Until Pope Francis appoints an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Frs. Paul Hartmann and Patrick Heppe have graciously agreed to contribute to the Herald of Hope column in the Catholic Herald on a monthly basis. Their contributions will rotate on this page along with columns by Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki and Bishop Richard J. Sklba.

When Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan asked if I would consider the assignment of Vicar for Clergy/Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, I told him yes, but “I’m a parish priest at heart and parish priests belong in parishes.”

I stated the importance of parish life and that I would definitely accept this assignment but I needed a consistent parish help-out assignment for my own spiritual – and mental – health.

I’ve come to value deeply the importance of parish in my own life and in the lives of all Catholics. Parish involvement is an important factor in the life of the church. This is where faith in Jesus Christ is best nurtured, grows and deepens in so many ways.

As a farm kid living six miles from my home parish of St. Peter, Slinger, regular involvement was not possible. Farm chores, evening activities and homework took precedence. Faith, daily prayer and Sunday Mass were part of our routine, but it wasn’t until I became an adult, actively participating in a parish that I came to a real appreciation of the absolute importance of parish in my life.  

Jesus knew how important a “grouping” was as he worked to build community and faith among his disciples. Jesus sent them out on mission not as individuals but in twos, knowing how important the mutual support was for them and in the transmission of the mission. Over the years, I’ve come to cherish involvement in parish and have been honored to be pastor and associate pastor of this holy grouping.  

I can safely say my first assignment at St. Peter Claver Parish, Sheboygan, was where I learned to be a priest. Yes, I had the theology and ministerial training, but the people of God taught me what they needed and how to best utilize the tools of seminary formation. I came to love that community and still do to this day. It was an important first step in this journey of parish life.

As vocation director for the high school seminary program, I greatly missed parish involvement and was glad to return as associate pastor of Our Lady of Good Hope, Milwaukee, and then as pastor of St. Joseph and Holy Family parishes in Fond du Lac. The people of Fond du Lac taught me how to be pastor and prepared me for my ministerial tasks that I perform today.

What role does parish play in your life as a Catholic? It’s actually your “family.” The church recently celebrated the feast of Holy Family. I preside at Mass each Sunday at St. Frances Cabrini Parish, West Bend, and on Holy Family Sunday we celebrated Jesus, Mary and Joseph, models of being a holy family, but we also celebrated the parish as one of our holy family groupings.

Parish is where we learn to model Jesus and family life as well. The parish is where we live and learn and grow. It’s where we are strengthened in our faith, learn how to pray, find support and are given our identity as Christians and our mission of disciples of Jesus. (Mass comes from the word, “mission.”)

Parish is where we are supported and prayed for. It’s within the parish that we mutually share prayerful support. Each Sunday the parish has a “Pro Populo” Mass where the intention is for the people of the parish. Imagine, Mass every week celebrated for us! We certainly can’t underestimate the value of that.

Parish family identity is crucial to the effectiveness of our role as disciples. The parish is where we read the blueprint for perfection as given to us by God.

The parish is where we meditate on Scripture and celebrate sacraments. We learn to be like Jesus. We practice virtues to become more like Jesus and work to change the world into the image of Jesus. No other organization can make that claim and no other organization has the potential to change the world for the better. That’s the job of our church and of our parish.

As with all families, we have our idiosyncrasies and quirks. We have our flaws and possess those elements where people sometimes call us “dysfunctional.” All families have some dysfunction. Remember, we’re human. None of us is perfect. In the parish family, we practice what Jesus teaches us and strive to become our best selves, our best parish.   

I’ll share more parish insights next month but now, consider your parish experience: do you and your family belong to a parish or just “show up” when convenient? Are you a participating, registered member? What place do you have at the parish family table?