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Redemptorists bid farewell to Holy Name Parish

By Elizabeth Wells

Father Jim Keena (center) was the principal celebrant of the Redemptorists' farewell Mass at Holy Name Church June 26. More than 800 people attended the Mass in appreciation for all the Redemptorists have done for the North Omaha parish.
A Holy Name parishioner hugs Father Keena at the Redemptorists' farewell reception.
Photos by Elizabeth Wells

Goodbyes are often sad, but it was a time for celebration for the people, new pastor and Redemptorist priests of Holy Name Parish in northeast Omaha.

More than 800 people attended the 11 a.m. Mass on Sunday, June 26, designated as a farewell to the Redemptorists who served the parish for the past 87 years. A reception followed in the parish cafeteria.

The weekend doubled as Holy Name School's annual alumni reunion weekend. It also provided an opportunity for the community to welcome their new pastor, Father Frank Baumert, formerly pastor of St. Michael Parish, Albion, and St. John the Baptist, Petersburg.

"This is a joyful celebration that we share together," said Redemptorist Father John Gouger, a native of Holy Name who serves as a missionary in Brazil.

During the festivities June 26, Father Gouger was recognized as celebrating the 40th anniversary of his priesthood.

Nine Redemptorist priests were able to participate in the celebration. In addition to Father Gouger, there was Father Jim Keena, pastor emeritus; Father Thomas Picton, provincial of the Denver province of Redemptorists in Colorado; Fathers John Kuehner, Ed Morgan, Arthur Frost, Martin Stillmock, Mike McAndrew and Brian Johnson.

Father Carl Salanitro, pastor of Holy Cross Parish in Omaha and dean of the Urban South Central deanery, installed Father Baumert as pastor of the parish during Mass.

The history of Holy Name bears the mark of the Redemptorist community. Their mission to serve the most abandoned and poor has led to numerous forms of outreach in the Holy Name neighborhood and throughout Omaha over the years. It has also shaped the neighborhood.

The community is "so much like a rural parish," said Father Baumert, adding that a strong bond exists even for those parishioners who have moved away.

This strong sense of community was fostered in part by the Redemptorists' ability to staff the parish of 500 registered families with several priests, said Father Baumert.

The priests were able to share the duties of operating the parish and school, as well as offer daily and weekend Masses.

But declining vocations led the Redemptorists to re-evaluate how best to serve God's people, said Father Keena. It meant leaving parish work in Omaha to perform Black ministry in Memphis, Tenn., and Hispanic ministry in Liberty, Kan.

Their departure will cause some changes. "Since there is only one of me, we will only be able to have one daily Mass," Father Baumert said. "That will be a challenge for the people."

Father Baumert said he is confident the transition will be smooth because the people of the parish are so welcoming and cooperative. He said he also sees his past work in 13 parishes as a plus.

"I have seen so many ways to make things work," he said.

While everyone will need time to adjust to the changes, Tom LaHood, a longtime parishioner, said, "The lay people will step in. The Redemptorists had us in training. They knew this was coming and moved some responsibility to us."

Redemptorist Father Picton told the congregation at the farewell Mass that they are in good hands.

"You're not just getting one of the priests of the archdiocese, you're getting one of the best priests of the archdiocese," he said.

Before the final procession, the choir asked the priests and congregation to sing together the Salve Regina, a hymn the Redemptorists sing at the close of each day. The melody moved many to tears.

When the priests finished singing, a spontaneous outpouring began from the middle of the church. The people raised their hands in a blessing as they sang, "May the blessing of the Lord be upon you. We bless you in the name of the Lord."

The Redemptorists thanked the congregation and echoed the words Father Keena shared during the homily.

"Thank you and farewell in the name of all of the Redemptorists, who have served here over the years," he said. "Your spirit remains in us and our spirit will remain with you.

"We will never be the same. We remember all the good and beautiful things we shared together."

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