The Deacon's Bench

This obituary from the Philadelphia Daily News caught my eye: it’s about a priest who was ordained late in life and, in a rare exception, served as a permanent deacon for a number of years before entering the priesthood:

The Rev. Msgr. Albert V. Norrell was a priest before he became a priest.

That is, he lived a “priestly life” before he was ordained at the age of 65, said his good friend, the Rev. Stephen D. Thorne, director of the Archdiocesan Office for Black Catholics.

“His vocation went way back,” Thorne said. “He very much lived like a priest. His whole life was devoted to serving God.”

Norrell, pastor emeritus of St. Carthage Parish, which he had served as pastor since 1989, died of cancer March 25 at the age of 85.

His vocation was partly influenced by his experiences in World War II when he fought in Europe with Gen. George Patton’s 3rd Army.

“He learned the qualities of leadership,” Thorne said. “His is a wonderful story. He was a figure of wisdom in the black Catholic community.”

Norrell spent 25 years in the Philadelphia School District as teacher and principal, and he carried his interest in education into the priesthood.

“He was always a teacher,” Thorne said. “He was a mentor for me.”

Norrell was born in Richmond, Va., to Moses Alphonso Norrell and Adelaide L. Philips. He attended elementary and secondary school in Richmond and received a bachelor’s degree in history from Virginia Union University. He later earned a master’s degree in education from Temple.

He entered the archdiocese’s Permanent Diaconate Formation Program in 1979 and was ordained a permanent deacon by the late Cardinal John Krol in 1982 at the Cathedral Basilica of Ss. Peter and Paul. He retired from teaching in 1983.

In 1984, he began studies for the priesthood at Pontificio Collegio Beda in Rome. He was ordained on May 29, 1988, by Pope John Paul II. He was the only priest in the archdiocese ordained by a pope.

He served as parochial vicar at St. Ignatius of Loyola Parish, in Philadelphia, and in August 1989 was named pastor of St. Carthage, formerly at 55th Street and Cedar Avenue, West Philadelphia. He became pastor emeritus in 1998. The parish closed in 2000.

“He was a very good person,” Thorne said. “He was a tremendous preacher and teacher. He was a very generous person.”

Norrell is survived by a sister-in-law, nieces, nephews and cousins.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.

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