Story by S.L. Hansen
RED CLOUD (SNR) - When the parishioners of St. Katherine Drexel Parish in Franklin and Sacred Heart Parish in Red Cloud learned in May that their beloved pastor, Father Paul Frank, had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer, they were stunned.
“It was a shock for everyone,” recalled Bonnie English, who belongs to the Red Cloud parish with her husband John.
“He thought he was just having problems with allergies,” said Willard Severson, acolyte for the Franklin parish.
Another shock closely followed: Father Frank had to leave immediately to start chemotherapy. He temporarily moved in with his sister, who is a doctor in Missouri, to be closer to his chosen treatment center. Parishioners were informed that Father Frank expected to be away until sometime in October.
“Everybody misses him, but we just adjust to what we have to adjust to,” said Laura Roybal, parishioner and former secretary of Sacred Heart Parish.
“We’re missing Father, but outside of that everything is going along smoothly,” agreed Katie Murphy of St. Katherine Drexel.
Since Father Frank left, many different priests have stepped in to celebrate Masses in both communities. Parishioners have shown their gratitude by making sure that the priests have their meals provided.
“The priests who have come to fill in are great and awesome, but we still miss Father,” Mrs. Roybal admitted.
Father Randall Langhorst, vicar of clergy, said that Father Steven Major of Sacred Heart in Crete very generously agreed to handle all the weekend Masses from August until Father Frank returns. Father Langhorst planned his own schedule so that he could be in Red Cloud and Franklin for holy days, one Wednesday a month for CCD, and other needs as they come up.
Meanwhile, both parishes have seen many lay people step up and do a little extra to keep things running smoothly in Father Frank’s absence.
“Between me and Dr. Dan [Mazour], who is the other acolyte, we’ve been making sure the homebound get Communion each week,” Mr. Severson said. “I know that Father was concerned about that when he first went for treatment.”
Acolytes from Sacred Heart have been doing the same in Red Cloud.
Mrs. English said the parish has been able to keep major events on the schedule, including summer religious education taught by the Franciscan Apostolic Sisters, who came down from York.
Parishioners made sure the sisters would have everything they needed while they were teaching the kids. Altar Society members provided meals. Without a priest handy for Mass, one of the acolytes helped the sisters by presiding over Communion services, which included Scripture reading and prayer.
Sacred Heart also had the daunting task of hosting the Lincoln Diocese Council of Catholic Women (LDCCW) annual meeting earlier in August, an event that had been decided on well before Father Frank’s diagnosis.
Women from all over the diocese were planning to come, along with Bishop James Conley and a number of other priests.
“Without our regular priest, that was a bit more of an effort,” Mrs. English said. “Everyone pulled together and we were happy to have that honor here.”
Linda Gerloff, president of the Altar Society, said there were 36 parishes represented at the LDCCW event. “It went over really well,” she said.
The same “many hands” attitude is helping the parish prepare for their annual “Fall Feast.” This is a major fundraiser for the parish, so there was no question that it would have to proceed as planned, even without Father Frank there to help bake some of the homemade pies that are so popular at that meal.
“We’re being buoyed up by the Spirit of God to keep going,” Mrs. English said.
Also on the schedule: CCD classes for the kids of both parishes. Amanda Shelton, who took over as parish secretary just weeks before Father Frank’s diagnosis, has been hard at work to make sure that the students will get their religious education in his absence.
Classes began Wednesday, Aug. 31, and while the parish still needs a couple of teachers for middle and high school, “Father Rand is going to be coming once a month to hear confessions for the CCD classes and have Mass,” Shelton said.
Parishioners are also making sure that the church and rectory grounds are tidy and kept up for Father Frank’s return.
Father Frank has quite a green thumb. He had planted a vegetable garden, and there were roses and fruit trees and other landscaping that would have literally gone to weeds or dried up completely if the parishioners hadn’t pitched in.
Meanwhile, Father Frank is always on the hearts, minds, and prayers of the parishioners. Weekly bulletins include his address so people could write to him and send cards for his Aug. 29 birthday.
Father Frank is optimistic about his scheduled return in October.
“We’d like to have him back before too long,” Mr. Severson said.
“We really, really miss him,” Mrs. Gerloff said. “He’s such a wonderful priest…. We’re just so anxious to keep things up and organized so that when he comes home, he’ll be able to recuperate and not worry about anything.”