December 11, 2023

Immigration Marriage

Feel Good With Immigration

Father Joseph Breen, a Nashville priest, dies at age of 87

  • Breen served as pastor at St. Edward Church for 30 years
  • He was vocal about Catholic Church policies, sometimes earning him reprimands from the bishop
  • Breen was vocal about societal and political issues, and he was a strong backer of education

Father Joseph Patrick Breen, a firebrand Nashville priest known for championing progressive stances on immigration, marriage and the priesthood, even when it got him in trouble with his bishop, died Saturday. He was 87.

Breen, a Nashville native, spent most of his career at St. Edward Church, where he was pastor for 30 years. 

“We grieve tonight, but we know that we aren’t the only ones. Joe Pat’s family extended far beyond his blood kin,” Breen’s family said in a statement Saturday evening.  “He loved everyone he ever met from the bottom of his heart.”

As Breen served his local parish, he was also an advocate and community organizer within the city and state, and the Catholic Church at-large.

Breen took a strong public stance against church policies prohibiting the ordination of female and married priests.  

“With all the negative things going on in our Catholic world, our discrimination against women and the LGBTQ community, we are going to have to have married clergy to have the proper leadership we need for our church to continue to thrive,” Breen said in a 2019 opinion column for The Tennessean.

Father Joseph Breen’s love of people outweighs the fear of his superiors.

Breen’s criticism of church policy earned him three formal reprimands from church leaders, including one in which former Nashville Bishop David Choby threatened to remove Breen from the priesthood if he didn’t apologize.

Despite prior differences, the diocese acknowledged Breen’s service and current Nashville Bishop J. Mark Spalding attended an event in December celebrating Breen’s 60th anniversary of his ordination.