By RENEE WEBB
Four diocesan priests who are retiring this year reflected on the highlights, joys and challenges of their ministries.
Retiring from full-time ministry this summer are Father Armand Bertrand, pastor at Immaculate Conception Church in Sioux City; Father Steve Brodersen, pastor at St. Augustine Church in Halbur, Holy Angels Church in Roselle and Sacred Heart Church in Templeton; Father Tom Flanagan, pastor at St. Joseph Church in Milford and Father Andrew Hoffmann, pastor at Annunciation Church in Coon Rapids, St. Joseph Church in Dedham and St. Elizabeth Seton Church in Glidden.
Overall, the priests found serving the people to be one of the greatest joys of ministry.
“To walk with God’s people and celebrate baptisms, marriages, reconciliation, anointing of the sick, the Eucharist and the transition to eternal life have all been very humbling and rewarding,” noted Father Brodersen.
Father Bertrand also liked being part of the lives of the people – “being allowed into those spaces that were exuberant joy to the deepest of sorrows to share the Eucharist with them and share the story of our faith together. That’s been the greatest joy I have ever had.”
“A great joy for me, and often a humbling experience, was to be so often invited into people’s lives, not only on social occasions but more importantly when they were weak and vulnerable,” noted Father Flanagan. “To simply be able to stand by them in their need and to assure them of Christ’s presence was a joy.”
One event that stood out in particular for Father Hoffmann was making the pilgrimage to Des Moines to see Pope John Paul II on Oct. 4, 1979 at Living History Farms.
“It is a powerful blessing to walk with people in those challenging times of life and help them to experience the compassionate and healing Spirit of God,” said the priest, who expressed gratitude to the many people he had the opportunity to serve. “It has truly been a blessing and a joy to be a part of their lives.”
Father Bertrand did not recall one ministry that stood out for him more than others.
“I just went full feet into all of them and totally enjoyed every one of them,” he said. “The great joy was that with all of them, no one day was the same. Every day was different.”
Father Flanagan explained that an attitude he developed early on in priesthood was that the people of God are everywhere, so he had no particular desire about where he might be assigned to minister.
“Consequently, I also enjoyed all the aspects of ministry in which I was involved,” he said. “I suppose there were two types of ministry I especially enjoyed. One was the nine years I worked as director of campus ministry at Briar Cliff (University) and the other was the 16 years I worked as a missionary with the Opus Spiritus Sancti communities.”
With the joys come some challenges.
For Father Bertrand, one of the greatest challenges was dealing with the frustration of people’s hurt – when they would lash out at the pastor because they were upset.
“I would just allow the Lord to work and sometimes people would even come to me and apologize,” he said. “That was a real blessing. The key was to never ever think it was aimed at you. They were projecting their anger, their fears at someone.”
Being a person who does not deal well with conflict, Father Flanagan acknowledged, he found situations difficult when people had a conflict with either him, something happening in the parish or between each other.
“Certainly a challenge for me was finding ‘time off’ during the week to relax and unwind,” noted Father Flanagan. “I felt as if I was busy most of the time, either working with people or taking care of other administrative details.”
Father Hoffmann finds a challenge in his perception of church today.
“The church is following the path of the business world and is becoming a corporation,” he said. “It has lost a passion for the Gospel.”
Father Brodersen found it challenging that administrative duties have become “so time-consuming and complex, often taking away from the opportunity to spend quality time with people.”
Father Bertrand has tried to promote vocations by showing youth the pictures of the parish’s pastors. His picture just went up this year, but previously he had a mirror in place of his photo. Whenever a young boy would ask about his picture, the priest had the child stand in front of the mirror and he would say, “There’s your next pastor.”
He made a point of looking at the spirituality of the young adults. When he knows they are single and they are either in the workforce or in college, Father Bertrand said, “I will tug at my collar and say when you get tired of doing that, I have a job for you.”
For those considering the priesthood, Father Flanagan would tell them that for him it has been a great life and he encourages them to listen well to God’s voice in their own lives.
“As in every vocation, if it is what God is asking you to do, God will always be at your side no matter the circumstances to help you carry it out.” He stressed, “Don’t be afraid.”
With the priesthood itself being a challenge in today’s world, Father Hoffmann suggested people “pray about it.”
The priests plan to be available for assisting with weekend Mass coverage when needed and helping with ministries to serve those in need.
Father Flanagan has been teaching German at Okoboji High School and will continue to do so for the next year. He will also utilize his language skills to translate German to English at two international meetings he was invited to in the coming year.
“I am sure I will find plenty of volunteer opportunities as well,” he said. “Initially I am just looking forward to some quiet time.”
Along with assisting with Mass coverage, Father Brodersen would like to become involved in ministry to the sick.
“I was given God’s gift of music talent and was able to share that for several years as a teacher of music,” he said. “I am looking forward to the opportunity to spend more time at the piano and would like to learn to play the violin.”
Since he will be retiring to an acreage in the Carroll area, Father Brodersen looks forward to gardening, especially flowers.
Father Bertrand, who will reside in Sioux City, also plans to have more time for music. While he built an organ and has a degree in music, the priest stressed he doesn’t call himself an organist, but a hobbyist. He also plans to have more time for his love of photography.
Father Hoffmann would like to help with food pantries and soup kitchens.
In addition to spending time in thanksgiving to God for “fewer forms to fill out,” Father Hoffmann looks forward to time for reading and cooking.