COLUMBIA—For the past six decades, one event has made July a special month for Father Gary Linsky, and this July brings with it the highest glory yet for the Basilica of St. Peter pastor.
Father Linsky not only celebrates his 61st birthday in July, but this year it also marks the 25th anniversary of his ordination into the priesthood.
Born in Bellefonte, Pa., in 1959, Father Linsky was the youngest of four children. His mother was Presbyterian and his father, who died in a plane crash shortly before his son’s birth, was Jewish.
Shortly after the crash, which occured in Milan, Italy, the archbishop of Milan visited the crash site, giving conditional absolution to all who perished there, Father Linsky said. The next day, Pope John XXIII held Mass for the crash victims.
“In a way — way before my birth — I felt a familial connection with the Church,” he said.
Following his birth, Father Linsky’s family moved 20 miles south of Bellefonte to State College, where he grew up, graduated high school and enrolled at Penn State University. He earned two degrees there, plus a commission from the Air Force ROTC in 1981, a move that led to more than nine years of active duty as an officer in the Medical Service Corps.
Raised Presbyterian, Father Linsky received his confirmation as a Catholic while on active duty at St. Benedict’s Hall at Oxford University in Oxford, England, in 1987.
It was during his time in England and Italy that he discerned God calling him to the priesthood.
“I had a series a dreams while I was in each country,” he said, and realized, “you can’t ignore God.”
He attended St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia and the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. He was ordained July 8, 1995, by Bishop David B. Thompson at St. Francis by the Sea Church in Hilton Head.
Father Linsky’s first priestly assignment was at St. Joseph in Columbia. He also served at St. Theresa in Winnsboro and as chaplain pro-tem at the University of South Carolina, along with Sacred Heart Church in Gaffney and St. Augustine Church in Union.
Early in his priestly journey, Father Linsky made efforts to spread God’s love beyond his flock. In late 1997, he and parishioners at Sacred Heart hired a bell foundry to restore a 2,000-pound bronze, Belgian church bell. For decades since then its heavenly chimes have led the faithful to the Church.
As one parishioner said at the time, the bell’s chime “reminds us that our lives are centered around Christ.”
A year later, at St. Augustine Church, Father Linsky led the restoration of Seton House, a historic structure in Union purchased by the parish in the 1970s. He oversaw the renovation of the rundown building, turning it into a parish activity center. He also directed improvements at the church rectory during his time at St. Augustine.
Last October the historic church celebrated its centennial.
Father Linsky served a year as a South Carolina National Guard chaplain, then as chaplain in the Air Force Reserve, before returning to active duty in 1999. As chaplain, he completed seven deployments to the Middle East, including tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he ministered to small groups of Catholics at bases along the Afghan-Pakistan border.
During that time, and while stationed at Luke AFB in Arizona, Father Linsky wrote several columns for The Miscellany on his experiences in Iraq. He also penned columns encouraging vocations.
In 2008, Father Linsky, graduated from the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, earning a master’s degree in strategic studies.
Father Linsky retired from active duty in the USAF in 2013 and was assigned to St. Peter in Columbia. Later that year he was appointed dean of the Midlands Deanery, which was later renamed the Columbia Deanery.
Less than two years after becoming pastor at St. Peter, Father Linsky led the parish in raising money for a new FM Catholic radio station at the parish school. At the time, he viewed the new station as another a way to “help bring the love of God to the community.”
In the summer of 2018, the church made history, becoming the first minor basilica in South Carolina. At the time, the Basilica of St. Peter was just the 85th so designated in the country, an honor that still speaks to the parish’s place in the diocese.
“It’s a special deal being the only basilica in the state,” Father Linsky said. “Ours is a very unique parish, one of the few truly urban parishes, but also one that is a breathtakingly beautiful facility. But it’s not just about a beautiful and historic building, though that has to be a part of it,” he said. “It has to also have a ministry that’s dynamic, that’s enthusiastic and growing,” and one known for its liturgy.
“You can have a rather formal liturgy and still be informal,” he said. “A liturgy doesn’t have to be cold and a good parish doesn’t have to be cold. I think we have a good balance here. We seem to be warm and welcoming, while also having a quality Mass.”
Father Linsky said plans were underway for a “big, big” celebration of his 25th jubilee. Then the pandemic arrived, forcing postponement of the party until next summer, with a smaller celebration planned on the anniversary.
“I think these things are important to celebrate. It’s important for the people of God to celebrate with their priest and affirm what a priest does in ministry. I want to do that with my people, my friends and my family.”