5 Minutes With: Father Ed Abell

March 11, 2014

HOUSTON — The first thing Father Ed Abell does every morning is connect. “I tell God, ‘You got me through the night, I will carry you through the day,” he said. “Once I connect, I say ‘I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for the life you have given me because I really feel like the most blessed guy in the world.’ It is a tremendous feeling.”

A four-time cancer survivor, Father Abell is grateful for all of the connections he has made in priestly ministry.

“I never asked God why I didn’t die when I was supposed to — I just didn’t want Him to let me miss the reason I lived,” he said. “For a couple of years, I kept waiting for something big to happen. Then one morning in prayer, He said ‘Ed, you are good at loving, that’s exactly what I want you to do. So every day of your life, just keep on doing it.’”

The Archdiocesan priest is currently retired and in residence at the Houston Cenacle Retreat House.

“At 78, I look back and I don’t have any regrets,” he said. “I’ve been a priest for 47 years and I have loved every minute of it.”

The Houston native has great fondness for the numerous opportunities he had to serve and share with others as a priest. Following his ordination in 1967, Father Abell vividly remembers his first assignment at St. Joseph Church in Houston, where Father Patrick Flores was serving as pastor.

“What an incredible man,” Father Abell said of the now-retired Archbishop of San Antonio. “To begin my priesthood with the kindest, nicest man I have ever met. His patience was unbelievable.”

Father Abell was later assigned to other churches in Galveston-Houston before being named the founding pastor of Christ the Good Shepherd in 1978, his first foray as a parish administrator.

“I never enjoyed building buildings, but I loved building community,” he said. “That was just absolutely incredible to me and I wouldn’t take anything in the world for that experience.”

On April 2, the Houston Cenacle Retreat House is honoring Father Abell at their annual Spring Dinner. The priest recently visited with the Texas Catholic Herald about the recognition, his life as a priest and the key to leading a fulfilling life. 

TCH: When did you originally consider becoming a priest?
After college, I worked at Dun and Bradstreet in Houston for two years. I was living in an apartment with other guys and my mother was convinced I was not going to Mass because she didn’t see me there. She would think of all kinds of ways to get me (to Mass). One day she called me and told me a family friend was being ordained. They were going to his first Mass that Sunday and asked if I go with them. And in a moment of weakness, I said sure I would go.

My life could not have been going any more perfect if you only look at the world. I had a great job, a great future — but there was something missing in my life and I didn’t know what it was. I walk into St. Anne’s for the Mass. I am sitting there and all of the sudden it hit me like a 2 by 4 — this is what I have been looking for all my life! I walked in the church never thinking of being a priest — I wasn’t opposed to it, it just never occurred to me.

I saw a priest the next day just to talk about it. (Otherwise) I didn’t tell one soul for a year — except God, I talked to Him. I fell in love that year. I knew if I didn’t pursue this girl, that it would be the end of that. My whole idea was at the end of the year, if (joining the priesthood) was still strong in me, I would pursue it. And at the end of the year, it was.

TCH: Describe your experience in residence at the Houston Cenacle Retreat House.
It has been the most beautiful gift for me. I had to retire in order to come here, and I just love it. And the (Cenacle) sisters are tremendous. I really have such respect and love for them. They are so selfless and so open to helping people. It is a beautiful place to live.

TCH: Do you have any words of wisdom for those discerning the priesthood or religious life?
If it is for you, there is no happier life. If it is not, don’t go that direction — God will let you know if it is for you or not. If where you are going means more to you than what you are giving up, then go. I think that’s God’s way of telling you. In order to get married, you are giving up the single life and your independence. But if that person means that much to you, then it is worth it. What I have to say about my own self is what I have gained is far, far more than what I ever gave up. I could not be happier.

TCH: Would there be anything else you would like to add about being a priest in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston?
People will come to a priest that wouldn’t go to a professional so you end up with all kinds of things that you are not really capable of handling — but God is. It is such a beautiful experience to be used by God.

If you took the whole New Testament and boiled it down to one idea, it would be Jesus saying spend your life for others, don’t center it on yourself. Being centered on yourself is what gets you into trouble. If you are really prone to living your life for others, you are going to be a happy human being. That’s the key.