Anyone who knows me knows of my love for music and my love for singing, which I developed at an early age. I do not have the gift of playing any instrument, but have been given a gift to use my voice to sing. I know many of you who are reading this have this same gift.

As I write this article I have my mom close to my heart as today is the 15th anniversary of her death. One of my fondest memories was most every night around 5:30 our dinner was made and being warmed in the oven. We would await my dad’s nightly return from his work. The smells were wonderful. While waiting, my mom would be sitting in the darkened dining room at the piano, playing the soft, delicate yet moving songs she knew by heart. Both my parents could play the piano. My father had a beautiful tenor voice. They first taught me to love music.

I had the privilege to spend some quality time with the majority of our diocesan seminarians at a gathering at the Villa Maria Catholic Life Center a few weeks ago. I fully agree with our vocation director, Father Brian Alford, that our diocese is so blessed with the 24 seminarians (counting the transitional deacons) that God has called to discern becoming diocesan priests for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.

This is one of the finest groups of men I have ever seen for our diocese. They have a strong bond and support each other well. You may have met some of these men who may have been assigned to your parish for a summer internship. I hope you got the opportunity to get to know them, and personally welcome them to your parish, as well as having kept them in your prayers.

One of our treasures in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois with a particularly unique history is the beautiful Ss. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Alton.

Our diocese was once known as the Diocese of Alton from 1857 to 1923. Ss. Peter and Paul were the patronal saints of that diocese, and this amazing parish church was the cathedral (or mother church) during these years.

I was presiding recently at their weekend Masses, with a welcoming invitation from new pastor Father Jason Stone. At each of the three Masses I was blessed to be able to pray with a wonderful parish family who is filled with many stewards who blessed the parish worship as they serve in many ways.

When was the last time you truly felt blessed by God and maybe shared your true feelings with another person? Did your parents buy you a new car for your graduation? Did you sell your home after burying St. Joseph in the backyard? Did you get hired for the job you and nine others interviewed for? Did you marry the love of your life, and now 50 years later are still celebrating that love you felt when God united you as one? Was it when you held your first born for the first time in your hands? When do we get to that point where we simply know, “I am blest”?

Back in 1997 Bishop Daniel Ryan called me and asked if I would become the parochial administrator at St. Rose of Lima Parish in Quincy. He shared with me that the long-time pastor, Father Francis Damien Lee, was in the hospital and would not be able to return to his pastoral duties at St. Rose and would retire.

I arrived on the scene sometime around July 1 of that year and the parish had no staff at all. I began to celebrate daily Mass at the parish and met a few folks that first week. At most we had about 10 devoted St. Rose of Lima parishioners attend daily Mass and they were mostly retired folks. They began to welcome me to their parish and said they were ready to help me in any way possible.

Each year when May 10 comes around I call my good friend and classmate Bishop Carl Kemme — and/or we email one another — to extend our “Happy Anniversary” message to each other. We walked into the Diocesan Seminary of the Immaculate Conception on Lake Springfield the same day, and have been and will remain “classmates” and friends for the rest of our lives and ministries.

This week I spent three days at what we now call the Villa Maria Catholic Life Conference and Retreat Center. As always, I experienced a rush of both memories and emotions when I entered this beautiful place of rest and spiritual refreshment. For three days I helped Shaun Riedell, director of the Diocesan Office of Development, host the Region Vll (Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin) directors of Stewardship and Development for the 16 dioceses of this region. I also celebrated Mass and shared time with Chris Malmevik, our outstanding and gifted director of the Diocesan Office for Catechesis, along with 14 of our “best” and gifted directors of religious education who were on a day of recollection.

The time spent at the Villa Maria gave me ample time to pray and reflect on my own journey which began in this holy space 39 years ago. It really began years before that, but I formally was accepted by Bishop Joseph McNicholas to study and discern a call to the priesthood back in 1978.

Now being ordained 31 years I ask, like many, “How did the time go by so fast?” Believe me, it didn’t seem that “fast” while in those first days, weeks, months and beginning years of our eight-year journey. Yet now as I look back I remember a few tough times, but with a smile I can remember hundreds of “graced” and “blessed” moments. I never was known during my seminary years to be one of the “sharpest” pencils in the box, but I know for sure that many of my greatest lessons and learning moments have come from the “real” moments of encountering God, and his infinite love and mercy, along the way.

My journey toward priesthood included some great priests who took time to encourage me, pray for me, and most of all give me a good example to follow. Msgr. Paul Heinen above all was my “hero” if you will. He taught me hospitality, and how to live priesthood “joyfully.” Father Richard Chiola inspired me as a phenomenal homilist who could always reach you where you were with the right message. Father Martin “Mitz” Mangan was a great example of what it means to be a “compassionate” shepherd who truly cared for his flock. Father Tony Tamulis showed me how important “youth ministry” was and to always stay connected with the youth. Father Ken Venvertloh taught me the importance of “justice and peace.” Msgr. James O’Shea taught/gave me the great example of how a priest must be humble, “Christ-centered,” and rock solid as a man of prayer. And Pope John Paul ll — well, the list is so long — he will forever be in my heart.

