Hobbies provide essential refreshment for priests
July 22, 2022
Everyone needs a break from work – a time to relax and recharge. For priests, who seem to be on call 24/7, taking time away might be challenging but necessary. Like many people, priests often need hobbies to turn to.
Some take their hobbies on a run, while others do it with a strum of a guitar.
Father James Weeder, pastor of St. Mary Parish in West Point, St. Aloysius in Aloys, St. Boniface in Monterey and St. Anthony in St. Charles, knows having a hobby is important.
“If you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t really take care of others,” he said. “If you’re stressed out or overwhelmed it’s hard to take care of others. Any relationship, if you’re always giving you’re going to burn out. You need a hobby just to get away from things.”
He has plenty to keep him busy but makes an effort to hit the road when he can.
“When it comes to running, I joke that some people run to get fit; I run so I can eat,” he said. “Parishioners are very generous and tend to indulge us in a lot of desserts.”
Father Weeder runs to stay in shape and make sure he doesn’t gain too much weight, but also as a mental break.
“My mind can wander, and it will alleviate stress,” he said. “Sometimes I pray a rosary while I’m running, or I listen to podcasts.
Father Weeder said he used to run four times a week, but now it’s about three times a week.
“I like to run in the morning, but we have a 7 a.m. Mass so I’d have to get up at 5 a.m. or run after Mass,” he said. “Mornings are when people come into the office. When I have time to run in the afternoon it’s too hot or I’m too tired.”
Father Weeder said he has run sporadically over the years. He was a member of the cross-country team in high school, but eventually started playing basketball pickup games instead.
“It was on and off. I ran quite a bit in seminary,” he said. “Three years ago I started getting back into running more. Out in Atkinson (while serving as associate pastor at St. Joseph Parish) there was plenty of space to run outside – a way to stay sane during the pandemic.”
Father Weeder’s other hobbies include electronics and golfing. He golfed in high school but didn’t pick it up again until he was in the seminary.
“There’s usually a priest golf outing once or twice a year,” he said. “Some priest friends who had the same day off, we went together. I’m in a golf league in West Point and I was in Atkinson.”
Father Weeder joked that he enjoys it “most of the time.”
“The golf league itself is a good way for people to see you in a different light and that I have hobbies,” he said. “It’s a good way to build up a relationship that you wouldn’t have as a parish leader, and it helps break down boundaries.”
HITTING THE ROAD
Another priest who hits the road to clear his mind or pray is Father Kevin Joyce, pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Tekamah, Holy Family in Decatur, St. Joseph in Lyons and Holy Cross in Bancroft.
Originally a jogger, he has transformed his jogging hobby into walking, and tries to walk every day.
“I was a jogger earlier in my life,” he said. “I switched to walking and I don’t regret it at all. What I’ve learned is that jogging can do more damage to your knees.”
Father Joyce said walking provides quiet time for prayer.
When he isn’t out walking, he may use his spare moments to pick up his guitar. He can sit in the rectory, close his eyes and play. He knows the fretboard by heart.
“It’s a way of relaxing and enjoying things. I’ve been playing for a number of years,” he said.
The first time he played guitar was in high school for a senior show where he and his classmates were doing a Beach Boys skit.
“I went to college, and I started playing again. During that time, I was getting involved with forming secular bands and played in nightclubs …,” he said. “At some point in college my mom saw an ad in my parish bulletin looking for a musician to join the parish folk group. When I look back on my life, that was really a blessed moment.”
He joined the group knowing how to play acoustic guitar, electric guitar and electric bass, but primarily played bass.
“One day the leader of the church group said he was leaving and asked me to take over the group. I was there for 17 years. It was a wonderful time of the Lord using the gifts he formed in my life,” said Father Joyce.
“I gave more of my time over to the church group and became involved in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal where I discovered praise and worship music,” he said. “Even after I became ordained in 2001, I continued to play praise and worship music before Masses.
Father Joyce said he still is the leader of contemplative intercessory prayer and travels to other states to preside at healing Masses, leading the music before Mass begins.
“It’s for the Lord and I’m grateful to him for the gift. I’ve learned to integrate it and it engages the spiritual senses in a different way.”
Father Joyce also uses music during Mass, sometimes playing and singing during a homily to make a point.
“I look for a theme connection with it,” he said. “It seems to resonate with a certain population of the congregation. They’re ministered to in a way that’s different.”
“Music ministers to a whole other part of you, it’s not problem solving or physics – it ministers more to your spirit,” Father Joyce said. “It helps me to unwind and sing and play. It ministers at a whole different level within and gives me life.”
PLUCKING THE STRINGS
Father Carl Zoucha, pastor of Holy Name Parish, has also plucked the guitar strings from time to time over the years.
“I took guitar lessons, set it aside for about 10 years and picked it up when I got involved in Catholic Campus Ministry,” he said. “I played worship music and was a sidekick for the (Catholic) band called Fish Eaters.”
Father Zoucha said it was good to play music to help switch gears from the spiritual ministry and administration that’s part of a pastor’s life.
“To be able to turn that off and do something on the other side helps renew and provides a different perspective on things,” he said.
Father Zoucha said when he plays, it is praise and worship music, but said his use of the guitar for any type of ministry has tapered off.
When he’s not playing guitar, Father Zoucha has his mind in the heavens.
“I consistently watch a few YouTube channels that keep up with the discoveries of astronomy, (including) the new James Webb telescope that (recently came) online, which launched on Christmas morning,” he said. “I watch everything from the Hubble telescope and how they see the biggest of the big things in God’s creation.”
Father Zoucha said he calls all those galaxies our playground.
“I also watch videos of science that look at the smallest of the small, the quantum mechanics. Those are two other things that I regularly watch that interest me,” he said. “It’s amazing to me how the mind can understand and discover things, the machines that we can build to be able to see things that 100 years ago or even 50 years ago are things we couldn’t even conceive of and how I think that helps me to speak of it.”
“I use that fairly frequently in my homilies to point to the greatness of God – the blessing of them experiencing how close God is, how God looks at us and cares for us – even though he’s operating the whole universe he is present in the smallest of the particles.”
Reflecting on these realities helps him in his own faith life, he said. “I try to lead others to it.”
Father Zoucha said his hobbies help keep him in balance, and is thankful that there’s support within the archdiocese for relaxation.
“It’s good that our archbishop understands the importance of hobbies and relaxation time and vacations,” he said. “The archbishop really promotes that and encourages us to participate in those things. They keep us personally and mentally healthy.”