60 years of change, opportunities to serve for Fr. George Remm and Fr. Tom Royer
“Amazing changes” have taken place since Father George F. Remm and Father Thomas J. Royer were ordained by Bishop John B. Franz on May 29, 1960, at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria. They embraced what the Second Vatican Council brought, however, and learned to adapt in ways that made for fruitful, fulfilling ministry for the last 60 years.
Both men are graduates of Spalding Institute in Peoria and attended St. Bede College in Peru for two years. They completed their studies for the priesthood at St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Another classmate, Father Arnold E. Klauer, is deceased.
Father Remm was granted senior status in 2004 and named pastor emeritus of St. Patrick in Urbana, where he served for 18 years. Mail for him may be sent to P.O. Box 6136, Champaign, IL 61826.
Father Royer was granted senior status in 2011, after leading St. Mary in Champaign for 38 years. Mail may be sent to him at P.O. Box 17225, Urbana, IL 61803-7225.
Profiles of the jubilarians follow.
FATHER GEORGE REMM
Much of Father Remm’s ministry has been devoted to helping people understand the changes brought about by the Second Vatican Council and then use their gifts and talents in the service of the church. He was also a leader in bringing programs like Marriage Encounter and Beginning Experience to the Diocese of Peoria.
“It seems to have gone by very quickly. I would not say it feels like it’s 60 years,” said Father Remm, who was born in Peoria. St. Patrick was his home parish.
Early in his priestly ministry he was part of the Diocesan Liturgical Committee, so he studied the documents of Vatican II as they were promulgated.
“That led to my appointment to begin the Office of Christian Worship so someone would be assigned full time to begin to implement the directives of the council, especially in the areas of worship,” he told The Catholic Post.
“Coming out of the sacristy, genuflecting, going up to the altar and saying Mass with your back to the people, it’s almost as if at that point the Mass was what you were doing and the people were watching,” Father Remm said. “Now to be a leader of worship and leading the worship of the whole congregation, the whole people of God, and they’re actively involved in different ways – I think that’s a significant change.”
The second major change to priestly ministry, and one he welcomed, was recognizing the gifts and talents of the people and using them in the administration of a parish.
“Again, it’s quite a difference from a time when the pastor sitting in his rectory made all the decisions of the parish by himself,” he said.
For example, before parish council meetings he would always meet with the trustees first to go over things. “It was important to be sure that you were reflecting the feeling and the needs of people in decision making in the parish,” he said.
Father Remm served on the Diocesan Art and Architecture Commission from 1969 to 1993, so he had the opportunity to consult with parishes around the diocese and assist with changes made necessary by Vatican II. In addition, he got to visit the churches as master of ceremonies to Bishop Edward O’Rourke from 1972 to 1976.
Parish life took him to Holy Trinity in Bloomington and St. Mark in Peoria as parochial vicar, and he was in residence at Sacre Coeur in Creve Coeur for two years.
Father Remm was named pastor to Visitation and St. Joseph in Kewanee and would serve as pastor of the new St. Mary in Kewanee after the four parishes in town were reconfigured into two.
“I’m just grateful for the care and support of people throughout the years in the parishes. I’ve been very fortunate in every assignment I’ve had and I have loved every parish and the people that have been there.”
“One of the things that was important during my time in Kewanee was Christ Renews His Parish,” he said, noting that it was something like Cursillo, but done on a parish level. “It formed lay ministers and made people very much aware of their faith and their loyalty to their parish. It was a great experience of the priest sharing with his people.”
Father Remm began his long ministry to St. Patrick in Urbana in 1986. One of the gifts of serving there for 18 years is that he was able to bring his 90-year-old mother to the area to live nearby and saw her almost every day until she died eight years later.
For a number of years after being granted senior status, he assisted with weekend Masses at Lincoln and Atlanta, Chatsworth, and Thomasboro and Rantoul. Father Remm continued to celebrate Mass on Saturday mornings at St. Patrick on a regular basis until the pandemic made that impossible.
“Retirement has enabled me to pray, to read, to study and to pursue an individual hobby of family genealogy research,” he said. “I also treasure the opportunity to meet monthly with my priest support group.”
He offered this observation to priests in active ministry: “Be aware that your longest assignment as a priest may be in retirement. It can be a time of growth even as age and health limit your service. Be grateful and blessed.”
Even though he isn’t planning a celebration, Father Remm is following his own advice
“I’m just grateful for the care and support of people throughout the years in the parishes,” he told The Post. “I’ve been very fortunate in every assignment I’ve had and I have loved every parish and the people that have been there.”
FATHER TOM ROYER
The third youngest of Aloysius and Catherine (King) Royer’s nine children, Father Royer admired his siblings and felt unconditionally loved in return. That love, the family’s nightly rosary, and his mother’s unfailing concern for people in need around them formed the foundation for his priestly vocation, he said.
“My mother who lived her faith was my catechism,” Father Royer said.
Those “humble beginnings” in Canton gave him an understanding of and heart for the poor throughout his ministry.
His parish ministry after ordination included serving as parochial vicar at Holy Family in Peoria, St. Paul in Danville, St. Matthew in Champaign, and St. Edward in Chillicothe. He began his long ministry at St. Mary in Champaign in 1973, adding pastoral care for St. Joseph in Ivesdale and St. Boniface in Seymour at various points.
Father Royer was also chaplain for Mercy Hospital in Urbana and director of communications for the Diocese of Peoria.
Supporting the poor in Central America has been a vital part of his long ministry. That started in 1989, when he visited Maryknoll Father Bill Donnelly’s parish in Guatemala to help him build a radio station.
“It was an unforgettable trip because that was when the six Jesuits and their two helpers were murdered in nearby El Salvador,” Father Royer said, adding that in Guatemala, Ursuline Sister Dianna Ortiz has been kidnapped and tortured before she was able to escape.
“I felt I was plunged into the nightmare of the suffering Church of Central America,” he told The Post.
He credits the parishioners at St. Mary in Champaign for their leadership in a coalition to sponsor a family seeking sanctuary and then encouraging him to travel to El Salvador to support five mountain settlements known as Calavera.
“Going to El Salvador was the last thing I had in mind, but when you have enthusiastic people around you, you catch that enthusiasm,” Father Royer told The Post. “It made a difference meeting the people there.”
“This relationship, which continues with me personally, has proven to be a most significant turning point for the parish and for me personally,” he said. “I have made 29 visits to Central America since then, mostly with delegations consisting of several persons. One cannot remain the same after meeting the suffering poor whom St. Archbishop Oscar Romero called ‘a crucified people.’”
One cannot remain the same after meeting the suffering poor whom St. Archbishop Oscar Romero called ‘a crucified people.’”
One of the memorable moments of his priesthood was being able to celebrate Sunday Mass at St. Romero’s tomb in the crypt of the Cathedral of San Salvador. He gave the homily at the same ambo the saint used.
“Holding on to the old wooden pulpit while giving the homily is such an honor. Being in the company of Romero’s people while celebrating the Mass with them is a great honor,” Father Royer said. “San Romero is one of my favorite saints.”
Another is St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, whom he met five times – four times in Calcutta and once in New York City.
During the last visit in New York City, her final words to him were: “When are you going to return to Calcutta and work with me and my community?”
“Each visit was an honor and it was such an honor to be remembered by her,” Father Royer said. “She, too, is one of my patron saints.”
He does not have a celebration planned, but those who would like to honor “Father Tomas” may send donations in his name to Faith in Action with El Salvador (faithinactiones.org). The organization will use the donations for the projects he has agreed to.