All of these priests in their own way have blessed me and now continue to challenge me to strive to do my best. What priest has blessed your life? What priest has brought the “joy of the Gospel” to your journey? Do you know your priest? Have you taken time to come to know him as he serves you, your family and your parish?

On May 10, 1986 I had pancakes for breakfast and then processed with my two classmates down the main aisle of our Cathedral. I had asked Msgr. Heinen, who was in his 80s and a priest for 57 years, to vest me as a newly-ordained priest. He vested me and then whispered, “You will always be one of my boys.” That was moment I will never forget. The priesthood journey began for me that day 31 years ago.

This weekend we will host, at our mother church, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, our ordination of our four “soon to be” diocesan priests. From that a moment on they will, I pray “affectionately” be called Father Michael Friedel, Father Ronnie Lorilla, Father Rafal Pyrchla and Father Wayne Stock.

Our diocese is blessed, and our presbyterate as well, to welcome these four men into diocesan priesthood for priestly service in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. They are fine men who are so ready, and so joyfully willing to be “disciples” — servants of God.

I feel privileged to have been asked to vest Father Pyrchla during this ordination Mass. Five years ago I picked him up at the Cathedral to bring him to live at St. Paul’s Church in Highland. We are so proud of him and have great hope for him as he begins his journey of priesthood. He has traveled over 4,900 miles to say “yes” to priesthood for our diocese. Father Lorilla has come 8,200 miles. They are truly living as “missionary disciples” as they each become one of our priests. In this year of our synod, we are all being called to be “intentional disciples.” As Bishop Paprocki often says, “May God give us this grace.”

Congratulations to Father Friedel, Father Lorilla, Father Stock and Father Pyrchla. Thanks to your parents and families, and your parish families who have prayed for you and fostered your vocation to the priesthood. What a great journey you have traveled, and we pray blessings to you on the journey ahead. Welcome!

Sunday, 14 May 2017 14:36

Have you ever been to Emmaus?

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For me personally, one of the main highlights of our diocesan pilgrimage to the Holy Land last fall was to walk on the road to Emmaus. I took time away from the other pilgrims and had my beautiful walk in silence down this simple, dirt road — a road that was filled with tremendous blessings. For years of hearing and preaching the Easter Gospels I have longed to “get there” and allow myself the privilege to go and walk this road with great hope that I would encounter his presence.

They daily board the right ship

Lent has come and gone. Those 40 days have led us to the Easter resurrection. This springtime journey in our liturgical year invites each of us to enter into the paschal mystery of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Our encounter of the paschal mystery depended on how much we were willing to journey into the darkness of our own sin and then seek the conversion of our heart from darkness and sin to reconcile our life and find our way, through “the light” — back to the path of holiness.

Recently, Father Carlos Martins, of the Companions of the Cross, blessed all those who made a pilgrimage to our Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Springfield to pray together and to see the Sacred Relics Exposition. Included in the exposition were over 150 relics of our faith, some dating back 2,000 years. While there, I talked to so many excited Catholics, like 9-year-old Marissa Davis of Riverton, who traveled from near and far. They shared with me they could “hardly wait” to see the relics.

Though the weather has not been all that bad this winter, I am ready for spring to get here. I like my lemonade (or Arnold Palmer, which is half tea and half lemonade) as my drink of choice when I go out for a meal. I get frustrated when restaurants tell me, “We do not have lemonade during the winter,” and yet they have iced tea? I don’t get it, but so be it!

Sunday, 05 March 2017 12:38

Spring training can be exciting time

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Doesn’t it seem like it was just yesterday when the world was watching the Cubs win the 2016 World Series in baseball over the Cleveland Indians? Now, here we are and the 2017 exhibition baseball season is already under way. All the great players are gathering with their major league teams and have started their drills, and preparation for “spring time” baseball.

You are only as good as the crowd you hang around.” I remember being told that by a guidance counselor at a school I attended. I probably didn’t want to hear those words of wisdom then, but now at 58, I have come to know how true these words are. In fact, I was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write this column because of an experience I had while attending a recent funeral Mass in Quincy.

On Jan. 22, approximately 300 clergy, religious and laity representing the seven deaneries and 129 parishes that make up the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois gathered in prayer with Bishop Thomas John Paprocki at our mother church, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Springfield.

Gold, frankincense and myrrh have never been under my tree. No one has ever given these gifts to me and I have not given them to others as a Christmas gift. They were the three symbolic gifts that the wise travelers laid at the manger as they honored Jesus as their Lord and Messiah.

I have made a commitment to offer the greeting “Merry Christmas” as many times a day as I can. I applaud the Knights of Columbus who have been strongly supporting this effort “to keep Christ in Christmas.” I do this with no disrespect to any person of another faith. I would hope that in the particular important dates of their respective faith, they would share these moments with me so that I may celebrate with them their faith, too.

It was in the seminary that I truly began to realize how much I took some things for granted. I also learned once I left home that I probably had not been truly a “thankful” person for most of my early life. Certainly I said the word “thanks” enough. But did I really possess a spirit of gratitude? Probably not.

