Retiring priests reflect on varied service to local Church

| June 3, 2015 | 0 Comments
Cutline: Father Jerome Keiser is among nine priests of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis retiring July 1.

Father Jerome Keiser is among nine priests of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis retiring July 1.

Sitting at the rectory table where he sits every morning as he says his prayers and watches the sun come up over the St. Croix River, Father Jerome Keiser reminisced back 44 years to his final year at the St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul.

He and his classmates were ordained on various dates in late May 1971.

“In our deacon year we wore buttons that said, ‘Is it May yet?’ he recalled with a smile. “That upset the faculty.”

After 14 years as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi in Lake St. Croix Beach, Father Keiser will be turning 70 June 15 and will soon be giving up his idyllic setting for morning prayer. He and eight other priests of the archdiocese have been granted retired priest status as of July 1.

The others are Fathers Charles Brambilla, Theodore Campbell, George Grafsky, James Himmelsbach, Stephen LaCanne, Michael O’Connell, Thomas Sieg and Orlando Tatel.

It is a group of men who have served the Church in a variety of ways. All have been pastors, and over the years most have taken on additional ministries at one time or another.

Father Himmelsbach, for example, was a U.S. Army chaplain in an airborne division, duty which included jumping with the troops out of moving airplanes, and as pastor added spiritual direction as a co-ministry.

Father Sieg taught homiletics at the St. Paul Seminary before pastoring several parishes.

Father Grafsky has spent most of his career in rural ministry and has long been a police chaplain. Father LaCanne has been a spokesperson for justice in the Church and has been a hospital chaplain for many years; at St. Joseph Hospital he has been director of pastoral care.

Father Orlando Tatel has served the longest of the group. A native of the Philippines where he was ordained in 1965, he’s been a priest for 50 years, serving parishes across the archdiocese since 1982. He was incardinated into the archdiocese in 2001.

Father O’Connell isn’t too far behind Father Tatel, having served for 48 years. He served as the first-ever moderator of the curia in the archdiocese and led the creation and development of the permanent diaconate program here.

Father Campbell was named pastor of Good Shepherd in Golden Valley Oct. 1, 1983, and has led the suburban Minneapolis parish now for more than 31 years.  Only Father John Clay at St. Stanislaus in St. Paul and Father Richard Villano at St. Helena in Minneapolis have been pastor at the same parish longer.

Father Brambilla was one who was primarily a parish priest, but he found plenty to do in that work.

“I enjoyed all of my assignments,” he remarked days before leaving for a year of rest near a lake in Pine City before helping out in nearby parishes.

“I loved sacramental ministry and the variety involved in pastoring,” he added. “I especially enjoyed my involvement with RCIA and marriage preparation ministry.”

Father Brambilla acknowledged being “challenged” with church building, repairs, staff issues and capital campaigns, but found “God was there through it all, getting the work done.”

Father Keiser was a spiritual director at St. John Vianney Seminary in St. Paul before serving at the archdiocesan mission in Venezuela for five years.

“I always believed in blooming where you’re planted,” Father Keiser said. After a short time as an associated pastor he said he was blessed to be able to serve at the archdiocese’s college seminary. The assignment allowed him to earn a degree in spirituality from Jesuit-run Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska.

“I picked up the Jesuit idea of finding God in everyday life, and that had a great influence on me,” he said.

Father Keiser is still grateful for the Spanish-language immersion he underwent to prepare for the Venezuelan mission. “It’s such a blessing to be able to speak a second language,” he said.

He called serving the people of Venezuela “a terrific religious experience,” and when he got back to the United States he used his Spanish to say Mass for the criminals among the Marielitos, or Cuban boat-refugees, who were temporarily incarcerated in prison in Stillwater. He still will say Mass in Spanish when called upon.

Father Keiser said he loved the lengthy pastorates — both 14 years — he had at St. Mark in St. Paul and at St. Francis of Assisi. “You got to know the people,” he explained, and instincts took over when ministering to them.

He’ll be staying in the St. Croix Valley, serving as chaplain at a retirement facility in Stillwater, where Father Keiser will preside at Mass, always the most satisfying part of his priesthood, he said.

“Every time I’m behind the altar looking out, I look at the window in the back and I have the mental image of God the Father I’m praying to,” he said.

“When I’m in communion with the God, with the communion of saints, including all the people in Church, it’s a glimpse of heaven.”

Long list of bests

With a varied priesthood of his own, Father O’Connell had difficulty pointing to just one part that was most satisfying.

“Along with the privilege of presiding at Eucharist and the various Sacraments for the parish communities that I have served and with friends and family,” he noted via email, “I’m grateful for the ever deepening theme of embedding justice into my ministry.”

He couldn’t stop there, however, listing as “very fulfilling for me” his involvement in starting the permanent diaconate program, his parish ministry, “especially at the Basilica of St. Mary and Church of the Ascension,” and “especially as regards my ministry with vulnerable children,” and what he termed “the great opportunity of becoming importantly involved in interfaith work.”

Father O’Connell said that in retirement he will continue to be involved in public school reform in Minnesota and work with foundations to improve Catholic schools, especially those in the inner city.

It won’t be all work, however.

“I would like to sleep late a little bit,” Father O’Connell added. “I would like to take time to read theologically including from an interfaith perspective. I hope to take more trips to Ireland.”


Retiring priests’ advice to today’s younger priests:

Father Michael O’Connell:
Make a priority out of preaching, which especially demands a pastoral sensitivity to the great diversity of people in our Church. And understand the central and critical importance of preaching and doing justice for the poor and disenfranchised in this world. Choose to become aware of how important it is to understand the ecumenical inter-faith relationships to bring about understanding, appreciation, and peace.

Father Charles Brambilla:
Pay special attention to “pastoring” the people of God. Reflect the compassion of a God who would die for us. More than a law-giver, God is a lover. People are good. Be kind and present to them in their joy and their need.


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