‛Well done, good and faithful servant.’
Every spring Catholic Times recognizes priests who have served in and are living in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois and are observing important jubilees sometime in the calendar year. Celebrating a silver jubilee in 2020 are Father Mariadas Chatla and Father Jeffrey Goeckner. The golden jubilarians are Father Don Blaeser, OFM, Father Michael Grawe, OFM, and Father Dennis Koopman, OFM. Celebrating 70 years are Father Peter Donohoe and Father Carl Schmidt. Congratulations to these seven fine priests!
Celebrating 25 Years
Father Mariadas Chatla
Perhaps more than most priests serving in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, Father Mariadas Chatla has had a variety of experiences that have seen him serving in some very different cultures. He was ordained for the Diocese of Guntur in St. Ann Parish, Sattenapalli, Andhra Pradesh, South India on March 23, 1995. He served in his home diocese until 2003, when he was then asked to do ecclesiastical studies at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. In the summer of 2004, Father Chatla spent several months interning at Catholic Times, and that was also the first of several summers he spent in ministry at St. Mary Parish in Taylorville, one of the parishes where he was later a parochial vicar.
While in Rome, he was a parochial vicar in the Alessandria Province in North Italy. “I had three parishes in the Diocese of Tortona, which were in the Alessandria Province before I came to the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois in March 2013,” he says. From 2013 to 2016 he was parochial vicar of St. Mary Parish in Taylorville; St. Rita Parish in Kincaid; and Holy Trinity Parish in Stonington.
Father Chatla is former parochial administrator and current pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Carrollton; All Saints Parish, White Hall; and St. Michael the Archangel Parish, Greenfield, where has served since 2016. “My parishioners are awesome,” he says. “They are so loving, ready to help and support in whatever way they can. With the help of an amazing staff and volunteers, my administrative life is made easy in spite of having three parishes and a school. I do appreciate their availability, willingness to help and addressing the needs of the parish and school in a timely manner.” He says his tri-parish council had planned a celebratory Mass and dinner for him in March, but that was postponed because of COVID-19.
Father Chatla’s parents, sisters and brother live in India. “God has blessed me with a wonderful family of faith and love,” he says. “I always found my loving family wherever I ministered … . People are amazingly wonderful. I learned a lot all these years of my priestly ministry. I sincerely thank each and everyone of them. They are a blessing to me.
“I am truly blessed by God abundantly. Wherever I went God has been with me by leading, guiding and protecting me always,” he says. “Without his tender loving care and his forgiving mercy I could not have done this alone. He gave me good, loving and faith-filled communities in my country, Italy and in the USA. I am proud to be a Catholic priest. I am always grateful and thankful to God for calling me to be his faithful servant as a priest.”
Father Jeffrey Goeckner
Father Jeffrey Goeckner was ordained to the priesthood on May 27, 1995. Over the years he has served in various capacities in Decatur, Bethany, Dalton City, Robinson, Oblong, Effingham, Liberty, Camp Point, Greenville, Maryville and Alton. He has been pastor of St. Boniface Parish in Edwardsville since 2007. Currently, he is also dean of the Alton Deanery and president of Father McGivney Catholic High School.
“My first responsibility is to the pastoral needs of the parishioners of St. Boniface, whom I dearly love and have served half of my priesthood,” Father Goeckner says. “St. Boniface is one of the largest parishes in the diocese. An exceptional parish staff, in turn, permits me to be involved in the pastoral and administrative work at Father McGivney Catholic High School and to perform my responsibilities as dean of the Alton Deanery.
“Deacon Dan Corbett served as permanent deacon for 11 years until his retirement last winter. Deacon Dan was a tremendous support and assistance to the parish. In the summer of 2018, Father Rob Johnson was appointed to the parish as parochial vicar, the first in nearly 30 years. Obviously, having a parochial vicar like Father Rob has reduced my ministerial and sacramental duties.”
