Parishioners write about how priests pastoral ministries affect their lives

Priests’ pastoral ministries affect people’s spiritual and personal lives in many ways, often at times that are most critical in individuals’ and families’ experiences: the baptisms of children or adults; first Eucharists, confirmations, young couples preparing to be married in the church; visitations to a parishioner in the hospital or nursing home, receiving the anointing of the sick a final time, a family funeral liturgy.

These are all emotional times that can often be made more meaningful or less difficult when a priest walks alongside a family or individual.

Each year, one Sunday is set aside as Priesthood Sunday, which this year is celebrated Oct. 28.

To celebrate the ministry of priests in the diocese, The Messenger invited parishioners to comment on how priests’ pastoral ministries affect their spiritual and personal lives or the parish community.

Following are some of the comments we received this year.

From Pierre N. Antoine, Principal, St. Ann School, Nashville: I have been unbelievably blessed as the principal of St. Ann Catholic School to have pastors Father Andrew Knopik, Father Bernard Goedde Jr., Father George Mauck, Father Oliver Nwachukwu, and Father Tadeusz Gegotek, CHC, USN mentor and guide me. Throughout my short tenure as principal each of these pastors has been participatory in our school and supportive of my efforts to increase enrollment and boost community outreach. I would like to thank each of them personally for their prayers and continued support and let them know that I appreciate their guidance and prayers.

From Faye Myatt, Principal, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel School, Herrin: I would like to recognize Msgr. Kenneth J. Schaefer of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish in Herrin. “Father Ken” has been battling a rare form of blood cancer, but he has maintained a positive attitude throughout it all. Even from his hospital bed, he ministered to people and continued to make sure the parish was running well. He is our rock — an outstanding, compassionate visionary leader, role model, mentor and friend. We are blessed beyond measure to have him as a priest at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish.

From Melissa Farley, and parishioners of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish, Herrin: The parish of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel is deeply blessed to have Msgr. Kenneth J. Schaefer as our priest.  Some lovingly call him the Pied Piper because those who are not of the Catholic faith, will hear him speak during a wedding, a funeral, or a baptism and will find themselves being drawn to know more about God or Catholicism. He speaks of love, forgiveness, and acceptance of all people. His homilies leave you wanting to serve, to give, and most important to grow closer to God. The strength and size of our parish is directly correlated to his presence. Thank you for donating a lifetime of service, Msgr. Kenneth J. Schaefer. We at OLMC love you dearly!

From Mary Ann Sexton, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish, Herrin: The last few months have been an unexpected and challenging time for Msgr. Kenneth J. Schaefer.  He has had significant health issues which have taken him away from his everyday duties so he could get the help and rehab he needed. Although he is still not back 100 percent he works so hard every day to get stronger and wants nothing more than to be participating fully again in all that he did every day to keep our parish growing in our faith. I join with the entire parish in expressing our love and prayers for a swift, full recovery as well as much gratitude for all he has given to our parish. His positive attitude and smile are an inspiration to us all and we look forward to his saying Mass and giving those inspirational homilies in the weeks to come!

From Robert and Cheryl Trench, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish, Herrin: We are pleased to send in a message about our priest — Msgr. Kenneth J. Schaefer. Msgr. Schaefer is many things. He is a blessing and a visionary to his parish and to everyone he comes in contact with. He shares his faith with us and he lives his faith everyday. He is compassionate and caring. His beliefs in helping others has taken him to Uganda, Africa where his missionary work is legendary. He has helped develop a caring religious community, one like he has here at home thousands of miles away. We have a brand new school Pre-K- through 8th grade that is a marvel for our small town only through his efforts and organizational skills to complete this Herculean task. He is a religious man among men. He is deeply loved and respected by the children, the families and all who attend Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. He recovers now from a serious illness. We are so happy to have him back with us. His parish prays daily for his complete return to good health.

From Melissa Farley, and parishioners of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish, Herrin: Father Gerald Wamala of Mulajje Catholic Parish of Uganda, (Sister Parish of OLMC) For the past 15 years, the parish of OLMC has partnered with the Mulajje Catholic Parish of Uganda. Although not of our diocese, Father Gerald is dear to our hearts and we consider him “ours”. Father Gerald has traveled from Uganda to Herrin several times. The most recent time, he was able to stay for six weeks. While here, parishioners who heard his message, his stories, his testimony, left changed. Anyone who knows Father Gerald, loves him. He exudes compassion, kindness, humbleness, and a contagious love for God.  In Uganda, he oversees several parish churches, orphanages, schools, and a health center. He is a very busy man who serves an area with many needs, few resources, but does it with all of his heart to serve God.  We love you Father Gerald. Thank you for all that you do to serve.

