Father John M. Phillips – A Beloved Pastor and Diocesan Leader Goes Home to the Lord

October 24, 2019

Father John Phillips, pastor of Holy Faith Catholic Church in Gainesville, and a diocesan leader, died suddenly Sunday morning, Oct. 20. He was 63.

The Holy Faith community is mourning his death. He was not only a good shepherd, but he was a great brother, priest, and friend. Father John has blessed those he served with generosity, unfailing loyalty, and a keen sense of humor.

Born in Birmingham, Ala. on Nov. 25, 1955, Father John was the first-born son of Jack and Patti Phillips, who are deceased. He is survived by his brother, Brian and his wife Suzan and their children, and his sister Sheri Britton and her husband James and their children.

His father was in the Navy, which meant the family moved often. Father John came to Jacksonville by way of the Navy when he was 7 years old and has lived in Florida all but one year. He is a 1973 graduate of Orange Park High School, and he attended the University of Florida, graduating in 1978 with a bachelor’s of science degree.

At 14, Father John was baptized in the Methodist church, and while attending an “old-fashioned altar call” one Sunday, he publicly accepted Christ and committed his life to him.

While studying at the University of Florida, Father John joined a Catholic prayer group at St. Augustine Church and Catholic Student Center. It was there he grew to love and appreciate the beauty of the Catholic faith. He was initiated into the Catholic Church in 1978 at the age of 23.

Four years later, in 1982, Father John entered the St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach. He was ordained to the priesthood on May 16, 1987, by Bishop John J. Snyder for the Diocese of St. Augustine.

His first assignment was associate pastor at Christ the King Parish in Jacksonville, where he served for three years. In 1990, Father John was appointed associate pastor at St. Augustine Church and Catholic Student Center, Gainesville, and in 2002, he was appointed pastor of Holy Faith Parish. Father John also oversaw the administration of St. Patrick Interparish School in Gainesville.

Father John has served the bishops of St. Augustine on several key diocesan boards and commissions utilizing his expertise in Biblical theology, liturgy, sacraments, spirituality, and stewardship. He has led the Liturgical Commission since 1987. He was appointed dean of the Gainesville Deanery in 2011, and he has served on the College of Consultors since 2018. He was also a member of the Presbyteral Council serving as chair of the committee for priest spirituality in 2004.  

More recently, Bishop Felipe Estévez asked him to lead the preparation efforts for the 150th anniversary celebration of the Diocese of St. Augustine in 2020.

“Father John led the anniversary efforts with admirable leadership,” said Bishop Estévez. “He had a shepherd’s heart, promoting peace, open to all, and sharing his great talents with amazing generosity and selfless dedication.”

Father John’s ministry was reminiscent of the parish’s patron, Saint Francis of Assisi. Beauty, nature, animals, music, art, books, and most of all, the poor were his treasure. He was steadfast in protecting victims of abuse, and he always kept his heart open for those who were marginalized. He led the parish to commit financial support to Holy Faith’s sister parish in Guatemala as well as the Comboni Sisters. Father John took the holy Scriptures call to serve the poor seriously, and he challenged his flock to do the same.

As a priest, Father John was passionately devoted to the Eucharist. In his last sermon, he urged parishioners to participate in Sunday Mass, offering thanksgiving for God’s abundant blessings. It will be through the celebration of the Eucharist that parishioners will specifically remember and give thanks to God for giving them a pastor filled with mercy, charity, and honor. He will be missed.

Services will be held at Holy Faith Catholic Church, 747 NW 43rd Street, Gainesville. The Vigil Service is Friday, Oct. 25, at 7 p.m. with Bishop Felipe Estévez presiding. The funeral Mass is Saturday, Oct. 26, at 11 a.m. Bishop Estévez will concelebrate the Mass, and Father John Gillespie will give the homily. The rite of committal is Saturday afternoon at 3:30, at San Lorenzo Catholic Cemetery in St. Augustine. Father John Gillespie is the celebrant.

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