There are many highlights to the priesthood, Father Goeckner says. Those include “celebrating holy Mass every day whether Sunday or Wednesday evening, celebration of infant baptism during holy Mass, witnessing the sacrament of marriage and blessing couples in celebration of their significant anniversaries, caring for people in their most difficult times, baptisms of nieces and nephews and now great-nieces and great-nephews and witnessing their marriages, Holy Week and of course, Christmas Eve!”
“No matter where I have been assigned, my parents have faithfully traveled to my assigned parish to attend Christmas Eve Mass over the past 24 years,” Father Goeckner says. “From day one my parents, Harold and Jane, have been a tremendous support. Whether joyous moments or troubling situations, they have always shared in my happiness and are always there to lend an ear in disconcerting times.”
Father Goeckner says his family means the world to him. “I am the oldest of eight. My seven siblings and their families treat me as their brother and uncle, yet deep down I surmise they love having a brother and uncle as a priest. I want to mention my two youngest brothers. Cory was 5 and Clint was 2 years old when I began seminary. Those two boys attended more church services and seminary events than any other boys their age — ever! God love them!”
Finally, Father Goeckner says he has felt privileged to help folks who have struggled with their faith. “Over the years, I have met with many individuals who have stepped away from the church for a variety of reasons,” he says. “I believe that all people want to be loved and need to be loved by God and others. When they know they are loved by God, and that the church loves them too, returning to the church and especially the sacraments, is more easily done. It gives me great joy to see them walking into the church and reclaiming what they have lost.”
When he entered the seminary, Father Goeckner says he didn’t know what God had planned for him. Now he encourages those who are discerning priesthood or religious life to “just do it.” “Accept the invitation and allow the good Lord to lead you to your permanent home, wherever or whatever it may be,” he says. “The past 25 years of priesthood have flown by quickly. Sometimes it felt like a wild ride on a roller coaster and other times like a quiet drive in the country — with rare interruptions for boredom!”
Celebrating 50 Years
Father Donald Blaeser, OFM
Father Don Blaeser, OFM, will celebrate 50 years of the priesthood on June 13. He is presently pastor of St. Francis Solanus Parish in Quincy, where he has served since 2010.
“I can hardly even remember what my expectations about being a priest were 50 years ago,” Father Don admits. “The thing I would say is that it has been far better than I could have ever imagined. I think my expectations were rather bland, and the reality has been an exciting journey with lots of twists and turns, offering excitement and challenges around every corner. I wouldn’t change it for a minute.”
As a Franciscan priest, Father Don says he has had five careers. “I have been a hospital chaplain, a confessor at St. Peter’s in Chicago’s Loop, a pastor in St. Paul, Minn., a formation director and a traveling preacher, and now a pastor again,” he says. “This variety is the appeal of the Franciscans for me. Pastoral ministry has stood out for me because of offering lasting relationships, but it is also the most demanding.
“The most fulfilling part of being a priest is whatever I’m doing at the moment,” he says. “It might be counseling someone who is troubled, anointing someone who’s seriously ill, and of course, celebrating Mass, especially for people who are very receptive.”
Father Don greatly appreciates his parishioners in Quincy. “St. Francis Solanus is an outstanding parish. There is warmth, energy, and real holiness among our faithful here. We accomplished a lot together, including building a parish center. It’s a great feeling!”
Father Don has one sister, Janet, who “is dealing with Parkinson’s Disease” so he hopes to be closer to her in the Chicago area after July 1. As for his celebration? “Well the coronavirus certainly throws a wrench into the plans for celebrating my jubilee,” he says. “My hope is that by June we might actually be able to do something. If not, we can celebrate any time. I just pray that we all get through this and get help to all who are affected by it. May God bless us all!”