From Nicole Kramer, St. Mary’s, Mt. Carmel: My priest, Father Robert J. Zwilling, has many wonderful qualities, but his best qualities would be that he has the heart of a servant and is probably the most humble and kind priest I have ever met. When I play the piano at the local nursing home, I have often heard him behind me kneeling to give a resident communion, awed by Parishioners write about the priests who have made a difference the kindness and respect he shows for the vulnerable and the weak. He is bearing Christ to others in more ways than one.

From Kathleen DuMontier, St. Henry, Belleville: Dear Father Kenneth J. York, We are blessed as a parish for your ministry to our spiritual needs, daily Mass for those of us who can attend, hospital visits to those in need and home visits to those of us who can’t get out anymore. We appreciate your attendance at the parish meetings of Ladies of St Henry, Men’s Club, St. Vincent de Paul, Building and Grounds, Finance Council, and CLC Board meetings, just to name a few. Thank you for comforting our families when we take our last breath here on earth. We know we have left them in the loving care of a shepherd who prays for his flock. Thank you Father for all you do for St. Henry Parish!

From Larry Hunt, St. John Nepomucene, Dahlgren: I am thankful for my faithful pastor, Fr. Slawomir Ptak. I was a Protestant pastor for 45 years before retiring and returning to Southern Illinois where I was born and raised. I converted to the Roman Catholic Church while in Arkansas before returning. My health does not allow me to attend Mass regularly. Father Ptak makes regular visits to my home and sends Eucharistic ministers each week when he does not visit. His visits keep me spiritually alive, encouraging and instructing me in the faith, and allowing me to have the sacraments. He has always said to call if I needed him between his regular visits…I only did it once and he was here in a few minutes. We are very fortunate to have such a good and spiritual priest in our parish. When I have been able to attend Mass, I have been inspired by the Mass and homilies. I feel fortunate to call Father Slawomir Ptak pastor and friend.

From Deacon Archie Bowers: Father Slawomir Ptak is the administrator for the parishes of Hamilton County, St. Clement of Rome, St. John Nepomucene and St. John the Baptist. He’s not only my priest, but my mentor, and my good friend. One of the best attributes about Fr. Ptak is how he excels in the Liturgy of the Mass. I know learning from Fr. Ptak, when am the deacon at Mass with Bishop Braxton, there won’t be a problem with the liturgical part. We all, as a partnership should be blessed to have Fr. Ptak as our priest. May God Bless him, and keep him here for years to come. Thank you Fr. Ptak for being our priest.

From Tillie Miller, St. John the Baptist, Piopolis: I wanted to thank Father Slawomir Ptak for being a kind, caring and devout pastor. He is doing a great job. He is focused on preaching the gospel to us and making sure we understand our religion. He builds us up by having adorations on special days and asking us to pray the rosary every day. He shows a special care for the sick, homebound, and those in crisis — making sure to visit them regularly, encouraging them with comforting words, prayer and sacraments. May God bless Fr. Ptak and all of the priests who serve God and His people.

From Ken and Ruthie Karcher, St. John Nepomucene, Dahlgren: In appreciation for Father Slawomir Ptak’s service to St. John Nepomucene Parish, Dahlgren we wish to thank him for everything he has done for St. John Nepomucene Church. The Assumption Mass was great and very spiritually uplifting. God was working through him. We thank him for being our priest and our friend. Good Luck to him in the future. We are sure God has great plans for him. We wish to congratulate him on getting his citizenship —what an accomplishment. Our prayers are with him always.

From Dolores Schmitt, Gallatin County churches: Father Steven L. Beatty, is pastor of Gallatin County churches. He has not had it easy since he came here as his first parish. After dealing with flooding, a tornado destroying one of the churches and the rectory; then building a new church; and now in the process of closing three of his parishes in the county, which is very depressing, to say the least, but he is doing what is required of him. After all this, he still takes time to be a very good spiritual father when needed. He is always in the confessional as scheduled. Most important, after 11 years of being a priest, he is always willing to say daily Mass and then race off to his other appointments, which are many. I was not at his first Mass, but it could not have been more reverent than each Mass that he offers each day. His homily is always one that a person can spend the day meditating on. His beautiful smile says that he is happy being a priest and I for one thank God each day that he answered “YES” when he was called to be a priest. You are always in our prayers Father Steven. Thank you.

From Dolores Schmitt, Gallatin County churches: Msgr. Joseph A. Lawler, retired, but you would hardly know it by how active he is here in the Gallatin County church. He was born in Gallatin County so this is home for him. He is such a blessing to all of us. He helped so much when the new St. Kateri church was being constructed and still is advising when he is asked. He is always ready to assist Father Steven when father wants help. Last fall and winter, he went to the Cairo area each weekend and offered three Masses when their pastor went home for a few months. I am sure he offers Mass in many different parishes each weekend. We are very thankful for all that Msgr. Lawler does for us. Thank you Msgr. Lawler. We are very proud to have you here and wish you many more years of health and blessings in your retirement.

