Mr. and Mrs. Perry.
Mr. and Mrs. Perry.
As a young U.S. Navy sonarman during the Korean War, Vincent Perry didn't have the same interests as his peers during leave time.

"Other guys would go into bars. I wasn't much of a drinker," said Mr. Perry, now an 81-year-old who attends St. Mary's and Blessed Sacrament parishes in Albany and St. Pius X in Loudonville.

Instead, as his ship stopped in ports around the world, he visited Catholic churches, where he was "amazed by the universality."

He hadn't been a particularly faithful Catholic when he was growing up; that Navy experience launched a lifelong faith journey.

Today, Mr. Perry balances involvement in the Church - the Cursillo retreat movement, hospital and homebound ministry and liturgical ministries at St. Mary's - with his career as a hairdresser and his hobby of playing cards. He says he'll never totally retire.

He's coming up on his 50th wedding anniversary with his wife, Bonnie, whom he calls one of the miracles of his life, and has six children and 14 grandchildren.

Early career
When Mr. Perry returned to civilian life in 1954, he worked at a supermarket until he saw a window sign about GI-approved hairdresser training. He wasn't particularly eager to enter the field, but decided to give it a try, initially working up and down the east coast and in Miami Beach.

"There are two kinds of hairdressers: There's God-given talent and there's an acquired talent," he told The Evangelist. "I still don't have [God-given talent]."

In 1961, though, he opened his own salon in Loudonville, where he did mostly women's hair. He said he eschewed gossip and met "a lot of wonderful people.

"I love babies," he noted. "I've had people that I've given first haircuts to and I've done their grandchildren's first haircuts. And I don't charge for it. I still cut my children's hair."

He also cuts men's hair twice a month at Avila Retirement Community in Albany and, once a month, at Shaker Pointe at Carondelet, a retirement community in Watervliet. He even cuts hair in people's homes: "I'm able to do it; why not share it?"

Around the time Mr. Perry started his career, he started attending Mass regularly and joined a group for young adult Catholics, "but [faith] was always in the background," he said. He met his wife at the former St. Patrick's parish in Albany and married her 10 months later.

True love
"I didn't want anybody to take her from me," he said, recalling the roses he brought her every week. "I still get butterflies. I love her more than I ever did. The big accomplishment of my life was marrying my wife. In my wildest dreams, I never thought I'd be married 50 years."

Mrs. Perry's brother became a priest in the Albany Diocese, Rev. James Lonergan.

"Maybe that's why my marriage is successful," Mr. Perry mused. "There's somebody praying for us."

Mrs. Perry participated in Cursillo, which starts with a retreat weekend and continues with faith-sharing groups, for 20 years. He decided to make a retreat weekend five years ago.

"It was a turning point in my spiritual life," he said. "I remember the wonderful people I met, and I still know them. Some people drift away because they don't continue what we call the 'fourth day'" of the retreat: the faith-sharing groups.

"You just can't be passive," he added. "You just can't go to church on Sunday and say, 'I did my duty.' Our faith is a daily encounter with Christ. We have so many tools to be a Catholic."

Now, Mr. Perry meets biweekly with a prayer partner from Cursillo and goes to monthly "Ultreya" meetings with the larger Cursillo community. He brings communion to hospital patients most Sunday mornings.

Lay ministry
"We have a thing in Cursillo: There's three legs of a stool - piety, study and close moments," he explained. "When I'm in the hospital, I have my close moments."

Mr. Perry said he revives some people's faith and simply distributes communion to others who aren't outwardly interested.

"I can't judge," he said. "It strengthens me, because I know that I'm evangelizing. I see these people and I think how lucky I am" to have good health.

Mr. Perry was the first greeter at St. Mary's parish. He's also been a lector, usher and eucharistic minister.

"You have to love to do it," he said of volunteering for ministries. "We're supposed to feel unworthy. None of us are worthy to do these kinds of things - to handle the body of Christ, to be up on the altar."

Mr. Perry noted that his faith is still a work in progress. When he and his wife attended the canonization of St. Kateri Tekakwitha in Rome in 2012, seeing holy sites assuaged some of his doubts.

"When you see these things," he said, "you go, 'It has to be so.'"