Sixteen priests celebrating years of ministry, service to the Catholic faithful
April 27, 2022
This year, 16 priests in the Archdiocese of Omaha are celebrating special anniversaries of their service to the Church and the Catholic faithful. They include golden jubilarians Fathers Michael Fitzpatrick, Dennis Hanneman, Paul Ortmeier, and Jesuit Father Larry Gillick.
Celebrating 25 years of service are Fathers Paul Albenesius, Michael Keating, Mark McKercher, Ralph O’Donnell, Timothy Podraza, Joseph Taphorn, John Berg, FSSP, and Jesuit Fathers Thomas Doyle and Thomas Merkel. Their personal profiles appear below.
Alos marking special milestones are Father Thomas Greisen, senior associate pastor of St. Columbkille Parish in Papillion (40 years), Father Kenneth Vavrina (60 years) and Msgr. William Whelan (65 years).
They joined their brother priests along with Archbishop George J. Lucas and Archbishop Emeritus Elden Francis Curtiss for vespers, Mass and a celebration dinner April 26 at St. Patrick Church in Fremont.
The Catholic Voice joins with Catholics in the archdiocese in thanking and congratulating these priests for their many years of service.
FATHER MICHAEL FITZPATRICK – 50 YEARS
Education: St. John’s Seminary, Elkhorn; Conception Seminary, Conception, Missouri; North American College, Rome; Catholic University, Washington, D.C.
Current assignment: Retired
Previous assignments: Associate pastor, St. Pius X, Omaha. Archdiocesan Tribunal, Judicial Vicar, Finance Director, Moderator of the Curia, Defender of the Bond and Promoter of Justice, all Omaha. Director of Catholic Cemeteries, Omaha. Pastor, St. Stanislaus, Omaha. Priest in residence at Ss. Peter and Paul and St. Cecilia, both Omaha.
Church-related organizations: Chaplain, Catholic Daughters Court Columbia; chaplain, Knights of Columbus Council 3619; chaplain, Ancient Order of Hibernians; member, Knights of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.
Boards/foundations/memberships/offices: Board member, New Cassel Retirement Center; Priests’ Council; Board of Consultors member; deanery dean; Finance Council member; Archbishop’s delegate for retired priests.
Clubs/organizations/hobbies/special interests: Biblical archeology in Israel; retired Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Air Force Reserve.
Thoughts on priesthood: “The wonderful possibility of using interests and talents in the service of the Church and Jesus (has been) way beyond imagination. In 1971, headed a committee that under Archbishop Curtiss picked out and bought the St. John Vianney Retirement Residence, where I live now. Led group of 240 that went to Rome for Bishop Milone’s ordination in 1982 and later, a group of 100 for Archbishop Curtiss’ palium reception in 1993.”
FATHER DENNIS HANNEMAN – 50 YEARS
Education: Saint Paul Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota; Creighton University, Omaha.
Current assignment: Retired.
Previous assignments: Associate pastor, St. Boniface, Pope John XXIII Central Catholic High School, both Elgin. Assistant director/director, Archdiocesan Office of Religious Education, Omaha. Pastor, St. John the Evangelist, Valley; St. Vincent de Paul, Omaha; St. Mary, Bellevue.
Church-related organizations: Chaplain, Knights of Columbus; spiritual director, Cloisters on the Platte; Jesus Caritas Priest Fraternity.
Boards/foundations/memberships/offices: Catholic Cemeteries board of directors; Director of RENEW, Director of Evangelization, Archdiocese of Omaha.
Clubs/organizations/hobbies/special interests: Exercise; Sudoku and crossword puzzles.
Church honors or awards: Creighton University Presidential Citation, 1986; Spirit of Father Flanagan Award, 2015; Institute for Priestly Formation St. John Paul II Fund honoree, 2020.
Thoughts on priesthood: “A central theme of my priesthood has become service in the manner of Jesus Christ. As he washed the feet of his disciples, chided them for their ambition and pride, as he walked the streets of Jerusalem to his death on the cross, he gave himself in loving service to humankind. Throughout my years I have struggled and gradually grown from selfish emphasis on externals and accomplishments to a somewhat more humble, more caring and compassionate service in the ministry of Word and Sacrament. The process continues …”
FATHER PAUL ORTMEIER – 50 YEARS
Education: St. John’s Seminary, Elkhorn; Saint Paul Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota.
Current assignment: Pastor, St. Joseph, Lyons, and Holy Cross, Bancroft.
