Name: Father Thomas Stratman
Years ordained: 59
Current assignment: Retired, but I proofread for The Catholic Messenger, serve on its advisory board and visit the county jail once a week. I also say Mass at the Carmelite Monastery and the Congregation of the Humility of Mary and on weekends at parishes when I’m available.
How did you know you were being called to priesthood? As a child I liked going to church and was moved by the Mass. I eventually became a Mass server and then helped train other servers. I liked attending 40 Hours of Adoration (three days of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament) and I liked to sing sacred hymns. I sang in the boys’ choir at Easter and Christmas and I went to Catholic school. No one ever approached me and said, “Have you ever thought of being a priest?” But my family was not surprised when I revealed that I would like to study for the priesthood. I told my pastor, “I think I’d like to be a priest.” He said, “I’ve had my eyes on you” (for the priesthood). When the pastor visited our family’s home, I told him I’d like to be a missionary priest. I wanted to be a Franciscan. He said, “Well, I can’t help you with that. But if you want to be a diocesan priest, I can help you.” So I said, “OK, I’ll study for the diocese.”
This was during World War II. At that time, the seminarians had moved from the minor seminary at St. Ambrose College in Davenport to Loras College in Dubuque because the military was occupying the space at St. Ambrose. In 1945, we returned to St. Ambrose and graduated in 1946 and then went to major seminary. I was ordained in 1950. My brother Bill (the late Father Bill Stratman), was 2-1/2 years older than I. After he got out of the Air Force and earned an engineering degree at the University of Iowa, he studied for the priesthood. He was ordained six years after me. He was always my hero in childhood and in the priesthood.
Aside from your ordination Mass, what was your most memorable Mass? The 50th wedding anniversary Mass that Fr. Bill and I concelebrated for our parents. The first Masses spoken in English after the Second Vatican Council were very memorable for me also. I rejoiced that finally we could celebrate the sacraments in our native language. Another memorable Mass celebrated the 50th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood for me and my classmates, May 6, 2000, at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport
What is most rewarding about being a priest? The privilege of ministering to people in various situations; for example, preparing couples for the sacrament of marriage one day, anointing a dying parishioner the next day and baptizing a newborn that weekend. The next week I might be celebrating a first holy Communion Mass and another weekend I might be welcoming the bishop to a confirmation Mass. Hearing confessions for hours at a time was taxing, but rewarding in that I knew I was helping people become reconciled with God, their neighbor and themselves.
What is most challenging about being a priest? To always strive to be fresh and upbeat when people are needing extra inspiration, comfort or encouragement at various stages of their life, especially in times of great joy, grieving and loss.
What is your favorite Scripture passage? Jesus said: “A new commandment I give you, love one another as I have loved you.” — St. John’s Gospel, 5:12.
What is your hobby? Bicycling; I bicycle for an hour at a time; I also go to the YMCA for strengthening exercises and I play golf with a famous priest golfer, Father Bill Meyer.