Community ties strong for retiring pastor
Editors note: Seven archdiocesan priests retired this year, each after decades of service. Links to each story are at the bottom of the webpage.
Father Luke Steffes greets parishioners at St. Joseph Parish in Atkinson and St. Boniface Parish in Stuart by their first names. He knows nearly everyone, Catholic or not, in the two towns about 10 miles apart in Holt County.
He’s cheered for their high school teams, ministered to hospital patients and nursing home residents, buried the dead, welcomed and baptized babies and celebrated at town festivities.
So it seems natural he’s staying in the area for retirement, where he led St. Joseph parishioners for 17 years and St. Boniface members for 12 years.
"You just become a part of the communities," the 73-year-old priest said.
A year ago, Father Steffes bought a house in Atkinson, just three blocks from St. Joseph Church. At a dinner last month to mark his retirement, St. Boniface parishioners gave him a freezer for the house. St. Joseph members also had a dinner, presenting a recliner that rises and helps lift him onto his feet.
Father Steffes will continue to help when needed at the parishes, and others in the area. But he also plans to spend more time digging into family history and photos, watching more high school and college basketball and football games, visiting with family and friends and cooking.
Father Steffes said he still enjoys the simple life he had growing up in Iowa and hasn’t made a lot of retirement plans.
"I don’t like to have things really complicated," he said. "I’m just like my folks were," he said. "We just kind of roll with the punches."
Father Steffes said he was drawn to the priesthood as a boy and attended a seminary for a few years after high school. But he had a career in social work in Omaha and Iowa before answering that call. In December 1995, at age 52, he was ordained by Archbishop Elden Francis Curtiss.
Father Steffes served as an associate pastor of St. Philip Neri and St. Leo the Great parishes in Omaha, before being assigned pastor of St. Joseph in 1999. In 2004, he took on that role at St. Boniface.
Father Steffes said highlights of his priestly ministry have included offering weekend Masses at St. Boniface and St. Joseph and Friday Masses for nursing home residents. He has written in a book details of his every baptism, wedding and funeral liturgy.
It’s been important to help parishioners during happy times such as wedding anniversaries, and sad times such as hospitalizations or tragedies, he said.
Father Steffes will continue to serve the people of St. Joseph and St. Boniface, but he also looks forward to some relaxation.
"It’s time," he said. "I’ve always worked. Now it’s time to slow down a little bit."
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