Annual priets' assembly offers special grace Print
Seeing with Jesus' Eyes
Thursday, Sep. 18, 2014 -- 12:00 AM

A special grace of my priesthood is the privilege of participating in the annual Diocesan Presbyteral Assembly held at Chula Vista Resort in Wisconsin Dells from September 21 to 24.

The Presbyteral Assembly grew out of the landmark Madison Diocese Emmaus retreat in 1980, which was intended to bolster the spiritual lives of us priests. It did.

Since I was in high school work at Beloit Catholic High, I rarely was able to attend diocesan functions, but I was free during summers. During summer school, I learned that this was also true of priests who taught high school in other dioceses. I was happy that Bishop Cletus F. O'Donnell asked all active priests to attend.

Emmaus experience

Msgr. Frank Bognanno of the Diocese of Des Moines was chosen to lead the Emmaus retreat. The bishop of Des Moines was Bishop Bullock, who later became our bishop. Father Frank returned to Madison for Bishop Bullock's anniversary celebration. He also led an inspiring priests' retreat in 2002.

The Emmaus retreat was based on Luke 24:13-35. The Risen Jesus walked with two unnamed disciples on the road to Emmaus, but they didn't recognize him. With sadness, they discussed what happened to Jesus and what might happen to them and the early Church. Then Jesus revealed himself in the "Breaking of the Bread" or the Eucharist. Christ also calls us to walk with him and longs to reveal himself to us in the Eucharist.

Emmaus reflection groups grew out of the Emmaus retreat. These groups consisted of five to seven or more priests who met monthly. I was in a group with Fr. Richard Lenarz and Fr. Albert Schubiger of Beloit and other priests.

The format or practice among several priest groups was to select a meeting date with an overnight so that after a good night's rest the priests were ready to pray, share their faith, pastoral experiences, and dialogue about how they might grow in their spiritual lives. The results were positive and benefited our diocese.

Annual priests' assembly

The priests' assembly originally lasted a day and a half. In 1993, it was extended from Sunday evening to Wednesday at noon. It is a time when priests of the diocese gather for prayer, instruction, dialogue on a current topic, and enjoy each other's company. The bishop also speaks on diocesan and other important matters. He invites all active priests to attend and retired priests who desire and are able to attend.

Topics are selected, and presenters are recruited by a planning committee and the Office for the Continuing Education of Priests headed by Msgr. O. Charles Schluter. This office also helps plan the annual priests' retreat. We priests benefit from their creativity and commitment.

During my drive to the priests' assembly, generally there is a Packers game or other football game that I listen to on the radio. If I lose radio reception, I can usually tell if the Packers won or lost by the smile or frown on faces of Packer priests when I arrive.

Praying for the deceased

A moving part of the priests' assembly, which brings tears to many eyes, is when we pray for deceased priests, bishops of the diocese, and popes. As each name is read, priests and bishops present realize that someday their name will be read.

After a certain number of names are read, we sing the very sing-able moving prayer, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." In doing so, we express our hope that our departed priests, bishops, and popes enjoy the gift of the fullness of eternal life.

The theme and focus of this year's Priests Assembly XXXIV is "Reflecting on the Sacred Liturgy." Fr. Douglas Martis will be the presenter. He is the director of the Liturgical Institute and chair of the Department of Systematic and Department of Worship at Mundelein Seminary. We priests are always eager to learn more about the sacred liturgy because it is crucial to serving Catholics as a priest.

A banquet honoring priests who celebrate a priestly anniversary is held on Tuesday evening. The priests honored share many memorable personal, spiritual, and sometimes humorous stories of their priestly ministry.

Health of priests

If I recall correctly, some priorities that came out of the original Emmaus retreat were the physical, mental, and spiritual health of priests. In his book, Habits of a Priestly Heart, Fr. Eugene Hemrick, director of the National Institute for the Renewal of the Priesthood, stresses that these and other qualities are needed by today's priests, Religious, and laity.

Please continue to pray for all priests, but especially for us who attend the Presbyteral Assembly from September 21 to 24, so that we come back ready to serve with renewed energy and Christ-like enthusiasm.


Fr. Donald Lange is a pastor emeritus in the Diocese of Madison.