Fr. Gracely dies at 101

Fr. Carl Gracely, the oldest active priest in the Episcopal Church, died in his sleep last Tuesday.

The Rev. James Richardson, Rector St. Paul’s Memorial Church, Charlottesville, Virginia, remembers him on his blog Fiat Lux:

I received sad news on Thursday: The Rev. Carl Gracely, my role model and inspiration, died quietly in his sleep on Tuesday. He was 101 years old, and until recently, the oldest active Episcopal priest in our entire Church.

I had known Father Carl since I was 14 years old, since before he was Father Carl. To me, he was “Mr. Gracely.” His son Bill and I were high school buddies. When I was a teenager, Mr. Gracely was ending his business career to become an Episcopal priest. At the time, I remember, I knew I would do the very same thing as he did — become a priest in middle age.

Funny thing — the Holy Spirit really does work that way sometimes.

We met the Gracely family when we were living in New Jersey when I was in high school. My family moved shortly after I graduated, and I went off to UCLA. A few short years later, as my mother describes, she went to Holy Communion one morning at their new parish, St. Timothy’s, Danville (Calif.). When she looked up to receive bread, Father Carl was serving her! The Gracelys had moved to the East Bay, and our connections with Father Carl continued.

Father Carl presided our wedding in 1989, and he was there for every milestone in our family life. Lori and I were the first to have an outdoor wedding in the courtyard at St. Timothy’s — I highly recommend the spot!

When in middle-age I really did become a priest, Father Carl served as the Bishop’s chaplain at my ordination. He stood there next to Bishop Jerry Lamb, held the bishop’s crozier, and I felt as though I had two bishops blessing me.

Father Carl’s priesthood was marked by selfless service to others. He founded the pastoral care department at John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek, California. He worked as a hospital chaplain right up to his 100th birthday. Three years ago, when my mother was at John Muir, sure enough, Father Carl turned up in her hospital room. He said a few prayers, filled the room with laughter and joy, and headed off to the next room. He was a dynamo of inspiration.

He met his wife Gwynn in China before World War II. She preceded him in death, and it was my privilege to be a part of her memorial service a few years ago and place her ashes in the crypt at St. Timothy’s, by now our family parish.

I am much saddened at the loss of Father Carl, but so deeply grateful to have known him and to have been so richly blessed by his mentoring and presence. I will miss him greatly. May light perpetual shine upon him.

May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

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