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Retiring priests stepping away, not disappearing

The six new priests ordained last month are on the job now in their respective assignments as associate pastors in rural and urban parishes. They’ve been in the spotlight in recent weeks with pre-ordination events and celebrations, ordination day and first Masses in their home parishes … and in their new parishes.

Meanwhile, seven other priests with 268 years of combined experience retired, quietly slipping away from parishes that have been their homes, and from a variety of assignments that have been challenging and fulfilling over the years.

Retirement, it seems, doesn’t always garner the same attention as ordination. And perhaps that’s fine. These seven priests – Msgr. James Gilg and Fathers Michael Fitzpatrick, Dennis Hanneman, Frank Lordemann, Gary Ostrander, Michael Schmitz and Luke Steffes – had their day in the sun many years ago at the time of their ordinations, their first Masses, their first parishes or special assignments.

But their move into retirement shouldn’t go unnoticed. Dinners or receptions probably were held at their parishes, but there’s little other fanfare. There’s no combined celebration.

That’s why the Catholic Voice takes a look at retirees each year, and with seven priests retiring this year, two pages (4 and 5) were needed to share their stories.

The retirees might bristle at the attention. After all, they’ll tell you, they’ve just been their doing their job … God’s work. They’d also tell you they haven’t been perfect, they’ve made mistakes along the way, and they learned much from the people they’ve served.

Like the rest of us, changing and growing in many ways as we progress through life, they aren’t the same people they were on ordination day. They’re older and much, much wiser. They’ve developed skills – different for all of them – in finance, budgets, personnel management, planning, building maintenance, school administration, stewardship and development, spiritual guidance, pastoral counseling and more.

And, each in their own way, shared the faith and served the people. Combined they’ve said Mass more than 150,000 times … probably more like 200,000 including weddings, funerals and holy days.

Thousands might be the best word to quantify the formal part of their ministry. Altogether they’ve baptized thousands, been involved with the confirmation of additional thousands, heard thousands of confessions, witnessed thousands of marriages and presided at thousands of wakes, funerals and committals.

But their presence as priests extended beyond the church walls. They had hospital and nursing home visits, marriage and baptism preparation, faith formation classes, and simple one-on-one meetings with people needing someone willing to listen.

And they’ve no doubt been blessed with parishioners who treat them as family, volunteer to serve with them in every imaginable way and refer to each of them in a way that sounds possessive, but also reflects love and respect, calling the priests "my pastor … our pastor."

Retirement means they are stepping away from daily parish duties and other assignments, but they’re not necessarily disappearing. Some, in fact, are continuing to serve, but in much more limited roles. You might encounter them helping out here and there in parishes, hospitals and nursing homes, or perhaps leading retreats or Bible studies.

Of course, based on the stories they shared with the Catholic Voice, church or faith-related events might not be the only places you encounter the recent retirees. Chances are you might find them on the golf course, in a neighborhood book store, at a high school athletic event or even traveling the world.

 

Deacon Randy Grosse is editor and general manager of the Catholic Voice. Contact him at ragrosse@archomaha.org.

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