By LYNN VENHAUS
While the Advent Season is traditionally one of joy and gratitude, Father Steven Pautler has even more reason to be thankful. On Dec. 1, the first Sunday of Advent, he became pastor of St. Mary Parish in Centralia and St. Lawrence Parish in Sandoval.
“I look forward to all the Christmas parties, the cookie walk. I have them on my calendar,” Father Pautler said, his enthusiasm contagious.
As he begins his pastorate, Father Pautler, 59, wrapped up his duties as associate pastor at St. Peter’s Cathedral in Belleville. Bishop Braxton had appointed him for one year, effective July 14, 2019.
“Where ever I am called, my smile goes with me. When I arrived as associate pastor at Cathedral, I was nervous, yet excited, with a touch of anxiety. The wonderful parishioners at Cathedral Parish, St. Luke, and St. Teresa put me at ease within minutes. Strangers became friends immediately,” he said.
Bishop Braxton announced the pastorate in July. With Father Gene Neff retiring Dec. 1 from St. George Parish in New Baden, Father Dale Maxfield moved from St. Mary in Centralia to there, while Father Pautler moved to Centralia.
“In July, it seemed so distant in the future, but here it is!” he said. “As the date got closer, I tried not to think about it. Anyone who knows me, knows that I like to plan ahead. I am not fond of surprises, or last-minute details.
God has been preparing me for this day all my life. My whole life, I have been using the gifts God has blessed me with to do his work.”
Msgr. John Myler, pastor of the Cathedral parish, said Father Pautler has the qualities necessary to become a pastor, and that his work, studies and life experience has prepared him.
“I think that Father Pautler’s preparation for becoming a pastor has really been a life-long preparation. He was very much involved in the civic community is his hometown, Evansville. He was an elected official and a volunteer. So, he’s community-minded — a great trait for a pastor!” Msgr. Myler said.
“He also has a gift for communication. He prepares his homilies well … and he has a great talent for communication. His new parishioners will hear from him in many ways – including the modern means of social communications,” he said.
“Most important, he is a man of Faith. A pastor must be a good shepherd who stands in the place of Jesus Christ. Father Pautler has been such a priest during his time here at the Cathedral. He will be great Pastor!”
Steven Pautler grew up in Evansville, and was involved in his parish, St. Boniface, as a youth, attending the school, as a layman and then as a deacon. He was ordained a permanent deacon for service in the Belleville Diocese in 2008, then assigned to his home parish. He was also a volunteer chaplain at Menard Correctional Center in Chester for six years.
“I immersed myself in parish life – I was a cantor, lector, extraordinary minister, parish council member, director of religious education, youth minister and PSR instructor,” he said.
His father, Anthony, died in 1995, but his mother, Margaret, 83, lives in Red Bud. He is close to his younger brother Brian, and his wife Alice, and his niece Heather (fiancé Dan) and nephew Travis. Father Pautler still owns a home in Evansville.
After graduating from Sparta High School in 1978, he attended Belleville Area College (SWIC) and studied electronics at Missouri Technical School, graduating in 1983 with certification as an electronic technician. In 1984, he began a 31-year career with Xerox Corporation, retiring in 2015 after the company was going to outsource his position.
That early retirement opened the door to study for the priesthood. A lifelong bachelor who had lived in Evansville his entire life, he had served as an alderman for 24 years.
“I lived in the same house all of my life, went to the same parish, worked for the same company since I was 23. Suddenly, without warning things changed. Since accepting God’s call, I have lived in different places, some quite small, some large, and very noisy,” he said.
He attended Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology in Hales Corners, Wisc., for three years and was active as a deacon in parishes there. He was ordained a priest in May 2018.
“On the day of my ordination, Bishop Braxton spoke these words to me from the Ordination Rite: ‘Receive the oblation of the holy people to be offered to God. Understand what you do, imitate what you celebrate, and conform your life to the mystery of the Lord’s cross.’ I remember so much about my ordination, but these words have stuck with me. They are my credo, how I approach my ministry. My life prior to becoming a priest had been structured and ordered,” he said.
On his wish list for his first pastoral appointment, he asked that a school would be part of assigned parish.
“There is such a need to share our faith from generation to generation, to encourage vocations, and to foster an environment of faith and learning. I admit I am a people person. Saying goodbye is not easy, especially to the children and faculty of Notre Dame Academy and St. Teresa School. One of my great joys has been celebrating the sacraments, with the students. We are blessed in our diocese, with children who want to learn about their faith, share their own faith stories, and become part of the parish families,” he said.
“This is just a perfect fit,” he added.
He left Belleville with bags of Snickers, after he shared that they were his favorite treat, and as people said goodbye, they gave him the candy bars as parting gifts.
“My heart is full. People were really nice and really caring, saying they will miss me. You develop relationships in parishes,” he said.
Over the past few weeks, he has been meeting with staff members of his new parishes.
“The first Sunday of Advent is not a normal time for a priest reassignment. Usually, it happens in the summer when things are slower. So, on December 1, I hit the ground running. There are Advent and Christmas plans to be made, Christmas Masses to be scheduled, Reconciliation Services and Advent preparations,” he said.
In addition to the physical move, there is the spiritual readiness, to become pastor to what he calls “two vibrant and active parishes.”
“There will be challenges because you are the decision maker – all roads stop here,” he said.
“Anyone who has started a new job knows it is not easy. Just learning new names and faces is my first challenge. Learning the roads, especially the “one-way’ ones, where to get gas, shop, and eat are all part of the move,” he said.
“I must say that my new parishes are making it so easy. I stopped counting how many times I have been asked, ‘Father what can we do for you?’ One thing for sure, no matter where I go or who I serve, there is one who remains constant: Jesus Christ. Jesus has been here from the beginning and will be there for me for the rest of my time on earth. If, through the power of the Holy Spirit, I allow Jesus to guide me, I will never be a stranger.”