Jubilarian priests of the diocese reflect on their ministries 

Nine priests who serve or have served the Diocese of St. Cloud are celebrating significant anniversaries in 2023, ranging from 65 years to 40 years. The Central Minnesota Catholic asked each of them to recall a highlight that stands out in their ministry. Here is what they shared with us. 


65 years: Father Silverius Schmitt

During my ministry, I really enjoyed working with the elderly throughout their final minutes here on earth with us. The absolution is a beautiful ceremony. The prayers are absolutely exquisite, and the forgiveness is so unquestionable. I never saw any fear in their eyes. The joy and happiness on their faces when I performed the ceremony was so precious to see, so peaceful. 




60 years: Father Gregory Lieser

When I was pastor of St. Peter Parish in St. Cloud, there about seven or eight years, I had gone on a two-week vacation. While I was away, some parishioners got the idea to have a special Mass and celebration of appreciation for my priesthood. They said, too often it happens that appreciation is shown when it is too late, or a person is retiring or leaving. Bishop Speltz was invited, my parents and family were invited, and many parishioners attended, followed by a festive dinner at which we shared memories of our parish. At the Mass, one parishioner shared words of appreciation from the parish for my ministry and priesthood. I was overwhelmed that this had been planned and celebrated so well and appreciated it very much. It made me realize how much our people do appreciate their pastors.


60 years: Father Laurn Virnig

I really enjoyed teaching religion classes to the various grades, especially first Communion classes. It helped make that day very special to them. I served 52 years before retiring and still like to help out. 

In my 13 assignments in different parishes across the diocese, I’ve connected with lots of men, and lots of Knights. I’ve been a member of the Knights of Columbus since 1955. I really liked the idea of meeting with the men and helping them to make decisions about what’s to be done in the community. I enjoyed serving as chaplain for Third Degree Knights in the local parishes and being the faithful friar for Fourth Degree assemblies. I’ve been a faithful friar for 22 years.  I still attend when I can and enjoy that comradeship. 

It was an honor to be named as the state chaplain for the Knights of Columbus Fourth Degree, which I did for two years, conducting services and Masses. I traveled to various areas four times each year to meet with the officers of the state assemblies. 


55 years: Father Stanley Wieser

One experience that stands out in my life was the opportunity to serve in Maracay, Venezuela. It influenced my life for the six years I lived there and continues to be in my ministry today. 

It was a blessing to see Christ active in another culture. It let me see why it is one of the four masks of the Church. The power of Christ to be accessible to every culture is what gives us hope and security. The experience made me aware of how important it is to our faith in Jesus Christ to bring cultures together and support one another in our divided world.

The Venezuelans made me feel at home as I had to leave much of my native culture behind to minister to them. When I returned to Minnesota, I tried to return the favor. I ministered to migrant farm workers to try to make them a part of the culture they were working in. When farming practices changed and they started to settle in as residents, I helped them form communities in Moorhead, Pelican Rapids and Morris. We are all one in Christ. 


50 years: Benedictine Father Gregory Miller

It has been a privilege to be a priest and to experience the renewal of the Church brought about by the Second Vatican Council. In my days I have seen the Church move from a legalistic, defensive and authoritarian posture to a pastoral, open-to-dialogue and synodal-listening Church. The universal call to holiness has underlined my ministry as I have participated in empowering lay leadership and collaborated with them in giving direction to their parishes. I am most grateful for the support and encouragement that I have received from parishioners over the years. You continue to teach me how to be a priest. I am also grateful for my brother monks who have helped keep my feet on the ground and my spirit lifted. 


50 years: Father Thomas Olson

What means the most to me is the acceptance of the parishioners when I was new in a parish — they were always so welcoming. And when I left, they were equally kind in their goodbyes. I took our parish events more seriously than taking my day off because it was important to make time for them. 

Parish assignments were different in my earliest years. For example, I didn’t have a parish secretary at a few of my parishes (only a bookkeeper) so I had to type out the entire bulletin on mimeograph — and it was complicated to correct mistakes. 

I especially liked celebrating the liturgy for the people. Weddings and funerals were times for pastoral care, whether in their joy or in their need. People like to mention that I witnessed their marriage, and even those I baptized still come up to tell me, though I tease them about remembering the occasion.

Besides serving in the tribunal, I’ve been on many boards — for Catholic Charities, Cathedral High School, parish schools and councils — and chaplain for the Boy Scouts. I learned to get to the point quickly. I have served under five bishops beginning with Bishop George Speltz and have learned something from each one. 


50 years: Father Arlie Sowada

One highlight of my ministry was my seminary training at St. John’s Seminary in Collegeville. The Second Vatican Council had ended and our professors realized that the Church practice would change but were not aware of how. They taught us to keep in mind the truth of our faith and the manner the truth is expressed and celebrated. For example, they taught us to think of a small child who receives a gift but plays with the ribbon instead. This foundation training is a great help to me.   




40 years: Father Kevin Anderson

My ministry highlight is a life highlight which set the stage for my vocation. On Oct. 7, 1978, I heard the audible voice of God ask, “Kevin, why are you fighting me?” This happened while I attended my first-ever Evening Prayer Service with the monks of St. John’s Abbey. 

During the service, as I was sitting alone in the regular pews, I heard a loud rushing wind, then I lost all my hearing. I could see the monks moving their mouths in prayer, but I couldn’t hear a thing. Through that silence I heard the question distinctly, spoken into my right ear. Again, the wind and then I could hear as usual. It took me three days to discern that the voice was an invitation, a calling to priesthood. 

That encounter led me to ordination in 1983, from which I have tried my best to celebrate the sacraments with joy, preach with relevance, sing with passion and love the staffs, parishioners, students, friends and family that I have been blessed to journey with.  I strive to stay balanced each day with good sleep, good exercise and good prayer. With those in place, my mantra becomes, “God is enough.”   


40 years: Father Kenneth Popp

One highlight was being invited to a young boy’s place for his first Communion party. When I was named pastor at St. Henry’s in Perham, it was very important to me to visit the home of every child who made their first Holy Communion. This boy’s place was the last home I needed to stop at. Their trailer house stood in an open area with almost no trees. Their other guests had left. Dark was approaching. 

After greeting the mom, who was a single parent, and her son, I asked the boy if he would like to throw a baseball around. He enthusiastically said, ”Yes.”

With my Roman collar and black suit coat, I went outside, dust blowing in the yard this hot evening. We tossed the ball around and the boy was so happy. After a few minutes I said goodbye to them — I was tired after my long day. 

About 20 years later I received a card in the mail from this first Communicant, now a young man. He had sent a thank-you card telling me how he had enjoyed throwing the baseball around with me on his first Communion day. I immediately teared up. I shall always keep that card.  



Author: Nikki Rajala

Nikki Rajala is a writer/copy editor for The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine.

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