Previous assignments: Assistant pastor, St. Cecilia, Omaha. Associate pastor, Sacred Heart, Norfolk. Priest in residence, the former St. Patrick and Our Lady of Lourdes, both Omaha. Chaplain, the former Pope Paul VI High School, Omaha. Campus minister, the former St. Joseph High School, Omaha. Associate director, archdiocesan Permanent Diaconate program, Omaha. Pastor, St. Mary, Spencer; St. John the Baptist, Petersburg; St. Patrick, O’Neill; St. Joseph Mission, Amelia; St. Andrew, Bloomfield; Ss. Peter and Paul and St. John Nepomucene, Howells; Holy Trinity, Heun.
Church-related organizations: Knights of Columbus.
Clubs/organizations/hobbies/special interests: Nebraska football, golf, farming.
Church honors/awards: Certificate of Appreciation and Knight of the Year Award from the Knights of Columbus.
Civic honors and awards: Distinguished Citizen Award from Boys Town, 1983.
Thoughts on priesthood: “For me, the priesthood has been a rollercoaster ride. For the most part, it has been pretty steady, but there have been high points in my life, when I am saying the Eucharist and the people are really praying and singing when we are worshiping the Lord. The low point for me was when I had to identify two boys who were killed in a car wreck and I had to go with a policeman to tell the parents at 2:00 in the morning. They were in my class and had just graduated from high school.”
JESUIT FATHER LARRY GILLICK – 50 YEARS
Education: St. Louis University; Marquette University, Milwaukee; Regis College, Toronto.
Current Assignment: Director, Deglman Center for Ignatian Spirituality at Creighton University, Omaha.
Previous assignments: Rector, Creighton Preparatory School, Omaha; spiritual formation for Jesuit seminarians, Toronto; teacher, Campion Jesuit High School, Milwaukee.
Church-related organizations: Society of Jesus.
Boards/foundations/memberships/offices: Previous member, board of directors for New Cassel Retirement Center, Omaha; member, board of directors for Gesu Housing, Omaha.
Clubs/organizations/hobbies/special interests: Reading, running.
Thoughts on priesthood: “My part in the priesthood of Jesus has freed me to not be afraid of myself, and so, I am not afraid to meet others in who they are. I have loved administering six of the seven sacraments, and I love the sacrament of listening and assisting by sharing what I hear.”
FATHER PAUL ALBENESIUS – 25 YEARS
Education: Wayne State College, Wayne, Nebraska; Sacred Heart School of Theology, Hales Corners, Wisconsin.
Current assignment: Retired
Previous assignments: Assistant pastor, Our Lady of Lourdes, Omaha. Associate pastor, St. John Vianney, Omaha; St. Michael, South Sioux City; St. Cornelius, Homer. Pastoral administrator, St. Rose of Lima, Hooper; St. Lawrence, Scribner; St. Philip Neri-Blessed Sacrament, Omaha. Pastor, St. Charles Borromeo, North Bend; St. Leo, Snyder; St. Patrick, Jackson; St. Mary, Hubbard.
Church-related organizations: Knights of Columbus, 4th degree.
Boards/foundations/memberships/offices: Spiritual adviser and board of directors member, Servants of the Heart of the Father; State of Nebraska chaplain for the Catholic Order of Foresters; chaplain, Knights of Columbus Council 3844, South Sioux City.
Clubs/organizations/hobbies/special interests: Started Legion of Mary at St. Patrick Parish, Jackson; chaplain of Catholic Daughters of the Americas, South Sioux City.
Thoughts on priesthood: “My only regret is that I didn’t have more years of health and energy to serve the people of the Omaha archdiocese. Priesthood has been the most fulfilling years of my life. God gives abundant graces to me to fulfill his work.”
FATHER MICHAEL KEATING – 25 YEARS
Education: Conception Seminary, Conception, Missouri; University of Saint Mary of the Lake, Mundelein, Illinois.
Current assignment: Associate pastor, St. Michael, South Sioux City.
Previous assignments: Assistant pastor, St. Mary, Bellevue. Chaplain, Bellevue Police Department and Sarpy County Sheriff’s Office. Contractor chaplain, Offutt Air Force Base, Bellevue. Associate pastor, Mary Our Queen and St. Wenceslaus, both Omaha. Pastor, Holy Family, Cedar County. President, East Catholic Elementary School, Bow Valley. Senior associate pastor, St. Bonaventure, Columbus. Chaplain, Columbus Police Department.
Church-related organizations: Chaplain, Knights of Columbus, Legion of Mary and Catholic Daughters of the Americas.
