Fr. Nathan Reesman spent 13 years at parishes in West Bend before becoming vicar for clergy for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee at the beginning of 2023. (File photo)
Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki has often called vicar for clergy the toughest job in the archdiocese.
That perception has clearly permeated the ranks of priests in the archdiocese based on the reception Fr. Nathan Reesman received from his colleagues when it was announced this fall that he had accepted the position.
“To be honest, I think they’re all happy it wasn’t them, so they all applaud that I’m doing this,” Fr. Reesman said.
Fr. Reesman officially began his duties at Mary Mother of the Church Pastoral Center at the beginning of 2023, replacing Fr. Jerry Herda, who had served in the role since 2017. Fr. Herda is now the pastor at St. Matthias Parish in Milwaukee.
The new vicar for clergy, who was ordained in 2006, has jumped right into the deep end of the pool in one way, as this is the time of year when discussions about priest placement are beginning.
“That’s the main (priority) right now from a systems perspective — placements, who’s moving, who needs to move, people’s preferences about where they want to go, where the parishes are at with what they need,” Fr. Reesman said. “All of that right now is very much front and center. For my own personal goals right now, it’s simply learning the priests and learning the deacons and learning the parishes more than I’ve known them coming into it, so it’s happening simultaneously.”
After serving his first three years as a priest as an associate pastor at St. Mary’s Visitation in Elm Grove, Fr. Reesman has spent time at each of the three West Bend parishes (St. Frances Cabrini, Holy Angels and Immaculate Conception/St. Mary) since June 2009. From 2014 until moving into his new role, he was the shared pastor at Immaculate Conception and St. Frances Cabrini.
Fr. Reesman was approached by Archbishop Listecki in the fall about taking on the position. At that time, Fr. Reesman’s parishes had launched into their Love One Another campaigns, and he had some projects he wanted to see through to the end.
“I was surprised because it was nothing I was looking for or expecting,” Fr. Reesman said. “I had planned to stay in West Bend longer to work on things we had planned to do. But I was also humbled by the invitation because I realize it’s a lot of responsibility and I appreciated his trust.”
Fr. Herda, who had been balancing his remaining duties at the archdiocese with getting settled in at his new parish since August, has been a sounding board for Fr. Reesman during the transition. They met regularly during the fall and early winter after the appointment became official.
“Even now, when I’ve taken over the role, he’s been very kind to say that I can call him at any time with questions, and I have,” Fr. Reesman said. “He gets back to me right away. He’s a very organized record keeper, which helps me a lot, because I know how to find things quickly, and I also rely a lot on (Jodi Bowers, the administrative assistant for the Office of the Vicar for Ordained and Lay Ecclesial Ministry).”
A main component of Fr. Reesman’s role is having a pulse on what’s happening with the roughly 100 active archdiocesan priests and maintaining relationships with them. Fr. Reesman said he needs to get to know about half of those priests on a better basis.
“Ideally, as the vicar for clergy, one should know how they are, how they’re feeling, what their needs are, what they’re doing well, (and) what they’re maybe not doing as well, so that I can help them and be a resource to them,” Fr. Reesman. “That’s a lot to keep track of. It’s a learning curve because I’m still learning who a lot of them are.”
Ultimately, how long he will be in the role is uncertain. In March 2024, Archbishop Listecki will turn 75 and have to submit his resignation to the pope. Based on previous precedent and replacement timelines, it is expected a new archbishop would be appointed and likely in place by the end of that year.
“When that happens, everything’s up for grabs as far as timelines, staying, going — so I’ve tried to approach it with the openness of I’ll take it one day at a time, and whomever God sends, he sends,” Fr. Reesman. “If it’s six years or longer, fine. If it’s shorter because that’s what someone else decides, that’s fine, too.”
While he may have stepped into one of the toughest jobs in the archdiocese, Fr. Reesman is up to the task.
“The fact is, I think if anyone wants to do a job well in the Church, for the Lord and the people, they’re all tough,” Fr. Reesman said. “I think what matters is we land where God wants us to be and then we do our best with it. Is it hard? Of course it is, but so is a school principal; pastoring is hard, being a chaplain in a children’s cancer ward is gut-wrenching. It’s God’s work.”