Priests to mark ordination anniversaries
Story by Reagan Scott
LINCOLN (SNR) - On Monday, March 26, Bishop Conley and the priests of the diocese will gather to celebrate the annual Chrism Mass at 5 p.m. in Cathedral of the Risen Christ. All are invited to attend.
The Chrism Mass has special significance as the bishop consecrates and blesses the three sacred oils used in the sacraments—Chrism, the Oil of the Sick and the Oil of Catechumens. Chrism, the most important of the three, is unique in that it can only be consecrated by a bishop.
At the Chrism Mass, the priests of the diocese renew the priestly vows made at their ordinations and priests celebrating milestone anniversaries (known as jubilees) are given special recognition at a dinner with their brother priests.
This year, six priests will be recognized.
Father Paul J. Rutten
Father Rutten grew up on a farm in Butler County near David City with his parents, brother and sister. While his parents made the decision to send his siblings to David City High, Father Rutten attended Assumption High School in Dwight.
During his time at Assumption, Father Rutten was encouraged in his vocation by the school’s principal, Father (later Msgr.) Reisdorff. He described him as “a great force in my life.”
After high school, Father Rutten went straight to Saint Thomas Seminary in Denver, where he studied for eight years.
After being ordained, Father Rutten served in a variety of capacities across the Diocese of Lincoln, including his role as a guidance counselor at Aquinas High School in David City for 17 years, and chaplain at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Lincoln for another 17 years.
Father Rutten’s favorite part of being a priest has been the chance to celebrate Mass and administer the sacraments. Last week, he was able to hear confessions at St. Joseph School in Lincoln for second-graders’ first penance.
“I love the excitement of children receiving the sacraments,” he said. “I don’t think our world has good excitement anymore, but I think the Catholic Church has a variety of ways to encourage that good excitement.”
Father Rutten also recalled that while he was attending a reunion at Aquinas High School, a man came up to him and said, “You gave me such great advice when I was a senior.” Just minutes later, a woman approached and told him that his advice didn’t help her at all, which made him laugh.
“Not everything we do as a priest works out the way we want it to turn out,” he said. “Our priesthood is very valuable, but we are not in charge.”
Father Nicholas J. Baker
Father Baker grew up with six sisters in Falls City. During his last year at the local Sacred Heart School, he felt that the Lord was calling him to become a priest.
While he had been planning to stay home and take care of his mother after his father’s passing, Father Baker’s mother was supportive of his desire to pursue a vocation to the priesthood.
Father Baker spent two years at St. Benedict in Atchinson, Kan., before he went to St. Francis Seminary in Milwaukee, Wis.
Father Baker’s longest assignment was his role as pastor of Saint Mary Parish in Dawson and its mission, St. Anne in Shubert, where he lived for nine years. During that time, he also taught at his alma mater.
Some of Father Baker’s other assignments included seven years as pastor of Ss. Mary and Joseph in Valparaiso and another seven years at Sacred Heart in Crete.
In addition to his role as pastor, Father Baker taught in Catholic schools for 17 years, and worked as an advocate for the Diocesan Tribunal for 17 years. He was also a chaplain for Magnificat (a ministry to Catholic women) for 17 years.
“My priesthood can be easily divided by the number 17,” he joked.
In his work for the tribunal, Father Baker represented petitioners in annulment cases. Father Robert Vasa — now bishop of Santa Rosa, Calif.— presided as the judge.
In his time as a priest, Father Baker has enjoyed getting to work with other people and learned a lot from their involvement in many religious organizations.
“I enjoyed just being a pastor and working with good people,” Father Baker said. “I learned that priests aren’t the only ones who love the Church. What I really miss is being a pastor.”
Father Edwin L. Stander
Father Stander grew up in Ashland with one brother and two sisters. He began to consider a vocation to the priesthood during his junior year at Ashland Public High School and received lots of support from his parish and family.
Father Stander’s years at the seminary, however, were not as encouraging.
“It wasn’t easy,” he admitted. “And I had to get through eight years of it.”
Father Stander spent two years at St. Benedict in Atchison and six at St. Thomas in Denver.
When at long last he was ordained for the Diocese of Lincoln by Bishop James Casey, Father Stander was ready to live the life of a priest.
In addition to time spent as an assistant pastor and pastor of different parishes in the diocese, Father Stander spent 17 years as a prison chaplain, celebrating Mass in several prisons across the state, and 12 years as a chaplain for St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Lincoln.
One of his favorite assignments, however, was his time as pastor of St. Stephen Parish in Lawrence, where he worked in the local grade school.
Father Stander said he loved every aspect of being a priest, but the ultimate high point of his vocation has been, “being able to offer the Mass and being close to Christ in the Mass.”
He asked for the people of the diocese to continue to be diligent in supporting the future of the Church.
