By LYNN VENHAUS
Msgr. John Wallace McEvilly, 81, was fairly certain he wouldn’t be taking up golf upon his retirement. A priest for 56 years, Msgr. McEvilly retired last fall as Vicar General after 15 years.
Father John Iffert assumed those duties on Oct. 1.
Retirement was short-lived, however, for soon after, Bishop Michael McGovern tapped him to be his special assistant, and then he was assigned pastoral duties at St. Bernard Parish in Albers and St. Damian Parish in Damiansville at month’s end.
In reflecting over his lifetime serving the Diocese of Belleville, Msgr. McEvilly said the one constant is change and that it is important to keep growing.
“It’s never been dull,” he said.
When duty called to return to a parish, he welcomed the opportunity to once again communicate with parishioners.
“I really like being able to talk one-on-one with parishioners,” Msgr. McEvilly said. “It’s been a good experience the past two months—but everyone’s wearing masks, so it’s taking longer to get to know people. Usually, you get to know who parishioners are by where they sit in church.”
Despite the challenges of ministry caused by the ongoing coronavirus public health crisis, he’s been celebrating Mass four times a week, divided between the two parishes. He said he is grateful for deacons Kevin Templin and Glenn Netemeyer, the pastoral associate and director of religious education, for their help.
While serving at five different parishes over the years, Msgr. McEvilly learned that each parish has its own personality.
“You have to find out what the personalities are and what they need. Everyone has different problems to solve,” he said. “You can’t answer questions of people who aren’t asking.”
He also discovered that you can’t use the same homily.
“If you know the people, you can use that identity to write the homily,” he said. “You have people in church, age 9 to 90 possibly, and you have to figure everybody’s needs and what the scriptures represent.”
It hasn’t taken him long to adjust at the two parishes in Clinton County, as reflected in the many Christmas cards he has received from parishioners.
“They write that they’re very happy,” he said.
Parish work can be stressful, Msgr. McEvilly noted, but it’s not like the workload of being Vicar General, when attending to 104 parishes in 28 counties is part of the job.
The Vicar General’s duties are at the direction of the bishop—basically as his principal deputy—and he assists in the governance of the diocese. He takes care of administrative tasks, personnel and financial matters—whatever work the bishop wants, therefore allowing more time for the bishop’s pastoral ministry.
“Father Iffert and I have talked about the job, but he will have a different experience than I did because he is working for Bishop McGovern and I worked for Bishop Braxton,” he said.
Msgr. McEvilly believes strongly in building communities throughout the diocese.
“Basically, you want what’s best for the community. Everyone has different skills, and through those efforts, you bring all these different people together to form a community,” he said.