Father Michael Grawe, OFM
Father Michael Grawe, OFM, was born and raised in Quincy, where he was a member of St. Francis Solanus Parish. He was ordained to the priesthood on his 26th birthday, Dec. 6, 1970, by Bishop William A. O’Connor at his home parish. He studied theology in Brazil and after his priestly ordination he returned to Brazil where he ministered for about four decades, serving there as a dedicated Franciscan until he was 65 years old. For three years, from 1975 to 1978, he was on the custodial council.
“Before going to Brazil, I had never even heard of cross-culture evangelization, but I myself was evangelized by the people in the Amazon Region, probably much more than I evangelized them,” he says. “The people were my formation teachers during this period. What I learned in Brazil was that having the Franciscan DNA of poverty, humility and service is not just wearing a habit, sitting behind a desk in a friary, or being a minister general or provincial, but living with and being like the poor you serve.”
When Father Mike left Brazil, he was given the title of Honorary Citizen by the legislative branch of the city where he lived as a “defender of the poor.” “In the United States, one of my greatest honors was to be accepted by the evangelization team of permanent deacons in their ministry at Lambert International Airport,” he says. “Also, to be accepted as an evangelizer with the Poor Clares of St. Louis at various nursing homes, at Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital and with the Secular Franciscans in Belleville.”
Father Mike has two sisters, Sister Carol Grawe, SSND, who lives in Overland, Mo., and Mary, who is married to George Efrein and is a parishioner at St. Peter Parish in Quincy. He currently lives at St. Claire’s Villa in Alton.
Speaking of his upcoming 50th jubilee, Father Mike says he has “gratitude to God for being able to serve God’s people, first as a Franciscan, second as a priest, and third as a missionary with God’s people on the Amazon River in Brazil.”
Father Dennis Koopman, OFM
Father Dennis Koopman, OFM, was ordained at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Chicago on June 13, 1970. He obtained his M.Div. degree from Catholic Theological Union in Chicago that same year. “That was the first CTU-wide ordination from CTU, which just opened in 1968,” he says.
Although he had often thought of becoming a priest — and both of his parents had priests and religious sisters in their families — for a time his young life was full of social activities, including many dances as he was “very adept at dancing.” It was in graduate school at the University of California, Berkley that he felt once again called to the priesthood.
“At age 23 I had a powerful experience within my whole being from the Holy Spirit, to which I responded, ‘Yes, I’ll try the seminary now,’” Father Dennis says. He chose to study with the Franciscans in the Midwest, within the territory of his home in Iowa. “That was St. Joseph Seminary in Westmont, Ill. That year of college, then a year of novitiate, a year of philosophy and four years of theology made seven years before ordination. Those were joy-filled years. I’ve never had even a moment of questioning that call I responded to in 1963.” He calls the priesthood a “joy-filled, meaningful and satisfying life.”
The 50 years since ordination have flown by quickly, he says. “Partly because I had three different ministries: 20 years teaching chemistry at Quincy University; 21 years of preaching missions and now three years of being co-chaplain at the motherhouse of the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis in Springfield. And for the last 43 of those years, I have been active in and in regional leadership in Worldwide Marriage Encounter.
“I say a prayer of thanksgiving every day that my provincial and council heard the Holy Spirit calling me to new ministry in September 2016, when I was 76. I am joy-filled to be co-chaplain with Father Andre Schludecker, OFM, at the Franciscan motherhouse. Here I am challenged daily to grow in my spiritual and theological life. The sisters are highly educated, deep in their spirituality and theology, current in every issue, and thus I work at catching up with them as best I can.” He celebrates daily Mass, hears confessions, holds a communal anointing of the sick every other month and is available for other issues throughout the day. “We also join them in their many joyful celebrations,” he says.
