Gulf Pine Catholic

Volume 40, Issue 25 August 4, 2023 G ulf P ine C atholic Official Newspaper of the Diocese of Biloxi Msgr. Michael Thornton, 77, dies after brief illness BY TERRY DICKSON BILOXI -- Msgr. Michael Thornton, a native of Ireland who served in Mississippi and Mexico during his 54 years of priestly ministry, died on July 26 after a brief illness. He was 77. Bishop Louis F. Kihneman III celebrated a Mass of Christian Burial for Msgr. Thornton on July 31 at Our Lady of Fatima Church in Biloxi. Msgr. Thornton was a native of Headford, County Galway, Ireland, and attended St. Patrick Seminary in Carlow, Ireland, where he was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Natchez- Jackson on June 7, 1969. He served as an associate pastor at Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Cathedral, Biloxi, and as pastor of Sacred Heart Parish, Pascagoula; Immaculate Conception Parish, Laurel; St. Bernadette Parish, Waynesboro; and Holy Trinity Mission, Leakesville. He was also administrator of St. Louis Parish, Biloxi. On the diocesan level, Msgr. Thornton served as Chancellor, Judicial Vicar, and was a member of numerous diocesan boards and committees. He received the Papal Honor of Domestic Prelate, or monsignor, in 1988. Msgr. Thornton also served two stints in Saltillo Mexico from 1973 to 1977 and from 1997 to 2005. In 2019, he retired to Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Biloxi and continued to do work for the tribunal as a judge and, for a brief period as Adjutant Judicial Vicar. “Msgr. Thornton had a wonderful missionary spirit, first coming from Mississippi to Ireland and then from Mississippi to Saltillo where he spent 12 years serving in our mission first at Perpetual Help and now at St. Michael the Archangel Parish,” said Bishop Kihneman “He was very tireless in his ministry to the people. He deeply loved the people that he served, both in the Diocese of Biloxi and the Saltillo Mission. He was a quiet man but one that was very, very bright. He was a good pastor and a very good priest. He will be deeply missed by all of us. We lift him up in prayer as we have been lifting him up in the last few weeks of illness. We can be assured of having (Msgr. Thornton) as another intercessor with the Lord. He was a man of deep faith, hope and trust in the Lord. His willingness to serve the Church is an example for all of us and it is also a call to have our youth and young adults consider religious life and the priesthood.” Msgr. Thornton’s impact was far-reaching, touching the lives of his brother priests and the people who he served. Fellow Irishman Father Louis Lohan, who was ordained in 1971, fondly remembers his early encounters with Msgr. Thornton. “Some of us have had the great privilege of seeing Michael’s journey of faith, love and ministry for at least 58 years,” said Father Lohan. “In St. Patrick’s College in Carlow in the 1960s, Mike was there to meet us neophytes. He was not jump- ing up and down with excitement. He was a constant gentle presence in our lives. He had a brilliant intellect, a very quiet and sharp wit. “He was here again when we arrived in Mississippi in the early 1970s. We were as green as the pastures we left. Mike didn’t try to make us green or more red, white and blue. He was right there for us for the next 50 years to show us the way. We all admired him. His opinion was important to us; his advice, given only when asked for, was solid as a rock, insightful and wise as a sage.” In Saltillo, Mexico, Father Lohan said, Msgr. Thornton was known as “Padre Miguelito” or Little Father Mike. “He was so loved by people of all ages,” Father Lohan, who also served in the Saltillo mission from 1974 to 1978, said. “The children followed him like a pied piper. The teens and young adults traveled every day with him to the ranchos or villages. They admired him, watched out for him and reveled in his wit. Old men, struggling mothers, dying people all encoun- tered Christ in him.” Father Lohan said there are numerous adjec- tives one could use to describe Msgr. Thornton. “He was gentle, generous, kind, wise, patient, and, most of all, he was holy,” Father Lohan said. “There’ll never be the likes of him again.” Father Paddy Mockler agreed, referring to Msgr. Thornton as a “priest’s priest.” “Mike was kind, humble and brilliant. He was a priest’s priest,” said Father Mockler, who served in Saltillo from 1986 to 1990. “He was like a walking computer. Instead of Googling you could ask Mike. He loved the mission in Saltillo. He did great work building homes for the poor. He did great ministry with the Hispanics in Laurel and Biloxi. Mike was an officer for the Association of Priests. He believed in keeping things simple and take the best possible care of the retired priests.” Saltillo Msgr. Michael Flannery, a retired priest of the Diocese of Jackson who also served in Saltillo, and who has written a definitive history of the mission, praised Msgr. Thornton for continuing the good work started by his predecessor, the late Father Patrick Quinn. Msgr. Thornton first served as Father Quinn’s associ- ate at Perpetuo Socorro (Our Lady of Perpetual Help) from 1973 to 1977. He returned after Father Quinn’s unexpected death in 1997, serving for a year at Perpetuo Socorro before becoming the founding pastor of the new parish of San Miguel, where he continued to serve for five years. San Miguel was named for Father Paddy Quinn’s brother, Michael, a priest in Ireland who had died from brain cancer. In September, the mission will celebrate its 25th anniversary. SEE MSGR. MICHAEL THORNTON, PAGE 9 Msgr. Michael Thornton hears a young lady’s confession during a 2019 visit to Saltillo, Mexico. Msgr. Thornton, a native of Ireland who served in Mississippi and Mexico, died on July 26. Photo/Juliana Skelton