Diocesan priests recall seminary days with Bishop McGovern

Contributing Writer

Parishioners and pastors from the Diocese of Belleville say they are excited to welcome The Most Reverend Michael McGovern as the new Bishop of the Diocese of Belleville this summer.

While the coronavirus pandemic meant a customary celebration could not take place for the installation and ordination of the new bishop on July 22, Bishop McGovern is planning a series of parish visits to meet the Catholics of southern Illinois – while following public health precautions and protocols, of course.

One of the first things he did during the transition was to reach out to pastors and the priests he has known since his seminary days.

Father Brian Barker
Father Brian Barker, pastor at St. Joseph Church in Marion and St. Paul Church in Johnston City, was a classmate at the University of Saint Mary of the Lake, the seminary in Mundelein, Ill.. Father Barker said he was thrilled with the news.

“I worked at Camp Ondessonk for 18 years, so I said ‘Heepwah!’” Father Barker said.

Father Barker, a Chicago native as well, said he participated in Father McGovern’s ordination into the priesthood as a deacon in 1994. Father Mike, as he was known to his parishioners at St. Raphael the Archangel Church in Old Mill Creek, a suburb near the Wisconsin border, has spent his entire priesthood as a pastor.

“He knows what parish life is like. He knows the ups and downs. I think he will be able to identify with the people and the pastors, because that is all he’s done,” Father Barker said.

After serving at St. Raphael for four years, Father McGovern left on June 30 to prepare for his new role as the ninth bishop of the downstate diocese. Bishop McGovern had served in seven Chicago-area parishes in the 27 years since his ordination.

Father Barker said he expected Bishop McGovern to quickly make an impact once he is here.

“The parishioners don’t know him yet, but I think they can feel good about his appointment. He is going to get to know them. He is only 55. I think it’s a step forward in the right direction to meet the challenges today,” Father Barker said.

Father Jim Deiters
Father Jim Deiters, pastor at St. Clare of Assisi in O’Fallon, was an older classman at Mundelein seminary. Father Deiters was in his fourth year while Father McGovern was in his first. He has enjoyed talking to Father McGovern several times since his appointment.

“I think he is going to be a real blessing to the people. He knows the joys of parish life. He has been involved in it. This is very exciting for me,” Father Deiters said.

“He has already made a big effort to reach out to the seminarians, and I think he’ll do that on a regular basis,” Father Deiters said. “He is going to spend time with the people in vocations.”

He said Bishop McGovern has spoken with the three newly ordained diocesan priests and attended their ordination Mass.

Father Deiters said that Pope Francis prioritized appointing more pastors in bishop vacancies several years ago.

In his “The Joy of the Gospel,” the pope stated: “Clearly Jesus does not want us to be grandees who look down upon others, but men and women of the people. This is not an idea of the pope, or one pastoral option among others; they are injunctions contained in the word of God that are so clear, direct and convincing that they need no interpretations that might diminish their power to challenge us. Let us live them sine glossa, without commentaries.”

In his image of “pastors, not princes,” the pope said it is an invitation that no bishop or priest let himself be robbed of the joy of being a shepherd. “By so doing we will know the missionary joy of sharing life with God’s faithful people as we strive to light a fire in the heart of the world.” ­(America: The Jesuit Review, June 24, 2015, “Pope Francis Provides Model for Bishops.”)

Father Deiters said Bishop McGovern has already scheduled parish visits from September through December.

“When he can, he is going to spend time with the people. He is going to come, hang out with parishioners, have coffee and doughnuts,” he said.

The Diocese of Belleville has 106 parishes, three Catholic high schools and 27 Catholic grade schools.

Msgr. David Darin
Msgr. David M. Darin, pastor of St. Teresa and St. Luke parishes in Belleville, said he was also an upperclassman when Bishop McGovern studied at Mundelein. He recently worked with the new bishop on the ordination and installation Mass and another special event. St. Teresa Church was the site of an ecumenical service with civic and interfaith leaders in attendance to welcome Bishop McGovern last Tuesday.

“He is easy to talk to. I look forward to working with him,” Monsignor Darin said.

“I think he is willing to help the pastors out. He knows what it is like to have more than one parish to oversee. He knows we’re in new territory with reopening churches and having Zoom meetings.”

Monsignor Darin said he has worked with the last three bishops, and this summer and fall will be a getting-to-know-you period, like it always is during a transition.

“Everyone has their own style. Time will tell,” he said.

Father John Iffert
Father John Iffert, pastor at St. Mary Immaculate Conception Parish in Mount Vernon and at St. Barbara Parish in Scheller, was in his first year at Mundelein when Bishop McGovern was in his fourth year.

“I looked up to him. He graduated in 1994 and I graduated in 1997. I remember he was always very kind, measured, a steady guy. He always had a dry sense of humor, a wry wit,” Father Iffert said. “Someone described him as a ‘Christian gentleman,’ and I have always thought of him that way.”

Father Iffert likewise thinks Bishop McGovern’s pastoral background will help him get acclimated to his new responsibilities.

“I am hopeful. Everyone who has talked to him and met him has nothing but good things to say,” he said.

“I think that gives a lot of encouragement to people because he doesn’t know anybody yet and he is coming at a time when we can only have 100 people at a time at liturgy. It’s going to be difficult to really celebrate,” Father Iffert said. “For him to follow up on unity is essential at this time.”

Prior to his installation and ordination Bishop McGovern met with priests and deacons at St. Mary Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Mount Vernon and at the Cathedral of St. Peter in Belleville.

The Ordination and Installation Mass was broadcast live on the Eternal World Television Network (EWTN) cable channel and is still available for viewing at their website: www.ewtn.com