MIDLAND The Rev. Christopher Rodney “Father Rodney” White didn’t know what was in the offing when Bishop Michael Sis called him to San Angelo in January last year from his small parish at St. Vincent Pallotti Catholic Church in Abilene.
The bishop had said there wasn’t a problem, but White still felt a little trepidation when he walked into Sis’s office. Then he was astonished and pleased to learn he would be going to St. Stephen’s Church at 4601 Neely Ave.
So it was in a much different mood that he drove home that day, and it’s been a big change since Monsignor James Bridges’ retirement last June as the senior pastor of one of the most important parishes in the San Angelo Diocese, where 3,300 people attend weekend Masses.
White was a senior at Odessa High School when, merely for the trip, he visited Neuhoff School of Ministry at the Catholic-affiliated University of Dallas. “I had grown up with the thought that to be a priest, you had to float three inches off the ground and chant in Latin everywhere you went,” he said.
“I was dating a girl at the time, but I realized that the guys at the seminary were normal guys. They listened to the same music and went to the same movies I did. I never had this thunderbolt moment when I was knocked off my horse. I grew into it over time.”
White enrolled at the seminary two years later after attending Odessa College as a law enforcement major, and he took degrees there and at a seminary in Houston and a university in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
The 42-year-old Odessa native graduated from OHS in 1993, playing viola in the orchestra and taking part in the academic decathlon.
His late father Ronnie was a data manager for Eckel Hydraulic Power Tongs. His mom Patty works in the ECISD accounting office. He has a brother and a sister.
White was an associate pastor at St. Ann’s Church here and at Sacred Heart in San Angelo and was senior pastor at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Ozona while serving as the diocese’s director of vocation and defender of the bond in its marriage annulment tribunal. He speaks Spanish. His associate is the Rev. Timothy Hayter.
White said the Apostle Peter is inspiring because he “was a simple fisherman thrust into a unique circumstance.
“Peter was a man of great faith but also of great blunders, and as such he was in need of forgiveness from time to time,” he said. “From Pentecost on, we don’t see as much of the humble fisherman that is always at his roots. We see someone thrust into a leadership role, and he says, ‘OK, let’s go!’ ”
The priest relies on “a daily examination of conscience,” he said, and recommends that his parishioners adopt a similar practice. “At the end of the day, I prayerfully look at where I have succeeded and where I’ve failed, those moments when I allowed myself to be an instrument of God and those when I was selfish,” he said.
“It gives me the opportunity to make changes day by day and sometimes even hour by hour. God will take you as you are, but he also calls you to growth, to improve yourself and grow closer to him.”
Applying his own experience, White emphasized in two stints as vocation director that young men should take a step-by-step approach to the priesthood. He said the diocese no longer considers it a negative outcome if they choose to leave the seminary before completing their studies.
“We had a young man so devoted that he spent time discerning his vocation in a good liberal arts university,” he said. “He will continue to be a good and faithful Catholic and raise good and faithful children. We don’t get a priest, but we get a better Catholic.”
Sis said White is good for St. Stephens in part “because he understands the local culture and history and knows what makes West Texans tick.
“Father Rodney’s capacity to communicate in English and Spanish helps bring everyone together on the same team,” the bishop said. “He received a very good education and training. This background helps him to understand the dynamics of such a large, active and complex parish as St. Stephen’s.”