Longest-serving priest retires after 63 years

After 63 years of service, Msgr. Nelson Newman is officially retired.

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Although he won’t be saying daily Mass or overseeing day-to-day life at St. Michael Parish in Central City, where he has served since 1993, Msgr. Newman, 88, said he will remain available to help in any way he can.

"You never stop being a priest," he said.

In the meantime, there is unpacking to do at the home he purchased in Central City, friends to catch up with, movies to watch (or classics such as "Casablanca" to re-watch) and a planned trip in November to Napa Valley, Calif.

Ordained in 1954, and the longest-serving priest in the archdiocese, Msgr. Newman said he decided it’s time to let someone else take the lead. Besides, his body has started to slow down, just a bit.

"It’s not hard to get up in the morning, but it sure is easier to go to sleep at night," he said.

An Omaha native, Msgr. Newman has made Central City his home, buying not only the house, but a burial plot as well. He is mildly nervous about what the future holds, but happy and content with his life, he said.

He has served in eight parishes, all in rural communities of the archdiocese except his service as associate pastor from 1954 to 1961 at now-St. Philip Neri-Blessed Sacrament Parish in Omaha. The first 26 years of his priesthood included teaching religion and history at then-Notre Dame Academy in Omaha and now-Guardian Angels Central Catholic High School in West Point. He was superintendent (now known as president) of Norfolk Catholic High School in Norfolk and Holy Family High School in Lindsay. He was made a prelate of honor (monsignor) in 2006.

Msgr. Newman said he first fell in love with the Mass as a young child at St. Margaret Mary School in Omaha, and his love has only grown over the years, so much so he had a chapel built into his new home.

"I used to say Mass, making sure every word was perfect, the way I held my hands was just so. Now I pray the Mass," Msgr. Newman said.

It’s that wisdom that deacons who serve at St. Michael Parish have grown to appreciate.

"A lot of people might think that in order to be faith-filled you have to act a certain way, but Msgr. Newman taught me the joy of living a faith-filled life is in loving your neighbor the way Christ loved us," said Deacon Rick Larson.

And the monsignor will be missed not only for his service as the parish priest – but also as an occasional tour guide, Deacon Larson said.

"We had the privilege of taking a few trips to Rome with him. He has a wealth of knowledge in art, history and church history," he said.

The parish held a retirement celebration June 25 for Msgr. Newman, complete with his favorite meal, a catered prime rib dinner and a toast with pink champagne.

"He certainly deserves it," Deacon Larson said.

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