Msgr. Ramer to senior status; listening has been key to his pastoral approach

Msgr. James Ramer stands outside Our Lady of the Lake Church in Mahomet, where he has served as pastor for seven years. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

MAHOMET — As a pastor and throughout his 31 years of priestly life, Msgr. James Ramer has tried to be a good listener.

“I like to listen to what people have to say,” he told The Catholic Post last week from his office at Our Lady of the Lake Parish here, “then try to make the best decision for the good of the local parish and the good of the diocese.”

At times over the past three decades that listening has been in a formal setting, such as in East Moline in 2003 when faced with difficult choices involving two struggling schools. Following a series of parish meetings, the schools were merged to form Our Lady of Grace Catholic Academy — a name selected by parishioner vote.

A farewell reception for Msgr. Ramer is planned following the 11 a.m. Mass at Our Lady of the Lake Church on Pentecost Sunday, June 4. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

He’s listened informally, too, as at Tiskilwa in 2002 when Msgr. Ramer crossed the street from St. Mary Church after Saturday evening Masses to enjoy dinners with parishioners at the Indian Valley Inn.

“I called that our parish council meeting,” he recalled with a smile.

This Pentecost Sunday, June 4, Msgr. Ramer — who turns 72 on July 11 — will listen to words of congratulations, gratitude, and well-wishing when parishioners and friends host a farewell reception in advance of his transition to senior status on June 14. The reception will be in the parish hall following the 11 a.m. Mass at Our Lady of the Lake Church.

“COULDN’T AVOID IT ANYMORE”

“It will be different,” said Msgr. Ramer of retirement life, which begins next month with a move to an apartment in East Moline. “I hope I’m busy,” he added, aware that priests in the Quad Cities area could use some help and expressing his eagerness to  “keep serving, but in a different way.”

Parish life is how Msgr. Ramer, born in Monmouth and raised in Roseville, has served since his ordination on May 24, 1986, at the age of 40. His interest in the priesthood began decades earlier. He chose to attend St. Ambrose College in Davenport after high school in part to observe priests on a regular basis since he had not attended a Catholic school.

But after two years at St. Ambrose, he took a break from school, worked in a factory in Galesburg, and was drafted into the U.S. Army in the mid-1960s, eventually spending three years in Germany working in a division finance office.

One Easter while in Europe, he and a friend made their way to Rome over Easter and witnessed Pope Paul VI celebrate an outdoor Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica. “That pushed me even farther to think about priesthood again,” he said.

But it would be a few more years, after starting a career in the food and beverage industry, until Msgr. Ramer had what he now calls the “aha moment.” It came during a Mass at Holy Family Church in Davenport when in the Gospel reading Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved them, telling Peter to “Feed my sheep.”

That day it was as if Jesus was speaking to James Ramer, and “I couldn’t avoid it anymore.”

He enrolled at St. Meinrad College in Indiana, earned bachelor’s degrees in history and philosophy, and four years later graduated from St. Meinrad School of Theology.

“SMALL TOWN BOY” SERVED BIG PARISHES

His first assignment was as parochial vicar at Holy Trinity Parish in Bloomington and three years of “a great experience” learning under the tutelage of Father John Dietzen, pastor.

Msgr. Ramer also served as parochial vicar at Holy Cross, Champaign, and St. Pius X in Rock Island before being named pastor of St. Joseph and St. Mary parishes in Pesotum in 1991. The following year, he was named pastor of St. Thomas Parish in Philo and Immaculate Conception, Bongard, where he served four years.

From 1996 to 2001 he was pastor of St. Mary Parish in Rock Island, then spent two years as pastor of St. Louis Parish in Princeton, including administrative duties at St. Mary in Tiskilwa. He returned to the Quad Cities in 2003, serving as pastor of St. Anne and St. Mary in East Moline and later Our Lady of Guadalupe in Silvis.

He was named a Chaplain to His Holiness with the title of monsignor in 2007.

The following year he returned to Philo, Bongard, and Pesotum as pastor. He has guided Our Lady of the Lake Parish in Mahomet since 2010 and among his best memories are of an annual Trivia Night that he began which has raised funds to put a new floor in the parish hall, purchase electric shades for the church windows, and helped send young parishioners to Catholic HEART Workcamp.

But his greatest joy at every parish?

“Celebrating the Mass, without a doubt,” said Msgr. Ramer, who said he is a stickler about liturgy being done well. “I get teary thinking about it. I think, here I am, a small town boy, in these big parishes saying the Holy Mass for people. It just bowls me over sometimes. Who would have thunk?”

DOING LORD’S WORK DESPITE “LIMITATIONS”

Msgr. Ramer is a native of St. Patrick Parish in Raritan, which is the home parish of another “small town boy,” Deacon Lee Brokaw, who will be ordained for the Diocese of Peoria on May 27. What advice would the senior priest share with the soon-to-be-ordained?

“It’s a joy to know you’re doing the Lord’s work, even with the limitations you feel you have,” said Msgr. Ramer. “Somehow the Lord is working through you, even though you may not know it at the time. The Lord works through us as weak as we are and as limited as we are. I thank the Lord for that every day.”

Cards may be sent to Msgr. Ramer in care of Our Lady of the Lake Church, 501 W. State St., Mahomet, IL 61853.

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