Father Lyons to mark 70 years of priesthood
Story by S.L. Hansen
LINCOLN (SNR) - Bishop James Conley will celebrate the annual Chrism Mass Monday, March 30, at 5 p.m. in the Cathedral of the Risen Christ in Lincoln.
Bishop Conley will bless the Oil of Catechumens and the Oil of the Sick and will consecrate the Sacred Chrism for use in parishes throughout the Diocese of Lincoln in the coming year. All are invited to attend.
Also, at the Chrism Mass, there will be a solemn renewal of priestly promises made by all the priests. Several priests of the diocese will celebrate milestone anniversaries of their ordination at the Chrism Mass.
Seven priests of the diocese of Lincoln are celebrating jubilee anniversaries this year.
Father Patrick Lyons
Born in the village of Ardagh in County Longford, Ireland, Father Patrick Lyons was only 18 years old when he entered the Ecclesiastical Seminary of Mount Melleray, which focused on forming and ordaining priests for the missions.
“I decided priests were needed more outside of Ireland,” Father Lyons remembered. “Ireland was very Catholic then, and we wanted to spread the faith around as much as we could.”
After completing his philosophy and theology studies at All Hallows College in Dublin, Father Lyons was ordained for the Diocese of Lincoln. He spent much of his priesthood serving the Catholics of Hastings. When St. Cecilia Parish was divided, he oversaw the building of St. Michael Parish and served as pastor there. He retired in 1997 and now lives at Bonacum House in Lincoln.
Father Lyons said his greatest joys as a priest have been celebrating the Mass and bringing the Catholic faith to others.
“Jesus said to tell all nations,” he said. “I enjoyed the idea of being part of spreading the Catholic faith.”
Msgr. Timothy Thorburn, vicar general of the Diocese of Lincoln, reflected on Father Lyons’ priesthood and his missionary service to the Church.
“If I had to characterize Father Lyons in two words,” he said, “they would be kindness and joy. He always has a smile on his face and, with his delightful Irish lilt, expresses himself with calm, gentle, Christian charity.
“Father Lyons came to Lincoln as a missionary nearly 70 years ago,” he continued, “with no expectation of seeing his homeland or family again. Although modern travel made visits back home possible for him over the years, we tend to forget that these missionaries left everything that was familiar to them, simply for the love of Jesus and the salvation of our souls.”
Msgr. Myron Pleskac
Msgr. Myron Pleskac grew up in Loma, Nebraska, with parents he described as “very strong, faithful Catholics.”
Msgr. Pleskac also admired the priests at Assumption High School in Dwight. However, it was an image in a Catholic newspaper that really clarified his vocation.
“There was as photograph of a priest who was anointing someone who had just been in a terrible accident,” he said. “That inspired me to serve others through the church and through the priesthood…. The rest is just the grace of God.”
He attended Illinois Benedictine College and St. Paul Seminary for his priestly formation.
Apart from the joy of offering the sacrifice of the Mass, Msgr. Pleskac has most appreciated being able to hear confessions.
“If I were a physician and I was able to help people became healthy again, what a great feeling that would be,” he explained. “Put it on a spiritual level, and it’s the same for priests.”
Father Patrick O’Byrne
Father Patrick O’Byrne was attending a Catholic boarding school when he realized his priestly vocation.
“It kind of dawned on me,” the County Cork native said. “The priesthood surrounded my life at the time.”
He attended St. Brendan’s Seminary in Killarney. Because there were so many priests in Ireland then, he went to Mount Melleray and become a missionary priest to the United States.
As a priest for the Diocese of Lincoln, Father O’Byrne served in Hastings and Wahoo-Newman. He acquired a coaching degree from Kearney State in the 1970s and was honored three years ago for his work promoting athletics for girls following Title IX.
“Working with the young people was great,” he said. “And also visiting the sick in the hospitals was something I really enjoyed.”
Now he is serving the faithful back home in Millstreet, Ireland, where there is now a shortage of priests. But he remembers his time in Nebraska fondly.
“I really enjoyed my 47 years in Nebraska,” he said.
Father Melvin Rempe
Father Rempe loved the Mass even as a small child. During World War II, his mother made sure he went to daily Mass to pray for uncles and cousins who were fighting for freedom.
He also had the advantage of knowing inspiring religious, including an aunt who was a Franciscan missionary to China, an uncle who was a lay brother for a Franciscan order, and the School Sister of Notre Dame who taught his first and second grade classes.
“Basically the vocation was practically always there,” he said.
Father Rempe attended Benedictine in Atchison, Kan. After graduating from St. Thomas Seminary in Denver, he became the first priest ordained at the Cathedral of the Risen Christ in Lincoln.
In addition to serving as a parish priest, Father Rempe was a prison chaplain. He also temporarily served the Archdiocese of Omaha as part of the Catholic Telecommunications of America, an early effort to use telecommunication for religious education.
Msgr. Robert Roh
Msgr. Robert Roh and his family attended Ss. Peter and Paul Parish in Abie, where two large stained glass windows – one of each patron – occupied his thoughts when he was too young to understand the Mass.
“If I didn’t have them as patrons before, I do now,” he said.
Msgr. Roh was inspired by a number of kind, patient, humble priests, including his pastors and Bishop James Casey. Bishop Casey encouraged him through his education at Saint Benedict Seminary in Atchison, Kan., and the Catholic University of America in Washington D.C. and even afterward.
The opportunity to hear confessions and to be used by the Lord to lift the burden of sin from others has brought Msgr. Roh a keen sense of joy.
“If 18-year-old men experienced that, it would be the biggest trigger for vocations,” he said.
Father Joseph Nguyen
Born in Vietnam, Father Joseph Nguyen was young when he realized he wanted to be a priest.
“I liked being an altar boy and I thought I would like to become an priest,” he said.
Because of political oppression, it took 13 years to get permission from the government to be ordained.
While he waited, Father Nguyen worked in the fields early in the morning before going to serve at the chancery. Once, a policeman offered to arrange for Father Nguyen to be ordained immediately, if he would spy on the bishop.
“He asked me, ‘What does the bishop think about communism? What does he think about the government?’ I said, ‘I don’t know, he’s very private,’” said Father Nguyen.
A few years after Father Nguyen was finally ordained, he came to Nebraska to serve in Beatrice, Hastings and now the Vietnamese Catholic community in Lincoln.
“I like the priests here in Lincoln,” he said. “It’s like a family.”
Father Thomas Wiedel
Father Thomas Wiedel grew up attending St. Mary Parish in Orleans. He was a student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln when he realized he was called to the priesthood.
“I spent a lot of time at the Newman Center,” Father Wiedel remembered.
He studied at St. Pius X Seminary in Kentucky, St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Minnesota, and St. John’s University in New York. He completed his theology degree at St. Joseph Seminary in Yonkers.
Father Wiedel has served at York, Plattsmouth, Alma, Steinauer, and now Benkelmen. In every place, he has been impressed with the kindness and generosity of the people.
“They always make the priests feel part of the family,” Father Wiedel said.
He encourages anybody who is considering a vocation to rely on the providence of Almighty God.
“If you have a calling to a vocation, whether to priesthood or religious life, put your trust in God,” Father Wiedel urged. “You will not be outdone by His generosity.”