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Celebrating lives of service and ministry: Fifteen priests in the archdiocese mark special milestones

Fifteen priests serving or retired in the archdiocese are marking special anniversaries this year as they celebrate their many years of service to God’s people.

They include retired Father Gary Ostrander, celebrating 50 years as a priest, as well as silver jubilarians Fathers John Andrews, Mark Bridgman, Joseph Broudou, Kizito Okhuoya, William Safranek, Thomas Weisbecker and Joseph Wray, and retired Father Michael Schmitz. Their personal profiles appear below.

Also, marking 40 years are Father Richard Gabuzda of the Institute for Priestly Formation in Omaha; Father Owen Korte, pastor of Holy Trinity Parish in Hartington and St. Michael Parish in Coleridge, and president of Cedar Catholic Junior/Senior High School in Hartington; and Father Damian Zuerlein, pastor of St. Frances Cabrini Parish, and president of All Saints School, both in Omaha.

Three other retired priests also are marking special anniversaries: Father Hugh Schwartz, 65 years; and Fathers Ronald Battiato and Patrick McCaslin, 60 years.

The jubilarians will join their brother priests, along with Archbishop George J. Lucas and Archbishop Emeritus Elden Francis Curtiss, for a celebration June 3 at St. Patrick Church in Fremont. The event will include eucharistic adoration, vespers and Mass, followed by a dinner.

The Catholic Voice joins the Catholic faithful throughout the archdiocese in congratulating all these priests for their many years of selfless service.

50 YEARS

FATHER GARY OSTRANDER

Education: The former St. John Vianney Seminary, Elkhorn; St. Thomas Seminary, Denver; Creighton University, Omaha.

Current assignment: Retired; senior resident, St. Patrick Parish, Elkhorn.

Previous assignments: Assistant pastor, Sacred Heart, Norfolk. Associate pastor, Holy Cross, St. Peter and Mary Our Queen, all Omaha. Pastor, Immaculate Conception, St. Helena; St. John the Baptist, Petersburg; St. Mary, West Point; St. Gerald, Ralston; St. Patrick, Elkhorn.

Church-related organizations: Gerald T. Bergan Assembly, Knights of Columbus.

Boards/foundations/memberships/offices: President, Priests’ Council; archdiocesan conciliator; deanery dean; Board of Consultors member.

Clubs/organizations/hobbies/special interests: Emmaus Retreat Program, Archdiocesan Investment Board, golf, stained glass.

Church honors/awards: Archbishop Daniel E. Sheehan Award, 2016.

Thoughts on priesthood: “In 1971 I was ordained and assigned to Norfolk with Fathers Gus DeBacker, Frank Dvorak and Frank Lordemann. Because there were no cell phones back then, one priest always had to be at the rectory to answer emergencies. I learned that a priest needed to always be available for the needs of the people. In all of this I am to reflect Christ’s love, mercy, compassion and forgiveness. Mother Teresa sums it up beautifully: ‘You are a messenger of God’s love, a living lamp that offers its light to all, and the salt of the earth. Take Jesus to the people and places that need him most.’”

25 YEARS

FATHER JOHN ANDREWS

Education: Conception Seminary, Conception, Missouri; Gregorian University, Rome; Pontifical University of Sant’Anselmo, Rome.

Current assignment: On leave.

Previous assignments: Assistant pastor, St. Joan of Arc and St. Robert Bellarmine, both Omaha. Associate pastor, St. Michael, Coleridge; Holy Trinity, Hartington; St. Stephen the Martyr, Omaha. Pastor, St. Andrew, Bloomfield; St. Mary of the Seven Dolors, Osmond; St. Jane Frances de Chantal, Randolph; St. Francis, Humphrey; St. Philip Neri-Blessed Sacrament, Omaha. President, St. Francis High School, Humphrey.

Clubs/organizations/hobbies/special interests: Travel, cooking.

