Jubilarian priests thanked for service, called ‘a great gift to our church’
Nearly 50 diocesan and religious order priests were honored for milestone anniversaries of ordination at the annual Jubilarian Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria on June 23. The principal celebrant was Bishop Louis Tylka, who thanked them for their priestly service.
“What a great gift they have been to our church as they have lived out their priesthood faithfully and generously and lovingly,” he said as he welcomed the clergy from around the Diocese of Peoria, as well as women religious, consecrated virgins and laity to the celebration.
Noting that it was the Solemnity of the Nativity of John the Baptist, Bishop Tylka said that seemed appropriate since John the Baptist “spent his life pointing away from himself and pointing toward Jesus.”
“So we celebrate these anniversaries and we celebrate our own calling to point to Jesus in our lives,” he said.
Father Antonio Dittmer, who will mark his 25th anniversary of ordination on July 12, continued that theme in his homily.
“Brothers, is there anything more joyful than to see our people fall in love with God? To watch that relationship take place? To see how our people grow in love and mature? Is there anything more satisfying than that,” he asked.
“What a great life we have. What a beautiful vocation to which we’ve been called,” said Father Dittmer, who is the pastor of St. Mary Parish in Moline and temporary administrator of St. Pius X, Sacred Heart and St. Mary, all in Rock Island.
“YOU HAVE TO DIE”
That “beautiful vocation” doesn’t come without some sacrifice, however.
Father Dittmer said he was privileged to be part of a private audience with Archbishop Michel Sabbah, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, about 15 years ago. He and some classmates from seminary asked him what advice he had for them.
“You have to die. If you die, your flock will live. But if you live for yourself, your flock will die,” the Latin patriarch told the young priests. Father Dittmer said he has spent some time reflecting on what that looks like.
After studying priest-martyrs of the 20th century, such as Miguel Agustin Pro, Maximilian Kolbe, Jerzy Popieluszko, Oscar Romero and Stanley Rother, and another saintly priest, St. John Paul II, he said he realized it entails a call to love. That became clearer when he read “Pastores Dabo Vobis,” a 1992 apostolic exhortation on the formation of priests that was written by Pope John Paul II.
The document talks about how the priest’s life should be a witness to Christ’s spousal love for the church and makes accepting a call to ministry a loving choice. The result is that the church and souls become his first interest.
“The gift of self has no limits,” Father Dittmer said.
While his heart is filled with “unbelievable gratitude” for the last 25 years of ministry, he also repented for the ways he had not died to self every day, including seeking to please people instead of the Lord.
That daily surrender and brutal honesty aren’t easy, but “it’s all worth it,” Father Dittmer said.
“It is a privilege, a humbling privilege to be his priest, to serve (Jesus), to love him. To bring him to people and people to him,” he said, and like John the Baptist, “We point our people to Jesus . . . and say, ‘He must increase and we must, we must, decrease.’”
“Jubilees are an occasion to celebrate, as well as an occasion to give thanks to God,” according to Msgr. Philip Halfacre, vicar general, who recognized 47 priests before the Mass ended. They include:
Father Joseph Anderson and Msgr. Richard Pricco, 60 years; Father Duane Jack, 55 years; Father David Heinz, 45 years; Father Mark DeSutter, 40 years; Father Patrick Greenough, OFM Conv. and Father James Pallardy, 35 years; and Father Michael Adrie, SMA, Father Gary Caster, Father Michael Driscoll, Father Glenn Fontana, Father Dominic Garramone, OSB, Father William Gardner, Father Glenn Harris, Father Gregory Jozefiak, Father Edward Kopec, Msgr. Timothy Nolan, Father Edward Ohm, Father Timothy Sauppé, and Father Thaddeus B.K. Tran, 30 years.
Also celebrating milestones are: Father Joseph Mary Brown, CSJ, Father Fabián Cabarcas Rúa, Father Antonio Dittmer, Msgr. Jason Gray, Father Chris Haake, Father Carl LoPresti, Father John Bosco Mujuni, Father Gregory Nelson, Father Donald Roszkowski, Father Bowan Schmitt and Father David Whiteside, 25 years; Father Michael Calhoun, OSB, Father John Cyr, Father Joseph Domfe, SMA, Father Fredi Gomez Torres, Father Steven Loftus and Father John Pham, 20 years; Father Patrick Fixsen and Father Peter Zorjan, 15 years; Father Daniel Gifford, Father Timothy Hepner, Father Gregory Jarzombek, OSB, Father Joel Phelps and Father Johnathan Steffen, 10 years; and Father Lee Brokaw, five years.
Completing their first year of priesthood are Father Austin Bosse and Father Nicolas Wilson.
“May God grant to all of them fidelity in the priestly life, joy in their service, and may their priestly life bear much fruit,” Msgr. Halfacre said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Due to an oversight, Father Fabián Cabarcas Rúa was not included in Jubilarians 2022, a special section of The Catholic Post dated May 22. The 25th anniversary of his priestly ordination is Dec. 6 and he will be featured in a future edition.