Boards/foundations/memberships/offices: Member, board of directors of Growing Community Connections, Sioux City, Iowa; member, Dakota County, Nebraska Ministerial Alliance.
Clubs/organizations/hobbies/special interests: Member, Psi Chi, the National Honor Society in Psychology; columnist for the Dakota County Star newspaper, South Sioux City.
Civic honors and awards: Psi Chi, the National Honor Society in Psychology Service Award, 1993; appointed an admiral in the Great Navy of the State of Nebraska, 2022.
Thoughts on priesthood: “My priesthood has empowered me to be the face and hands of Christ for the people I serve. I feel the beauty of the priesthood is reflected in my camaraderie with my fellow priests and our obedience to our archbishop.”
FATHER MARK MCKERCHER – 25 YEARS
Education: College of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minnesota; Kenrick-Glennon Seminary, St. Louis.
Current assignment: Associate pastor, St. Robert Bellarmine, Omaha.
Previous assignments: Assistant pastor, St. Wenceslaus, Omaha. Associate pastor, St. Mary, West Point; St. Cecilia and St. Stephen the Martyr, both Omaha. Pastoral administrator, St. Wenceslaus, Dodge; Sacred Heart, Olean; the former St. Mary, Tabor. Pastor, St. Francis of Assisi, Neligh; Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Tilden. Teacher, Pope John XXIII Central High School, Elgin.
Thoughts on priesthood: “The focus ought not to be on me, but on Christ. He has given me the priceless gift of a quarter century of priesthood, and he has used me, insufficient instrument that I am, during that time. All glory to him!”
FATHER RALPH O’DONNELL – 25 YEARS
Education: Conception Seminary, Conception, Missouri; Mundelein Seminary, Mundelein, Illinois; Creighton University, Omaha.
Current assignment: Pastor, St. Margaret Mary, Omaha.
Previous assignments: Associate pastor, Mary Our Queen and St. Vincent de Paul, both Omaha. Pastor, St. Bridget-St. Rose, Omaha. Vocations director, urban diaconate director, Archdiocese of Omaha. Vice rector, Conception Seminary College, Conception, Missouri. Secretariat for Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, D.C.
Church-related organizations: Past chaplain, Legatus, Omaha; Knights of Columbus; Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre.
Boards/foundations/memberships/offices: Board member, Creighton University Medical Center-Bergan Mercy; board member, Catholic Charities; regent, Conception Seminary College.
Church honors and awards: Archbishop Daniel E. Sheehan Award from Creighton University, 2022.
Thoughts on priesthood: “It is truly a privilege to serve the Church as a priest and to have shared in the sacramental life of so many over these past 25 years. I feel blessed to have known the incredible witness of brother priests and to benefit from their selfless example.”
FATHER TIMOTHY PODRAZA – 25 YEARS
Education: Conception Seminary College, Conception, Missouri; Kenrick School of Theology, St. Louis.
Current assignment: Senior associate pastor, St. Wenceslaus, Omaha.
Previous assignments: Assistant pastor, Holy Ghost and St. Stephen the Martyr, both Omaha. Associate pastor, St. Mary, Bellevue; St. Leo the Great, Omaha. Pastoral administrator, St. Mary, Bellevue; St. Joseph, Wisner; St. Aloysius, Aloys. Pastor, Holy Cross, Beemer; St. Joseph, Wisner; Sacred Heart, Boyd County; St. Stanislaus, Duncan; St. Joseph, Platte Center; St. Michael, Tarnov; St. Andrew, Bloomfield; St. Rose of Lima, Crofton.
Thoughts on priesthood: “To love as Jesus loves, to serve as Jesus serves, to sacrifice as Jesus sacrifices.”
FATHER JOSEPH TAPHORN – 25 YEARS
Education: Benedictine College, Atchison, Kansas; Pontifical College Josephinum, Columbus, Ohio; Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome.
Current assignment: Rector, Saint Paul Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota.
Previous assignments: Associate pastor, Sacred Heart, Norfolk. Priest in residence, the former St. Agnes, Christ the King and St. Margaret Mary, all Omaha. Parochial administrator, the former St. Ann, Omaha; St. Francis Borgia, Blair. Chaplain for Catholic students, University of Nebraska at Omaha. Founding pastor and director, St. John Paul II Newman Center, Omaha. Service to the curia of the Archdiocese of Omaha: ecumenical officer, master of ceremonies for the archbishop, diocesan director for Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Campaign for Human Development, vice chancellor, chancellor, defender of the bond, judge of the Metropolitan Tribunal, censor librorum, judicial vicar, vicar for clergy, moderator of the curia.
