Story by S.L. Hansen
LINCOLN (SNR) - Our diocesean priests keep busy schedules that often leave little time to take care of their personal well-being. This involves good nutrition, healthy sleep habits, exercise and managing stress.
“I think the health of priests is very important,” said Father Leo Kosch, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Lincoln.
“If we take care of ourselves, we are better able to minister to others.”
Recently, Bishop James D. Conley approached Father Randall Langhorst, vicar for clergy, about planning a priest study day focused on personal health. The Diocese of Lincoln holds diocesan-wide clergy conferences four times a year to assist priests in their ongoing spiritual, intellectual, and apostolic formation.
“We are made up of body and soul and have a need to take care of the temple of the Lord, our bodies,” Father Langhorst said. “Being fit and healthy is taking the steps to protect and keep in order God’s creation.”
Father Langhorst worked with Marsha Bartek, diocesan insurance and benefits administrator, to create a biometric screening – a basic health assessment – for priests to complete. Basic information, such as cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and blood sugar, was collected.
Based on the responses, Father Langhorst and Mrs. Bartek outlined a priest study day program that focused on some of the wellness issues that were identified through the assessment. The study day was held Sept. 14 in Lincoln.
“The goal was to inform and then allow each priest to assess the areas he might need to address as far as the state of his health,” Father Langhorst said.
“We were hoping that by providing resources and implementing preventative wellness measures, we could possibly bring light to and possibly prevent serious and irreversible health conditions,” added Bartek.
During the study day, the priests learned more about three basic areas of personal health: nutrition, stress management/mental fatigue, and a men’s general health timeline that flagged issues such as diabetes or cancer.
“Trying to follow a good nutritional plan or diet in the priesthood is very difficult for many priests, due to the demands of their assignments, time constraints and accessibility to supportive measures,” noted Father Langhorst.
One of the activities the priests enjoyed was a slide show of fast-food items. The priests were encouraged to shout out the calorie count of each item.
“Sometimes we were surprised how high an item was,” Father Kosch said.
He said the experience confirmed he had been doing the right thing by trying to eat healthy. He also appreciated the practical suggestions, such as opting for pre-washed, bagged lettuce for quick salads or using a store-made rotisserie chicken in different ways to make several meals.
Of course, the emphasis on healthy eating does not mean that priests would no longer be able to enjoy a nice kolache, homemade pie, or other goodies.
“That’s part of good eating, too!” laughed Father Michael Houlihan, pastor of St. Michael Parish in Hastings. “Everything in balance.”
In the sessions about managing stress and mental health, the priests were encouraged to make time in their schedules for spiritual direction, socializing with family and friends or brother priests, taking a day off once a week to recharge, or attending Jesus Caritas groups – small gatherings of priests who pray for and support each other.
“Priests, like anyone else, can have issues of depression or anxiety or feelings of isolation,” Father Kosch said. “They were just reminding us to take good care of ourselves, so we can help others.”
For the discussion on men’s general health, a medical doctor gave the priests a timeline of health screenings to keep in mind as they pass through stages of life.
Among the most significant: colonoscopies.
“People put it off, but the doctor told us it’s the cancer test that actually prevents cancer because pre-cancerous polyps can be removed during the colonoscopy,” explained Father Kosch. “That was especially powerful with Msgr. [David] Hintz recently dying of colon cancer.”
Another agenda item was a discount offer from Madonna Proactive.
“We were approached by Madonna Proactive to provide affordable access to a fitness facility for priests,” Bartek explained.
“It helps tremendously, because Madonna provides a wide variety of means so that everyone can find that which will motivate them toward commitment as well as some accountability and one on one personal support in areas such as nutrition,” said Father Langhorst. “Madonna also provides a wonderful atmosphere, where there is no need to be self-conscious.”
For priests who live too far away to take advantage of this offer, Bartek plans to reach out to other fitness centers around the diocese to arrange for an affordable rate for priests.
The goal for this study day was to deepen each priest’s awareness of their personal health and equip them to make improvements as needed.
Father Langhorst encouraged the laity to, “Be supportive and not judgmental.”
“Wellness is a constant work in progress,” Bartek said, noting that another biometric screening will be held for lay employees at the upcoming diocesan teacher institute.
“It’s a challenge that people in our society as a whole are facing, to eat right, get enough sleep, get some exercise,” said Father Houlihan. “It’s good for us to remember to take care of ourselves medically and physically… I think we need to encourage each other.”