Recently I received an article written by Paula Rehkemper of St. Paul Parish in Highland, sharing with me their success story of a wonderful event hosted at their parish after the four weekend Masses. Paula and her husband Jerry, along with their parish stewardship committee — also made up of Michael and Mary Kay Durbin, Shannon and Dawn Autry, Deanna Harlan, Austin and Shari Meyer, and Eric and Heidi Kukowski — are St. Paul’s representatives who are a part of the diocesan efforts to help bring “Discipleship as a Way of Life” to our diocese and its 128 parishes.

Sunday, 30 October 2016 16:21

Voting: an act of true stewardship

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I truly feel it is an exciting time to be a Catholic in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. To be a part of the church’s invitation to create a “Total Stewardship/Discipleship Diocese” and to be a part of the Holy Spirit’s fire and tug has been wonderful. I am blessed and really feel the joy in this role of being director of Stewardship and Discipleship.

Sunday, 02 October 2016 20:49

Do you feel the tug of the Holy Spirit?

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I visited with Bishop Eugene Gerber, bishop emeritus of the Diocese of Wichita a few weeks ago. I told him about our diocesan efforts to begin to encourage “Discipleship as a Way of Life” as has been the “way of life” in his diocese since the early 1980s. (Wichita is the only diocese which is 100 percent a total stewardship [discipleship] diocese in the United States.)

Have you ever been to Kirchenfest? Every year on the fourth full weekend of August, St. Paul Parish in Highland opens their doors and hearts to an average, I once heard, of over 15,000 attendees for their weekend parish picnic. In German, “Kirchenfest” means church (kirchen) festival/picnic (fest). It is an amazing event filled with countless examples of “discipleship,” especially in the stewardship of time, but likewise in the stewardship of talent and treasure.

All of us in central Illinois watched with pride and extreme joy as Ryan Held, Sacred Heart-Griffin High School alumnus, won a gold medal at the 2016 Olympics in Rio. I joined his fans in screaming for joy when the relay finished with the U.S. team winning. The real beauty of who Ryan Held is was seen not only in his great accomplishment as an Olympic swimmer, but as well as we watched Held be “real” with his emotion during the playing of the National Anthem. A true American, his tears said it all and it brought all of us to tears as well. These are such great moments to remember.

I have been meeting at the seven deaneries continuing our focus on “creating intentional discipleship” in our laity, and in our parishes. At one of our deanery meetings a couple shared their journey. I asked permission to use their story in my Catholic Times column as a means of showing successful witness to living this “way of life” which is “intentional discipleship.”

When I was a kid I had mixed emotions about “going fishing” with the family. My dad and mom loved to fish. Dad was a “fly-fisherman” and so he was always actively engaged with that type of fishing and didn’t give much time to just “being” or teaching us kids how. My mom was that person. She always sat, and would patiently wait for the fish to bite. The concoctions she made by hand which she called her live bait were enough to make one gag. But it worked.

May 15 has been an important day for all of my 57 years of life. My parents were married on this day in 1954. I will offer Mass for their souls. When Easter comes early, like this year, the day also can be the day the church celebrates Pentecost.

For the past 45 years Quincy University has been the host site of a profound Catholic renewal called Cursillo, which means a short course in Christianity. This renewal program is a lay church outreach that invites adult men and women to share in a three-and-a-half-day gathering to renew folks in their Catholic faith.

Over the Easter holiday weekend I watched a wonderful television feature about a man who heard Billy Graham preach in his country of China. This Chinese man, probably in his early 30s, eventually converted to Christianity, but the journey of his conversion started in “the preaching of the Good News” by an evangelist named Billy Graham.

All throughout the diocese we hear the Alleluia sung with joy at the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. We celebrate this joy for 50 days up to the great feast of Pentecost. Christ brought back hope as he stood in the midst of the Disciples in their locked room. Can you imagine what that glorious moment must have been like for the Disciples?

Bishop Thomas John Paprocki has shared about how many folks he has met on his pastoral visits have become concerned and often ask him, “Are you going to close our parish?” His second pastoral letter recently given to us, Ars crescendi in Dei gratia, has focused on growth in the diocese. We have set out to help all our parishes truly become “Total Stewardship Parishes,” parishes filled with many “intentional disciples.” How do you see your parish today? Is there a vibrant faith that truly is alive in Christ?

If you drive by the rectory/office of St. Augustine Parish in Ashland, you will see a sign in the pastor's office window that says, "It's Gonna Happen." That parish office is mine and I have it there while I am joining with all Cub fans who believe and hope that this year will be "the year" the Cubs can go all the way. (I know we have been hoping since 1908 — don't send a note or call to remind us.)

Sunday, 21 February 2016 17:28

While in the desert, listen for his call

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Lent has begun and we, like Jesus, are invited to enter into the desert of this season of conversion. Time well spent in prayer and introspection will encourage us to focus on where it is that God is calling me to experience growth and/or to a metanoia (change of heart).

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