Father Gutgsell ‘a tireless worker for Our Lord’
December 14, 2023
Faithful, knowledgeable, a servant.
That’s how parishioners at St. John the Baptist Parish in Fort Calhoun remember Father Stephen Gutgsell.
The beloved priest died Sunday, Dec. 10, of multiple stab wounds following an early morning home invasion at the parish’s rectory, according to the Washington County Sheriff’s Office. He was 65.
“Father ‘G,’ as we called him, was a very integral part of this community, somebody that we all loved, and we are just in shock as a community that something like this could happen in our town,” said Deacon Jerry Mapes in an interview with WOWT Channel 6 following a prayer service that evening. “He was a tireless worker for Our Lord.”
Services for Father Gutgsell include a visitation beginning at 4 p.m. and a 7 p.m. vigil and Rosary service Sunday, Dec. 17, at St. John the Baptist Church in Fort Calhoun. A funeral Mass will be held Monday, Dec. 18, 11:15 a.m., at St. Cecilia Cathedral, with burial in Calvary Cemetery, both in Omaha.
One of Father Gutgsell’s favorite petitions was to pray for those that would die suddenly, violently or unprepared, Deacon Mapes said, “and he certainly died suddenly and violently, but he did not die unprepared, because I know that he was a man of the cloth that believed what he taught, and he was ready to meet Our Lord.”
A Sioux City, Iowa, man has been arrested in connection with the assault and was charged with first-degree murder, burglary and two weapons charges. While the law enforcement investigation continues, deputies have not found any connection between the defendant and Father Gutgsell, and they do not believe he targeted Father Gutgsell because he was a priest, Sheriff Mike Robinson said Thursday.
Father Gutgsell often counseled people to be prepared to meet the Lord, and preparedness was a common theme of the Scripture readings and in his homilies and bulletin letters in recent weeks.
During Saturday evening Mass Dec. 9, in the last homily he would preach, he illuminated the story of St. John the Baptist and his role in announcing the coming of the messiah – “a voice of one crying out … prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”
That theme of preparedness was also featured the week before – the First Sunday of Advent – as St. Mark’s Gospel says to “be watchful, be alert” and be ready for the Lord’s return. Father Gutgsell urged Mass attendees also to be ready to welcome Jesus into their hearts throughout their lives through prayer and the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist.
And, on the Solemnity of Christ the King, Father Gutgsell spoke about Jesus as a shepherd, who, at the Last Judgement, will “separate the sheep from the goats,” as he judges people’s actions “toward the least of my brothers.” He encouraged everyone to recognize Jesus in each person and treat them with respect and compassion.
Father Gutgsell drew from his devotion to and knowledge of Scripture to deliver insightful and instructive homilies and shared that knowledge in other ways.
Parishioner Cindy Pallas, who took part in a Bible study led by Father Gutgsell during the past year, was impressed with his intelligence and vast knowledge of Scripture. “He explained everything so everybody understood what the meaning was.”
“He was also very encouraging to stay true to our faith. He explained how we can always be forgiven,” she said.
“The most important thing about him was he was nonjudgmental,” Pallas said. “You could talk to him about anything, and he would remind you that everyone is a sinner and that we can be forgiven … and to repent and learn from our mistakes.”
Father Gutgsell was born in 1958 in Kansas City, Missouri, and moved with his family to Omaha three years later. He grew up in the former Blessed Sacrament Parish, attended the parish school and graduated from the former Holy Name High School in 1976.
He attended the University of St. Thomas and Saint Paul Seminary, both in St. Paul, Minnesota, and was ordained a priest for the Omaha archdiocese by Archbishop Daniel Sheehan in 1984.
During his 39 years of priesthood, Father Gutgsell served numerous parishes, including assignments as assistant pastor of St. Bernard and Christ the King parishes in Omaha and St. Patrick Parish in O’Neill.
In 1992 he was named pastor of St. Boniface Parish in Monterey and St. Anthony Parish in St. Charles. During that time, he also taught at West Point Central Catholic School. He later served as pastor of St. Aloysius in Aloys, St. Francis in Humphrey and the former St. Patrick in Omaha. He also served at Blessed Sacrament in Omaha and then ministered as a chaplain to Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Omaha.
For the past 12 years, Father Gutgsell served as associate pastor, then as pastoral administrator of St. John the Baptist Parish in Fort Calhoun. He also assisted at St. Francis Borgia Parish in Blair and St. Patrick in Tekamah.
“I know he’s in a better place,” Pallas said. “I know that he’s already forgiven that guy, and I know his faith was so deep that he’s already met Jesus and everything else is behind him. He just wants us to get there too. I think that was his mission … he was a servant to all of us in the Church.”