An old photo shows the entire Reeson family. Back row, from left: Greg, a young Father David Reeson, their father, the late Denis Reeson, and Mark. In front, from left: their mother, the late Darlene Reeson; Scott; Chuck and Steve, who died in 1971. COURTESY PHOTO

News

Grieving Sibling Found Consolation – And A Vocation

Father David Reeson is known for his jokes and quips – about the Cornhuskers, the weather or even the virtue of humility – often as a segue into a homily.

So it might seem ironic that the pastor at St. Columbkille Parish in Papillion – who regularly elicits smiles, laughs and even groans – found his vocation in the midst of a tragedy.

In 1971 Father Reeson was a freshman at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. And his younger brother Steve was just 17 and a senior at Fremont High School.

Steve was supposed to have had an uncomplicated surgery.

He had been in a fight with his best friend. It was a fight that involved just two hits, Father Reeson said, one when Steve was punched and the other when he hit the ground.

The friends got over their argument quickly, but Steve was left with a broken jaw that had to be reset once the swelling went down.

Father Reeson was able to visit with his brother at their family’s Easter gathering before the surgery. But that would be the last time they talked.

The jaw was reset in surgery, but Steve never woke up from the anesthesia. The family later learned that he likely died of malignant hyperthermia, a condition that runs in the family and causes a fast rise in body temperature during general anesthesia.

The death was a shock to the whole family, but especially to the parents, said Father Reeson and two of his brothers. The late Denis and Darlene Reeson raised six boys and were members of St. Patrick Parish in Fremont.

That tragic event changed everyone’s lives, especially that of the young Dave Reeson, who, upon hearing the news, rushed home from school to his family’s home in Fremont. Family and friends were gathered there. And among those who stopped by were the four priests from St. Patrick Parish and at least three nuns, Father Reeson said.

The nuns and priests, which included the now-retired Father Daniel Soltys, helped the family “make sense of the senseless,” Father Reeson said. They conveyed that “there’s a better life after this one.”

“Through the statements of our faith, the things that we believe, they were able to help me and my family,” he said.

“And I don’t remember that they said anything brilliant, but they made a difference,” he said. “They showed compassion. They showed they cared. They helped us through a difficult time.”

“And I thought that maybe, just maybe, by being a priest I could make a difference in someone’s life.”

‘SOMETHING CLICKED’

Father Reeson’s brothers noticed that he wasn’t the same after Steve died.

“When Steve passed away, everything kind of changed for him,” said Chuck Reeson, who is still a member of St. Patrick Parish.

“Something clicked in him” as he began to consider the priesthood, said Scott Reeson, who also belongs to St. Patrick.

Father Reeson said he didn’t rush off to the seminary right away, but he did get more involved in the church by becoming a lector, learning more about his faith and visiting nursing home residents.

Father Reeson eventually attended St. John Vianney College Seminary at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota,  for a year and a half. But he said he was still unsure if he had a vocation to the priesthood. He finished his bachelor’s degree in speech and theater at St. Thomas.

He went back to UNL for a master’s degree in speech communication but still felt that something was missing, he said.

So he decided to return to the seminary, this time at St. Thomas Seminary in Denver. Father Reeson said that at that time, he thought, “If it’s for me, I think God will tell me.”

“After the first year, well, I wasn’t sure. But I thought maybe I was called to the priesthood. And ultimately, every year it felt stronger and stronger, until four years later I was ordained.”

Following ordination in 1980, Father Reeson served at several Omaha parishes, including St. Bernard, Christ the King and St. Pius X. He was vocation director for the archdiocese from 1987 to 1995.

He became an Air Force chaplain, a ministry that took him to Germany, Japan, Turkey, Greenland, the Middle East, as well as Colorado, Texas, New Mexico and Washington, D.C.

WORLDWIDE CONNECTIONS

Father Reeson said he particularly liked helping military members deployed overseas.

“People are away from their families and sometimes they’re searching. … They’re not running the kids to soccer, or involved in this activity or that activity,” freeing them up for Mass, Bible study or religious formation.

Father Reeson retired from the military in 2012. After returning to Omaha, he served at the Omaha VA Medical Center before being assigned to St. Columbkille in 2015. Even at that parish, a third of the members have ties to the military, either as veterans or active-duty members, he said. And there he frequently reconnects with people he met in locations around the world.

“He’s made so many friends in the military,” Chuck Reeson said. “He can remember so many names,” and he keeps in touch with a lot of the people he’s met over the years.

“I’m very glad he’s a priest,” Chuck said. “He has a great heart. He wants to help everybody he can.”

Father Reeson said he’s had no regrets after nearly 40 years as a priest. “It’s been great,” he said. “I am busy, but I love what I’m doing.”