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Father Ronald Battiato, right, receives a high-five from 1-year-old Grace Vetter while her mother, Katie, enjoys the exchange after the 5 p.m. Mass Feb. 26 at St. Margaret Mary Parish in Omaha. The Vetters are members of St. John Parish on Creighton University’s campus in Omaha. Photo by Joe Ruff/Staff.

Father Battiato busy in retirement

Editors’ Note: The Catholic Voice each year recognizes the services and plans of retiring priests with stories as those decisions are announced in the late spring or early summer. But the newspaper missed Father Ronald Battiato’s September retirement in 2011. Catching up with Father Battiato recently, Lisa Spellman, a freelance reporter for the Catholic Voice, found him faith-filled and active.

 

Father Ronald Battiato is enjoying retirement – but it’s not because he has slowed down.

Since his retirement in 2011, he is no longer involved in the administrative and other duties of a pastor, but the 82-year-old said when he became available to fill in as a supply priest, the calls for help started pouring in, taking him to more than 32 parishes throughout the Archdiocese of Omaha. He celebrates on average 20 Masses a month.

"I’ve driven as far as 190 miles to help at a weekend Mass," Father Battiato said.

It’s a role he relishes as he’s seen his ministry shift from ministering to parishioners to also ministering to fellow priests, stepping in for them as their calendars fill up at different times of the year, they need to travel or take some vacation.

"I’m just glad I can help," Father Battiato said.

Father Battiato also recognizes he is not alone. "We are so blessed in this archdiocese to have so many active, retired priests. I have been fortunate to be able to do what I have done."

Father Battiato is no stranger to hard work.

The son of a cobbler, Father Battiato’s first job at age 8 was to sweep floors in his father’s shop in Fremont. And he remembers fondly how his mother, a homemaker who raised five children, always had a warm loaf of bread waiting for them as they arrived home from school.

A simple life, he said, that instilled in him a strong work ethic.

"Our parents provided a good example of what it was like to work hard at your job and in the home and to do so joyfully," Father Battiato said.

His inspiration for the priesthood came at a young age as well, from the "tremendous men of God" he encountered at his home parish of St. Patrick in Fremont.

As a 16-year-old, Father Battiato often was called upon to help drive the monsignor of the parish to and from a variety of events. He was privileged, he said, to be a quiet observer to moments when the monsignor and other priests were gathered and watched as they shared their faith with one another.

"They worked 20 hours a day it seemed, and I never heard one of them say a bad word or complain," Father Battiatio said. "That’s when I said to myself, that is a great life."

Ordained a priest in 1961, Father Battiato spent the first 20 of 50 years of priesthood before his retirement in education, teaching religion at the former Ryan High School in Omaha, and later serving as a guidance counselor at then-Paul VI Catholic High School in Omaha, Guardian Angels Central Catholic High School in West Point, and Cedar Catholic Junior/Senior High School in Hartington.

He was pastor when a new St. William Church was built in the late 1970s in Niobrara, served on the board of the Catholic Order of Foresters, joined the Knights of Columbus, and served as associate or senior associate pastor at a dozen urban and rural parishes.

Through it all, Father Battiato said he has felt God’s blessing on his life – perhaps more now than ever.

"It’s always a surprise to me when I get a call from a parish I once served in and I am asked to celebrate Mass there," he said. "The welcome I get is wonderful."

Celebrating Mass, hearing confessions, and simply fulfilling his vocation as a servant of God, are all things that enrich his faith, Father Battiato said.

But when he can, Father Battiato said he likes to catch up on his reading or walking at the local YMCA in Fremont.

And every now and then he catches up on his sleep, taking a cat nap here and there in his easy chair at his home near Cedar Bluffs.

"I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to keep going, but as long as I have the ability to walk and talk I will continue in my ministry," Father Battiato said. "It’s been a great adventure."

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