Monsignor Michael Collins, former pastor at St. Anne’s Catholic Church in Seal Beach, died on May 6 at the age of 91.
After his retirement as pastor in 1987, Collins became pastor emeritus and lived in a small house adjacent to St. Anne’s Church. He continued to say weekend Mass and hear confessions almost until his death, serving the parish for 30 years.
“He never lost sight of his priorities even in the face of serious physical impairments,” said Rev. Robert Vidal, current pastor of St. Anne’s.
“He kept doing good works, even when he could barely walk and his only way of getting around town was an electric scooter,” Vidal said.
Known for his endearing sense of humor, quick wit, love of football and enjoyment of parties, Collins was born in a small Irish village called Purt Abbeyfeale in County Limerick.
He grew up there with several siblings in a home that was always open to the rosary, music, dancing and cards (in that order).
During his Christmas sermons, Collins often recalled gathering holly that grew in the hills around his home and decorating the house with it. Holly was also used to trim the interior of the windows, which were graced with candles that the family lit each night in preparation for Christmas.
“There was no electricity at the time,” said Sister Samuel Marie Settar, St. Anne’s director of religious education.
“Father Collins described the beauty of looking out at nearby houses and seeing countless candles flickering in neighbors’ windows throughout the hills and glens,” Settar said.
Collins attended the seminary at All Hallows, County Carlow, where he was a star soccer player.
He was ordained a priest on June 3, 1943 at the height of World War II. After ordination, he embarked by boat to America to serve in the Los Angeles Diocese.
During his passage to the United States, enemy boats fired at his vessel, barely missing the craft.
Collins’ first assignment was at Incarnation Parish in Glendale. Among his many duties was directing a high school group known as the Ciro Club, which he kept together with fun activities for about 10 years.
His next assignment was as the associate of Bishop Timothy Manning at St. Gregory Parish. This was followed with his reassignment to Santa Ana in 1962 to build St. Barbara’s Church and school.
During this time, Collins began to have families in the parish sponsor Vietnamese refugees. He also launched the adoption of a Vietnamese child who arrived at a nearby military base without his family. A family at St. Barbara’s soon provided a permanent home for the boy. “Father Collins was the boy’s spiritual father,” said Vidal.
In 1980, he was reassigned to St. Anne’s in Seal Beach, where he celebrated his 60th anniversary as a priest.
In his earlier years, he took the parish census by going to the home of each parishioner, sometimes riding his bike to get from place to place.
After he retired and became pastor emeritus, he was a constant presence at the church and continued to help. As his health declined, he persevered, rarely complaining about his ailments and maintaining a positive attitude.
“He always thought of others before himself,” said Vidal.
Collins’ policy was to keep the door open for all those who were in need, pray the rosary every day, sing and dance as much as he could, play cards whenever he got the chance and do at least two crossword puzzles each day to keep his mind alert.
He was also known for giving away rosary rings. He ordered them 500 at a time and gave them to everyone he met at his door or during his frequent scooter trips down to the pier, where he had friendly chats with people known and unknown. He also gave a rosary ring to every person who cared for him during his various hospitalizations.
Collins will long be remembered as a skilled storyteller. “He made a point of incorporating his tales and jokes into Sunday homilies—all with a purpose,” says Settar. “He was a born teacher who will always be remembered for the spirit of friendship he showed toward everyone he met. His motto was, ‘You can never go wrong by being kind.’”
“He loved Notre Dame football,” said Vidal. As he grew older, he would have to turn off the games because he became too excited.”
Funeral services were held for Collins at both St. Anne’s and St. Barbara’s. About 1,200 people attended the combined services.