Share this story

 | Teresa Peterson

Still Going Strong at 90

Monsignor John Cippel, one of the “elders” among the priests of the Diocese of St. Petersburg, speaks about his ministry as a priest, which includes his missionary work in Africa and his passion for meeting people where they are.

Ministering as a priest over six decades might possibly make a person weary or burnt out. But that’s not how anyone would describe Monsignor John Cippel, who has served as a priest for 64 years. You can still hear the fire in his voice when he speaks about the power of Jesus Christ in his own life and in the lives of those to whom he has ministered. 

He has served in the Diocese of St. Petersburg since 1975. However, during the first 15 years of his priestly ministry, Monsignor Cippel was a member of the Society of the Missionaries of Africa. He was ordained a priest in that Community on January 28, 1960, and he ministered in the East African country of Tanzania.

Monsignor Cippel experienced that regardless of a person’s culture all humans are created in the image and likeness of God. All people have the same inner desire for purpose and meaning in life, and this is only fulfilled in Jesus Christ who planted that desire in us all.  

He continued, “In my 64 years of priestly ministry I learned by trial, error, and in listening to the Holy Spirit in prayer that I had to ‘let go’ of holding on to my preconceived notions of what human nature is.  Moreover, I learned about the necessity of striving to understand the people within their African culture. I realized this also holds true about the necessity of striving to understand people here in my own culture.  Simply put, no pastoral relationship can begin without basic respect for the other.” 

Through prayer and discernment Monsignor Cippel left his ministry with the Missionaries of Africa in 1975 because he desired to be near his aging parents who had retired in St Petersburg.  He petitioned Bishop Thomas Larkin to accept him as a priest of our Diocese.  Over his years of ministry, he has ministered as associate and pastor at six local parishes and served on the faculty of both Florida seminaries.

Monsignor Cippel has been in “retirement” from official pastoral assignments since the age of 73, but he shows no signs of slowing down. He currently “volunteers” at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle and Holy Name of Jesus Parish, in Gulfport.  He said, “As long as the Lord gives me strength, and my mind is clear, I'm going to work in his Vineyard out of gratitude to the Lord for his goodness to me.”

At a surprise party for his 90th birthday, Monsignor Cippel was overwhelmed by the large number of people who came from former parishes, and he expressed his great joy to see those who came to show their appreciation for his ministry. He also acknowledged that as pastor, at times his decisions caused some of them and others of his flock to experience disappointment and even pain, and for this he asked their forgiveness.

When asked about what his greatest blessing has been in the 90 years of his life, he responded without hesitation, “People in my life have been God’s greatest blessing to me. I am the person I am today because of my family and friends. By calling me to be his priest, Jesus Christ blessed me to be a spiritual father to his people, and the countless people who have entered into my life. These 64 years of personal encounters in priestly ministry have blessed me beyond what anyone could imagine.”

Monsignor Cippel concluded, “I must admit that ministry is not always ‘rosy.’ In fact, at times, it has been ‘messy.’ Why? Because life is messy!  And we have to admit the truth that we all have a part in making the mess.  But I also have experienced that God is in the mess!  Jesus, the Son of God, so loved us that he became one of us and to be ‘with us.’ He was born of Mary into this messy human family of ours to forgive us and heal us and raise us up ‘with him.’  We must live our lives ‘with Christ’—uniting our crosses ‘with him’ on the Cross so as to live ‘with him,’ in eternal life in the embrace of the Father’s Glory.”