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Who will fill these shoes? Print
Guest column
Written by Fr. Greg Ihm   
Thursday, Mar. 03, 2016 -- 12:00 AM
Fr. Greg Ihm

“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

There is a story that comes out of the Archdiocese of Chicago that asks a profound question. It is a story of a monsignor.

At his last weekend before retirement, he placed his shoes at the foot of the altar and after a long pause looked out and asked: “Who is going to fill these shoes now?”

This is a question that has been placed before us as a diocese as we have lost both Msgr. Monte Robinson and Fr. Larry Bowens within a week of each other.

In the past three years, we have also lost Fr. John Auby, Fr. Michael Richel, and Msgr. Felix Oehrlein, who were pastors at the time of their death.

Who is going to fill these shoes?

May their souls and all the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace.

Help from outside the diocese

We have not had to close any parishes and mergers are slowly taking effect.

This is in a large part due to the gift of a few Religious communities that have taken on a few parishes and the generosity of our priests from India.

At present we have 17 extern priests that are serving, meaning those priests not incardinated into the Diocese of Madison.

These priests have come to the diocese from Religious communities or other dioceses to assist us.

The state of the Church in the diocese would be very different without the assistance of these extern priests serving in our diocese.

The majority of extern priests serving in the diocese are pastors.

I bring this to our attention because from the initial look of the state of the diocese, we are doing pretty well, but remove the extern priests and our diocese would be in a very different state.

Blessed with seminarians

This is not to paint a stark picture of the future, because at the present we are able to get the assistance of extern priests and the Lord has blessed us with a good number of seminarians.

This being said, I do believe that the Lord desires for there to be more priests from our diocese. They may not know who they are yet, but it is up to us to till the soil, plant the seeds, and to nurture the possibility of a priestly vocation.

Msgr. Daniel Ganshert said in the Priests for Our Future campaign video: “Without priests, we don’t have the Eucharist, and without the Eucharist there is no Church”; so we seek to encourage the young men to consider a life as a priest.

We encourage them because there is a need and secondly, because it is a real gift to be called to serve as a priest that is extremely fulfilling.

I ask parents, grandparents, and all members of the Church to look to the boys and young men in your family and offer them to the Lord in prayer and ask them to consider filling the shoes of those that have gone before them.

Bond between priests

Recently, I had the privilege to attend the funeral Mass for Fr. Joseph Cox, the first priest to be ordained in the newly established Diocese of Madison, 70 years ago.

During this Mass, I had a moment of great honor and pride as all the priests in attendance turned towards the image of Mary and sang the Salve Regina after the Rite of Commendation.

I felt like I was standing in the honor guard giving our final salute to a fallen comrade in arms.

We honor Mary as we commit ourselves to her once again as beloved sons.

I share this to show the beauty and real bond that exists between those that have been ordained to the ministerial priesthood.

When one of us is ordained to the priesthood, we enter into a community that is way bigger than us and for any that have attended a priesthood ordination, you get to see this bond.

There remain empty pairs of shoes. Who will fill them?

Let us all pray, discern, and act to fill these shoes.


Fr. Gregory Ihm is the director of vocations for the Diocese of Madison.