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Archbishop Blasé J. Cupich of Chicago greets founding parishioner Larry Schwietz and his wife, Carole, after the 50th anniversary Mass June 5 at St. Robert Bellarmine Church in Omaha. He was pastor of St. Robert Bellarmine from 1997-98. Photo by Lisa Maxson/For the Catholic Voice.

Parish celebrates 50 years of loving God, neighbor

When the late Msgr. Eugene Kerwin founded St. Robert Bellarmine Parish in Omaha 50 years ago, he focused on providing the Eucharist and leading people to grow in love of God and neighbor, said Father Donald Shane, a retired priest who was pastor there for 14 years.

That mission continues today as the parish, which marked its golden anniversary this month, works to serve more than 2,900 families through the sacraments and various ministries, said Father Steven Stillmunks, pastor since 2012.

Fathers Shane and Stillmunks concelebrated at a June 5 anniversary Mass with Archbishop George J. Lucas presiding, former pastor Archbishop Blasé J. Cupich of Chicago giving the homily, and concelebrants Archbishop Emeritus Elden Francis Curtiss and retired Bishop Anthony M. Milone of Omaha. Several former associate pastors and current associate pastor Father Jeremy Hans also helped celebrate the Mass.

Father Stillmunks said faith found in the parish is fueled by people praying before the Eucharist 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Jack Minton, a founding member of the parish, agreed. Minton participates in perpetual adoration and said it gives the parish a "spiritual boost."

And the parish provides a boost to his own life, he said.

Minton and his late wife, Regina, were involved in many parish activities, and their 10 children all graduated from St. Robert Bellarmine School, he said.

His enthusiasm for the parish is obvious: "I think it’s the finest parish in the state … probably in the world."

St. Robert Bellarmine Parish began June 9, 1966, with about 425 people registered.

For the first two years, Sunday Masses were held at Crestridge School and Christ the King Church while daily Mass was in a chapel at a house that served as the rectory. Columban Fathers assisted until the first associate pastor arrived in 1968. That same year, Masses moved to a temporary church/school gymnasium on the parish grounds until the permanent church was dedicated in 1980. It was renovated and additions were made in 2000 and 2005.

Beautification of the church grounds made it an accredited statewide arboretum in 2012.

About 600 students are enrolled in preschool through eighth grade at the parish school, which opened in 1968. Last year, it received the U.S. Department of Education’s Blue Ribbon Award for Excellence.

A benefit for the school and parish, an alumni reunion and a parish picnic were some of the events held to celebrate the 50th anniversary. A Jubilee Campaign also raised about $2.5 million for upgrades to the parish campus’ heating, ventilation and air conditioning system.

St. Robert Bellarmine parishioners have shown what can happen when adults motivated by deep faith join hands and invest in the future, Archbishop Cupich told the Catholic Voice.

"Our thanks on this occasion should be marked by a sense of urgency to take up the legacy of leadership they have left us, hopeful that someday others will look back on our time with the same gratitude and admiration that fills our hearts today," he said.

Father Stillmunks said he hopes in another 50 years the parish will continue to celebrate the vibrant faith, hope and love it has today.

"The people of St. Robert’s love the Lord. This is our community; we support each other in the journey," he said. "That’s the real legacy going forward."

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Father Eugene Kerwin, 1966-97; Msgr. Blasé Cupich, 1997-98; Father Donald Shane, 1998-2012; Father Steven Stillmunks, 2012-present.

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