Father David Korth checks out his new look after barber Dick Wirges finishes with his haircut July 31. COURTESY PETER SOBY

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Spiritual growth marks Father Korth’s cancer journey

It’s a journey Father David Korth wasn’t expecting to take, but one that’s allowing him to grow closer to Jesus Christ. 

The pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Omaha and president of the CUES School System was attending the late-June ordination ceremony of his good friend, Bishop James R. Golka, who was recently appointed to the Diocese of Colorado Springs, when he learned that he’d been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. 

The diagnosis came two months after a regular examination with Father Korth’s primary care physician and a CAT scan to check for plaque build-up in his heart. 

“The results came back on the scan and he said, ‘The good news is you have very little, almost no plaque build-up in your heart,’” Father Korth recalled. “‘However, there’s some lymph nodes in that scan that are making themselves known and we’d like to take a deeper look at that.’” 

To Father Korth’s surprise, more tests, including a biopsy, over the next several weeks confirmed the cancer.

“I can honestly say I didn’t see this coming,” he said. “I was thinking this was probably COVID vaccination-related, so I wasn’t really that concerned about it.” 

Just hours after receiving the diagnosis, Father Korth shared the news with one of the few people who was aware of his medical tests – Bishop Golka, who was hosting a post-ordination gathering in Colorado Springs for family and friends.

Bishop Golka and his sister, Jean, who had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma as a teenager, both gave special blessings to Father Korth before he left the gathering. 

“It was a beautiful thing – very, very special,” Father Korth said. 

Father Korth cut short his Colorado trip so he could travel to Randolph, Nebraska, to inform his mother of the diagnosis in person. It was the toughest part of his cancer journey up to that point, he said.

“It was very hard news for her to hear and very hard news for me to deliver,” he said. “She’s a strong woman and she’s doing much better with it now. Of course, she wishes it was her instead of me.” 

Father Korth then informed Sacred Heart parishioners during weekend Masses. He assured them the disease is “treatable” and “curable.” He’s currently receiving six chemotherapy treatments over a 12-week period.

“It’s really affected my energy level, which is a challenge for me to accept, but I’m doing my best to really pay attention to my body,” he said. “I’m resting in the Lord in my prayer time – feeling completely wrapped and cared for by God.

“I do believe one of the messages God has brought me is that he wants this to be a tool in my toolbox going forward and I will be able to have a better understanding of what people are going through when they’re going through chemotherapy.”

SHOW OF SUPPORT 

News of the diagnosis spread quickly, generating an overwhelming show of support from people in the Omaha Catholic community. Some know him personally; others recognize him as the priest who publicly vowed last year to get a haircut only after a COVID-19 vaccine was approved or a $1 million donation was made to the CUES School System’s $12.8 million fundraising campaign. 

The vaccine came first, and Father Korth made good on his promise.

But in an ironic twist, another haircut – this time a shaved head – marked another positive turn of events. A $1 million gift was given to CUES shortly after Father Korth began losing his hair to chemotherapy, bringing the organization to within $1.8 million of its campaign goal.  

“I went and saw a dear friend who wishes to remain anonymous and asked if they would help us gain some momentum and help us get people thinking about the CUES School System,” he said. “That person said yes.” So Father Korth again chose a haircut to mark the occasion.

CUES CAMPAIGN

Many people have reached out to Father Korth in recent weeks, offering prayers and support.

“So many people have asked me, is there anything they can do,” he said. “I’ll be quite honest, what I would really like to see is us finish off this campaign. If you want to do something for me, prayerfully discern towards giving to this campaign or giving to our annual fund year after year.

“If there are people in rural areas that don’t want to help inner-city Omaha schools, then I would ask them to consider giving a donation to St. Augustine’s Indian Mission.”

CUES is an innovative educational initiative funded primarily by private donations. The school system provides centralized leadership, governance and support to three inner-city Catholic grade schools: Sacred Heart, All Saints and Holy Name.

The organization is in the third year of its five-year “Building a Foundation to Sustain Our Future” campaign. Campaign gifts are allowing CUES to offer competitive teacher salaries, make significant upgrades in technology and provide support services for the families of the nearly 600 students enrolled in the three schools. 

“There are initiatives within that campaign that will really enhance the quality of the education and the experience for our students and their families so that they can succeed in life, learn and really have a promising future,” said CUES Chief Development Officer Ruth Henneman.

“We have a wonderful student and family support program,” she said. “That is something that really sets us apart.” 

For more information on CUES or to donate, visit www.cuesschools.org.