Msgr. Philip Halfacre – silver jubilarian
Msgr. Halfacre was born in East Chicago, Indiana, and grew up in Hammond. He holds a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Indiana University and master’s degrees in divinity and sacred theology, with an emphasis in moral theology, from Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland.
He also studied at the John Paul II Institute on Marriage and Family in Washington, D.C.
After ordination, Msgr. Halfacre served as parochial vicar at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Peoria Heights. The following year he was named pastor at St. Mary Parish in Utica and started his long association with Marquette Academy in Ottawa. This spring he is completing his 24th year of teaching at the school.
He went to St. Patrick Parish in Ottawa in 1998 and would minister as the pastor there until 2011, adding pastoral care for St. Mary (Naplate) in Ottawa in 2003.
Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, designated him as censor librorum for the Diocese of Peoria in 2008.
While he was in Ottawa, he served as president of the Pastors’ Board for Marquette and providing leadership as the Catholic schools there were reconfigured into Marquette Academy.
Msgr. Halfacre was made pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Streator and vicar of the Ottawa Vicariate in 2011. The same year he was named a Chaplain to His Holiness with the title of monsignor.
He has also pastored St. Patrick in Seneca since 2012.
In between his pastoral ministry and teaching, Msgr. Halfacre found time to write a book. “Genuine Friendship: The Foundation for All Personal Relationships, Including Marriage and the Relationship with God” was published in 2008 and is in its third printing.
He will mark his 25th anniversary at the 11:30 a.m. Mass on Sunday, May 22, at St. Michael the Archangel Church, at the corner of Lundy and Shabbona streets. A reception will follow at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Streator. All are welcome.
Mail for Msgr. Halfacre may be sent to 513 S. Shabbona, Streator, IL 61364.
What drew you to the priesthood? How did you know you were being called?
When I was a freshman at Indiana University (Bloomington) in the early 1980s, I became Catholic. That was due in large part to my college roommate and the Newman Center chaplain. The following year, during the second week of October, I experienced a strong desire to be a priest. I had only been a Catholic for a short time and I had other plans for my life. But this sudden and intense desire to be a priest and to do the things that priests do is largely what I look back on as God’s “call” to me. It was important to me then, as it is now, that I do with my life what God wants me to do.
Who has been the biggest influence on your vocation?
Everyone who is not a cynic has heroes and I certainly have mine. They have left deep furrows in my interior life as well as my priestly life and ministry. Pope St. John Paul II said somewhere that he learned more about the priesthood from observing the lives of holy priests than he did from reading books. I would certainly echo that sentiment. The figure that stands out as having the biggest influence on my priestly vocation was my pastor, the then-Msgr. Carl Mengeling. He is currently Bishop-Emeritus of Lansing, Michigan. . . . He took an interest in me and my pursuit of the priesthood. I have always seen him as an authentic man of God and as one who is completely immersed in the priestly life and ministry.
How are you a different priest today than you were 25 years ago?
Living the life of a parish priest has a number of parallels with being a married man with children. On the day of his marriage, a man has some notion of what it is to be married – he is drawn to it, sees it as something beautiful, and wishes to commit himself to living married life with his beloved. Twenty-five years down the road, his living of marriage and family life will have shaped him into the man that he has become and (at least ideally) his own self-understanding is so deeply affected by the life he has lived that he will say things like, “I can’t even imagine my life apart from being a husband and a father.” That is precisely the effect that living the life of a parish priest has had on me. The theoretical understanding of the priesthood remains intact – as it must for every priest if our priestly identity is to be authentic – but it is further shaped by our years of experience. I see myself – more clearly than when I was first ordained – as the father of the parish family and I certainly hope the past 25 years of living the priestly life have not only made me wiser but that the grace of God has continued to have its transforming effect on me.
What has given you the most joy in your priesthood?
What gives me the greatest joy is having the role of a spiritual father in people’s lives. And when that role is lived out in the lives of people with whom I already have a bond of friendship, it is all the more delightful. Things like celebrating the 50th wedding anniversary Mass of my parents and the baptisms of children whose parents are dear friends of mine certainly come to mind. But it also gives me joy — the joy of another kind — to offer the funeral Mass of the special people in my life and to accompany those who mourn and who experience the cross in their life. A friend of mine from college (who also happens to be one of my godsons) asked me to witness his wedding and in the ensuing years to baptize his seven kids. When his only son died of cancer at the age of 7, I considered it an extraordinary privilege to offer his funeral Mass. I look back on these events and on others like them with profound gratitude for my priesthood.