From Beulah Robert, St. John the Baptist, Red Bud First Wednesday night Prayer Group: Msgr. Dennis R. Schaefer, our pastor at St. John the Baptist church in Red Bud, is so kind and helpful. For one who has the responsibility of three or four parishes, he always takes the time to talk with parishioners when they need his advice or just someone to listen to them, or just for a friendly chat.  You would never think he had plenty of work waiting for his attention. His holiness shines through in all church services, with homilies that give the parishioners a thought or two to take home with them.  He also gives us the opportunity of Eucharistic Adoration one day a month. More good could be said but space is limited. God bless you always, Msgr. Dennis Schaefer, and THANK YOU.

From Patty Loepker, St. Cecilia, Bartelso: At St. Cecilia, we are blessed to have a parish priest that contributes in a special way to all of the most important moments in our parishioners lives. Msgr James A. Buerster finds poignant words to help us celebrate our marriages, baptisms, and confirmations and consoling words to help us see through our grief during funerals. His message is always on point, personal, and meaningful. Thank you Msgr. Buerster for your dedication to our parish family.

From Ruth M. Eversgerd, St. Boniface, Germantown: Msgr. James A. Buerster is the most friendly, helpful, humble, selfless, outgoing pastor St. Boniface Parish has had in my 51 years as a parishioner. As a catechist here, I can attest that he is a great leader, who is always supportive of our PSR teachers and students, especially those who volunteer for Mass ministries. Even though he has so much on his plate, he always makes time to personally minister to his people, whether they are in the hospital, nursing home, assisted living center, or homebound, or just feel the need to “bend his ear.” He makes everyone feel special and knows the name of almost everyone in the parish. I know that I speak for the entire parish community when I say that we are very proud, grateful, and happy to have him as our pastor.

From Bob and Ruth Fritz, Holy Childhood, Mascoutah: We would like to recognize Father Paul R. Wienhoff of Holy Childhood Parish in Mascoutah in observance of Priesthood Sunday. We are blessed and very thankful to have Father Paul Wienhoff as our pastor, in addition to all his responsibilities at Holy Childhood, he is the pastor of two other parishes St. Pancratius and St. Liborius. Brief words cannot describe all he does for the parishioners at Holy Childhood Parish. He not only has three parishes to which he is assigned, he has weekly Mass at the nursing homes in Mascoutah, Mass at the prison and works at the Diocesan Tribunal three days a week. He also travels to Cairo annually to have Mass with the youth group. Needless to say he has a very busy schedule with meetings, baptisms, weddings and funerals but always has time to listen to everyone’s needs.

His homilies are always spiritual, inspiring and thought provoking. We are truly blessed to have Father Wienhoff as our pastor. Thank you Father Paul for your hard work and dedication to Holy Childhood Parish!

“I’d like to include some comments regarding Fr. Joseph Trapp. On July 28th, St. Ann’s Altar Society, the ladies’ group at St. John Nepomucene Catholic Church celebrated with an Ice Cream Social and celebration.  We have been a society for over 122 years.  To our delight, Fr. Joseph Trapp was in attendance.  He had been the pastor at St. John Nepomucene back in the 70’s, and evidently had never forgotten the people and times he spent there.  Of course everyone was anxious to visit with him, but what really impressed me the most was when a young man who had never met him said after speaking with him he felt like he had known him all his life.  His warmth and kindness makes everyone feel welcome.  May God Bless Fr. Trapp.” Rita Rapp.

“Fr. Slawomir Ptak has been a pastor at our parish St. John Nepomucene Catholic Church in Dahlgren  for almost ten years.  Fr. Ptak came to us from Poland.  He had been ordained approximately 5 years before his arrival.  He worked diligently to learn our language and cultures.  I’m sure this was not an easy feat, but he did it.  This year I am proud to say he became an American citizen.  I think it speaks greatly about him  that he chose to endure the work and financial expenses to become an American citizen.  Congratulations to him, and may God Bless him as he continues to lead us during this trying time.” Rita Rapp.

“What I like Best about my priest is He will let us talk to him if there is something wrong. He tells us storys about God. He must sacrifices for us.” Julia Winter, St. Boniface Catholic Church PRS program.

“What I like best about my priest is that he is amazing at putting the difficult bible into words we can understand and relate to which helps us put Gods word into action.” Ava Stake, St. Boniface Catholic Church PRS program.