Father Schwertley helped people overcome addictions
July 9, 2020
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 found great satisfaction and joy in helping people turn their lives around, said retired Msgr. James Gilg, a longtime friend and the homilist at Father Schwertley’s funeral Mass.
“It meant a lot to him,” Msgr. Gilg said. “One of the things that attracted him to that (ministry) was the ways the disease of addiction causes denial in people … and he wanted to help (them) sort that out.”
“He found the transformation of individuals so rewarding, and to be a part of that, he considered it a great privilege,” Msgr. Gilg said.
He also noted Father Schwertley’s communication skills and sense of humor. “He was known all over the city as a great speaker and writer.”
In 2012, Father Schwertley was honored by the Institute for Priestly Formation (IPF) with its Pope John Paul II Award for Priestly Service.
“He’s so well known in the larger community,” IPF’s Father Richard Gabuzda told the Catholic Voice at the time.
“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.
During retirement, Father Schwertley was in residence for nearly 15 years at St. Mary Magdalene Parish in Omaha where Msgr. Gilg was pastor.
“He was a good companion and a wonderful person to live with,” Msgr. Gilg said.
Father Schwertley was preceded in death by his parents, Frederick and Frances Schwertley, and sisters, Josephine and Susan.