By Celine Klosterman
HILLS — As the priest serving St. Joseph Parish in Hills plans to retire, the Davenport Diocese is seeking a part-time parish life administrator to take over for him.
Father Lou Leonhardt, St. Joseph’s administrator, submitted his retirement notice to the diocese this summer. He is 79 and has served the 125-family parish since 1996.
He said he expects his retirement from St. Joseph to take effect around Jan. 1, depending on when a PLA is appointed. He will become the parish’s sacramental minister after that point.
The priest had considered when he could “gracefully bow out” since 2005. That year he turned 75, the age at which canon law requires a priest to submit his retirement notice. But the pastor was willing to keep serving, and “because of the needs of the situation,” he was allowed to continue doing so — as an administrator, said Bishop Emeritus William Franklin. He was the diocese’s bishop at the time.
Fr. Leonhardt said he decided this year to step down after attending graduation ceremonies for the diocese’s Ministry Formation Program, which prepares Catholics to serve the church in various roles. Seeing graduates of the program’s parish life administration track convinced him St. Joseph could be taken care of after he retired. “It was obvious we wouldn’t get a resident pastor” because of the parish’s small size and the priest shortage, he said.
Carol Kaalberg, parish life administrator for St. Mary parishes in nearby Lone Tree and Nichols, also provides an example of successful leadership, Fr. Leonhardt said.
Active parishioners The Catholic Messenger talked to voiced optimism about the leadership change. “I think we knew it was inevitable” that Fr. Leonhardt would retire, Judy Stebral said. “I appreciate the fact that we will have a priest and will continue as a parish, and I’m ready to face the challenges and help whoever comes in as parish life administrator.”
“It’ll be quite a transition for our parish, but I think it’ll be good for us,” Mary Ann Waldschmidt said.
“I think change can be a scary thing, but we’re a strong, vibrant parish and look forward to growing together,” said Debra Verber, vice president of St. Joseph’s parish council. She noted that the church has active social justice and family life committees and gathers for parish-wide events including picnics, soup suppers and ice cream socials. “Hopefully this (change) will make us a stronger parish in the end.”
St. Joseph Parish will be the sixth parish in the Davenport Diocese to be served by a parish life administrator.
Interested deacons and lay Catholics who have completed the diocese’s parish life administrator program or its equivalent must send a letter and resume to Bishop Martin Amos by Nov. 23.