He said, “They should continue to pray for vocations for priests and religious and sisters, because they are so vitally needed in our culture and in our country today.”
Father John J. Keefe
Father Keefe, the oldest of six children, was born in David City but moved to Lincoln when he was 5. He attended Pius X High School in Lincoln as a sophomore the first year it opened.
Father Keefe said he had thought about the priesthood off and on throughout grade school and high school, but began to think about it a lot during his years studying at Creighton University. Finally, he decided that he would try the seminary and spent five years studying at St. Thomas Seminary in Denver.
After graduation from the seminary, Father Keefe was the first priest that Bishop Glennon P. Flavin ordained in the diocese.
Father Keefe has served in a variety of roles in his time as a priest, but one of his most notable assignments was his work at the diocese’s mission in Venezuela, where he lived for seven years the first time, before returning for another three years later in his priesthood. According to Father Keefe, the diocese sent 10 priests to the serve in the mission over 34 years.
Father Keefe continued his work with the Hispanic community in Lincoln and Cristo Rey, the Spanish-speaking Catholic community in Lincoln, was formally made a parish during the 10 years that he spent there.
In addition to this work, Father Keefe served as the spiritual director of the Cursillo Movement for four and a half years. A Cursillo is an encounter with Christ, and the goal of the movement is to make Christ a prime influence in society.
“I’ve always enjoyed working in parishes and being pastor of a parish,” Father Keefe said. “I very much enjoyed working at the mission in Venezuela.”
Father Ronald G. Homes
Father Homes was born in Omaha and has three sisters and two brothers. His family moved to Wahoo when he was in the second grade, and then to Valparaiso between his freshman and sophomore years of high school.
After graduation, Father Homes followed his passion for cars and took a job at The Van House, where he worked customizing vans for six and a half years. But Father Robert Vasa (now Bishop Vasa) knew that Father Homes was called to do something more.
When the two sat down to talk, Father Homes said he knew that being a priest wasn’t on his top-10 list of things to do, but Father Vasa didn’t let that stop him from rebutting Father Homes’ two biggest excuses.
“Once he tore down my two defenses, I knew I had to listen,” Father Homes said.
Following his time at the seminary, Father Homes’ first assignment was as assistant pastor at St. Patrick Parish in Lincoln and teacher at Pius X High School. One year later, he moved to St. Patrick Parish in McCook where he spent two years as an assistant pastor and an eighth-grade teacher.
It was in McCook that Father Homes helped to start the annual diocesan canoe trip, which will celebrate its 23rd year this summer. Father Homes continues to direct the canoe trips with the assistance of the Youth Ministry Office, and nearly 200 participants from all over the diocese partake in one of two different trips each year. The three-day outdoor adventure includes daily Mass, confessions, talks, private reflection time, and other opportunities for youth to grow in their relationship with Christ.
For eight years, Father Homes was pastor of St. John Parish in Prague and its mission, Ss. Cyril and Methodius in Plasi. He also taught at Bishop Neumann High School in Wahoo.
Father Homes then moved to Bruno where he has been for almost 14 years as a pastor of St. Anthony and its mission, Ss. Peter and Paul in Abie. Father Homes has also been teaching sophomores at Aquinas High School in David City.
Father Homes said his favorite part of being a priest has been his ability to meet and connect with others.
He said, “I’ve always liked people, and really getting to know them. I really like being a teacher.”
Father Leo D. Kosch
Father Kosch grew up in Columbus as the seventh of nine children. He grew up attending Catholic school until high school, when he attended Lakeview High School.
It was during Father Kosch’s first year at UNL that he began to discern the call to the priesthood. He credits the Newman Center and the good teaching of its pastor and associate pastor for helping to encourage his vocation.
“The catalyst that really helped me to develop my vocation though was a retreat given by the late Msgr. John McCabe, where he talked about the priesthood,” Father Kosch said. “It was very powerful.”
After his ordination, Father Kosch was an assistant pastor for two years at St. John the Apostle Parish in Lincoln and one year at St. Michael Parish in Hastings. His first assignment as pastor was at Presentation Church in Bellwood for eight years, followed by seven years as pastor of St. Mary in Davey.
For four years, Father Kosch was pastor of St. John in Prague and its mission, Ss. Cyril and Methodius in Plasi, before he was assigned to Sacred Heart Parish in Lincoln two and a half years ago. He is currently the pastor of the parish and chief administrative officer of Sacred Heart grade school.
Up until his most recent move, Father Kosh taught high school in the towns in or near each of his assignments, and he said that teaching for all of those years was very rewarding.
“The past 25 years have gone very fast,” he said. “It’s hard to believe. I have enjoyed preaching the word of God.”
Father Kosch’s favorite part of being a priest, however, has been hearing confessions.
He said, “Feeling the Holy Spirit in the confessional has been very rewarding. I feel most like a priest when I hear confessions.”