Father Gutgsell recognized all that the suffering had to offer
December 28, 2023
When Lillian Zimola’s family was summoned to Via Christe, the assisted living community in Omaha where she lived, her daughter knew it must be serious. It was Oct. 21, 2020, and visitors were not allowed as COVID restrictions were firmly in place.
When Jeanne Williams opened the door of her mother’s room, she had no idea what to expect.
“I walked in and my mom said, ‘Father (Stephen) Gutgsell has given me the last rites. You don’t need to worry about anything,’” Williams said. Zimola died two days later at the age of 104.
Zimola, a member of St. Wenceslaus Parish in Wahoo, lived at Via Christe for seven years. During that time, she, like so many other residents, became friends with Father Gutgsell. That he was with her mom as she was dying gives Williams great comfort.
“He was so dedicated,” she said. “He was there with the crippled, the blind – my mom was blind – and he just did the works of mercy. He was the works of mercy. He brought encouragement and comfort to the elderly, blind, disabled and terminally ill residents. He gave the residents so much to look forward to each day.”
Williams remembers that before COVID – and as soon as he was allowed back in after restrictions were eased – Father Gutgsell would celebrate Mass and pray with the residents five or six days a week. She said her mother often talked about how Father Gutgsell would lead residents in prayer for those in need, especially city workers, firefighters, police and medical professionals.
“He had a little community of prayer warriors there and he knew it,” Williams said.
Father Gutgsell, pastoral administrator of St. John the Baptist Parish in Fort Calhoun, died 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.
A Sioux City, Iowa, man was arrested in connection with the assault and charged with first-degree murder, burglary and two weapons charges. Law enforcement investigators believe it was a random attack and do not believe Father Gutgsell was targeted because he was a priest, Washington County Sheriff Mike Robinson said.
In the years before his death, Father Gutgsell spent a great deal of time in nursing homes, assisted living facilities and rehabilitation centers, ministering to the sick and the suffering. However, he also understood that the sick and suffering had much to offer.
Williams, who would periodically attend Mass with her mother at Via Christe, said it took her some time to warm up to Father Gutgsell.
“Sometimes I thought he was long-winded. I mean, when he would pray the intercessory prayers at Mass he would go on for like 10 minutes and I’m very hyper so it was hard,” Williams laughed. “But those at Mass had time, and he knew that. He knew that if he would get those prayers in, he had the best group to pray with.”
Father Gutgsell also ministered at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Omaha. He offered Sunday Mass for the staff, patients and their families. He brought Holy Communion to those who could not attend Mass because of medical conditions. He offered pastoral care as well.
“Patients would often talk about how they appreciated his consistent visits that brought them hope in the midst of their suffering,” according to Patrick Miron, the pastoral care manager at Madonna.
For her part, Williams will never forget what Father Gutgsell did for her mother and so many others. “He escorted my mom to the Throne. God used him to bring home to Him people who were abandoned and forgotten and sick.”