Ordained at 51, Father Hart dedicated ministry to serving others

| September 27, 2018 | 0 Comments

Father Bob Hart, who retired in June, served the Archdiocese of St. Paul in Minneapolis for 17 years after being ordained at the age of 51 in 2000. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Being a lifelong Catholic, Father Bob Hart had a certain impression of the priesthood by the time he was in his 40s — until a 1993 retreat talk in by a priest wearing a polo shirt and khakis made him rethink the vocation and his own possibility of joining it.

“He just seemed … pretty laid back and down to earth,” said Father Hart, now 70, who was ordained a priest in 2000 at age 51.

Former priest Father Jim Smith taught Father Hart more about his ministry, he said, and that — coupled with his involvement in social justice outreach as a parishioner of St. Raphael in Crystal — eventually pointed him to the priesthood.

At age 45, Father Hart decided to enter St. John Vianney Seminary in St. Paul, where he embraced the community and faced the challenge of diving back into academics, having been out of school two decades.

“I felt this overwhelming sense of peace, and I knew then that it was the right decision,” Father Hart said about applying for seminary in December 1993. “Would I make it all the way through? I didn’t know.”

He had to re-read often, highlight text and re-write it to memorize what he read. He recalls failing a verbal final test, although he passed the class.

“I was thinking to myself, ‘Maybe this is the sign that God didn’t want me to be a priest,’” Father Hart said.

Talking with the seminary’s academic dean after helped him erase his doubts and move forward.

After his ordination, Father Hart dedicated his ministry to the poor. His first assignment was as an assistant priest at the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul, where he often served as master of ceremonies for liturgies with Archbishop Harry Flynn. That included the funerals of Archbishop John Roach in 2003 and Rep. Bruce Vento in 2000.

At the Cathedral, Father Hart also got involved in Project Home, a nonprofit that organizes places for homeless men and women to stay, when the Cathedral would host its guests each winter.

In 2002, Father Hart became pastor of Transfiguration in Oakdale — a promotion fast-tracked because of his professional background in management with Prudential Insurance in Plymouth. He took the place of former pastor Father Smith, who inspired his vocation journey nine years earlier.

“The community was very welcoming [and] very accepting,” Father Hart said. “It was hard to follow Jim because a lot of people really loved him, but it seemed like the transition went well.”

Highlights for Father Hart at Transfiguration included hosting a Feed My Starving Children mobile packing site and helping a low-income neighborhood with housing needs, he said.  He also enjoyed helping with parish mission trips to Guatemala and Chicago.

In 2011, he took his final assignment as pastor of St. Patrick in Inver Grove Heights. He also ministers to alcoholics at Trinity Sober Homes in St. Paul.

A Chicago native, Father Hart went to Dominican-run Fenwick High School in Oak Park, Illinois. Father Hart came to Minnesota for college at then-College of St. Thomas in St. Paul. He earned a degree in quantitative methods in 1970. He began working at Prudential Insurance later that year.

Father Hart worked for in computer programming for eight years there followed by 15 years of facilities management. He said he drifted from practicing the faith for a decade but got involved again when he bought a house two blocks St. Raphael.

“It was a turning point in my faith journey,” Father Hart said.

Recognizing his own faith journey, Father Hart wanted to help people grow in their faith, too, when he discerned a vocation to the priesthood. He said he developed an understanding for others “because of my own journey—the joys and struggles that people go through.”

In retirement, Father Hart plans to assist at parishes in the summer but will spend winters in Phoenix.

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