What have been some of the highlights of your various assignments?
Celebrating the Jubilee Year 2000 certainly stands out as a highlight. It was around that time that the parishioners of St. Patrick Parish in Ottawa worked together to begin perpetual adoration of Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist and to beautify the church.
Secondly, the experience of working with the priests of the Ottawa area — especially Father David Kipfer — to bring together St. Patrick School, St. Columba School, and Marquette High School to form Marquette Academy is particularly memorable. It was a painful time for all of us yet it enabled Catholic education to continue in the area for the foreseeable future.
Finally, simply being with the good people of Streator as they grew into the new parish reality of St. Michael the Archangel from what had previously been four parishes is a highlight of my priestly life. It is at such times that Our Lord burnishes and transforms his people and the goodness that had previously lain dormant shines brightly.
Talk about your prayer life – what feeds your ministry?
My day begins early, usually well before sunrise. The early morning is clearly my favorite time of the day and it is when I read and pray the rosary and the Divine Office. About a half hour before Mass, I go over to the church to pray before the Blessed Sacrament.
Celebrating Mass for the folks who come to receive Our Lord daily is probably what I relish most in my day. The daily Mass crowd is something of a “community within a community” and I greatly delight in our time together with Jesus.
Since we have the Eucharist reserved here in the parish office – in the former convent chapel – I am able to make periodic visits throughout the day to greet Our Lord. Then I also try to spend another half hour with him sometime in the afternoon.
At the end of the day, my prayers before bed are rather brief: an examination of conscience, three Hail Marys, and a “goodnight” to my favorite saints, to my guardian angel, and to Jesus.
How has priestly ministry changed in the last generation?
A number of cultural shifts of the past generation have significantly affected the way people respond to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In a nutshell, it seems that we have a strong current affecting our thinking and choosing that fixes our attention not on our duties to others – to God, to one’s family, to one’s country – but on our “rights.” Secondly, promises and commitments seem to have a “flexibility” about them such that our culture has been described as a “culture of tentativeness” where seemingly little is really permanent or lifelong. With our attention fixed on our “rights” and commitments loosely made and kept, it is not difficult to see why the family, as Pope Francis recently stated, “is in crisis.” All of this has had a dramatic effect on priests themselves and on their priestly ministry. Nevertheless, every culture presents its own challenges – whether it be violent persecution or paralyzing malaise. And Our Lord will not leave us orphans in the midst of it all.
What Scripture passage sums up your ministry?
When Jesus was with his Apostles at the Last Supper, he told them, “I no longer call you servants but friends” (John 15:15). Note that Jesus did say that we aren’t servants – only that he doesn’t call us servants; but he calls us his friends. Indeed, he says that we should rightly acknowledge that we are “useless servants” who “have done no more than our duty” (Cf. Luke 17:10). Nevertheless he says, “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give.” This idea of being chosen by Jesus to be his friend and to work in his vineyard, which is the Church, is what sustains me from day to day. Several other moving passages from the Scriptures help me to keep before my mind the fact that God is my Father and that Jesus is my friend. One comes from Psalm 18: “I love you Lord, my strength.” Another is the response of Peter to Jesus on the shore of the Sea of Tiberius after the Resurrection, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” And finally, as Jesus said to his disciples, “Fear not little flock, it has pleased the Father to give you the Kingdom” (Luke 12:32).
Name a profound experience of mercy, either given or received, and the impact it has had on your priesthood.
Many times in my own life and in my priestly ministry I have seen lived out the beautiful response of the Father to his Prodigal Son upon his return. The Father seemingly has no interest in his son’s past; his focus is on restoring his son’s dignity as a son and on what the son can become. In spite of everything, the Father is interested in what lies ahead, not in what is in the past. Though some instances stand out more than others, there is hardly a day that goes by that I don’t experience this in some way or another in my priestly ministry.