Father Dennis is blessed to be part of big extended family and hopes to share his 50-year Jubilee with many of them. He has three siblings and they all grew up on a farm in the hill country of northeast Iowa, north of Dubuque. “David (Mary) is one year older than me, Joan (Jim) Kampschroer is two years younger and Jerry (Carolyn) is five years younger. Jerry is on the home farm,” he says. He has 10 nieces and nephews, 18 great-nieces and great-nephews and 14 great-great nieces and great-great nephews. “I have 54 first cousins and I was able to find all of their addresses and invited all of them to my 50th jubilee Mass and celebration in Garnavillo, Iowa at the parish on June 13, 2020.”
Celebrating 70 Years
Father Peter Donohoe
Father Peter Donohoe is not only celebrating 70 years as a priest this year, but at 94 he is also the oldest diocesan priest in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois — although he is just a few weeks older than his fellow jubilarian, Father Carl Schmidt.
Father Donohoe grew up in Drumard, County Longford, Ireland, where most families had someone who was a priest — many who went to America. He joined those men in the United States when he was ordained by Bishop William A. O’Connor on May 27, 1950.
He served as an assistant in parishes in Taylorville, Alton, Springfield, Pana and Collinsville. He was a pastor at St. Joseph in Meppen, St. Rose of Lima in Quincy, St. Joseph in Granite City, Ss. Peter and Paul in Alton, St. Benedict in Auburn and St. Alphonsus in Brighton and was administrator at St. John the Evangelist in Medora.
Father Donohoe officially retired in 1996 but for many years stayed as active as ever. Known for his easy-going disposition — which he calls a blessing from the Lord — he is now fully retired, lives in Alton and calls Ss. Peter and Paul Parish home.
No matter where he’s been, Father Donohoe has never completely lost his Irish accent. Neither has he lost his sense of wonder after 70 years serving as a priest. Father Donohoe says he is especially touched by the sacrament of reconciliation and reminds people to always remember the “wonderful gift of the cross of Christ.”
“I couldn’t be more grateful for the years of my priesthood — words can’t adequately express my gratitude for the many blessings that God has sent my way. I have been continually blessed with faith, hope and love from the people for whom I have provided pastoral care over the years. Also, the people at Ss. Peter and Paul Parish have been so good to me. Over the years so many people have left footprints on my life and I only hope that I have done the same.”
Father Carl Schmidt
Father Carl Schmidt will celebrate 70 years as a priest this year. “I just can’t really believe it has been 70 years. It’s gone by pretty fast,” he says.
On his jubilee day, May 27, he will likely think about his late brother, Father Anthony Schmidt, who was ordained with him that same day. “I was the third oldest of the seven,” he says. “My brother, Tony, and I were always together. We were born 16 months apart. I started school when I was 4, so we even went to school together. We went to seminary together.” He still has three siblings living, two in Quincy and one in Florida.
After graduating from Carlinville High School, he attended Quincy College for two years and then when on to Glennon Preparatory Seminary in St. Louis. He studied at Kenrick Seminary and was ordained in 1950 by Bishop William A. O’Connor.
During his first dozen years as a priest, he was an assistant at Sacred Heart in Springfield, St. John in Carrollton, St. Boniface in Edwardsville, and St. Patrick in Pana. His assignments as pastor were lengthier and include St. Joseph Parish in Island Grove from 1962 to 1988 and Immaculate Conception in Dieterich from 1969 to 1988. Father Schmidt spent the last 18 years of his active priesthood serving two small parishes, St. John the Baptist in Coffeen and Sacred Heart Parish in Panama. Those two parishes closed in 2006, but their long-time pastor has very fond memories of serving those families.
Up until very recently Father Schmidt regularly celebrated Mass at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Effingham. He also celebrated weekly Mass and heard confessions at St. Anthony High School, which was something he enjoyed.
His celebration in Effingham, where he resides, has been postponed due to the coronavirus. “It’s important that they postponed it. They needed to do that. We really have got to pray right now,” he says. “Our country is in need.”
As for his own health, Father Schmidt, 94, says although he is “old” he is still “doing very well” — and that is something to be thankful for. “I feel lucky, really very fortunate, that God has been so extraordinary with me,” he says.