By Alyssa Schnugg
Father Joe Tonos, 56, has blessed many Oxonians as pastor of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church for the last 18 years.
Staying in one church for so many years is rare and now, Tonos will be moving away from Oxford, back to Jackson where he will pastor St. Richard Catholic Church.
Tonos’ last day at St. John’s is May 8.
“It’s like going back to your parents’ house,” he said recently. “I’m very enthusiastic about it, really. I loved that church.”
After being ordained into the priesthood in the Diocese of Jackson in 1994, he spent three years at St. Richard Catholic Church in Jackson learning about the administrative side of leading a church.
The Oxford parish is having a reception honoring Tonos at noon on Sunday after 11 a.m. Mass in the Parish Hall.
Since Tonos arrived at St. John’s, a new church and office complex was built and later expanded.
“We have an enthusiastic community,” Tonos said. “I think we’ve done good stuff and been helpful in our community. I’m content with the church not only having a place to worship, but St. John’s is actually in the bloodstream of the community. We are a part of Oxford.”
St. John’s will once again have a new priest at its helm. Father Mark Shoffner will start on May 12. Like Tonos, he’s also from Greenville and St. John’s will be his first church to pastor.
“I have faith in him,” Tonos said of Shoffner.
Sparky Reardon, a member of St. John’s, said the church has been blessed to have Tonos for as long as it has.
“When the history of the Catholic Church in Oxford, Mississippi, is written, Father Joe will be prominent for what he did to advance and complete the campus, endure the pandemic, and build and strengthen the community,” Reardon said. “As Catholics, we understand and accept the rotation of the clergy even though it means men like Father Joe move on. When I visit with alums and the subject of St. John’s comes up, I always get the question, “How’s Father Joe? He is and has been important to me as a friend and as a spiritual guide. I will miss him.”
For St. John’s member, Steve Stricker, Tonos has been more than a pastor.
“Not only my pastor and confessor but also a dear friend,” Stricker said. “If anyone is doing God’s will, it is he. And although none of us want to give him up, it’s time and St. Richard’s is most fortunate.”