Thoughts on priesthood: “I enjoy accompanying people on their journey of faith amidst life’s joys and difficulties. I look forward to continued ministry in the archdiocese.”

FATHER MARK BRIDGMAN

Education: University of Nebraska at Omaha; University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minnesota; Kenrick-Glennon Seminary.

Current assignment: Associate pastor, St. Augustine, Winnebago; St. Cornelius, Homer; St. Joseph, Walthill; Our Lady of Fatima, Macy.

Previous assignments: Assistant pastor, Holy Cross, Omaha. Associate pastor, St. Patrick, O’Neill; St. Joseph, Amelia; St. Bonaventure, Columbus; St. Pius X, Omaha. Administrator, St. Joseph, Wisner; St. Aloysius, Aloys. Pastor, St. Joseph, Wisner; St. Aloysius, Aloys. Senior associate pastor, St. Mary, Bellevue.

Church-related organizations: Apostolic Sodales, Pro Sanctity Movement, Knights of Columbus.

Clubs/organizations/hobbies/special interests: Railroads, music, coins, books.

Thoughts on priesthood: “I am deeply moved by breaking open the Word and offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. I cannot imagine myself doing anything else with my life.”

FATHER JOSEPH BROUDOU

Education: St. Francis Major Seminary, Singapore; Novitiate Society of the Sons of the Father; Pontifical College Josephinum, Columbus, Ohio; Creighton University and Institute for Priestly Formation, both Omaha; Community of the Beatitudes; Good Leaders/Good Shepherds; Pre-Novitiate with the Augustinians, Chicago; novitiate with the Augustinians in Racine, Wisconsin; studies in Spanish.

Current assignment: Associate pastor, Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Grand Island.

Previous assignments: Assistant pastor, St. Joan of Arc, Omaha. Associate pastor, St. Thomas More and Mary Our Queen, both Omaha; St. Bernadette, Bellevue; Divine Mercy, Schuyler. Chaplain, Daniel J. Gross Catholic High School, Bellevue. Administrator, St. Joseph, Springfield, and St. Bernadette, Bellevue. Pastor, St. Rose of Lima, Crofton; St. Joseph, Constance; St. Andrew, Bloomfield; Our Lady of Good Counsel, Homer Glen, Illinois. Senior associate pastor, St. Vincent de Paul and St. Stephen the Martyr, both Omha. In residence, St. Mary, West Point; St. Michael, South Sioux City; St. Joseph and St. Peter, both Omaha.

Church-related organizations: Knights of Columbus.

Thoughts on priesthood: “The priesthood is a way of life that you embrace with openness. You live a life of simplicity and service to others. A priest is privileged to walk with others in happy and challenging times. Celebrating the Eucharist and reconciliation bring Jesus Christ to his brothers and sisters. It is a humbling experience.”

FATHER KIZITO OKHUOYA

Education: St. Thomas Aquinas Major Seminary, Makurdi, Nigeria; St. Augustine Major Seminary, Rome; Creighton University, Omaha; Barry University, Miami Shores, Florida.

Current assignment: Pastor, St. Wenceslaus, Verdigre; St. William, Niobrara; St. Andrew, Bloomfield.

Previous assignments: Pastor, St. Christopher, Erena, Nigeria; St. Joseph, Mokwa, Nigeria; St. Philip, Bakin Iku Suleja, Nigeria. Associate pastor, St. Thomas More and St. Wenceslaus, both Omaha. Chaplain, Our Lady of Africa Chaplaincy, Omaha.

Church-related organizations: Knights of Columbus, Institute for Priestly Formation.

Boards/foundations/memberships/offices: Founder and CEO, Hope Connecting Hearts, Nigeria.

Clubs/organizations/hobbies/special interests: Nonprofits, watching wildlife, golf, travel, reading.

