Father George E. Saladna, S.T.L., S.S.L., died April 17 “with his boots on,” still pastoring St. Alphonsus Parish,
, at age 78. His parishioners (SRO in the church), Bishop Zubik, 80 priests and homilist Father Ed Bryce gave him a wonderful funeral liturgy on Wednesday of Holy Week. Springdale
George was vice rector of St. Paul Seminary for a dozen years, and taught the first year collegians “Baby Bible” and the third year students “Big Bible.” Your first impression of Father Saladna was a buffoon, a clown. He was quick with a quip, and had a nickname for almost everyone. You thought he didn’t take the Bible, or anything else, seriously.
But it slowly dawned on me that despite the hillbilly style of speech and the odd techniques in class (getting three points on a test for correctly spelling your name, and another four points for identifying the seminary’s pet dogs, Caleb and Avis), there was real learning happening. I truly came to understand this when I took my first course in major seminary, Synoptic Gospels, from Father Addison Wright, S.S., at St. Mary Seminary, Baltimore, and realized I knew a lot more than I thought I did—courtesy of Father Saladna.
Father Bryce in his funeral sermon called George “brilliant.” He was. He was also humble. He was just as comfortable changing the oil in the mini-vans at St. Paul Seminary as he was speaking fluent Italian, or explaining Hebrew verb forms. He never mentioned that he was one of only two
Pittsburgh diocesan priests with a rare S.S.L. degree, or that he studied at the Ecole Biblique in . Jerusalem, or that Father Charlie Curran, the prolific moral theologian, was a Roman classmate
George was known for his jokes and sense of humor. Eulogizing his good friend Father Sylvester Doyle, on a bitter cold Christmas Eve morning funeral liturgy in St. Raphael Parish years ago, he cracked, “Sylvie was always sick. He had just about every operation except a hysterectomy.” Bishop Bevilacqua turned white in his presider’s chair while the people and priests in attendance howled with laughter.
His most famous stunt was stealing stationary from Bishop Wright’s office, and sending letters of transfer to classmates, complete with episcopal seal. As Father Bryce noted, if anyone of us had done it, we would have been sent to ecclesiastical jail. But Bishop Wright just laughed—it was George being George, not a mean bone in his large body.
Just 18 months ago I drove up to
for Confirmation. I sat with Bishop Zubik and George at the dinner prior to the ceremony. The three of us kept bursting into laughter with remembrances of some of the crazy people we knew and lived with at St. Paul Seminary. The other priests in the room looked askance at us. George’s best line, Bishop Zubik and I agreed, was the nickname of a certain religious order, which I dare not print on the internet. (Ask me in person.) Springdale
What did “Gorglein Q. Salatney” teach me? Mostly that the many talents and gifts God gives us priests are not for show, but to be used for ministry. He did that, in humble and human and humorous ways, as an effective professor of Sacred Scripture and as a warm and caring pastor of well-organized parishes. May he rest in peace.