TICONDEROGA - Father Bill Muench never saw it coming.
"When you're young and you see someone celebrating a 50th anniversary it doesn't seem possible; those folks seemed very, very old to me," Muench said. "I don't feel old."
Muench, who is pastor of St. Mary's Church in Ticonderoga and Sacred Heart Church in Crown Point, will celebrate 50 years as a priest Sunday, May 3. A special Mass will be celebrated at 3 p.m. at St. Mary's Church followed by a reception at St. Mary's School.
Bishop Robert Cunningham will attend to honor Muench along with family, friends and parishioners. Everyone is invited.
It will be an emotional day for Muench, who turned 75 earlier this year.
"Spiritually, I'm grateful to God," Muench said. "He's put me in the right place at the right time and given me the right words most of my life. And I'm grateful for the umpteen people who have made a difference in my life - friends, especially my priest friends. They have supported and helped me in so many ways.
"I'm also very happy with the things in my life," he continued. "I've met so many wonderful families through the years who have brought me great happiness. I've lived a good life."
Muench grew up in Fayetteville, near Syracuse. After graduation from high school he went directly to Wadhams Hall seminary in Ogdensburg and then to St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore. He was ordained a priest May 16, 1959, in St. Mary's Cathedral by Bishop James Navagh of Ogdensburg.
Why did Muench become a priest? There's no one reason.
"My family was no more religious than any other family," he recalled. "I did the things everyone else did, go to school, play sports. I was an altar server and had a very good pastor who was influential in my life."
In fact, Muench spent much of his youth at a nearby Protestant church because it had a gym where he could play basketball and other youth programs.
At the urging of a priest he met at a summer camp, he went to Catholic high school - for a day. He immediately went back to Fayetteville High.
"It was right downtown (Syracuse)," Muench recalled of his Catholic school day. "I had to take the bus and it was a long trip. I was used to things at Fayetteville and I was involved in the sports and activities there. I went back after one day."
Following his ordination, Muench was assigned to St. James Church in Governeur for a year.
He then went into education, teaching chemistry and physics at Catholic high schools in Massena and Watertown the next 17 years. He also coached basketball and did parish work.
"I enjoyed the classroom very much," Muench said. "As a priest it was a unique way to relate to young people.
"Those were very busy, but rewarding years," he continued. "There was always something happening; I was always busy. Of course, I was younger then."
The Ti priest hasn't formally taught in years, but he still regularly hears from old students.
"The names don't go away," Muench said. "I just got an Email from the very first person I met as a priest at Governeur. I just heard from a student who gave me fits as a teacher in Watertown. He's a lawyer in Syracuse who married a girl who was also one of my students. They have five children, who all went to Notre Dame."
Muench was then assigned to the Newman Center at SUNY-Plattsburgh before doing mission work in Mollendo, Peru, for three years.
"I'm the one who benefitted the most," Muench said of his mission work. "It put a new challenge and spirit into my priesthood.
"They were lovely, lovely people," he said of the Peruvians. "They had the same concerns, questions, problems as the rest of the world."
He returned in 1996 to the longest assignment of his career - St. Mary's Church in Ticonderoga and Sacred Heart Church in Crown Point.
"This is a very good community," Muench said, seated in his office in Ti. "They are easy people to work with and we have a lot of good folks involved in the church. I have lots of help."
He noted the contributions of Deacon Elliott Shaw; Sister Sharon Dalton, principal of St. Mary's School; and Sister Carol Daul, pastoral associate at Sacred Heart Church; along with many others.
At age 75 Muench, like all priests, submitted a letter of retirement to the bishop. His was declined. That was good news for the priest.
"Ticonderoga is a nice place to be," Muench said. "I want to stay."
Staying in Ti keeps Muench near his closest friends, Father Richard Strutz of Schroon Lake and Msgr. Peter Riani of Elizabethtown.
The trio often coordinate their schedules to allow for golf, ski or other trips on Wednesdays.
They also join with Father Francis "Vinnie" Flynn of Constable to travel.
Muench has visited South America, Europe, Africa, China, Australia and New Zealand as well as traveled throughout Canada and the United States.
If he's ever going to retire, travel will be the reason.
"I've met so many people and made so many friends, it is tempting to take the time to visit all of them," Muench said. "That would be the only reason I'd retire."
Muench enjoys reaching out to friends, new and old. For 25 years he wrote a regular column in the North Country Catholic, the diocesan newspaper. Several years ago he began a weekly Email newsletter that went to more than 200 families. That has evolved into a weekly blog (www.tipastor.blogspot.com).
"There's a man in Idaho I've never met who regularly comments on my blog," Muench said. "It seems to reach a lot of people."
Muench has seen a lot, good and bad, in his church the last 50 years. He remains committed and optimistic.
"I see new priests bringing new experiences to the church," he said. "And the church is growing in so many areas, including parts of the United States. I'm optimistic about things."