Rev. Joseph H. Metzger III ’84

Joseph Metzger

Recalling His Recent Encounter with the Pope

Back in February, Father Joe Metzger ’84 had one of the most special experiences in his more than two decades as a Catholic Priest. He traveled to Rome and celebrated an early morning mass with Pope Francis. Making the rare opportunity even better, his mother was in attendance. Father Joe usually presides over the congregation at Blessed Sacrament Roman Catholic Church, Norfolk, where he’s been for the past nine years.

He graduated from Hampden-Sydney with a degree in political science and briefly pursued a career in politics. But he soon had a higher calling and decided to study sacred and dogmatic theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. He was ordained a priest at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Richmond in 1991. He’s served in the Catholic Diocese of Richmond ever since and spent part of that time at St. Theresa Parish in Farmville. Father Joe recently shared thoughts with Engage about his path in the priesthood and his time with the Pope.

From Politics to the Priesthood:
“Out of Hampden-Sydney I went into the political world. I ended up landing a job as the finance director for Dick Armey, while he was running for congress in Texas. When he won, he offered me a job, but I knew from the get-go something wasn’t right. I spoke with some cloistered nuns in Richmond, and they offered me some brilliant simple advice. They said you can serve God as the manager of a Walmart, a city employee, lawyer, doctor or priest—one is not any better than the other. Just be happy doing what you do. That was my father’s philosophy as well.

“Soon after, I told my girlfriend I was going to Rome to study to be a Catholic priest. That didn’t go over so well (laughs). I was ordained on August 17 of 1991, and almost 23 years later here I am at Blessed Sacrament in Norfolk. I’ve been here nine years, and we’re continuing to build a great parish.”

Connecting with Pope Francis:
“The Pope’s very good friend, 91-year old Cardinal Jorge Mejia, is also a good friend of mine. He gave me the secretary’s name and address, so I wrote a note saying that my mom and I would be in Rome on certain days and that I would really like to come and celebrate mass. I got a letter back in Italian that told me to show up on the 17th of February at 6:30 in the morning.”

An Unforgettable Moment:
During mass, I was asked to hand out communion, and the whole experience was just great. I brought Pope Francis some Virginia peanuts and after mass we had a nice 10-minute chat. He’s very down to earth; he makes you feel right at ease. What you see is what you get. I told him next year when he’s visiting Philadelphia, he has to come down and find me in Virginia, because we have better food. For some reason, he thought that was hysterical. A photographer caught that moment when he’s laughing and grabbing my arm. That captures his humanity.

Hampden-Sydney Influence:
“I was on the Honor Court for three years. From my experience Hampden-Sydney helps people develop into good, honest human beings. Where else can you go and just throw your books down and go eat, or leave your door unlocked? The Honor Code was very important to me, and that’s why I’m always trying to send new students to Hampden-Sydney. I have a nephew, who’s a sophomore now, and two parishioners also at the college. There’s a care and concern for the students that’s absolutely beautiful.”