So how did this all begin---me living in Aurora Illinois being one of the presiders at Jesus Our Shepherd in Nenno Wisconsin? There was a priest-Fr. Jim Harris-who was a few years ahead of Fr. Frank in the Seminary. They had become friends. Fr. Jim dies suddenly in the winter of 2002. There was a memorial Mass for him in the Chicago area. Fr. Jim's wife whom I know asked me to contact Fr. Frank to see if he and Fr. Jim Ryan would be able to concelebrate. They were able to do that and that is where Jean and I met Fr. Frank, Anna; Fr. Jim Ryan and his wife Jean. At that time they were the only 2 priests serving the community and they asked Jean and me if we would be interested in coming to JOS to celebrate Eucharist. The first Sunday we were able to come was May 27th 2003. As the saying goes; "The rest is history".
Jean and I were honored to have been invited. Shortly after we had been here we received a kind letter signed by 34 members of the community inviting us to be co-pastors. I have kept that letter and treasure it as a sign of a true vocation called by the people for service. Shortly after that letter there were more letters asking us if we could move from our home in Aurora to the area. We actually had thought about that as a possibility but at that time the real estate market was not doing well. So we decided to drive up on Sunday morning and driving back on Sunday afternoon.
At that time we expected the community to grow to the need for perhaps a Saturday night Mass and Sunday or 2 on Sunday. That has not happened.
Jean was asked to preach on some of the Sunday's we attended. The presider's schedule is arranged a few months in advance---as you can see who the presider is as it is listed in the bulletin and on the JOS website. When the schedule was set Jean and I would go over the reading for the Sunday's I was to be the presider and Jean always got first choice of the Sunday's she would preach and I took the other 2 Sundays. Jean prepared long and hard for the homilies she preached here at JOS. As you know Jean was a very holistic and spiritual woman whom I miss a great deal. All spouses who have buried their spouse feel the same way.
Since 2003 to the present the number of priests serving JOS has grown in number. There are currently 5 other priests besides myself serving JOS. At this time and for the foreseeable future there does not seem to be a need for more than one Mass on the weekend. So with one Mass and 6 priests for the community of about 45 people it seems like it is a good for me to remove myself from the regular presider schedule.
Jean and I and now I myself knew there would come a time when driving the 325 miles round trip simply would not be feasible nor needed.
As any priest will tell you it is a great honor to be able to celebrate Eucharist with and for a regular community. I stand here today to tell you that I have been honored to be of service in the limited capacity that I was able to serve you. It will always be a remembrance that I shall not forget. You are indeed a special community---one of only a few in the country. Treasure your heritage and build on your past to maintain the vibrancy you have as a community.
Jesus speaks to us tis morning using the parable of the sower of the seed. We see the results of this growing process. There are different types of soil upon which the seed is sown. Some of the soil is filled with thorns---the thorns of every day life which if not watched can take over our life not allowing the word of God to take deep root and grow within us. Some of the seed is simply strewn on the ground where the birds easily come by and eat it. How many times do find ourselves going about our every day life only to have what in the long run is a rather simply thing completely throw us for a loop? Do we not stop and ask ourselves, "Why did I let that affect me that way?"
We all need to take responsibility for the preparation of the "soil" of our hearts and minds. We need to ensure that the soil is rich in nutrients---we do that by developing a prayer life that we find time for every day. It can be a short time or a longer time---but we must tend to this every day. It is the seed that falls on the rich soil of our life that will produce 100 fold.
Jesus Our Shepherd is a community of believers who have nurtured not only their individual lives but the life of the community through the many out reach programs for food distribution and shelter for those in need. It is my prayer for this community that your personal hearts and souls will be prepared to receive and hear the word of God. Your presence these last 8 years has enriched the soil of my life and for that I am eternally grateful.