Father Robert D. Spilman — from ‘Grandpa’ in seminary to marking 25 years a priest

Father Robert Spilman

Father Spilman had been out of school for 25 years when he began his studies for the priesthood. He called it an eye opening experience.

“But you have a lot of good times, too,” he said, recalling with a laugh that the other seminarians called him “Grandpa.”

His age and a career in banking gave him an important perspective on what was important, however.

“You can fill your plate up with so many things,” Father Spilman said. “But you’re responsible for people — you want them to get to heaven.”

Father Robert Spilman greets parishioners after a Mass marking the reconfiguration of the three Spring Valley parishes into a new parish known as The Nativity of Our Lord in 2013. The conclusion of the parish planning process was one of his memorable moments. (Catholic Post file photo/Jennifer Willems)

Born in Galesburg, Father Spilman attended Costa Catholic High School and then served for four years in the U.S. Air Force. After being honorably discharged in 1970, Father Spilman earned an associate degree from Carl Sandburg Junior College in Galesburg in 1972.

He worked in banking in Galesburg, East Peoria and Peoria, until 1991. Along the way he started to think that things in this life weren’t that important.

“It’s things in the next life that are more important,” he told The Catholic Post. “You can put your hopes in things of this earth, but we know we aren’t going to be here forever. I think that got me a little bit.”

Accepted as a seminarian for the Diocese of Peoria, Father Spilman was sent to Holy Apostles Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut. After earning a bachelor’s degree in 1992, Father Spilman completed his studies for the priesthood at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland.

His first assignment was to Holy Cross in Champaign, where he served with Father Richard Mullen. Father Spilman said he was a good pastor and was always very helpful.

He would go on to be pastor or administrator at St. Joseph in Colfax and St. Rose in Strawn; St. Theresa in Earlville; St. Anthony in Spring Valley and St. Mary in Peru; and then St. Anthony, Immaculate Conception and Sts. Peter and Paul, all in Spring Valley, and St. Gertrude in Seatonville. When the Spring Valley parishes reconfigured in 2013 as part of the Growing in Faith Together diocesan planning process and became The Nativity of Our Lord Parish, he stayed on for five more years and was granted senior status in 2018.

He also brought his experience in banking to the diocesan finance council and various parish projects.

Father Spilman now lives in Granville and assists Father Patrick DeMeulemeester by celebrating a weekday and a weekend Mass at Sacred Heart Church in Granville and St. Patrick in Hennepin. He also helps by doing funerals in Spring Valley, LaSalle and Peru.

He is not planning a celebration for his anniversary.

Mail may be sent to his attention at 204 N. Hawthorne Ave., P.O. Box 217, Granville, IL 61326.

What has been the biggest influence in your vocation?

“We had the Rosminians in Galesburg. They were good men. They were very good to me,” said Father Spilman, who was in Corpus Christi Parish.

He added that Father Ted Hochstatter, his pastor at St. Joseph in Peoria, also played a role. When his house in Galesburg sold a month before he was to leave for the seminary, Father Spilman lived in the rectory at St. Joseph Church.

What has given you the most joy in your priesthood?

“Having people come to see you that weren’t married in the church, but they’ve come to your parish for a few Masses and call and make an appointment and say, ‘We want to get married’ or ‘We want to see our kids baptized in this church,’” Father Spilman said. “When you can bring the sacraments to them.”

Lessons learned in 25 years, especially during the pandemic?

“We never heard the word ‘pandemic.’ We never heard, ‘Cancel Mass’ in the seminary. We never heard of giving Communion in cars, people driving through,” Father Spilman said. “They didn’t teach us any of that, so we just had to learn. Thank goodness we had a good vicar general and two good bishops to help us.”

The key to making it through the pandemic, he said, is to listen to the bishops and the pope and “do our best to fulfill their will. God’s in control.”

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