By Barb Arland-Fye
Father Tom Stratman became a priest six years earlier than his older sibling, the late Father Bill Stratman. Each discerned a vocation to the priesthood at a different point in their lives, but never wavered in their commitment to serving God and the church in the Diocese of Davenport.
“I have no idea whether I had any influence on his decision to become a priest,” Fr. Tom says of his brother, Fr. Bill. “I am convinced he would have been a priest anyway, whether I was a priest or not.”
The Stratman brothers grew up in Burlington, the second and third of four sons of Fred and Elma Stratman.
The family attended St. Paul Catholic Church and the boys were students at the parish school. “In those days, that was the age of faith. We served Mass and went to the Catholic school,” Fr. Tom recalls.
While Tom felt a call to the priesthood during his sophomore or junior year in high school, and spoke to his pastor about it, Bill, 2-1/2 years older, felt called to the U.S. Air Force, where he served as a radio gunner on a B-26 bomber, completing 71 missions.
John Stratman, the youngest of the four brothers, remembers Tom as a spiritual child who seemed inclined to the priesthood. Tom’s vocation didn’t surprise family members, but Bill’s did. “I think the service had a profound impact on his vocation,” John said.
Their parents were supportive of both Tom and Bill’s decision to become priests. “They gave us emotional support, they encouraged us. They were so gracious,” Fr. Tom says.
Because of the war, Tom finished high school early by taking summer courses before entering the seminary at Loras College in Dubuque in the fall of 1943. At that time, seminarians from the Davenport Diocese were sent to Loras College Seminary because the U.S. Navy was leasing space from St. Ambrose College for its V-12 program. When the Navy terminated its contract, the seminarians returned to St. Ambrose.
Tom earned his bachelor’s degree there in 1946 and went to Kenrick Seminary in St. Louis for theological studies. He was ordained to the priesthood May 6, 1950, at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport and served the church in parish ministry until his retirement.
His brother didn’t enter the seminary until a few years after World War II ended. Following the war, Bill attended the University of Iowa where he earned a degree in engineering. Then he went to work briefly for the U.S. government. Around 1951, he entered the seminary. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1956. With his background in science and engineering, his ministry focused on teaching at St. Ambrose Academy, Assumption High School and then St. Ambrose College. After retiring from teaching, Fr. Bill served as pastor of St. Mary Parish in Dodgeville. He died in 2002.
While their ministries took them to different places, the brother priests were close spiritually because of their shared calling. Over the years, “we did talk a lot concerning our life’s work, our vocation,” Fr. Tom says.
He remains active in retirement, presiding at Mass for the Carmelite nuns in Eldridge and the Sisters of Humility in Davenport and at parishes in the diocese as his schedule permits.
He also proofreads for The Catholic Messenger and is taking a Bible class. In retirement, “You don’t shed your priesthood. You can still say Mass, hear confessions, baptize and anoint,” he says.
Judy Lindner describes Fr. Tom as a wonderful priest with “a real spirit of love for people.” She and her husband, Jul, are members of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Bettendorf and have fond memories of Fr. Tom’s participation on a trip they led to Lourdes, France. Judy also remembers that when he was pastor at Lourdes (1980-1992), Fr. Tom helped initiate neighborhood groups within the parish. Two groups — one led by the Lindners and the other by Fran and Ed Baker — still meet.
Fr. Tom says his vocation has been “a wonderful privilege to serve God and God’s people in the priesthood.” And the greatest privilege of all, he says, “is to put on the sacred vestments and stand before the people of God and celebrate the Eucharist.”