Six priests serving the diocese are celebrating significant anniversaries this year — ranging from 65 years in the priesthood to 25. The Central Minnesota Catholic asked them about highlights of their ministry and memories of favorite homilies. Their answers are below.
Father Mark Willenbring
Thirty-five years ago I participated in a Worldwide Marriage Encounter and served as a team priest on dozens of encounters both in Spanish and in English, locally and nationally. Twenty years ago I was selected to serve as the executive team priest for the Marriage Encounter movement in the United States. This involved attending meetings of the national board four times a year and giving presentations at regional and national conventions of the movement. I remained active in local Marriage Encounter.
Another highlight of my priestly ministry was working with Father James Minette for 10 years in founding a mission of our diocese in Venezuela. I had to learn to speak Spanish and preside at Spanish Masses and activities. I continued celebrating Spanish Masses in various communities of our diocese where many Latinos live and work.
My life as a priest has been very exciting and rewarding. I am grateful to God for my vocation and to the bishops whom I have served. I have wonderful memories of the parishes where I was assigned.
Benedictine Father Stephen Beauclair
My years of ministry as a Benedictine monk brought me to varied places — Richmond; Puerto Rico; Moorhead, Minnesota; Bronx, New York; Hastings, Minnesota; St. Paul; Bahamas and back to Richmond. Returning to Richmond, the community developed a plan to make the church handicapped-accessible with a gathering space, new pews and sanctuary furniture.
I enjoyed liturgies with children who were always creative and responded to the celebration with life and energy. For the past nine years I have been serving as a chaplain at St. Benedict’s Senior Community in St. Cloud.
Father Vincent Lieser
I was in the seminary during the Second Vatican Council. Ordained in 1967, I became quite involved in the liturgical reform that ensued. It was a time of great hope but also a lot of division in the Church. The liturgy was becoming more incarnational in the vernacular, celebrating the presence of Christ among us, the nearness of God. The focus was shifting from a primary emphasis on the transcendent, Almighty God whose kingdom lay beyond, to the immanent God whose Spirit was alive not only among the clergy and religious, but in all believers, emphasizing Jesus’ proclaiming in word and deed the presence of God’s kingdom here on earth. Flowing from this, we have seen a greater emphasis on the social teaching of the Gospel.
Pope Francis’ call to the synod today is a continuation of this process. With my human limitations and foibles, I have tried to preach a Word that is life-giving and be present to people in celebration times and difficult times. It’s been a good journey.
Father Ronald Dockendorf
It is hard to single out one highlight because I appreciate all that I have experienced in my ministry. I love celebrating the Eucharist, the great gift Jesus gave to us. Helping families and couples as they prepare to get married. Helping people as they struggle through the loss of a loved one. Teaching our young and adults. I have treasured my presence in all the parishes I have served. I love my life as a priest. Being a priest has been a blessing for me, especially celebrating the Mass. I was taught how to play the accordion and concertina in grade school and I enjoy doing so at parish fundraisers and at nursing homes or other gatherings. A fun experience was putting three tapes/CDs together.
When I was ordained June 25, 1982, I never believed I would be as happy as a priest as I am. Thanks be to God for calling me, and thanks be to God, I said yes.
I like talking about St. Peter. He fails by being human at times. Yet his strength comes with following Christ. He denies he knows Christ, yet he says that he loves Christ. Peter is someone
I can identify with. In my humanness at times I am weak and fail. When I trust Christ and follow him, then I have strength to do what Christ asks of me. With Christ, Peter was able to appreciate the blessings of his ministry. With Christ, Peter was able to accept and live through the “crosses” he needed to endure.
Father Ronald Weyrens
One highlight was a combined Ash Wednesday prayer service between
St. Joseph in Waite Park and Bethlehem Lutheran in St. Cloud. Beyond the uniqueness of the service, the place had personal significance for me. In my childhood, I ran around the area that is now Bethlehem Lutheran, as it was my grandfather’s farm. The sanctuary is about where the farmhouse sat. During the homily, I shared the back story. A recurring refrain was: “This was once a farm, now it is a church.” Where seeds were scattered and black Angus raised, now God’s Word is spread, and all are invited into the one flock of Jesus Christ, our Good Shepherd.
Father Jimmy Joseph
When my siblings and I were in school, we used to work on the farm before and after school. One day, while I was working with my father on the farm, I overheard my neighbor saying to my father, “You must give your son a good allowance.” I wondered what he would say. I was happy when I heard him saying, “I will.” I never got money for working on the farm! Later, my father asked me, “Do you want some money?” I said, “No.”… It was very humbling. I would be nowhere without their love, support and prayer. My priesthood for me is a gift of God and of my parents.
St. Augustine said, “If you should ask me what the ways of God are, I would tell you that the first is humility, the second is humility and the third is still humility.” It is through the virtue of humility that I relate myself with my people in my parishes. For me, working with my parishioners is the happiest moment, and I find myself very joyful.