Back in his hometown to celebrate 50 years as a priest, Fr. Victor Seidel , a priest of the Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Trinity, reflected on those years during an interview earlier this summer.
“I’ve loved it all,” Fr. Seidel, 77, told your Catholic Herald. “I’ve always felt that, wherever I was, that’s where God wanted me to be. And that brings a lot of joy.” He added that the five decades had gone by “so fast, so fast,” and that he wouldn’t hesitate to live them all over again.
While hard-pressed to single out any of the ministries he’s undertaken – parish priest, school chaplain, vocations director, communications specialist – as his favorite, Fr. Seidel readily identified his favorite priestly duty: celebrating Mass. He called the Mass “the essence of our existence, the center of our lives.”
Fr. Seidel’s life began as Patrick Leo Seidel as first name changes were commonplace when men and women entered religious communities years ago. Patrick played priest as a youngster, distributing candy wafers at communion time to a congregation consisting of his brother Chuck and sisters Marilyn and Carol. He was an altar boy at St. Catherine Church at 51st and Center streets in Milwaukee and attended the parish school, where a few of the Franciscan sisters “absolutely had a big influence” on his vocation. Also influential were associate pastor Fr. Leo Liebl and the future Missionary Servant’s “wonderful” parents, Leo and Marie Enders Seidel.
After requesting and reading literature from a multitude of religious communities, young Patrick was particularly impressed with the Missionary Servants and entered their minor seminary in Alabama at age 14.
The environment definitely was different from Milwaukee’s, he said – “out in the sticks, dirt roads, almost no man’s land.” Still, he enjoyed seminary life well enough to spend more than a decade at it, culminating in ordination on May 23, 1961. He returned to Milwaukee to offer his first Mass at St. Catherine, with Vatican II’s opening session just 16 months away.
“I started out saying ‘Dominus vobiscum’ and in no time I was saying ‘The Lord be with you,’” Fr. Seidel noted.
|Catholic parishes acrossthe United States celebrated the work of missionaries throughout
the world on World Mission Sunday 2011
last Sunday, Oct. 23.
Fr. Seidel’s priesthood has included pastorates in Mississippi, South Carolina and Georgia. At the earliest of these (1972-75), his parishioners included a family named Favre.
“I gave (Brett Favre) his kindergarten diploma” at Annunciation School in Kiln, Mississippi, Fr. Seidel recalled.
Fr. Seidel’s assignment at Annunciation – a congregation boasting three mission locations, as many priests and a handful of religious sisters – was both preceded and followed by work in communications. Named director of the local Catholic Information Center while also serving as a chaplain to students in Wheeling, W.Va., Fr. Seidel soon enough found himself hosting a radio show over WWVA, a 50,000-watt station that reached 18 states and several Canadian provinces.
WWVA was a country station – Wheeling “was the Nashville of the East,” according to Fr. Seidel – but the Missionary Servant’s Sunday night program followed an easy listening format with mostly instrumental music.
“Once in a while I would throw in a little thought to ignite some spiritual thinking,” Fr. Seidel said in describing his unobtrusive hosting of the show the station programmed as a public service. His “little thoughts” included snippets of poetry and “one-liners” and came to be supplemented by listeners’ submissions.
“My idea was to give a friendly image of the Catholic Church to the surrounding (heavily non-Catholic) area,” Fr. Seidel said, “and it clicked!”
The 30-minute radio show spawned 30-second radio spots – provocative statements with religious overtones, concluding with the tagline “Get it? Got it? Good.”
Fr. Seidel created the spots, which were produced by his colleague, Frank Sweeney.
Then came a half-hour television program, “To Whom It May Concern,” which tackled then cutting edge topics as post-traumatic stress disorder. Fr. Seidel’s broadcasting efforts earned three national Gabriel Awards, the Catholic media equivalent of Emmys.
Subsequently working in communications for his order, Fr. Seidel produced a documentary film on the Missionary Servants. Professionals donated their services and filming was done on both coasts and locations in between – including Kiln, where a nun nurse, well-known in the area, was shown maneuvering a golf cart along dusty roads to patients’ houses.
Fr. Seidel encountered such celebrities as filmmaker Franco Zeffirelli (“Jesus of Nazareth,” “Romeo and Juliet”) and TV preacher Bishop Fulton J. Sheen (“I was awed by him”) while working in communications. But probably the biggest highlight in that phase of his ministry occurred in 1979, when he and another priest coordinated the Washington, D.C., media coverage of Pope John Paul II’s first visit to the United States.
He did everything from sitting in the ABC-TV truck and answering television professionals’ questions, to filling the Secret Service in on routes the pope planned to travel, to entertaining journalists’ access requests. Fr. Seidel himself enjoyed ready access to all papal destinations, including Jimmy Carter’s White House, and had the opportunity to see the pontiff at close range.
Additional work in communications gave way to additional work in parishes for Fr. Seidel. He had heart surgery – six bypasses – in 2000, but is going strong. He resides in Cuthbert, Ga., at a mission outpost of a parish pastored by Missionary Servant Fr. Joel Bladt. The two priests, seminary classmates, jointly celebrated their 50th anniversary in their adopted home state in May. Also, surprise celebrations were staged for Fr. Seidel at a couple of his former parishes when he returned in his latest ministry: substituting for pastors away for brief periods on family matters, mini-vacations and the like.
Helping fellow priests “just brings great satisfaction,” Fr. Seidel said of the ministry that takes him to five states and is based on his own idea.
The former media pro quickly admits to a favorite television channel: ESPN.
“I love the Packers,” Brett Favre’s childhood pastor said by way of explanation. In fact, Fr. Seidel added, his bishop in the Diocese of Savannah, J. Kevin Boland, joked that he’d have to wear a cheesehead instead of a mitre if he showed up for the jubilee Mass in Wisconsin.