When the Rev. Edward Higgins arrived home from serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II, he told his family that he had a big announcement.
The family assumed that the tall, handsome man with sparkling blue eyes would say that he was getting engaged. Rather, he told them he wanted to join the priesthood.
"He always told me that he was called to do God's work and that it was an honor to do so," said his niece, Nancy Rehberg of Lower Burrell.
"He felt very privileged to be a priest and to spread and promote God's word."
Father Higgins died Thursday at St. Anne Home in Greensburg. He was 86.
The story of telling his family about joining the priesthood was one of many that the gregarious Father Higgins would tell over the nearly 60 years he served as a priest with the Diocese of Greensburg.
He served as pastor of the former St. John the Baptist parish in Heilwood, Indiana County from 1962 to 1968, the former Assumption parish in Leechburg from 1970 to 1973, St. Peter Parish in Brownsville from 1973 to 1979 and St. Joseph Parish in New Kensington from 1979 to 1993.
He also served as a chaplain in residence at Seton Hill University in Greensburg and for the Veteran's Hospital in Hampton, Va., and as parochial vicar of St. Peter Parish in Brownsville, Immaculate Conception Parish in Irwin and Blessed Sacrament Cathedral Parish in Greensburg.
He held several administrative positions with the Greensburg Diocese.
One of his proudest achievements was founding Crosskeys Human Services, a social service and rehabilitation agency serving the elderly and mentally ill in Brownsville and Uniontown.
After he retired in 1993, he promoted the work of the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging, speaking at more than 300 parishes in the United States and Latin America.
He would regale family, friends and parishioners with tales of his travels, including encounters with people such as Queen Elizabeth II, Bette Davis and Mother Teresa.
"Growing up, my kids never left the dining room table when Uncle Ed was there," she said. "His stories were so entertaining and colorful."
As devoted as he was to the church, he was also a dedicated family man, Ms. Rehberg said.
He would host Thanksgiving dinners every year for his large extended family, organizing hikes, basketball tournaments and hide and seek games for his nieces and nephews and their children.
Father Higgins is survived by more than a dozen nieces and nephews, as well as many great and great-great nieces and nephews.
Visitation will be Monday from 1 to 6:15 p.m. at Rusiewicz Funeral Home in Lower Burrell, with a memorial Mass at 7 p.m. at St. Joseph Church.
The funeral Mass will be celebrated Tuesday at 11 a.m. at the church, with interment with military honors following at St. Mary Cemetery in Troy Hill.
Donations can be sent to St. Anne Home in Greensburg, St. Joseph Parish in New Kensington or Crosskeys Human Services in Uniontown.
Anya Sostek: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1308.