By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
OSKALOOSA — The priestly ministries of the three Spiegel brothers took them across the state of Iowa –sometimes across the world – and almost always away from each other.
Now, for the first time since childhood, the brothers are together again. To the brothers’ delight, Father John was recently assigned to serve as pastor to St. Mary Parish in Oskaloosa — the parish of his retired older brothers Father Tom and Msgr. Bob.
“I thought it was unusual and providential that we’d find ourselves in the same community as I come to the later years of my active ministry,” Fr. John said. He has served the Oskaloosa parish since July 1, in addition to serving as pastor of St. Mary Parish in Pella and moderator of Immaculate Conception in Colfax.
Msgr. Bob said there was much rejoicing when Fr. John received his assignment. “When I heard he was coming I thought immediately that’s going to be wonderful because now we can get together every day, or certainly on the golf course once in a while. It’s really nice! We began our lives together and we’re right here together at the end of our lives.”
The brothers did not grow up in Oskaloosa, but Fr. Tom’s final parish assignment was there and he enjoyed the parish and community so much he decided to remain there after retirement. After Msgr. Bob retired from military chaplaincy, he joined Fr. Tom in Oskaloosa.
Until now, dedication to respective positions meant times spent together were often few and far between for the brothers. Msgr. Bob was stationed overseas for long periods of time during his active ministry and even when the brothers did get together there was an understanding that ministry came first. Sometimes that cherished time together would be cut short as a result. Fr. Tom recalled occasions in which Fr. John would be called away to help a parishioner. “There’d be a call that would come and he’d say, ‘I gotta go.’ … That’s the kind of pastor he is. We knew he had to go because it would bother him to say ‘I’ll see you tomorrow.’ That’s not the answer he’d give them.”
Fr. John, at age 65, is 9 years younger than Fr. Tom, who is 73. Msgr. Bob is 75. Even though the younger brother is now the boss, don’t expect any sibling rivalry. “He is taller and more muscular,” Msgr. Bob quipped. “We wouldn’t want to tangle with him! He can hit the golf ball farther than we can!”
But, in all seriousness, the older brothers enjoy sitting back and watching “Johnny” in action. “It’s nice not being in charge!” Fr. Tom said. Msgr. Bob added, “We become part of the congregation. You can feel what the people are feeling, all sitting around you. You aren’t staring at the faces. You’re in the faces.”
They’ve also been able to hear Fr. John’s homilies on a regular basis for the first time, and both are impressed. Msgr. Bob marvels at his youngest brother’s ability to relate current issues and events to the Gospel of the day. “His homilies really have a lot of depth to them. … He has a gift.” They’ve been able to hear the whispers in the crowd telling them the parish feels the same way.
They’ve enjoyed seeing the Oskaloosa parish welcome Fr. John into their hearts. When Fr. John arrived at the rectory with a moving van full of furniture and books in late June, parishioners were there waiting for him. Perhaps it helped that the older brothers put in a good word for him ahead of time. “He’s the most compassionate, loving priest I’ve ever known, and he is my brother,” Fr. Tom insists.
While the older brothers are happy to stay out of Fr. John’s way and let him serve, they enjoy concelebrating Mass with him on weekdays. They also concelebrated Fr. John’s first Sunday Mass as pastor of the Oskaloosa parish, much to the delight of the parishioners. Bruce Peiffer said, “We feel blessed in Oskaloosa to be in the presence of this wonderful group of Father/brothers.”
The brothers, too, feel blessed. Fr. Tom said. “The best part of it all is that we’re all three together and able to share life.”