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Father Schwertley helped people overcome addictions

Father James Schwertley, a priest of the Omaha archdiocese for 59 years and widely known for his work helping people overcome addictions, died July 8 in Omaha. He was 91.

A funeral Mass was held July 13 at St. Cecilia Cathedral with interment in Calvary Cemetery, both in Omaha.

Father Schwertley served as an addictions counselor with Catholic Charities of Omaha for 28 years, and wrote a column for the Catholic Voice for 10 years on the subject of addictions.

“He’s so well known in the larger community,” Father Richard Gabuzda of the Institute for Priestly Formation told the Catholic Voice in 2012 when the organization honored Father Schwertley with its Pope John Paul II Award for Priestly Service.

“Over the years, he has touched many lives and helped many people,” Father Gabuzda said.

An Omaha native, Father Schwertley attended Creighton Preparatory School, and earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Creighton University.

As a youth, he developed an interest in weightlifting and bodybuilding, eventually winning Mr. Omaha, Mr. Nebraska and Mr. Midwest weightlifting contests.

He also served in the U.S. Air Force before attending Conception Seminary in Conception, Missouri. He was ordained a priest in Omaha in 1961.

Father Schwertley served as assistant pastor in Omaha at the former St. Ann Parish from 1961 to 1964, the former Holy Angels Parish from 1964 to 1967, and St. Bernard Parish from 1967 to 1970.

In 1970 he became chaplain at the former Archbishop Rummel (now Roncalli) Catholic High School in Omaha.

From 1974 through 1982, Father Schwertley was in residence at several Omaha parishes – St. Margaret Mary, Holy Cross, St. Peter and St. Pius X.

In 1982, he became pastor of St. John the Baptist Parish in Fort Calhoun, where he served until his retirement in 1999. The parish’s social hall is named in his honor.

Father Schwertley was preceded in death by his parents, Frederick and Frances Schwertley, and sisters, Josephine and Susan.