They have brought and still do bring innumerable blessings to my life.

Wonderful things happen when God is a part of our lives. I believe a deepening awareness of God’s presence is one of the gifts of old age. It is His way of getting our undivided attention. It moves you to deeper prayer and reflection. What will I say I have done with my life when I stand before God? My answer will be: I tried to be a good priest and to bring others to Christ. It might sound simple, but it’s what it all comes down to.

We are all united to each other as children of God. Whether you are a relative or friend, religious sister, or my brother priest or deacon, I thank God that He put you in my life and made it happier because of you. I am so grateful for your prayers, love and goodness.”