Tattered copies of paperback books – such as “Nobel Prize Conversations” and “Theosophy: A Modern Expression of the Wisdom of the Ages” – decorate the bedside table of what may be Mesa’s oldest resident, Father Harold Knight.
“That’s a very good book. I’ve read it a number of times,” he said about “Nobel Prize,” by Sir John Eccles, Roger Sperry, Ilya Prigogine and Brian Josephson.
The retired longtime rector of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Mesa, lover of philosophy and psychology and Mesa Citizen of the Year, turns 107 on Friday, July 26.
The church, at 322 N. Horne St., will host a card shower after the 10 a.m. service July 28 for friends and family members to express how much he means to them.
Knight was a rector at the church for 20 years – the longest-serving rector in its 103-year history.
The centenarian currently lives at home with his wife of 46 years, Edithanne, and attributes his longevity partly to her cooking.
The other part, he joked, is from DNA.
“No one else in my family has ever done this,” he said. “Something like this age, I think, is in the DNA molecules somewhere. I credit that. How it got there, I don’t know.”
Knight was born in 1912 into a Baptist family in Rochester, New York.
His father was always very involved in his childhood, he recalled.
“I had a father who was very attentive and very kind. He gave me a lot of time, and I appreciate that,” Knight said. “I have nothing to regret.”
In his later years, Knight attended the University of Rochester, where he studied psychology and philosophy – both of which have influenced his approach to life as a religious man, he explained.
“Philosophy is a wide field of interest,” he said. “The philosophy of science, in the past, was all materialism – matter is the only thing that exists. But that has changed now, in some ways. There’s more than matter . . . I say, God, of course.”
Knight added that philosophy has “continued to be [my] major all [my] life.”
Three years after graduating from Rochester in 1934, Knight graduated from the Colgate-Rochester Crozer Divinity School, a theological college affiliated with the American Baptist Churches USA.
He went on to serve two Baptist Churches before transitioning into the Episcopal Church in 1948, when he was ordained at St. Mark’s Church in Clark Mills, New York.
“I felt very much at home at it,” the rector explained.
In 1957, Knight moved across the country to follow an ad in the paper for a rector needed in Arizona.
His 20-year tenure at St. Mark’s in Mesa began at the Pepper Street church, which was built in 1909.
While the city had only a population of only 26,000 at the time, Knight witnessed growth in both Mesa and the church’s congregation throughout the ’50s.
He led St. Mark’s into broader ecumenical relationships with other Mesa churches, expanded its ministries and focused extensively on Christian education for children, teens and young families.
When the present church was built in 1981, a designated event space was renamed Knight Hall in the rector’s honor.
While Knight had become a renowned leader within the church from 1957 to 1977, he also gained recognition outside of it.
Knight served on the advisory board of the Salvation Army in Arizona and was the president of the Mesa Association of Churches and Mesa Community Council.
“I did a lot of things in town. We had a group in Mesa called the Mesa Community Council, which was a group to look into things we might need to be done,” he said. “We’d make suggestions to the city council or do things ourselves, and I headed that for some time.”
He was named Mesa Citizen of the Year in 1977.
When he wasn’t putting his efforts toward bettering the community, he was expressing himself on paper.
An avid tennis player in his youth, Knight developed a knack for poetry back in 1937.
Below is a sample from his collection of poems, called “The River of Life.” He wrote it when he was 92.
“ The river of life is a stream deep and broad, that rises and flows from the temple of God.
Life is the river, with life I am one, the river will flow when my own life is done.
This much I know. I go with the flow.
I was born to the river when my mother gave birth; the flow is nature of all life on earth.
I am swept by the current, captured, not free: I belong to the waters that flow to the sea.
This much I know. I go with the flow.
Life is Gods’ spirit though humanly flawed; The River of life is the life – gift of God.
Life’s flowing river ever will be.
From the Temple of God and Gods bright crystal sea.
This much I know. I go with the flow.”
Although he hasn’t written any poems in a while, he allows for the possibility of doing it again.
“I haven’t written anything lately, I think maybe that’s done,” he said. “I might surprise myself and come out with one for Christmas. I usually start thinking about my Christmas poems in the summertime. It takes some time.”
When asked if thinks writing poetry has helped to keep his mind sharp, he laughed and said, “If it kept my mind sharp, I could still be writing poetry.”