By Barb Arland-Fye
Bishop Martin Amos noticed smiles form on the faces of people in the pews when diocesan priests entered the sanctuary during a Mass in their honor Oct. 29 at St. Mary Church in Iowa City.
For Bishop Amos, those smiles were one highlight of the Mass of Thanksgiving for Priests of Our Diocese, held to commemorate the Catholic Church’s Year for Priests.
Another highlight was the music. “The way the music and the singing just filled the church was absolutely moving,” the bishop said.
Still another highlight for Bishop Amos was Father Ken Kuntz beginning his homily while holding in his arms toddler Zach Santos, who wore a little black suit. “You’re never too young to think about a vocation,” quipped Fr. Kuntz, pastor of St. Mary’s. Zach is the son of parish secretary Rachel Santos and her husband, Cesar. Photos of Zach wearing a replica of a priest’s black shirt and Roman collar have appeared in The Catholic Messenger and elsewhere.
Nearly 800 people braved a downpour to attend the Mass, including more than 50 priests from throughout the diocese, as well as deacons and Knights of Columbus.
After giving back the toddler to his mother, Fr. Kuntz delivered a homily about the priesthood that his fellow priests and the lay people in the congregation truly appreciated.
Fr. Kuntz explained that Patti McTaggart, the parish’s music coordinator and director of youth ministry, had asked him what he thought about hosting a diocesan Mass to celebrate Year for Priests.
“I told her I thought it was a great idea — especially if there could be a dinner afterwards.” McTaggart took care of the details, as promised. Fr. Kuntz wouldn’t have anything to worry about — until Deacon Frank Agnoli, the diocese’s director of liturgy, asked him to give the homily.
“Actually, it’s a privilege for me to be able to share ‘a few words’ about the priesthood and the great vocation which we are celebrating in this Year for Priests,” Fr. Kuntz said. Next to the ambo was a statue of St. John Vianney, the patron saint of priests who became a priest only through great perseverance.
Fr. Kuntz shared the history of the humble saint, who shortly after arriving at his first assignment signed a petition along with parishioners who wanted him removed from the parish! “They thought he was too simple, too dim-witted to be a pastor,” Fr. Kuntz said. But the bishop didn’t remove Fr. Vianney and instructed him instead to put some love into a parish that didn’t have much love. The priest did that, serving for the next 42 years and bringing many people to Christ. He sometimes heard confessions 17 hours a day, something Fr. Kuntz said he hoped he’d never have to do.
John Vianney humbly knew he had a vocation to the priesthood, even though others doubted it. “The mystery that makes the priesthood great is the conviction that we did not choose Jesus, but that Jesus chose us to follow him,” Fr. Kuntz said.
“Every priest has certain strengths and certain weaknesses, but we all stand in awe of our amazing God who has called us to preach the Gospel, to preside at the celebration of the sacraments and to provide pastoral care for the people of God,” he continued.
“Tonight, in a special way, we give thanks to God for the priests of our diocese — who have responded so generously to the Lord’s call — not in order to be honored or placed on pedestals, but simply because we want to continue the ministry of Jesus in our world today.”
Fr. Kuntz told the gathering that “everyone here tonight shares in the priesthood of the baptized … we are called to proclaim the Gospel in our daily lives, to offer ourselves — with Christ — to the Father in the Eucharistic sacrifice and to serve in love those who are in need.”
St. Mary parishioner Marguerite Kuebrich, age 101, said Fr. Kuntz’s homily was a highlight of the Mass for her. And she appreciated seeing the priests gathered around the altar for the Eucharistic Prayer.
Seeing so many priests together for Mass was a high point for Father Jeff Belger, St. Mary’s parochial vicar and member of the Newman Catholic Student Center campus ministry team in Iowa City. Other priests and lay people echoed his comment.
“It was a beautiful celebration. I was happy to be a part of it. It’s always good when the priests get together to celebrate the gift the Lord has given us — the gift of our priesthood,” said Father Mike Phillips, pastor of St. Wenceslaus Parish in Iowa City.
“It was a great celebration of the priesthood, of being together with the bishop,” said Father Apo Mpanda, pastor of St. Mary Parish in West Point and St. Boniface Parish in Farmington.
“The music was particularly beautiful. All did an outstanding job,” said Father Rich Adam, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Riverside, Holy Trinity Parish in Richmond and St. Joseph Parish in Wellman. “It was great to see such a turnout of priests despite the downpour of rain earlier in the day. And of course, the cross-bearer (my nephew, Michael Adam) did an excellent job.”
Following Mass, the priests were treated to dinner in the parish hall, courtesy of the Knights of Columbus and Catholic Daughters of the Americas.
“We decorated the tables and made homemade pies. We served the pies and the Knights served the meal,” said Jane Wonick, regent of the Catholic Daughters’ Court Craigie No. 94. “The priests were really appreciative.” After attending the Mass and serving pie to the priests Wonick said, “I came home and told my husband I couldn’t believe it. It was really a special event.”
Behind the scenes for priests’ Mass
Many people worked to ensure that the Mass of Thanksgiving for the Priests of Our Diocese was a joyful experience. Those whose names were included on the program for the Oct. 29 Mass at St. Mary Catholic Church in Iowa City:
Principal celebrant: Bishop Martin Amos; concelebrants, priests of the Diocese of Davenport; deacons, Deacon Ed Goldsmith and Deacon Daryl Fortin; master of ceremonies Deacon Frank Agnoli; ministers of the Word, Robert Delsing and Miranda Gehris; gift bearers, members of the Korean Community; altar servers: Michael Adam, Nicole Bahl, Molly Brietbach, Isaac Buatti, Jacob Buatti, Monica Hemingway and Bethany Teets.
Musicians: St. Mary’s Adult/Youth Choir; St. Mary’s Contemporary Group; the Regina High School Choir; the brass/timpani ensemble; and ministers of music: Jim Berry, choir director; Justin Brueck, organist; Gino Deluca, cantor/pianist; Angela Howard, Regina High School choir director; and Lisa Moy, harpist.
The Still Agency, Gary Sieren, Bob Champagne and all the Knights of Columbus Councils throughout the diocese were acknowledged for assisting with their time, talent and treasure in preparation for the celebration. Also acknowledged were the Catholic Daughters, Court Craigie No. 94, who prepared the table settings and desserts for the priests’ meal.
“The meal would not have been possible without the Knights of Columbus and the Catholic Daughters. They did a fantastic job,” said Patti McTaggart, whose idea it was to have a Mass and dinner for the diocese’s priests.