Thoughts on priesthood: “The priesthood is a gift to me and it means everything. This I do not fully understand. However, it is clear that I must approach the priesthood with humility and embrace ministry as a gift and mystery so as to be the living sacrament of Jesus for my brothers and sisters in the world.”

FATHER WILLIAM SAFRANEK

Education: University of Chicago; Gregorian University, Rome; Mundelein Seminary, Mundelein, Illinois.

Current assignment: Pastor, St. Bridget-St. Rose and St. Francis of Assisi, both Omaha.

Previous assignments: Assistant pastor, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Omaha. Associate pastor, St. Pius X, Omaha. Pastor, St. Peter de Alcántara, Ewing; St. John the Baptist, Deloit Township; St. Theresa of Avila, Clearwater; St. Joseph, Wisner; Holy Cross, Beemer; St. Joan of Arc, Omaha.

Thoughts on priesthood: “Grace and mercy.”

FATHER MICHAEL SCHMITZ

Education: Cardinal Stritch University, Milwaukee; Sacred Heart School of Theology and Seminary, Hales Corners, Wisconsin.

Current assignment: Retired.

Previous assignments: Associate pastor, St. Isidore, Columbus; St. Gerald, Ralston. Pastor, St. John the Baptist, Fordyce; St. Boniface, Menominee; St. Joseph, Constance; St. Andrew, Bloomfield; St. Rose of Lima, Crofton.

Church-related organizations: Knights of Columbus; Catholic Order of Foresters.

Boards/foundations/memberships/offices: Cedar Catholic School Board, Hartington; West Catholic School Board, Fordyce; St. Rose of Lima School Board, Crofton.

Clubs/organizations/hobbies/special interests: Chaplain, Knights of Columbus and Catholic Order of Foresters; golf; bowling.

Civic honors and awards: Spirit Catholic Radio Spirit Award, 2012.

Thoughts on priesthood: “The priesthood was very rewarding when I saw families grow in their faith, especially the children in Catholic schools.”

FATHER THOMAS WEISBECKER

Education: New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, Socorro, New Mexico; Sacred Heart School of Theology, Hales Corners, Wisconsin.

Current assignment: Pastor, St. James, Omaha.

Previous assignments: Associate pastor, St. Gerald, Ralston; St. Bonaventure, Columbus. Administrator, St. Bonaventure, Columbus. Pastor, St. Bonaventure, Columbus.

Church-related organizations: Archdiocese’s Priests’ Council and Personnel Board, deanery dean, International Council-Apostolic Sodales, Knights of Columbus chaplain, Catholic Daughters chaplain, Catholic Engaged Encounter board member and chaplain, Roncalli Catholic High School board, Pro Sanctity board, Secular Franciscan member and chaplain, Christians Encounter Christ spiritual director.

Clubs/organizations/hobbies/special interests: Medjugorje pilgrimages, I-80 Collar Series, spiritual direction.

Thoughts on priesthood: “I loved my career working as a geophysicist, but now, as a priest ‘in persona Christi,’ my life has taken on a much deeper purpose. Bringing Christ to others: at Mass, in the sacraments (and in their preparation), in prayer, in daily life, and in all circumstances, is the greatest thing I can do here on earth. What is life really about but to prepare myself and others for eternity. I love being a priest!”

FATHER JOSEPH WRAY

Education: University of Nebraska at Omaha; St. Paul Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota.

Current assignment: Pastor, St. Pius X; St. Pius/St. Leo School.

Previous assignments: Assistant pastor, St. Cecilia, Omaha. Associate pastor, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Omaha; Sacred Heart, Norfolk. Pastor, St. Patrick, Battle Creek; St. Francis de Sales, Schoolcraft; St. Joseph, Wisner; Holy Cross, Beemer. Campus minister, Norfolk Catholic Junior/Senior High School.

Church-related organizations: Knights of Columbus.

Thoughts on priesthood: “It has been an honor to accompany disciples, from baptism to Christian burial, on
this pilgrimage to the heavenly kingdom.”