Church-related organizations: Jesus Caritas Fraternity of Priests; Institute for Priestly Formation; Canon Law Society of America; Midwest Canon Law Society.
Boards/foundations/memberships/offices: Vice president and executive committee member, National Association of Catholic Theological Schools; member, McGrath Seminary Study Group of the McGrath Institute for Church Life, University of Notre Dame; member, Board of Trustees, vice president and secretary, Saint Paul Seminary; assistant secretary and corporate officer, Catholic Mutual Group; member, Board of Directors of Marianna, Inc. (rural retirement village for priests).
Clubs/organizations/hobbies/special interests: Offering spiritual direction, Charismatic Renewal, pro-life movement, running, sailing, alpine skiing.
Church honors/awards: Spirit Catholic Radio “Spirit Award,” 2013.
Thoughts on priesthood: “Jesus Christ came that we might have life and have it abundantly (cf. Jn. 10:10). To me, the priesthood is all about living the fullness of life that God desires for me and for the people I am called to serve. This means that both the priest and his people need to come alive in the Holy Spirit and share in his love and power. I have been especially blessed to help young people come to know Christ and so find their vocations, both at the St. John Paul II Newman Center and now in forming future priests at the Saint Paul Seminary.”
FATHER JOHN BERG, FSSP – 25 YEARS
Education: Thomas Aquinas College, Santa Paula, California; Seminary of St. Peter, Wigratzbad, Germany; Universita Santa Croce, Rome.
Current assignment: Pastor, Immaculate Conception, Omaha.
Previous assignments: Chaplain, San Gregorio dei Muratori, Rome; professor, Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary, Lincoln; pastor, St. Stephen Parish, Sacramento, California, and St. Mary Parish, Providence, Rhode Island; superior general, Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, Fribourg, Switzerland.
Thoughts on priesthood: “With each passing year I am more grateful to God that he has called me to share in the priesthood of his Son and live in intimate friendship with him – ‘I call you friends.’ Every day I can do the most important things for my work – seek the salvation of souls and offer the one perfect sacrifice to God at the altar. There can be no richer life. It is humbling.”
FATHER THOMAS DOYLE, SJ – 25 YEARS
Education: Marquette University, Milwaukee; Jesuit novitiate, St. Paul, Minnesota; Creighton University, Omaha; Gonzaga University, Spokane, Washington; Weston Jesuit School of Theology, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Current assignment: Priest in residence, Cloisters on the Platte Retreat Center, Gretna.
Previous assignments: Teacher, administrator and member, Board of Directors and Board of Trustees, Marquette University High School, Milwaukee; teacher, vice president for Jesuit Mission and Identity, member of the Board of Directors, director of campus ministry and director of the 20/20 Program for at-risk students, St. John’s Jesuit High School, Toledo, Ohio.
Thoughts on priesthood: “My priesthood has been a true gift. I have especially appreciated the blessings of journeying with youth as they discover the love of God and brotherhood with Jesus. God has been good!”
FATHER THOMAS MERKEL, SJ – 25 YEARS
Education: Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana; University of San Francisco; Jesuit School of Theology, Berkeley, California; Gonzaga University, Spokane, Washington; Creighton University, Omaha.
Current assignment: Assistant vice president for University Relations, Creighton University, Omaha.
Previous assignments: Teacher, Red Cloud High School, Pine Ridge, South Dakota, and Boys Town High School, Omaha; superintendent, Red Cloud Indian School; president, Creighton Preparatory School, Omaha; vice president for Mission and Identity, Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School, Indianapolis, Indiana.
Boards/foundations/memberships/offices (past and present): Board member, Red Cloud Indian School, Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart, Omaha, Valor Christian High School, Highlands Ranch, Colorado, Rockhurst Jesuit High School, Kansas City, Missouri, Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, Minneapolis, St. Augustine Indian Mission, Winnebago, Jesuit Middle School, Omaha; Jesuit Secondary Educational Association, Catholic Network for Volunteer Service, Rosebud Educational Society and the Institute for Latin American Concern. Chair of the board, St. Augustine Indian Mission, Jesuit Secondary Education Association and Red Cloud Indian School.
Clubs/organizations/memberships/offices: Alpha Sigma Nu, the National Jesuit Honor Society.
Church honors or awards received: Spirit of Creighton Award, Creighton University, 1985; Archdiocese of Omaha Administrator of the Year, 2011.
Thoughts on priesthood: “I’m grateful that God called me to serve as a Jesuit and for all the opportunities to minister to his people in Omaha and beyond.”