Story by S.L. Hansen
LINCOLN (SNR) - Bishop James Conley will celebrate the annual Chrism Mass Monday, March 21, at 5 p.m. in the Cathedral of the Risen Christ, 3500 Sheridan Blvd., Lincoln.
During the Mass, 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.
The Chrism Mass is also a time for solemn renewal of priestly promises made by all the priests of the diocese. Seven priests will celebrate jubilee anniversaries of their ordination during this special Mass.
Father Francis Murphy, 65 years
A native of Ireland, Father Murphy served five different communities of the diocese as an assistant pastor. He was then given consecutive assignments in Sutton, Benkelman, Stratton, Haigler and Bellwood. While pastor of St. Michael Parish in Fairbury, he was dean of the Fairbury Deanery. He later served at St. Patrick Parish in Lincoln and St. Mary in Ashland before retiring and returning home to County Cork.
Father John Zastrow, 60 years
Born on a farm in Dakota County, Father Zastrow served in the U.S. Air Force during World War II before returning to Nebraska. He had a good job in Hastings until he was asked to transfer. He didn’t want to move to Minnesota, so the company let him go.
However, Father Zastrow had been thinking about the priesthood while helping his pastor, Msgr. Charles Keenan. Soon afterward, he was on his way to Minnesota after all, to attend Crosier and Saint Paul seminaries.
“It’s wonderful what we’ll do for Jesus,” Father Zastrow grinned.
His first assignment was at the Cathedral in Lincoln (now St. Mary Parish). He later earned a degree in school administration from Creighton University and was assigned to a succession of schools and parishes.
“The biggest blessing in being a priest was being able to concentrate on spiritual things rather than on the material world,” Father Zastrow said.
Father Dhan Raj Marneni, 25 years
Father Marneni grew up in the southern part of India. He found his vocational calling in the example of others.
“It was the inspiration of my pastors when I was a kid,” Father Marneni said.
He attended St. John’s Regional Seminary of the Archdiocese of Hyderabad, his home diocese. Upon ordination in 1991, he was assigned to be the rector of a Catholic school.
“It was a beautiful experience to take care of the kids, a beautiful experience for me,” Father Marneni recalled.
He was blessed to work as a principal for many years in India.
In 2012, his bishop asked him to have a different sort of priestly ministry and sent him to the Diocese of Lincoln to serve for five years. Father Marneni is currently administrator of St. Mary Parish in Aurora and its mission, St. Joseph in Giltner.
“Definitely, my call to the priesthood is the biggest blessing in my life,” Father Marnini said. “That and the other priests.”
Father Leo Seiker, 25 years
Raised on a farm near Elmwood, Father Leo Seiker attended Cathedral of the Risen Christ and Pius X schools in Lincoln.
“My parents’ sacrifice to give myself and all of my siblings a Catholic education played a huge part in my being able to discern my vocation,” he said. “Also when my older brothers (Msgr. Daniel Seiker and Father Mark Seiker) entered the seminary, I really was able to get to know how ‘real’ the young men studying to be priests were.”
Father Seiker attended the St. Charles Borromeo in Philadelphia. And St. Joseph Seminary in Yonkers, N.Y. His first assignment was at St. John the Apostle Parish in Lincoln. Today, he is the diocesan pro-life director and pastor of St. Joseph Church in Colon and St. Mary in Cedar Bluffs. He also teaches at Bishop Neumann Junior-Senior High School in Wahoo.
“I have received so many blessings from Almighty God as a priest, but the thing I will highlight now is the blessing to be able to serve and get to know so many great people in every parish I have been assigned,” he said.
Father Anthony Stammitti, 25 years
Hailing from Wauwatosa, Wisc., Father Anthony Stammitti was a psychology major at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. His seminary years were spent at St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Rome.
Father Stammitti was ordained in New Westminster, B.C., for the Eparchy of British Columbia under the Ukranian Greek-Catholic Right. In May 1997, he was incardinated to the Diocese of Lincoln and appointed parochial vicar at St. John Nepomucene Church in Weston. Later, he served at St. Wenceslaus in Wahoo.
Between late 1997 and early 2002, Father Stammitti served the Diocese of Fargo, N.D. He returned to the Diocese of Lincoln in 2002 to become assistant chaplain of nursing homes and prisons. Today, he continues to serve the needs of those in retirement and nursing homes.
Father Lawrence J. Stoley, 25 years
Father Lawrence Stoley grew up in St. Edward. He graduated from UNL with a bachelor of science degree, but through much prayer, he realized that God was calling him to the priesthood through “an ever-increasing desire to serve His Church.”
Father Stoley’s first assignment was at St. Mary Parish in David City.
“My fondest memory was the priestly fraternity I found in working with Msgr. [Adrian] Herbek and the others priests in the David City Deanery,” he recalled. “I also treasured working with the teachers and students at St. Mary Grade School and Aquinas High School.”
Currently, Father Stoley is pastor of St. Joseph Church in Friend and academic dean at St. Gregory the Great Seminary in Seward.
He said, “Through the years, I have become more aware of the priesthood as being a great instrument of healing and peace for God’s people. I am grateful that God has allowed me to share in that experience.”
Father Charles L. Townsend, 25 years
Grand Island native Father Charles Townsend was raised Lutheran.
His older brother had converted to the Catholic faith, and he had several good Catholic friends at UNL and one very devout former teacher. These influential people led him to start attending daily Mass, get involved with various parish activities, and eventually convert to the Catholic faith.
“It was the Eucharist – that was the big draw for me,” Father Townsend said.
He attended Mount St. Mary Seminary in Maryland and St. Joseph Seminary in Yonkers. After ordination, he moved to Falls City, learning how to be a priest and school administrator from Msgr. Robert Roh.
“He was completely devoted to Catholic schools,” Father Townsend recalled. “He wanted you to be part of the students’ lives.”
Father Townsend served as superintendent of Bishop Neumann High School in Wahoo and is now pastor of St. Wenceslaus Parish in Wahoo.
When asked what his greatest blessing has been as a priest, Father Townsend recalled how his mother had feared the priesthood would be a lonely life. Instead, he said, the opposite has been true.
“It has expanded my family, and I have had a tremendous opportunity to know and serve and belong to countless families through the years.”